HMP Oakwood, Inspections

The prison was given an inspection in February/March 2018. The full report can be read by following the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

“HMP Oakwood, managed by the private operator G4S, is a category C training, designated resettlement prison located near Wolverhampton. A modern facility, the prison opened in 2012 and this inspection was the third occasion that the Inspectorate has visited the prison. Holding 2,071 prisoners, Oakwood is one of the largest prisons in the country. All those held are adult male prisoners over the age of 21. Over half are serving sentences in excess of four years, and 400 more than 10 years. Approximately 150 men were serving indeterminate sentences or life and about 60% of men had been identified as representing a serious risk of harm. A quarter of the population were convicted sex offenders.

We found Oakwood to be an impressive institution; against all four of our tests of a healthy prison, we judged outcomes to be reasonably good or better. As such, the assessments we made were consistent with a story of steady and sustained improvement after what was a testing start six years ago, and this despite risks represented by the size of the population and inherent risks posed by those held.

Our judgement concerning safety in Oakwood was finely balanced but, overall, we assessed outcomes to be reasonably good, an improvement since our last inspection. Prisoners were received well into the prison, with a good focus on safety and meaningful support from peer workers. This latter point set an important tone and precedent for the prisoner experience going forward throughout the prison. It was undeniable that violence had increased at the prison, but to a level now commensurate with similar prisons, and in our survey prisoners reported raised levels of victimisation. Balanced against this, relatively few prisoners reported feeling unsafe and the prison’s response to violence was robust and multi-layered. Actions were informed by good analysis and good interdepartmental coordination. The use of peer workers to support violence reduction was creative and extensive, although we emphasised, and the prison understood, that the need to ensure the most thorough governance of such schemes was vital. The prison promoted and encouraged an enabling environment which supported victims and provided prisoners with supported opportunities to behave responsibly.

The main threat to the stability of the prison was drugs. The use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) had peaked in 2017 and well over half of those prisoners surveyed suggested drugs were easily available in the prison. The prison’s drug strategy required updating but actions to combat drug usage looked impressive and again involved the meaningful use of peer support. There were early signs that actions to reduce drug availability were beginning to be effective.

The use of segregation had decreased slightly at the prison and most stays were short. Living conditions on the unit were good and relationships supportive. In contrast, use of force had increased substantially and it was our view that staff did not always possess sufficient confidence in the de-escalation of incidents. This was a significant failing that required urgent attention. Since we last inspected, one prisoner had tragically taken their own life, although the prison was responding to the recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) following their investigation. Self-harm incidents remained high, prompting a comprehensive strategy to reduce this which included reasonable access to Listener peer supporters. The assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management of those at risk, however, was poor and required urgent improvement.

We judged the area of respect to be ‘good’, our highest assessment, which was again an improvement since our last inspection, and this despite a very large number of prisoners now sharing cells. This followed a decision taken, we were told, to action a contractual clause that obligated the prison to take an additional 500 prisoners, and this took place shortly after our previous inspection. The implications and potential risks of this level of overcrowding are clear, but our findings with respect to the general living conditions experienced by individuals and their access to basic amenities were very good, in some cases excellent, and contributed greatly to a positive sense of community. Staff-prisoner relationships were similarly very good, despite the inexperience of many and some inconsistencies, although yet again the extensive use of peer support arrangements assisted greatly not only the prisoners themselves but the staff also.

Prisoner consultation was excellent and widespread and was contributing greatly to general improvements and well-being. Applications and complaints were dealt with properly and supported by various prisoner advice arrangements. The promotion of equality was very good, with the needs of most with protected characteristics met reasonably well. Health care provision was mostly good, although substance misuse provision was mixed.

Most prisoners had very good access to activity and time out of cell. The leadership and management of learning and skills provision was judged by our Ofsted colleagues to be ‘outstanding’, with overall effectiveness ‘good’. There were sufficient education or work places for all and good attendance, punctuality and behaviour among prisoners. The curriculum reflected a detailed needs analysis and offered a wide range of high-quality educational and vocational learning that supported potential employment. Teaching, learning and assessment, and achievements were mostly good and, in keeping with the rest of the prison, usefully supported by peer schemes.

Contact between prisoners and their offender supervisors was generally good although too many, including those who posed a risk of harm, did not have an up-to-date offender assessment system (OASys) assessment. Public protection arrangements required significant attention and improvement. Local arrangements were weak and engagement from community-based offender managers was sometimes poor, even in the lead-up to release. This meant that not all prisoners, even those posing a high risk, were supported by robust risk management plans to support their safe release into the community.

Similarly, too many of the prison’s sex offenders were unsuitable for or unable to access treatment programmes, although programmes aimed at the general population were better. Pre-release and resettlement support was in high demand, with about 150 prisoners released each month, but was both useful and effective. As with so much at Oakwood, excellent peer-led initiatives supported those coming to the end of their sentence. Work to support family contact was outstanding.

This inspection of Oakwood was tremendously encouraging. The sustained improvement we have seen had much to do with the consistent, capable and courageous leadership we observed, principally from the director but also others including the Oakwood staff. Oakwood is not an easy prison to run and presents many risks. Some of the initiatives we have seen, notably the extensive use of peer support, can go badly wrong if they are not constantly attended to. That said, the empowerment of prisoners represented by such schemes had contributed greatly to a culture of decency and respect that was enabling prisoners to contribute and invest in the well-being of others as well as themselves.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
April 2018
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

 

Return to Oakwood

To read the full report go to the Ministry of Justice web site or click here:

 

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