HMP Onley, HMIP Inspections

HMP Onley is a category C male training and resettlement prison situated in a rural setting near Rugby. At the time of the inspection it held around  740 prisoners. Since it was last inspected in 2012, it had been designated as a resettlement prison for Greater London, which undoubtedly had a significant impact on the prison in terms of the changed nature of its population. The prison’s distance from London had an impact on prisoners and their families because of the difficulties this presented in arranging visits.

This inspection found that there had been a dramatic decline in standards at Onley since the last inspection, particularly in the area of safety, where at the last inspection our healthy prison assessment was good. On this occasion the inspection found that outcomes for prisoners in the area of safety were poor, the lowest possible judgement. Quite simply, in the space of just four years Onley had become an unsafe prison. The number of assaults had nearly tripled, and was far higher than at similar prisons. Despite the enormous rise in violence, not enough had been done to understand and analyse the causes. Staff gave various explanations, including the change of prisoner population and gang-related issues that they brought with them, the impact of new psychoactive substances (NPS), and the impact of reductions in staff numbers. However, in practice , there had been far too little detailed analysis of trends, root causes or intelligence relating to the violence. A massive backlog of security-related information reports undermined any proactive approach. There was no comprehensive violence reduction or drug supply reduction strategy. The existing one did not specifically address the problem of NPS, which was difficult to understand given the impact it was having in the prison. A new violence management model had not yet been fully embedded, and in any event the delays in processing intelligence reports would make meaningful response impossible.

As at many prisons, we were asked to take account of the impact of benchmarking and staff shortages. It was certainly the case that staff shortages contributed to the restricted regime that operated at Onley, and this had a direct impact  on the ability of prisoners to access activities, learning and training. In addition, the cross-deployment of offender supervisors meant that in many cases contact with prisoners was severely limited. Most prisoners did not have an up-to-date offender assessment system (OASys) assessment. Many prisoners were denied the opportunity to progress, despite the good quality and wide range of  learning and training opportunities that were available at the prison.

The challenge for the management team at Onley is to  find ways to halt the decline, and there are clear lessons to be learned from what the inspection revealed about the reactive approach that had been taken to too many issues. There was a clear need  for the leadership of the prison to get a grip of the problems facing them and move away from  merely reacting to events. Of course staff shortages have had an impact on many areas of service delivery, but they did not offer an excuse for a decline in standards of the severity that we found. There was actually much good work being done at Onley, which was reflected in this report.

It is only fair to point out that not every problem has a local solution. For instance, the problem with the lack of OASys reports largely sits with prisons in London which are transferring prisoners without the assessments having been completed. Staff from Onley have tried to address this, but without success.

If the decline at Onley is to be halted, the leadership of the prison need to develop plans to address the areas of greatest challenge and accept both individual and collective responsibility for delivering them. They should also take the recommendations of this report seriously. At the last inspection in 2012 HMI Prisons made 51 recommendations. We found on this inspection that a mere 16 of recommendations had been fully achieved. With such a poor response to independent inspection, perhaps it was inevitable that there would be a sharp decline in standards.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM   September  2016
Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Onley

To see the full report go to the Ministry of Justice web site

This section contains the reports for Onley from 1999 until present