HMP Onley, HMIP Inspections

The prison was visited by the inspectors in November 2018. In their report the inspectors said:

HMP Onley, situated near Rugby in Warwickshire, is a category C training prison holding, at the time of this inspection, around 740 men. It was last inspected in the summer of 2016. Some 80% of the prisoners held there come from the London area. Sixty per cent are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and around three-quarters are serving lengthy sentences of four years or more.

At the last inspection we found that the prison was unsafe, and judged the area of safety to be ‘poor’, our lowest assessment. Making this judgement is not something we do lightly, and is a reflection of the depths of our concerns when we do so. It was particularly disappointing, therefore, to find that at this latest inspection, two and a half years later, the prison was still fundamentally unsafe, and for the second time attracted our lowest assessment. Inexplicably, of the 18 recommendations we made in 2016 in the area of safety, only five had been achieved. Time and again we find that prisons which are unsafe will struggle to make progress in other areas, and HMP Onley was no exception. On this occasion we found that the prison was offering less respectful detention than at the last inspection, and had failed to make progress in the areas of purposeful activity and resettlement and release planning.

The lack of safety at Onley was all too obvious. From the moment of their arrival, prisoners were exposed to unnecessary risks. Inspectors found that they were placed on an induction wing, in poorly prepared cells, where prisoners who had caused problems elsewhere in the jail were allowed to intimidate and be predatory towards new arrivals. Perhaps it is not surprising that in our survey only 62% of prisoners said they felt safe on the first night. Sadly, their feelings were an all too accurate reflection of what life in Onley would be like during their time there.

As is the case in many prisons, the prevalence of illicit drugs played a major role in causing destabilising factors such as violence, debt, bullying and health emergencies. At Onley we found that nearly a quarter of prisoners were providing positive random drug tests, one in six had acquired a drug habit since entering the jail, and nearly half said it was easy to get hold of drugs. During the previous three months there had been some 200 emergency health calls related to the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS). Despite this, we found that far too little was being done to obstruct the flow of drugs into the jail. The use of intelligence was poor, with some 300 reports waiting to be acted upon.

 In light of this, it was almost inevitable that levels of violence would be high – and indeed they were. As a result, more than half of the prisoners told us they had felt unsafe at some time, and a quarter felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. However, there was a lack of analysis of the causes and patterns of violence, and the approach by the prison to it was largely reactive. The prison did not appear to be able to articulate the impact of drugs on the violence. Not only was their approach reactive, it was slow. There were more than 60 outstanding investigations into acts of violence, 42% of adjudications were never dealt with and some 140 referrals to the police were still awaiting a result. Some of these were many months old. The lack of effective challenge to poor behaviour, either informally or through formal processes, inevitably led to a situation where we found that far too many prisoners were self-isolating – refusing to come out of their cells or to go to education, work and training.

HMP Onley was a clear example of where the failure to deal with drugs and violence undermined many other aspects of prison life. There was a vicious circle where fear, frustration and boredom increased the demand for drugs, which in turn fuelled the violence, and thus completed the circle. In order for Onley to break out of this circle, there must obviously be more effective action taken to reduce violence and the availability of drugs. But at the same time, more can be done in other areas.

Onley is a training prison and yet there were not enough activity places for the population, and during the inspection we found that only 50% of prisoners were engaged in purposeful activity at any one time. In contrast, during our roll checks, conducted during the working day, we found that some 39% of prisoners were locked in their cells. For the past four years the prison had operated a restricted regime, meaning that there was no evening association and no scheduled exercise. The exercise yards were open for an hour, but this was at the same time as prisoners were expected to attend to domestic issues, such as cleaning, and take their meal. It is true that the prison had never really recovered from the chronic staffing shortages brought about a few years ago by the benchmarking exercise, but now that new staff were arriving, freeing up the regime and offering sufficient activity places needed to be a prime objective.

There can also be little doubt that doing more to support family relationships would help prisoners rehabilitate and prepare for their eventual release. Although Onley had been moved administratively from the London to the Midlands group of prisons, 80% of the prisoners still came from London. There were clearly many who felt disorientated by being held so far from home, and who said they rarely received visits from friends or family. Nothing was done to help visitors, either practically or financially, to get to the prison.

While my comments in this introduction might sound highly critical of the lack of progress at Onley, I would not wish to detract from the many good things happening there that were being delivered by dedicated and skilful staff. Health care, education, training, industry and offender management leading to release were all areas where there was some very good provision. Sadly, Onley will fail to fulfil its role as a training and resettlement prison until it can deal with the inextricably linked blights of drugs and violence. This will require a greater attention to Inspectorate recommendations than has been the case in the past, and strong leadership that is focused on clear operational outcomes.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                  January 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

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

This section contains the reports for Onley from 1999 until present