The prison was given an inspection in winter 2020, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:
This report presents the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Risley on the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Risley is a category C training and resettlement prison near Warrington in Cheshire. The prison holds more than 1,000 adult male prisoners, a mixture of mainstream prisoners, foreign nationals and prisoners convicted of a sexual offence. At the time of our visit, almost two-thirds of the population were serving sentences of more than four years.
We found a well-led prison that had continued to progress despite the pandemic. The management team had worked effectively, in partnership with health care staff and Public Health England, to control a COVID-19 outbreak at the start of the pandemic and to contain a later outbreak on G wing in September. Quarantine arrangements for those in their first 14 days at the prison and shielding arrangements for those vulnerable to the virus had been implemented in accordance with national directives.
The management team had taken a robust approach to minimising the risks of transmission of the virus by promoting social distancing and cleanliness, with frequent cleaning of communal areas by a team of prisoner ‘COVID cleaners’. Communication with staff and prisoners about COVID-19 had been good, with information provided in a range of languages. Staff were now wearing fluid-resistant face masks in all areas of the prison, and weekly COVID-19 testing of staff had started on-site.
Although the requirement for national approval of recovery plans (see Glossary of terms) had been cumbersome, senior managers had been proactive in their efforts to ease restrictions. The prison had been among the first in the country to reopen social visits and had resumed delivery of offending behaviour programmes to small groups in August. However, well-developed plans to progress to HMPrison and Probation Service stage 2 of recovery had been interrupted by the recent national lockdown in response to the second wave of the virus.
The amount of violence and self-harm had reduced at the start of the restrictions. There had been a subsequent rise in the number of incidents, but this remained below pre-pandemic levels. This was in the context of improved prison safety and reducing trends in both violence and self-harm in the year up to the pandemic. Safety meetings had continued throughout the pandemic and managerial oversight of this area was good. There had been two self-inflicted deaths during the period of regime restrictions. We found evidence of a good level of support for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm, supported by the assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management process.
We saw staff engaging well with prisoners. These observations were reflected in our survey, where most prisoners (79%) said that staff treated them with respect. Key work had been well embedded in the prison before the pandemic, and weekly checks on the well-being of more vulnerable prisoners and those near to release had continued during the COVID-19 period.
Although the residential units had suffered much wear and tear, with flooring in a poor condition and some showers below a decent standard, there had been considerable efforts to improve the environment as far as was possible in the absence of funding for proper refurbishment. The wing painting programme and the ‘Creating Rehabilitation, Enabling Decency’ programme of refurbishment of E wing by prisoners had continued despite the pandemic.
The participation of prisoners through peer support work and frequent consultation and community meetings had been a strength throughout the period of regime restrictions. The peer review of anonymised responses to complaints, discrimination incident report forms and use of force reports had been maintained. Work to promote equalities had improved considerably since our inspection in 2016, and had continued uninterrupted during the pandemic. The chaplaincy had also been visible and active.
Health care services had improved since our inspection in 2016. The full capacity of health services in the prison was underused because of social distancing and regime restrictions, which led to too many prisoners not attending for appointments and inefficient use of clinicians’ time. The restrictions, which limited the dispensing of medication at the prescribed time, had also introduced unnecessary clinical risk.
For most prisoners, the regime was severely limited to around one hour a day unlocked, which was a serious concern. Although a larger proportion (30%) than we have seen in some other prisons had jobs, a lack of in-cell telephony placed further pressure on prisoners to make their calls during the short time available out of their cell. Prisoners now had weekly access to the gyms, but the sessions took place during their hour of unlock.
Social visits had stopped again because of national COVID-19 restrictions. The introduction of video calls (‘Purple Visits’; see Glossary of terms) with family and friends was positive, and available capacity had allowed prisoners to access these twice a month. Welfare checks had been introduced following a Purple Visit, as this had been an emotional experience for some prisoners. There was also some good family support work, including a virtual family forum and video messages from prisoners to their families.
Sentence planning and risk assessment processes were up to date, but there was a large backlog in telephone call monitoring for public protection which the prison urgently needed to address. Although offending behaviour work had resumed, there were no interventions for those convicted of sexual offences. Progressive moves of category D prisoners to open conditions had continued during the restrictions, and restorative justice sessions had also taken place.
Release planning by the community rehabilitation company (CRC) was mostly through written correspondence, and not all prisoners had completed the questionnaire sent to them. Weekly virtual resettlement boards had started, but better communication with prisoners was required for them to feel involved. The ‘through-the-gate’ hub outside the prison provided good support for those being released but, as a result of the restrictions, this was available only to those deemed vulnerable by the CRC.
In conclusion, we found strong leadership and a motivated management team that had risen to the challenges of the pandemic. At the same time, plans to progress the prison had not stopped. Despite the lack of some basic facilities, such as in-cell telephones and decent showers, there were ongoing efforts to improve the environment and to build on the already considerable work that had been done to make Risley a more respectful and safer place. However, the impact of lack of time unlocked for most prisoners some eight months since the start of the pandemic was a serious concern.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:
- HMP Risley – report (PDF), Report on a scrutiny visit to HMP Risley by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (17 and 24–25 November 2020)
- HMP Risley, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Risley (13-24 June 2016)
- HMP Risley, Unannounced inspection of HMP Risley (8–19 July 2013)
- HMP Risley, Announced inspection of HMP Risley (7 – 11 February 2011)
- HMP Risley, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Risley (14-18 April 2008)