HMYOI Swinfen Hall, HMIP Inspections

The prison was visited by HMIP in August 2018 and in their report the inspectors said:

HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall is situated near Lichfield in Staffordshire, and at the time of the inspection held some 530 males aged between 18 and 28. Most were serving long sentences of over four years, including some 10% serving sentences of more than 10 years. The prison was last inspected in November 2016, when outcomes for prisoners were found to have deteriorated from the previous inspection in 2014 with assessments declining in three of our four healthy prison tests.

This latest inspection found that while there had been noticeable improvements in some areas, none of them had been sufficient to raise any of our assessments. In particular, there had been improvements in the provision of education and skills, and some of the residential accommodation had benefitted from refurbishment. I recognise that the assessments we made on this occasion were a disappointment to the prison’s leadership and staff, but the simple fact was that, despite the improvements, too many fundamental issues still needed to be resolved.

First and foremost among these was the poor regime, which had a negative impact on so much else in the prison. We found that it was disrupted about 60% of the time, limiting access to work and education. Thirty-nine per cent of prisoners told us they were locked in their cells for more than 22 hours each day during the week, a figure that rose to 65% at weekends. This meant that only 27% had daily access to telephones, limiting their ability to maintain family contact or to complete domestic tasks such as cleaning their cells. Only a quarter of prisoners were able to have a daily shower, which compared very poorly with the 89% who were able to do so in other similar prisons.

The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners was also clearly adversely affected by the poor regime. It was disappointing to find that the regime had not improved since the last inspection. It was our clear view that if the regime could be improved, Swinfen Hall could become a quite different prison.

One very obvious casualty of the regime was the lack of opportunity for many prisoners to consume their meals anywhere other than in their locked cells. As a result we found far too many were compelled to eat their meals while sitting either on or very near to the lavatory in their cell. This was, of course, a situation that was unfortunately by no means unique to Swinfen Hall but was exacerbated there by the very poor regime.

It was pleasing to find that the health care provision was generally good, and prisoners held positive views about it. However, we did find that black and minority ethnic prisoners held more negative perceptions than their white counterparts about their experiences, and this was an issue that needed to be analysed and understood.

The prison had a robust approach to dealing with violence, and the fairly new violence reduction strategy had much to commend it, although there needed to be a sharper focus on violence reduction. Despite the fact that there had been some reduction in violence over the previous 12 months, much remained to be done. Two-thirds of prisoners told us they had felt unsafe at Swinfen Hall at some point, and a third felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. The number who said they had been victimised by other prisoners or by staff was much higher than at similar prisons, and was another issue that needed to be addressed.

We were particularly concerned by the very high levels of self-harm, and the fact that this was disproportionately high among younger prisoners In the six months prior to the inspection there had been over 400 incidents, compared to less than 200 in a similar period before the last inspection. A significant amount of this total was attributable to a small number of prisoners, but this was nevertheless extremely worrying.

We have made four main recommendations in this report, and it is clear that there is an extent to which the issues they are intended to address are interrelated. The poor regime undoubtedly affected many areas of prison life, but clearly had a particularly acute impact on younger prisoners and those who were vulnerable or prone to committing acts of self-harm. The poor regime also inhibited attendance at activities, the development of constructive relationships with staff, family contact and basic living conditions. All of this inevitably had a negative impact on feelings of well-being and the ability of the prison to fulfil its objectives as a training prison. There was much good work being carried out at Swinfen Hall by a committed and hard-working staff group, but the prison will not fulfil its potential to provide a consistently purposeful and caring environment for the young prisoners held there unless and until the poor regime is improved.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

November 2018

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 

To read the full report from the inspectors go to the Ministry of Justice web site or follow the links below:

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