HMIP Inspections, Wakefield

The prison was given a full inspection in 2014, and in that report the inspector said:

“HMP Wakefield is one of eight high security prisons in England and holds 750 men, many of whom are serious sex offenders. Approximately 70% of the population are life or indeterminate sentence prisoners, a small number of whom are unlikely ever to be released. The prison also contains a small close supervision centre (CSC) unit, part of a nationally managed system of similar units that hold some of the most violent men in the prison system. This facility was not part of our inspection but will be considered as part of a thematic inspection of these units, due to take place in early 2015.

Wakefield is a highly complicated and high risk institution where the need to ensure the protection of the public, the need to provide safe, decent and humane treatment for men serving extremely long sentences, and the need to work with men to help them address their offending behaviour have to be balanced. This inspection found that Wakefield had made progress in developing and embedding a decent and constructive staff culture and had started to make progress in working constructively with men, most of whom had committed the most serious of offences.

The prison felt calm and ordered and most prisoners (although fewer than when we last visited the prison) said they felt safe. A changing population profile and a more challenging population mix than at our previous inspection may explain this change, but managers needed to better understand some of these dynamics. Levels of violence, while not high, had increased, particularly assaults against staff, and although most incidents were not serious, ongoing vigilance in the context of the high risks managed was needed. Case work to support those at risk of self-harm was generally well managed and some good care was provided to men who were vulnerable. Processes to support prisoners on arrival were reasonably good and efforts were made to help prisoners settle down, for what were often very long stays at the prison.

As one would expect in a high security prison, security arrangements were sophisticated and provided an appropriate level of reassurance to the public. Despite this, Wakefield felt less oppressive in many respects than other similar prisons we have visited. This was, in no small part, due to some excellent relationships between staff and prisoners which were generally good at our last inspection, and had improved further. Most interactions between staff and prisoners were low key, friendly and appropriately challenging. The environment was decent and exceptionally well maintained for its age. Prisoners had good access to amenities and valued the wing-based cooking facilities, although there was scope for these to be improved. Focus on diversity was generally strong but more needed to be done to understand the more negative perceptions of black and minority ethnic prisoners. Better coordination was needed to ensure the needs of the increasingly older and infirm population were being met. Health services were generally very good.

F wing, the segregation and CSC unit, remained a poor environment, despite some efforts to brighten it up. Plans to carry out a major refurbishment of the unit in autumn 2014 were welcome. Some men held in segregation presented among the toughest challenges for staff, both in terms of their complexity and the degree of their difficult and sometimes violent behaviour. We were therefore disappointed to see that structures to provide care and progression planning to these men was very weak, and little was being done to prevent the psychological harm of long-term containment. The controlled unlock protocols we observed in the segregation unit were an extreme intervention which were said only to be used on those who were actively refractory. However, if misused they could have allowed significant risks of mistreatment or abuse. These protocols needed to be more closely and robustly monitored to ensure the measures were only used in extremis and that supervision was accountable.

The provision of work and activities to keep men purposefully engaged was not impressive. While time out of cell for the majority was reasonable, too many men were locked in cells during the working day, which largely reflected the significant shortage of activity places available. Given the wide ability mix in the population and the very long sentences being served, the education, creative and arts-based activities on offer were in particular need of improvement. The prison was seeking to address these weaknesses and at the time of the inspection was refurbishing a workshop which, in the near future, would provide additional workplaces. It had also secured funding to improve the offer available to category A prisoners, but none of this was yet in place.

Priorities in resettlement were appropriate, and included the idea or concept of ‘settlement’. This meant working with men serving very long sentences or men with only a distant prospect of release and providing them with some possibility or potential for progression, whatever that might mean to the individual, and critically working with them to reduce risk to others. To this end, offender management arrangements were good. Support for the small number released each year was bespoke and also good. Public protection arrangements were robust, and some good support was provided to help men keep in contact with family and friends.


A useful range of offending behaviour programmes were offered, although inevitably demand for these outstripped supply and many men complained about long waits for a course. At our two previous inspections we raised concerns about the lack of focus on working with the significant number of men who were in denial of, or refusing to fully accept, responsibility for their offences. It was pleasing therefore to see some progress being made in work to understand some of the underlying reasons why men minimise their responsibility for or deny their offences, and what could usefully be done to move them to a point where they could start to address relevant aspects of their behaviour and cognitions. This work was in its early days but some encouraging progress had been made.

HMP Wakefield has made progress in some key areas since our last inspection. A renewed focus on some of the emerging challenges around safety and the population mix, as well as developing more opportunities to keep prisoners purposefully occupied, are priorities we have identified. But considering the complexity, risk and challenges of this population, the prison is providing reasonable outcomes for prisoners.


Nick Hardwick                          November 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


Return to Wakefield

 The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below: