HMIP Inspection of Wealstun

The prison was given a full inspection in October 2019. In his report the inspector said:

 HMP Wealstun is a category C training and resettlement prison for adult men, situated a few miles from Wetherby in Yorkshire. At the time of this inspection some 820 prisoners were being held there. The population was transient and young, with two-thirds of the prisoners having been held there for less than six months, and around a third being aged under 30.

The prison was last inspected in 2015, on which occasion it was judged to be good or reasonably good in all four of our healthy prison tests. This recent inspection showed there had been a decline in two of those areas, safety and purposeful activity, in which we found that outcomes were now insufficiently good.

The ready availability of illicit drugs undermined much of what the prison was trying to achieve. In our survey, 69% of prisoners told us it was easy to obtain drugs, and nearly a quarter of all prisoners said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the jail – a remarkable figure given the short time that many prisoners stayed there. The prison had benefitted, belatedly, from being part of the ‘10 Prisons Project’ set up under the last but one Prisons Minister, and as a result now had some modern technology in place to help detect drugs and enhanced physical security to help keep them out. We were told that although the project had been set up in August 2018, support at a local level had not materialised until March 2019, and it could well be that the longer-term benefits of the project have yet to be felt.

The positive impact of technology and physical security improvements was compromised by the lack of response to intelligence reports. Far too little targeted searching or testing had been carried out, which, in view of the fact that the intelligence itself appeared to be of a good quality, was a missed opportunity. There was no clear overall strategy to deal with the drugs supply problem. Until such time as there is a comprehensive action plan in place, that not only requires an effective response to intelligence but is also proactive in seeking out incoming supply routes, the harms caused by the ready availability of drugs will not be reduced.

It was disturbing to find that levels of self-harm had increased six-fold since the last inspection. As in many prisons that we inspect, not enough had been done to analyse and understand what sat behind this huge increase. Until such analysis is carried out, it will not be possible to know whether the excessive amount of time that prisoners spent locked in their cells was a contributory factor or not. For a training prison such as Wealstun to have 28% of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day, as we found during this inspection, was simply counter-productive and unacceptable. Far too many prisoners failed to attend their allocated activity, which was a lost opportunity as we found that those who did attend generally had a positive attitude to learning and work, and in many cases were proud of their achievements.

I frequently refer in inspection reports to the weaknesses in the Offender Assessment System (OASys) which seem to afflict so many prisons. Given that nearly half of the prisoners were assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm to others, it was concerning to find that Wealstun suffered from these same weaknesses, which appear to be systemic. OASys is supposed to provide the basis for managing risk, informing sentence planning, making re-categorisation decisions and planning for release. However, we found that 75% of prisoners who were arriving at Wealstun were doing so without an assessment, and more than a quarter had one that had not been updated for more than a year. There had been some creditable work carried out locally to try to devise sentence plans, but two-thirds of these were missing in the cases we looked at, and where they did exist they were ineffective. The widespread shortcomings of OASys comprise in my view a strategic failure that undermines so much good work that we see being carried out at a local level, and demands a more co-ordinated and serious response from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) than has been the case to date.

Given the failure in so many cases to properly assess the risks presented by prisoners, it was perhaps inevitable that we should find other serious weaknesses in public protection and release planning. These are set out in detail in the report, but in essence amount to failures in what should be standard procedures.

I have deliberately focused on a number of key weaknesses, because they inevitably undermined much of the very good work that was being carried out at Wealstun. The relationships between staff and prisoners were generally very good, although at times we did see poor behaviour going unchallenged. Healthcare was good, and in many cases living conditions had improved considerably. Overall, we judged that outcomes in our respect test were good, our highest grade, and that is to the credit of the establishment, given the challenges they face in so many areas. I have little doubt that if the key areas of illicit drug supply and failure to assess risks were to be addressed, Wealstun could recover from the decline in grades since the last inspection, and indeed move on to better serve the needs of its prisoners.

Peter Clarke OBE CVO QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
 October 2019

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

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