The prison was given a full inspection in summer 2015. In his report the inspector said:
HMP Wealstun is a category C training and resettlement prison that, at the time of this inspection, held about 800 adult men.
The prison had to deal with a number of challenges. The availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS), particularly synthetic cannabis such as ‘Spice’, was very high and had very serious effects on the health of prisoners and the safety of the prison. In the few hours I spent walking round the prison one morning I saw three prisoners clearly affected by what they had taken. The prison had a younger and potentially more volatile population than most prisons of its type. There were almost double the number of fights and assaults than in similar establishments, although most of these were low level.
In other prisons this combination of factors has led to many prisoners feeling fearful and has had an impact on all aspects of the regime. In Wealstun, however, fewer prisoners told us they felt unsafe than in similar prisons and our observations of a generally calm and positive atmosphere supported prisoners’ perceptions.
The reasons why the prison was doing better than we might have expected were clear. The leadership of the prison by the governor and senior management was very good. There were very good relationships between staff and prisoners. Staff in different departments worked effectively together to tackle joint problems and support each other, and a ‘can do’ attitude characterised the approach of the staff team.
The NPS problem was very serious. It was causing so many health emergencies that this was sometimes a drain on local community resources. Drug debts and the enforcement that followed were undoubtedly behind much of the low level violence that was happening. It was not possible to test for NPS, most of which were legal in the community, and supply from outside sources carried little risk. The prison covered a large area and had a lengthy perimeter and a regular stream of prisoners, visitors and staff of all types going backwards and forwards through the gate, and this meant preventing supply was very difficult. The prison was responding vigorously to the challenge. There was a sophisticated analysis of the threat, good links with the police, and multi-disciplinary interventions, sometimes working with family members, for individual users. There was a delay in processing some intelligence that might have meant that some opportunities to intercept supplies were missed, but the difficulty the prison had in reducing supply and use was a reflection of factors largely outside its direct control.
The problems caused by NPS would have been worse had it not been for the prison’s other strengths. Staff relationships with prisoners were friendly but challenging when necessary. The environment was generally satisfactory and basic services were delivered efficiently. Consultation arrangements were generally good but needed to be strengthened for prisoners with protected characteristics. Prisoners were very positive about faith provision, although the fact that chaplains did not have cell keys hindered the execution of some of their duties. Health care and substance use services were good.
There was no doubt that these good relationships underpinned prisoner’s positive views about safety – despite the relatively high levels of violence. Links between safer custody and offender management staff were effective, and information was shared well between the two. There were good systems to tackle violence but support for victims was less assured. A small number of ‘safer custody’ prisoners – men who were under threat on the wings or who found it difficult to cope – were scattered around the prison with very limited regimes and little evidence of active support. Nevertheless, levels of self-harm were low and prisoners identified as being at risk of suicide or self-harm told use they felt well supported. More attention needed to be given to recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following previous self-inflicted deaths.
Given the threat from NPS, security was mostly proportionate. Not surprisingly, use of force was high but governance was very good. Good use was made of recorded NPS-related incidents so both staff and the prisoner (who could often not recall the incident) could learn from what had happened. The use of segregation was slightly lower than elsewhere, but although relationships and the environment were generally good, not enough was done to reintegrate men back on the wings. The incentives and earned privileges scheme was a weakness. Neither staff nor prisoners had much confidence in it so it was inconsistently and inflexibly applied and did little to motivate prisoners.
The management of learning and skills was good, as was the range and quality of activities which were effectively linked to local employment needs. Men who were fully employed could spend 10 hours a day out of their cells and there were enough activity places to meet the needs of the population. It was disappointing therefore that we found a quarter of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day, with 40% in total on the wings. Some of this was due to temporary staff shortages or prisoners attending other legitimate appointments and failing to return to work or education afterwards.
The prison had to balance the need for effective offender management processes for men serving longer sentences and the resettlement needs of men due to be released. The strategic management of both was good. However a backlog of risk assessments undermined planning for individual prisoners and the prison as a whole. The new community rehabilitation company was settling in well and the practical resettlement needs of most men were met. More needed to be done to strengthen work with families and children.
HMP Wealstun was dealing with significant challenges that affected outcomes for some prisoners. Nevertheless, it was dealing with these challenges better than most and much of its work compared very favourably with other similar prisons. It is a concern that even a well-run prison like HMP Wealstun was struggling to cope with the supply and use of NPS – and this indicates the need for national action to deal with it. It is a credit to the prison that despite this threat, it was able to provide a safe and decent regime for most of the men it held.
Nick Hardwick October 2015
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below: