HMP Whatton, HMIP Inspections

The prison was given a Scrutiny Visit in full inspection in August 2020. The inspector of prison said in his report:

HMP Whatton is a category C training prison in Nottinghamshire and at the time of our visit held about 770 convicted male prisoners. Whatton fulfils a national function providing services to address the offending behaviour of prisoners convicted of sexual offences. The vast majority of prisoners held are serving long sentences of over four years, including some 45% serving indeterminate or life sentences.

In the five months leading up to this visit, Whatton had been operating a restricted regime that had been imposed nationally in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the very start of the pandemic, one prisoner had died in hospital from a COVID-19-related illness and a few staff members had been symptomatic, but there had been no further cases in the prison since then. Clear communication to staff and prisoners and the implementation of appropriate measures to reduce the spread of infection had helped to keep the prison safe.

During the restricted regime, levels of violence had reduced and the use of force remained low. However, self-harm was higher than before the restrictions were imposed. While this could be partially attributed to a small number of prolific individuals, the problem was clearly wider spread.

In our survey, almost one in four prisoners reported feeling unsafe. The uncertainty created by the restricted regime and threat of a dangerous virus no doubt fed those negative perceptions. We were concerned that some of the systems in place to identify vulnerable prisoners, such as first night safety interviews and good quality key work, were not sufficiently robust, and there was no formal system to identify those who were isolating themselves from staff and peers. During a normal regime at Whatton these prisoners would possibly stand out, but at a time when prisoners spent most of their day locked up there was an increased risk that some vulnerable prisoners could be overlooked.

Staff-prisoner relationships remained positive, and although time out of cell was restricted, staff were approachable and friendly when prisoners were unlocked. Managers had taken a reasonable decision to focus what limited time for key work was available on the prisoners with the greatest need, such as those who were being supported by assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management. However, other one-to-one opportunities with prison offender managers (POMs) or other specialist staff were limited, providing a possible explanation for our survey findings, which although positive about relationships with staff, indicated the quality of contact needed to be better.

The mental health team and the ‘intellectual and developmental disabilities’ service continued to provide good support for those with the most acute need, and the social care support was a real strength. However, there were some risks in the management of medicines that required review.

The prison had maintained several important strategic meetings, including one covering equality and diversity. Good support for prisoners from the LGBT community and older prisoners had continued through the restricted regime, but many black prisoners felt that they were treated differently and as a result had a more negative experience than their white counterparts. We strongly urge the prison to explore and understand these perceptions, and to take action to address the issues identified.

Prisoners at Whatton felt the weight of the restrictions heavily because before lockdown most of them had benefited from plenty of time out of cell and reliable access to programmes, education and work. At the time of our visit, most prisoners were locked up for around 22 hours a day, which was clearly taking its toll on many of those we spoke to. The prison had retained work for around a third of the population, which was commendable and gave these prisoners more time out of their cells.

Managers believed they could deliver more but the need to comply rigidly to the national framework for recovery (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-national-framework-for-prison-regimes-and-services) had affected the scope of what the prison could offer, and the pace at which it could be delivered, in several areas. This was clearly a source of frustration for managers and prisoners, who felt their ability to be innovative and creative had been severely curtailed.

Prisoners had transferred to Whatton from all over the country to complete offending behaviour programmes to reduce their risk and progress through their sentence. Much of this crucial work had stopped during the restricted regime and some prisoners reported feeling stuck.

The prison had maintained some useful one-to-one offending behaviour work and had well-developed plans to restart small-scale group work. However, it was clear that it would take some time before it could address the growing backlog of cases, and some prisoners would be released without addressing some risky behaviours. Additionally, despite local efforts, too many prisoners were released without sustainable accommodation, which undermined the otherwise good public protection work.

In conclusion, managers and staff at Whatton were keeping prisoners relatively safe and motivated during challenging times. The pace of change was being directed nationally and was slower than the prison was capable of. Managers and staff were anxious about the impact on prisoners of long-term restrictions in a prison that had previously provided a full and rehabilitative regime.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
September 2020

Return to Whatton

To see the full report go to the Ministry of Justice web site, this section contains the reports for Whatton from 2002 until present

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