The prison was inspected in August 2020. The inspection was a “Scrutiny Visit”, which is effectively a shortened version of a full inspection to make allowances for the disruption caused by Covid 19. The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:
” This report discusses the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Whitemoor, a category A prison holding around 450 prisoners at the time of our visit. Most prisoners were high risk, serving indeterminate sentences, and had been at the establishment for over a year. About a third of the population were category A prisoners.
Whitemoor experienced a COVID-19 outbreak in March, before any national guidance had been issued. This presented significant challenges to managers, who imposed restrictions in consultation with the health care provider, Public Health England and the National Health Service. At the peak of the outbreak, around 250 staff were off work, which prevented the delivery of a decent regime. At the time of our visit, the prison had not had a case of COVID-19 for 12 weeks and managers had rightly prioritised increasing time out of cell, with some success. Most prisoners could be out of their cells for two to two-and-a-half hours each day, which was better than at many other prisons.
Communication with prisoners had been good throughout the pandemic, and nearly all prisoners reported that they understood the restrictions, and that the reasons had been explained to them. However, feedback forms sent to the governor and our conversations with prisoners demonstrated clear frustrations around the variety, quality and quantity of food and contact with families.
Managers were completing the exceptional delivery models (EDMs) required by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) before resuming additional activities. The decision had been made that all of the sites in the long-term and high-security estate would move through the stages of recovery together, which would inevitably delay measures in some sites which were ready to progress earlier. Four EDMs had been approved and others were being prepared. While these would have some impact, the progress already made in improving the regime meant that significant additional improvement would be unlikely in the short term.
Arrangements (referred to as ‘cohorting’) were in place for symptomatic prisoners, those vulnerable to the virus and prisoners in their first 14 days at Whitemoor. Quarantine for new prisoners was undermined by the practice of allowing those who had arrived on different days to exercise together.
Levels of violence and self-harm had fallen at the start of the pandemic. However, they were now rising, and self-harm had returned to pre-restriction levels. Despite the suspension of strategic meetings, the safer custody team continued to monitor levels of self-harm, and outreach work from the Fens unit was arranged for vulnerable prisoners living elsewhere. Care for most prisoners was reasonably good, and better on the Fens unit, where an impressive 100% of prisoners with experience of being supported through the assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT)process reported feeling cared for by staff.
It was concerning that 38% of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of our visit. We found that this was a combination of those who felt physically unsafe and those who had anxieties about the pandemic. Apart from oversight of the use of force, which was better than at most prisons, behaviour management processes were limited or suspended at the start of the pandemic. Downgrades to incentives and earned privileges had recently been introduced for the most disruptive prisoners. We found that in the absence of formal processes, behaviour management relied on the positive relationships we observed between prisoners and staff.
In terms of safety, our key concern was segregation. The pandemic had halted work to reintegrate segregated prisoners through the Bridge unit. As a consequence, the number of prisoners in segregation had increased, and the average length of stay had nearly doubled to an excessive 95 days.
Residential units were relatively modern and all prisoners lived in single cells. As this was a long-term and settled population, many cells were personalised and prisoners took pride in keeping them clean.
By contrast, the cleaning of communal areas required improvement. Around one in five prisoners was employed as a cleaner but these prisoners were given only 30 minutes to clean each morning. This created COVID-19-related risks and led to wings looking grubby in places. Systems for redress were in disarray and the Independent Monitoring Board remained offsite.
Prisoners were very negative about the food. This was largely because the well-equipped self-catering kitchens had been closed. This meant that all prisoners relied on food cooked in the main kitchens, and they reported that the food was of poor quality and often cold when they received it.
Equality and diversity provision also needed attention; much work had been suspended at the start of the pandemic and little monitoring of access to services or outcomes was taking place. We could see no plan in place to address this, which was a gap in a prison with such a diverse population.
Good partnership work meant that key health services, including access to nurses, the GP and mental health support, continued. Managers were now reintroducing other services, including the optician and dentist, in line with community provision, and there was a clear plan for recovery. However, the continued lack of podiatry was poor. Although the cleanliness of the inpatient unit had improved, more focus was needed on a therapeutic regime. Medicines management was undermined by the continued practice of secondary dispensing on the segregation unit.
Managers and staff had worked hard to deliver a limited regime, which was better than that currently offered at most other sites we have visited. Work in other areas of purposeful activity was underdeveloped – in particular, in-cell education. It had taken four months for the education provider and prison managers to establish a way to deliver targeted education packs to prisoners, and at the time of our visit only seven of these packs had been completed. However, we were particularly impressed with the continuation of library provision; there was a clear system to ensure that prisoners had access to books and DVDs throughout the pandemic.
Managers had put in place some innovative initiatives to support family contact, and the introduction of video calling was also positive. In-person visits were about to be restarted but the number of restrictions and lack of weekend slots made them unattractive to prisoners’ families. The key barrier to family contact was a shortage of telephones. The prison had tried to source additional wing telephones but this had been refused as HMPPS was going to deliver mobile phones for use in prisons. However, by the time these phones had arrived at Whitemoor, guidance had been issued preventing their use in the high-security estate. To resolve this, HMPPS should install more wing telephones without delay.
Apart from public protection, much offender management work had been suspended. This was understandable but had the impact of delaying prisoner progression. There were plans to reintroduce offender management for some, but for most prisoners this situation was likely to continue for some time.
We found that managers at Whitemoor had made significant progress in improving regime provision, and the prison was largely safe and decent at the time of our visit. However, establishing in-cell education provision had taken too long. Planning for the recovery was well advanced in some areas but more focus was needed on the issues that mattered most to prisoners. Put simply, managers needed to buy more telephones, improve the quality of the food and implement a safe way for prisoners to cook for themselves. In addition, managers needed to address and redress shortfalls in the areas of segregation, equality and diversity.
Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports follow the links below:
- HMP Whitemoor – report (PDF), Report on a scrutiny visit to HMP Whitemoor by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 28 July and 4–5 August 2020
- HMP Whitemoor, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Whitemoor (13-23 March 2017)
- HMP Whitemoor, Unannounced inspection of HMP Whitemoor (13 – 24 January 2014)
- HMP Whitemoor, Full unannounced inspection of HMP Whitemoor (11 – 21 January 2011)
- HMP Whitemoor, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Whitemoor (7-11 April 2008)