HMIP Inspections of Whitemoor

The prison was inspected in early 2017. 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:

HMP Whitemoor is a high security dispersal prison in Cambridgeshire, which at the time of the inspection held 431 adult men. All were serving long sentences for serious offences; 77% of prisoners had an indeterminate sentence and over 30% were category A prisoners. Just over half the population were black and minority ethnic men and the prison continued to hold a disproportionate number of Muslim men, who accounted for over 40% of the population. The Fens unit held men who had diagnosed personality disorders, and there was further specialist provision in the close supervision centre (CSC), which will be subject to a separate inspection of the CSC system. Provision for prisoners with personality disorders was about to be further enhanced by the opening  of a psychologically informed planned environment (PIPE). As with previous inspections, we were struck by the complexities of managing this population safely, securely and with an appropriate focus on progression.

At our last inspection, we had serious concerns about the use of force, and the culture and regime in the segregation unit, which led us at that time to conclude that safety outcomes were not good enough. At this inspection, we were still seriously concerned about some aspects of segregation. Some men with persistently challenging behaviour were held for long periods in the unit and others who were not segregated under prison rules were refusing to relocate back to the normal location. Some men in the latter group had been segregated for many months. The unit was full and the regime offered was poor, consisting at best of a telephone call or shower every other day. Care planning did not address the underlying issues, ensure everything possible was being done to offset the detrimental effects of long-term segregation, or progress men to a more normal situation. The prison was not particularly well supported by other high security prisons, or by the long-term category B estate, in providing respite or a fresh start for these men. In contrast to this bleak picture, we did observe improvements in the staff culture in the unit, with a more compassionate approach being adopted, and use of force in the unit had dropped considerably. Use of force more generally was now well managed, and what we saw was proportionate.

More generally, men across the prison were more likely than at similar prisons to say they felt unsafe or felt victimised by staff. Despite this, levels of violence were remarkably low given the population mix, and security was reassuringly well managed. Care for those susceptible to self-harm was appropriate, and was excellent in the Fens unit, where many of them lived. Overall, while we had significant concerns about the men in long-term segregation, we considered safety outcomes for the vast majority to be reasonably good.

Overall, living conditions were reasonable. Every prisoner had a single cell, and access to wing kitchens was valued by them. Nevertheless, there were a number of frustrations about getting hold of prison clothing, bedding and other everyday items. Managers and staff needed to redouble their efforts to ensure the basics were being provided to the men in their care. Despite some negativity in our survey, we thought that relationships between staff and prisoners were reasonably good, and in some aspects had moved forward since our last inspection. Muslim men were negative about many aspects of life at the prison. While these perceptions needed to be better understood, staff appeared to have developed a more nuanced and insightful understanding of the issues, and we were encouraged by the focus on dialogue and listening. Diversity work in general was reasonable, although more needed to be done to address the needs of the many foreign nationals held at Whitemoor. Health provision was mixed: primary care support was generally appropriate but not all the needs of those with mental health issues were being met, although there were plans to address these issues.

Time out of cell was reasonable, but staffing shortfalls had resulted in some regime curtailments, and access to the open air remained too restricted. All men had access to good-quality activities, and achievements were very strong, but more provision was needed at higher levels. Few prisoners were released directly from Whitemoor, and in reality ‘resettlement’ meant recategorisation and/or progression to a training prison or specialist unit. Most of the work was reasonably well managed, although many men felt ‘stuck’ with little hope of progression. Some good work had started to address these perceptions, but it required further development, particularly through the offender management unit. Some excellent specialist programmes were on offer, and the prison had been recognised as a centre of excellence for its work with men with personality disorders.

Overall, and given the complexity of the issues being dealt with at Whitemoor, we were heartened by what we found. For the vast majority it was generally a safe prison, conditions were reasonable and relationships with staff had improved. The prison’s approach to diversity was developing and every prisoner could be involved in activities that would be of benefit to them. Resettlement work was appropriately focused, and despite there being many frustrations about progression, it was reasonably well supported. Our overriding concern was about the small but significant number of men in the segregation unit for long periods, and we considered that this needed urgent attention. Nevertheless, we commend the new governor, his senior team and staff for the work they were doing in the complex and challenging place that is HMP Whitemoor.

 Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

May 2017

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Whitemoor

To read the full reports follow the links below:

  • HMP Whitemoor (576.83 kB), 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)