HMIP Inspections of Winchester

The prison was given an inspection in July 2019, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

HMP Winchester is in effect two prisons in one institution: a traditional category B loca l prison for adult and young adult men, and an adjacent but separate category C unit holding adult men. At the time of our inspection some 486 prisoners were being held, of whom 122 were housed in the category C facility. Owing to the contrasting character and purpose of the distinct parts of the prison, we have assessed each facility separately against our healthy prison tests.

Overall this was a disappointing inspection. In the local prison we found significant deterioration compared with findings at our previous 2016 inspection. Decline was   evident in three of our four tests of a healthy prison. Outcomes in safety and purposeful activity were now poor, and not sufficiently good in rehabilitation and release planning. In respect they remained insufficiently good. On the category C unit, outcomes remained reasonably good in safety and respect but had deteriorated in purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning. Despite this concerning picture, there was some evidence that the decline had been arrested and some tentative improvements made.

Winchester was not safe enough. Arrangements to receive new prisoners were slightly improved but still not good enough with, for example, only limited checks on new arrivals during their first night.  Violence remained rare on the category C site but had increased markedly in the local prison, particularly against staff. Fortunately, most recorded incidents were not classified as serious. Almost a quarter of respondents to our survey said they felt unsafe, and well over half of all prisoners reported feeling victimised. The prison had taken steps to improve the situation, for example by gathering and analysing useful data, but much of the response was   lacklustre or too recent to have had a significant impact.

Use of force had increased since our last inspection, which the prison put down in part to the inexperience of their staff. Oversight was beginning to improve but clear weaknesses remained, including a need for training in de-escalation techniques. Special accommodation was also used too frequently wit h the records we saw providing insufficient justification. The segregation unit remained a dismal place, and we repeat our recommendation that it should be completely replaced.

Physical security was proportionate but there were weaknesses in procedural security. For example, suspicion drug testing was poor and the whereabouts of prisoners were not always accounted for correctly. A high number of intelligence reports were submitted but a significant backlog meant they were not being actioned, and the security committee needed new impetus. The mandatory positive drug testing rate had fallen from 30% to 16%, suggesting that some supply reduction initiatives were having an impact, but 59% of prisoners still thought it was easy to obtain drugs in the prison.

The lack of improvement in work to reduce self-harm remained a significant concern; the recorded incidents had doubled since the last inspection, leading to levels higher than any other local prison in the country. Seven prisoners had also tragically taken their own lives, three in the previous 12 months. It was too soon to assess the impact of new strategies to help reduce self   -harm. The prison’s response to recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following investigations was not robust and many actions were not well embedded. A considerable number of prisoners were subject to case management (ACCT) interventions, with the risk that existing arrangements could become almost unmanageable. The case management we reviewed was applied inconsistently, and care was too often insufficient. Many of those in crisis spent too long locked up without distraction, further increasing their risk.

Most prisoners indicated to us that they could turn to staff for help if needed and most interaction we observed was polite. In contrast, many prisoners experienced frustration at their inability to get basic things done through staff. Similarly, we observed minor misbehaviour go unchallenged.  Keyworker arrangements had been introduced successfully and, along with formal consultation with prisoners, were working well.

The external and communal environments were clean and cells on the category C unit were well equipped and reasonable. In the local prison living conditions were not as good, and overcrowding and poorly equipped and damaged cells were common. Although most prisoners could keep their cells clean, access to showers and clean clothes was more problematic.

Senior managers did not prioritise and drive work to support the promotion of equality, and not enough was done to understand and meet the needs of prisoners with protected characteristics. Outcomes in health care were reasonably good overall.

Time out of cell for prisoners on the local side was very poor. During the working day we found about a third of prisoners locked up and far too few were in purposeful activity. Those not at work or in education were typically out of their cell for just 90 minutes on a weekday and those on restricted basic regime had as little as 45 minutes. Most prisoners were locked up for most of the day at weekends. Prisoners on the category C unit had a marginally better experience as they were at least unlocked from their cell, albeit retained behind gated spurs. A plan to improve the situation had been prepared and some measures were introduced during the inspection.

The findings of our colleagues from Ofsted were that the provision of work and skills were ineffective. Leadership and management in this area had deteriorated, and the range of vocational training had reduced. There were too few work or education places for prisoners in the local prison but sufficient on the category C unit. However, the places that were available were underused and punctuality was poor. Teaching, learning and assessment all required improvement, and provision in the category C unit did not support employment or further education on release.

We found pockets of good rehabilitative practice in the area of resettlement and reducing reoffending. However, the rehabilitative agenda was still not sufficiently prioritised. The purpose of the category C unit, for example, was unclear and it certainly did not fulfil a resettlement function. The quality of offender management was adequate, with most prisoners having a sentence plan and reasonable levels of contact with prison offender managers. The management of risk of harm reduction and access to offending behaviour interventions, however, needed to be better. This linked to public protection measures, which also required significant improvement. Release planning was similarly adequate, although only half of those released were recorded as going into settled accommodation.

Taking into account similar findings at other prisons, poor assessment scores and the deterioration in outcomes we saw at Winchester, notably on the local side of the prison, I gave serious consideration as to whether I should invoke the Urgent Notification process. This would have required the Secretary of State to produce an action plan for improvement within 28 days. It would have been very easy to justify doing so. However, as I have indicated previously, the process is not intended to be triggered as an automatic response to poor grades, but by the judgement of the Chief Inspector. In this case I took full account of the poor grades, the sharp decline in performance, the response to past inspections, the nature of the failings and the capacity of the prison to improve.

My judgement not to invoke the process at Winchester was influenced by several factors. I believe the Urgent Notification process is best reserved for when there is no other obvious or feasible solution, when the intervention of the Secretary of State is needed to bring about some strategic or significant organisational change. In the case of Winchester, we did not consider that this was the case and believed the changes needed to bring about improvement were all within the gift of the prison itself. Senior managers had been appointed relatively recently and were supported by a team of managers who impressed us as optimistic and committed. The governor and his team articulated a clear vision for the future of the establishment and seemed to be working to a plan that appeared to have arrested decline and gave some evidence of early improvement.

There was, however, a lot still to do at Winchester. Safety was a priority, but improvements here need to be linked to the introduction of a coherent and deliverable regime that would get prisoners out of their cells and using their time purposefully. In our view, managers need to focus on the basics, ensuring they measure and assess improvement critically, based on evidence. They then need to ensure such improvement is sustained.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                             August 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

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