Inspections of HMP Woodhill

The prison was given an inspection in  February 2018 , 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 Woodhill in Milton Keynes is a complex institution known as a ‘core local’ prison. As such it combines a local prison function for just over 600 men with a high security responsibility, holding a small number (17 at the time of this inspection) of category A prisoners, most of whom are going through the court process or have been recently convicted. In addition, the prison operates a close supervision centre (CSC), a specialist facility for some of the country’s most disruptive prisoners. We inspect the CSC system separately, so the CSC wings at Woodhill were not looked at during this inspection. As part of HM Prison and Probation Service’s estate transformation, HMP Woodhill is earmarked to become a category B training prison later in the year.

We last inspected Woodhill in late 2015, when we expressed some optimism about the direction the prison was taking and recorded reasonably good assessments in three of our four tests of a healthy prison. We were, however, critical of the prison’s approach to the issues of suicide and self-harm prevention, identifying several areas where improvement was required. This inspection showed that overall outcomes for those detained were decidedly mixed. There was no doubt that some very good work was being undertaken at Woodhill, but we recorded quite significant deterioration in the areas of safety and activity, and judged outcomes for prisoners to be poor in both.

Underpinning nearly all the concerns raised in this report, including issues of safety and well-being, were chronic staff shortages and inexperience. This led to poor time out of cell, unpredictable daily routines and limited access to activity. From a staffing complement of 320 officers there were, at the time of the inspection, 55 vacancies, and 20% of officers in post had less than 12 months’ experience. Most interaction we saw between staff and prisoners was polite but reactive, and many prisoners expressed frustration at the apparent inability of staff to help them. A restricted daily routine had been in place for three years and there was little challenge and encouragement to help prisoners to engage constructively with activity. During the working day we found half the population locked in their cells. Our colleagues in Ofsted judged the overall effectiveness of learning and skills provision to be ‘inadequate’, their lowest assessment, and caused mainly by the underuse of available training and education resources owing to staff shortages. The need to bring stability, consistency and accessibility to daily routines and the prison regime was, in our view, an absolute prerequisite to improving the well-being of those detained.

Woodhill was still not safe enough. Good and innovative work had been done to ensure men were properly assessed when they arrived at the prison, but some information sharing arrangements were not well embedded and induction was often cancelled. We saw wings that appeared relatively calm, but nearly a third of prisoners told us they currently felt unsafe and over half told us they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay. Many prisoners reported victimisation and violence had increased – to levels greater than we typically see in local prisons. We were concerned about the high number of assaults that had taken place against staff. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that this was related to the paucity of the regime on offer and the inconsistency of staff in their dealings with prisoners. In nearly all respects we found the prison’s response to the need to reduce violence, intimidation and bullying to be insufficient or lacking. This is, therefore, the subject of one of our main recommendations.

The use of formal disciplinary procedures and force was high. There had been some improvement in the management of adjudications, but oversight of the use of force was inadequate. In contrast, conditions in the segregation unit had improved and the numbers segregated had fallen. The prison had well-developed arrangements to support security and stronger perimeter security than is usual for a local prison. Over half of prisoners told us it was easy to obtain drugs but positive testing rates were lower than in comparable prisons and mostly concerned the use of psychoactive substances and tradeable medications issued within the prison.

The number of self-inflicted deaths remained a huge concern. At the time we inspected, eight prisoners had taken their own lives since our previous inspection in 2015 and, staggeringly, 19 prisoners had taken their own lives at the establishment since 2011. Tragically, a few months after this inspection another prisoner was reported to have taken his own life. The prison’s historical failure to implement recommendations from coroners and following Prisons and Probation Ombudsman inquiries had been the subject of repeated criticism and had led to external scrutiny and analysis. Incidents of self-harm remained high. Improvements had been made to the way prisoners at risk of self-harm were assessed and supported, but not all planned improvements had been sustained and we had real concerns that the poverty of regime had the potential to undermine the well-being of those at risk.

Notwithstanding weaknesses in the relationships between staff and prisoners, we found Woodhill to be a reasonably respectful prison. Living conditions, the communal environment and access to resources and amenities were mostly good. Consultation with prisoners was effective, although the food on offer was unpopular. Work to promote equality had been neglected but this had not generally translated into more negative outcomes for minority groups. Health services had improved, most notably in the redesign and delivery of mental health services, but the regime and unlocking processes for some very poorly prisoners in the inpatient unit was a concern.

As with other findings, offender management was undermined by low staffing levels and we observed some weakness with public protection arrangements. There was a high demand for resettlement services with adequate, if variable, provision by the two community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) that served the prison. Across a range of rehabilitation services, however, a lack of monitoring made it very difficult to clarify the full effectiveness of the work being done. Family engagement work was limited.

It was clear to us that some improvements had been made at Woodhill and the governor and her team had expended considerable effort, enthusiasm and commitment to promote a positive culture in the establishment. That said, a disappointingly small number of recommendations from our previous inspection had been achieved. The priorities for the prison were clear: to stabilise the regime through adequate staffing; to devise and implement a clear, evidenced-based strategy to improve safety; and to sustain and embed the work being done to reduce self-harm.

 Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
April 2018
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Woodhill

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:

  • HMP Woodhill (1.35 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Woodhill (5–16 February 2018)
  • HMP Woodhill Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Woodhill (14 – 25 September 2015)
  • Protected witness unit at HMP Woodhill Report on an unannounced inspection of the protected witness unit at HMP Woodhill (13 – 14 July 2015)
  • HMP Woodhill Unannounced inspection of HMP Woodhill (13 – 24 January 2014)
  • HMP Woodhill Unannounced inspection of HMP Woodhill (3 – 13 January 2012)
  • HMP Woodhill Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Woodhill (16-20 November 2009)
  • HMP Woodhill Full announced inspection of HMP Woodhill (3-7 September 2007)