Inspections of HMP Woodhill

The prison was given an inspection in September 2021 , 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:

Since we last inspected Woodhill in 2018 the establishment had transitioned from a core local prison to a category B training prison. It had retained several remanded category A prisoners, as well as the operation of several specialist units, and remained a complex and high-risk institution. Relatively modern – built about 30 years ago – the prison comprises a series of house blocks within a secure campus in Milton Keynes. At the time of our inspection the prison held approximately 500 men, about 70 below its operational capacity; this was a consequence of both COVID-19 mitigation and staff shortages.

Our findings at this inspection were disappointing. As in 2018, outcomes in safety and purposeful activity were poor, while outcomes in respect and rehabilitation and release planning had deteriorated and were now not sufficiently good. Against nearly all the main measures, the prison was not safe enough. Violence was higher than comparable prisons; use of force, though mostly legitimate, was also high; use of segregation was considerable; and there had been seven self-inflicted deaths since we last inspected. Self-harm was also high. It would be wrong to say the prison had done nothing to try to address these issues. There had been some useful work led by the governor to try to better understand the causes of these problems, but this had yet to translate into action that was making a difference.

Prisoners were frustrated about the confidence and competence of staff and the inconsistency of their interactions with them. In our survey only two-thirds of respondents felt respected by staff; a reflection, perhaps, of the fact that about a third of all officers had been recruited in the last 12 months, 40% were only in their second year and many supervisors were similarly inexperienced. Our own observations were largely consistent with the views of prisoners. Many staff were well-meaning and seemed to want to do a good job, but as a group they were not sufficiently effective. Standards were not maintained and poor behaviour not addressed. Many prisoners told us that staff were either unable or unwilling to deal with their reasonable requests. Whatever the problem at Woodhill, be it the safety of the prison, the confidence prisoners had in staff, the total inadequacy of the daily regime or weaknesses in the provision of services, the source seemed to be the inability to recruit and retain staff. This was the fundamental strategic priority that needed to be addressed.

Leadership at Woodhill had huge challenges. Apart from the issue of human resources, the complexity of the prison and the risks managed were significant. The governor was both energetic and enthusiastic in her approach, she had shown considerable commitment to the establishment over time and it was clear to us that most staff were aware of her priorities. In specific departments we saw other examples of good leadership and there was evidence of initiative and effort across the prison, but this was not bearing fruit in terms of improvement.

Arguably HM Prison and Probation Service needs to take stock of what is happening at Woodhill and reflect on what it can do to support change. Local leaders need more support to address issues beyond their control and, most of all, there needs to be a deliverable local plan to recruit, retain and equip the staff needed to run the prison.

Charlie Taylor HM
Chief Inspector of Prisons
October 2021

Return to Woodhill

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

  • Inspection report (740 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Woodhill by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (13 and 20-24 September 2021)
  • 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)

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