The prison was given an inspection in August 2020, 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:
This report discusses the findings from a scrutiny visit (SV) to HMP Wymott. The SV methodology developed from the ‘short scrutiny visit’ (SSV, see Glossary of terms) approach that HMI Prisons had used to provide independent oversight of custodial establishments since April 2020. Our previous approach monitored outcomes for prisoners in a small number of key areas at a time when regimes were severely restricted. While SVs are still far more limited in scope than our full inspections, they are increasing the intensity of scrutiny as prisons enter a phase of recovery. SVs examine the treatment and conditions of prisoners in greater detail and focus in particular on the pace of recovery and proportionality of treatment, while ensuring the safest possible inspection practices.
HMP Wymott, located in central Lancashire, is a category C training prison for adult male prisoners and a small number of young adults. Prisoners arrive at Wymott from all areas of England and Wales, and primarily go to there to undertake offending behaviour work and other activities aimed at helping them to reduce their risks, progress to open prisons or prepare for release.
At the time of this visit, the prison held 985 prisoners, compared with 1, 053 when we inspected in 2016. About half of the prisoners had been convicted of sexual offences and a third were aged over 50. The prevalence of mental health problems and physical disabilities among the population was high.
Wymott experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 very early into the restricted regime. At the peak of the outbreak, 34 prisoners were showing symptoms of the virus and almost half of the population needed to shield (see Glossary of terms) because they were vulnerable or extremely vulnerable to the risk that the virus presented. At that time, a quarter of staff were absent from work owing to the need to shield, and, sadly, two members of staff died from COVID-19-related illnesses. The prediction for Wymott in those early days was that there would be widespread infection and the potential for a number of deaths among prisoners.
It was refreshing to find a prison and a senior management team showing a clear commitment to managing the crisis while maintaining their ‘can do’ attitude. They worked closely with Public Health England and the NHS to put in place robust measures to promote infection control. This included a reduction in the population by about 10%, to enable prisoners to have their own cell, and the establishment of several units, in which almost half of the prisoners who were at risk from the virus could be cohorted.
The measures had been effective to date. At the time of our visit, there had been no prisoner deaths from COVID-19-related illnesses, and none had tested positive for several weeks. The prison had cared for operational staff returning to work from shielding by allocating them to work on the shielding units, which was notable positive practice. Most staff and prisoners felt that the restrictions were necessary and proportionate, given the risks to the population. Prisoners we spoke to who were shielding were anxious that safeguards might be lifted too quickly, and, sensibly, the management team had adopted a cautious approach to this over the last few months.
Reception and early days arrangements were reasonably good and the use of the two reverse cohort units (RCU, see Glossary of terms) was robust, with the exception that prisoners on these units could not access video calling with their family and friends, and that their time out of cell could be substantially reduced when the units were holding a number of small cohorts of prisoners.
The number of violent incidents had reduced since the restricted regime had started. However, despite many staff promoting the idea that self-harm had decreased sharply since the start of the restricted regime, we could find no evidence for this. When we took into account the reduced population, the rate of recorded self-harm incidents in the last four months was the same as for the four months before the restrictions were put in place. Care for those at risk of self-harm was reasonable but Listeners (see Glossary of terms) were unable to provide ongoing support to those in crisis, which needed addressing urgently.
In our survey, 16% of prisoners said that they currently felt unsafe, and the reasons behind this needed exploring to understand fully what this means to prisoners.
The prison was committed to rehabilitation and reducing reoffending but the implementation of the restricted regime brought with it some unavoidable consequences, including the suspension of much of the risk reduction work. Prisoners felt the impact of the lack of progression opportunities and the lack of support from their offender managers. The governor was clear that this could not continue in the long term, and was committed to returning to the rehabilitative focus that the prison used to have.
Social distancing (see Glossary of terms) was weak at times, and handwashing protocols were not always adhered to, but additional cleaning on the wings continued in order to fight the spread of the virus. Staff were responsive to prisoners’ needs, and the quality of relationships and interactions was good. It was disappointing that key worker support (see Glossary of terms) had ended and that the use of well-being checks was not as robust as the management team would have liked.
Some aspects of strategic oversight had deteriorated because of the restrictions, including the attention given to equality and diversity. While our survey did not show many differences in outcomes for those with protected characteristics, we found some clear examples of unmet needs for prisoners with disabilities.
We found two areas of key concern with the health care provision. First, delays in prisoners receiving their medication and poor governance in pharmacy created unnecessary risks and caused severe distress for many. Secondly, owing to staff shortages, mental health provision was lacking. Both of these key concerns required immediate attention.
The regime was reliably delivered but, although time out of cell had increased, it still remained limited for most prisoners. However, the prison had plans to increase this further in the very near future. Over a quarter of the population continued to have employment on or off the wings but the lack of formal and purposeful education continued to be a significant gap. The library and gym remained closed five months after the restricted regime had been imposed, and little progress had been made in delivering effective interim provision.
It is to the credit of the staff and prisoners that the consequences of the impact of COVID-19 have been managed well, and at the time of writing this report the establishment had controlled the sp read of the virus. It is perhaps now time to harness the obvious ‘can do’ attitude presented by Wymott, take further steps towards recovery and promote the rehabilitative culture that has, in the past, driven its ethos.
Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:
- HMP Wymott report (PDF), Report on a scrutiny visit to HMP Wymott by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (18 and 25–26 August 2020)
- HMP Wymott, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Wymott (10-21 October 2016)
- HMP Wymott, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Wymott (23 June – 4 July 2014)
- HMP Wymott, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Wymott (15 – 17 November 2011)
- HMP Wymott, Announced inspection of HMP Wymott (20-24 October 2008)