HMIP Inspections, Askham Grange

The last inspection of the prison was in April 2019. To read the full report form the inspectors go to the Ministry of Justice web site or follow the links below. The latest report said:

“HMP & YOI Askham Grange is a women’s open prison situated in a rural village setting a few miles outside York. At the time of this inspection it held around 110 women. At the heart of the prison sits a large late Victorian house. Other units have been added over the years, including additional living accommodation, a well-equipped mother and baby unit and a health care unit. Immediately outside the grounds is a farm shop and café that sell produce and goods grown or produced by the prisoners.

At the last inspection in 2014 we awarded our highest grading of ‘good’ in all four of our healthy prison tests. On this occasion we again awarded our highest grades for all four tests. However, it was particularly pleasing to see that the leadership and staff had not simply relied upon what we found last time, nor just continued along the same path. On the contrary, there had been new initiatives and innovations in many areas. The ethos of rehabilitation and resettlement that dominated the establishment seemed to be stronger than ever, and the extraordinarily strong nature of the relationships between staff and prisoners was clear to see. There can be no doubt whatsoever that this played a huge part in achieving the goals of building women’s confidence and self-esteem en route to eventual release.

From the moment that prisoners arrived at Askham Grange, they found themselves in a welcoming and safe environment. Very few prisoners indeed said they had felt unsafe, and the reception process, first night dormitory and good use of peer supporters all contributed to this. There was hardly any violence, and levels of self-harm were very low. This was a welcome finding when the levels of self-harm elsewhere in the women’s estate are so troubling. Those prisoners who did need support received it appropriately. Our survey suggested that drugs and alcohol were not easily available, and there was little demand for clinical management of substance misuse. The numbers of women being returned to closed conditions seemed broadly comparable with the only other women’s open prison (HMP East Sutton Park), but more needed to be done to record the detailed reasons for the returns, and to analyse the data to identify any trends.

The establishment was clean, the living conditions were good and the grounds extensive. Acorn House enabled prisoners to look after their children for overnight stays, and the onsite mother and baby unit, complete with well-equipped nursery, was an excellent facility. It was clear that both mothers and babies thrived in the environment. The provision of healthcare was good. However, more needed to be done at the strategic level to monitor and analyse equalities work and the outcomes for those with a range of protected characteristics.

Prisoners were never locked in their rooms and had free access to most of the site throughout the day. For the visitor to Askham Grange, it was sometimes not immediately obvious at times whether an individual was a member of staff or prisoner, which is testament to the ethos of the establishment being turned into reality. There was a wide range of recreational and social activities available, but it seemed to us that more could be done to match what was available with prisoners’ individual interests. Ofsted judged the provision of learning and skills to be outstanding. In terms of helping prisoners to progress, the links to voluntary organisations and employers were a key strength. In particular, the use of release on temporary licence (ROTL), with nearly half of such events being into paid employment, and good connections to national employers meant that even if prisoners came from a part of the country well away from Yorkshire, there was a very good chance of them finding employment on release.

As with any establishment, there will always be room for improvement in some areas, and these are detailed in the relevant section of this report, including the one main recommendation about public protection. However, it would be wrong to detract from the overall excellence of Askham Grange. I would only sound two notes of caution. One is that in the weeks following the inspection, the acting governor and deputy governor were both due to leave, and as we have seen elsewhere, maintaining consistency in leadership energy and ethos can be vital to maintaining good performance. The second issue is potentially more worrying, and it is that Askham Grange has been under threat of closure for some six years. This uncertainty needs to be resolved as soon as possible. This is one of the best performing prisons in the country. The prisoners clearly benefit enormously from what it can provide. It would be good to think that in the future Askham Grange might remain as an example of what can be achieved, and not fade away into a memory of what was once an exceptional establishment.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                             April 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

 

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To see the full reports just follow the links below