HMIP Inspections, Askham Grange

The last inspection of the prison was in late 2014. To read the full report from the inspectors go to the Ministry of Justice web site or scoll down to the links below. In the latest report the inspectors said:

“HMP and YOI Askham Grange is one of only two women’s open prisons in England and Wales. Its primary function is to provide resettlement and through the gate support to women coming towards the end of longer sentences. At the time of the inspection it held 100 women, including three mothers and their babies.

Askham Grange is a small and very well run institution which in the past we have described as outstanding. It prides itself on delivering a decent, caring and resettlement-focused regime where women are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and others in the prison ‘community’.

Its ethos is to provide a supportive environment where women can develop confidence and selfesteem, build employability skills and access the community through the temporary release scheme. It continued to do all of these things very well, despite the real threat of closure as part of the NOMS women’s estate review.

Women arriving at Askham Grange were well looked after and real care was taken to communicate the ethos of the prison and what was expected in terms of behaviour and participation in the regime. It was a safe prison with very few incidents, and this was built on the participative and supportive relationships fostered between staff and prisoners. Most issues and disputes were dealt with informally between the women held or by staff, although disciplinary measures, when needed, were well managed. Women who are vulnerable for any reason were well cared for and security arrangements were appropriate. There were very few problems related to use of drugs or consumption of alcohol and substance use support, for those who needed it, was good.

The environment was very good and women took real pride in ensuring it was looked after and clean. The food provided was very good, which was particularly notable as this was not the case in other prisons despite the same budget. Women from minority groups felt well supported and most specific needs were being met. The mother and baby unit and nursery provided excellent support to the small number of women who were held with their babies, although as we have said elsewhere, the under-occupancy of these valuable facilities was of concern. Few formal complaints were submitted and when they were, they were taken seriously. Health services were very good and equivalent to those found in the community.

Women were never locked up and access to the pleasant outside areas was very good. Activity provision was of a high standard and met the needs of the population, focusing on building self confidence and employability skills. All women were required to engage in purposeful activity and this was individually tailored towards their employment goals on release. Excellent vocational work within the prison was supported by the use of release on temporary licence.

Resettlement was at the heart of the prison and embedded in almost all the work being done. Some excellent support was provided in the resettlement pathways, and in particular around maintaining contact with family and friends.

We did have a small number of concerns. A number of women with only a very short time left to serve had recently been transferred to the prison. These women did not have sufficient time left to serve to make best use of the support offered at Askham Grange, and their presence potentially undermined the resettlement ethos of the prison. The prison needed to consider how the needs of the women could be better met. It was not coincidental that during the inspection, the prison released one of these women with no accommodation to go to, the first such release for many months.

While we welcomed the focus on getting women back out into the community through release on temporary licence, there were some weakness in the risk assessment processes being used. In addition, staff needed greater focus on wider public protection arrangements to ensure the excellent work being done was not undermined.

Nevertheless, Askham Grange continues to provide outstanding support to the women it holds, and we have again given the prison our highest mark in all four of our healthy prison tests. There is real encouragement that the resettlement work being done will make it less likely that women will offend in the future with, for example, over 40% of women gaining employment on release, and nearly as many going into further education or training. The threat of closure is a real one, and it is not yet clear whether the proposed smaller units in closed women’s prisons will be able to replicate the full range of provision available at Askham Grange. The prison in a sense sets a benchmark of what needs to be achieved at these new planned facilities.


Nick Hardwick              December 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


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To see the full reports just follow the links below