HMIP Inspections of Bronzefield

The prison was given an inspection in January 2022, 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:

Bronzefield, the largest women’s prison in the country, was badly affected by the death of a baby born to a mother in the prison in 2019. Since that tragedy and after the recent publication of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman report into the case, there had been impressive action from leaders, particularly the deputy director, to respond to recommendations. This included setting clear standards within the prison and stronger partnership working with local maternity services.

At the time of our inspection there were 468 women held on four main house blocks. House block 1, which contained the drug treatment and detoxification wing, was noisy and unsettled, and the women housed there reported twice the levels of intimidation from their peers and abuse from staff than elsewhere in the jail.

Sodexo, which ran the prison, was also the education provider. This made for a much stronger connection than we often see, with the head of education sitting on the senior management team. Teachers had stayed on site throughout the pandemic, working on the wings when they were not allowed to open classrooms. Health care services, also run by Sodexo, needed to improve the management of medicines: it was disorganised and understaffed, which meant that some women did not get the right medication on time.

Leaders had shown impressive ambition in reopening services and increasing the amount of time women were spending out of their cells, with a recognition of the deleterious effects of protracted lockdowns on the mental health of prisoners. There remained, however, a large proportion of women who did not have jobs or attend education and were locked up for 20 hours a day, with further regime slippage at the weekend often leading to even less time out of cell.

The prison had worked hard to care for the many women with serious mental health difficulties. On the health care wing 11 of the 13 women had mental health problems and of those, three had already been assessed as requiring a place in a mental health facility and were waiting for a space. A dedicated team worked very hard to support these women, but they were not able to provide the treatment that they needed. The prison was collecting useful data on the number of women who had come to prison as a ‘place of safety’, either on remand or recall to custody. Many of these women should not have been in prison and were only there because there was insufficient provision in the community. This is a national problem that is worse in the women’s estate and, because of its location, even more pronounced in Bronzefield.

Like all prisons that are in or close to London, Bronzefield struggled to recruit and hold on to prison officers. The director was aiming to make the selection process stronger so potential trainees had a better understanding of the job. He was also aiming to create a mentoring system that would offer support to officers in their first or second year in the job. Staff who filled out our survey, particularly those in their first year, were critical of the support they had had so far. The prison needed to dedicate considerable time and resource to improving the officer retention rate.

Far too many women left the prison without safe and stable accommodation and this meant that some were reluctant to leave, preferring prison to the uncertainties of freedom. One had even slept in the gatehouse for two nights because she had nowhere else to go. Finding adequate housing and support for the many women with complex needs leaving Bronzefield must be a priority for the mayor of London, probation services and local authorities. Without stable, safe accommodation many women are liable to have mental health relapses, return to substance misuse and become involved in crime on release, creating more victims and, at great cost to the taxpayer, repeating the cycle and undoing the good work of the prison.

Bronzefield is a well-run prison with a strong, experienced director and leadership team who are committed to improving outcomes for women. They have shown a willingness to consider innovative ways to do this and desire to influence national policy. As COVID-19 restrictions are finally lifted, leaders will need to focus on supporting officers in front line roles to reassert clear behaviour management systems that challenge rule-breaking and provide meaningful incentives to promote good behaviour. Leaders will benefit from making better use of the data they collect to set targets and drive forward improvement. They will inevitably be disappointed with the scores in this inspection which have declined in the areas of respect and rehabilitation and release planning, but there is much to build on after a difficult two years.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
March 2022

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To read the full reports follow the links below:

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