HMIP Inspection of East Sutton Park

The prison was given a full inspection in April 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:

HMP/YOI East Sutton Park in Kent, which was holding 81 women at the time of our visit, is one of only two dedicated women’s open prisons in England. The prison has been under threat of closure since an announcement by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) in October 2013, but this has subsequently been delayed following a legal challenge. The main building is a grade II-listed Jacobean manor house, located in extensive grounds with a working farm. At our last inspection,  in 2016, we found East Sutton Park to be an excellent prison, where very strong staff-prisoner relationships underpinned safety and where there was a respectful and purposeful approach to preparing women for release.

During this visit, we found the prison had largely maintained its strong rehabilitative function despite the pandemic. Women continued working both in and outside the prison during the national restrictions. Almost a third of the population was released on temporary licence (ROTL) every day to carry out essential work in the community,  which was impressive. Extra work placements in the prison gardens and farm were available for women who did not have essential worker roles and were unable to benefit from ROTL. This had led to more women achieving qualifications in these areas and more women had also enrolled on distance learning and Open University courses.

At the start of the pandemic, prison leaders had gone to considerable lengths to put appropriate measures in place to manage the risk of COVID-19. Social distancing and keeping cohorts of women apart in the main house, which had dormitory accommodation, had been especially problematic. New accommodation, including four flats offering independent living and 20 temporary single-occupancy pods, had opened so women going out to work could live separately. The dormitory accommodation in the main building had been reduced from six to a maximum of three women per room to minimise the spread of the virus. A separate unit for new arrivals and others required to quarantine had been set up in the main house and extra portable toilets/showers installed outside. New transfers to the prison had been suspended at the start of the pandemic until September 2020 when the changes had been completed.

Despite these measures, there were 34 confirmed cases – more than 40% of the population – during a COVID-19 outbreak starting in December 2020. Prison leaders had worked in partnership with the health care department, NHS England and NHS Improvement and Public Health England to make sure appropriate steps were taken to contain further spread of the virus. COVID-19-safe procedures were strictly enforced. This included wearing face masks inside buildings and sanctions being applied to women for breaching social distancing rules.

During the pandemic, violent incidents had remained very low, although women reported an increase in bullying as relations became strained during the COVID-19 outbreak when regime restrictions were tightened. Recorded levels of self-harm were also low. However,  vulnerable women who had been on an assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management plan for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm,  said staff did not always give them the extra support they needed. Relationships were generally good, although more mixed than at the last inspection, especially in the main house,  where only 60% in our survey said that most staff treated them with respect. This appeared to reflect, in part at least, frustrations that had built up during the period of restrictions. Women spoke very highly of some staff, but identified a small number as unhelpful. In our survey, women from minority ethnic groups were also less positive about the way they were treated by staff.

Opportunities for women to leave the prison temporarily to see their children and families had been suspended, in line with COVID-19 restrictions. The prison had promptly introduced the option for women to FaceTime their families and friends on a weekly basis using a mobile phone. Resettlement planning was generally timely but, until recently, plans had been developed remotely via questionnaire, which was not an adequate substitute for face-to-face contact. As one of the first prisons to receive HMPPS approval to progress to ‘regime stage three’ following the most recent national lockdown, recovery plans (see Appendix III: Glossary of terms) were comparatively well advanced. Social visits, education classes and day release for resettlement purposes and to see family members had now re-started.

In summary, the prison had continued to be a safe and purposeful place during the pandemic. Opening new accommodation to minimise the risk of virus transmission had brought considerable improvements,  and living conditions were better in  the former dormitory accommodation. The challenge remains for prison leaders to address the decline in the previously very strong staff-prisoner relationships and improve support for women as they prepare for their release.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
May 2021

Return to East Sutton Park

To read the full reports, follow the links below: