HMIP Inspections of Forest Bank

The prison was given an inspection in February 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:

Forest Bank is a privately managed prison, located in Manchester, that has been operated by Sodexo for well over 20 years. Currently designated a reception prison, it can hold up to 1,366 men. The prison has three primary purposes: to receive those recently remanded to custody and hold them until their court appearances are concluded; to hold those who are serving fairly short prison sentences; and to hold those requiring resettlement support as their release date approaches. Convicted men with time to serve would be expected to be allocated to training establishments elsewhere. As an approach, the model has some merit. The evidence, however, would seem to suggest the prison was struggling to make it work, primarily because there was simply not enough space to be sure all new prisoners (about 300 a month) could be accommodated. This inevitably meant that, on an almost daily basis, significant numbers of prisoners were being diverted to other prisons out of the area, impacting the individuals and undermining the prison’s core mission.

This was our first visit to Forest Bank since 2019. In our healthy prison assessments, we evidenced similar outcomes in safety and respect, but deteriorations in both purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning (RRP). The impact of COVID-19 measures in the prison had made the lack of purposeful activity worse. We judged the prison’s regime as ‘poor’, with prisoners experiencing very limited time unlocked. Leaders showed limited ambition to improve this situation. Our colleagues at Ofsted judged Forest Bank’s overall learning and skills provision as ‘inadequate’, their lowest marking. It was clear to us that the prison needed to re-think both what constituted a useful and meaningful regime and how they approached supporting resettlement for a largely transient population.

This was not, however, the whole story. In late 2021, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) was forced to issue Sodexo with a formal rectification notice over their concerns about the safety of prisoners and the conditions in which they were being held. This was a concerning step, but there was clear evidence that the company had responded quickly and positively and had, for example, recruited a new Director and Deputy Director to lead the prison. Decisive action had seen noticeable recent improvement in living conditions and new priorities focused on improving safety had been identified. The plans to deliver these priorities, however, still needed more development to ensure their implementation was sufficiently robust.

More also needed to be done to make sure newly received prisoners were properly supported and inducted. Violence and associated measures, such as use of force, use of segregation, and the application of disciplinary procedures all remained high. Levels of recorded violence had paradoxically reduced, but violence among prisoners was still the fourth highest among comparable prisons. Combating the ingress of drugs and other illicit items – all of which likely fuelled some of the violence – also remained problematic; although again, there was some early evidence to suggest that measures to tackle this were having an impact.

In common with many prisons, a key strategic challenge for Forest Bank was staffing. We found a staff group who were committed to doing a decent job – and some 71% of prisoners told us they felt respected by them – although very limited unlock meant the building of meaningful and purposeful relationships was severely restricted. Nearly a quarter of all officers had less than a years’ experience, and staff were often lacking in confidence or had a limited understanding of their role outside of the COVID-19 restricted regime. We saw repeated evidence of reticence among staff in enforcing the rules and confronting poor behaviour. Again, the prison was aware of the problem and were beginning to develop strategies to better support their staff.

Forest Bank is a prison in transition. We were told repeatedly that had we visited some months before, we would have found a prison in real difficulties. The prison was still dealing with some significant weaknesses; however, our findings were encouraging. HMPPS and the provider had taken decisive action and it was clear to us that the decline in living conditions had been arrested, sensible priorities identified and that there were some very hopeful signs of stability and improvement.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
April 2022

Return to Forest Bank

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:


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