HMIP Inspections of Holloway

The prison was given an inspection in late 2015, just before the decision to close the prison was made public. Tthe full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

“On 25 November 2015, and subsequent to our inspection, the government announced its intention to close HMP and YOI Holloway. As a consequence our inspection findings should be read with the knowledge of this new and emergent reality. A number of recommendations are made as women continue to be held for a period of time until the closure.

HMP Holloway, for the time being, remains the largest women’s prison in the UK. It holds a complex mix of prisoners, from those remanded in custody by the courts to women sentenced to life. Its main catchment area is London and its population reflects the complexities and diversity of the capital city, with a large number of foreign national women and those with mental health issues, disabilities and substance misuse problems. After many years of being very critical of the treatment provided to women at Holloway, at our last inspection, in 2013, we reported a much improved picture. Despite the size of the population and the significant difficulties of the physical environment, this inspection found a prison which had continued to improve in all but one of our healthy prison tests.

We found the prison to be generally safe and well controlled, with little serious violence and some excellent processes to anticipate and manage potential problems and identify those who might be vulnerable. Women in the population with complex needs had benefited from this support and the caring approach adopted by staff to ensure their wellbeing. The inpatient landing and day care centre were notable in this regard, although there were women on nearly every unit who needed specific care to ensure they were kept safe. Support on arrival at the prison was generally good, as were arrangements to support adult safeguarding. Women identified as at risk of self-harm generally felt well cared for. Formal disciplinary processes were well managed and used as a last resort and use of force was proportionate, with de-escalation used throughout. The oversight and application of force were among the best we have seen. Aspects of the regime in segregation had been weaker but relationships were good. Substance misuse services had developed since the last inspection and met the needs of the population well.

Holloway remained a challenging physical environment, but it was clean and reasonably well maintained and outside areas were pleasant. Relationships between staff and prisoners were mainly decent and respectful and some staff working with the more challenging and complex women in the prison were exceptional. Support for most of the protected characteristic groups was well developed. Health care generally met needs and mental health support, including the day care facilities, was excellent.

The prison had a clear picture of the resettlement needs of the population and offender management work had improved since the last inspection. Release on temporary licence was being used to support resettlement back into the community and to maintain family ties. In addition to release on temporary licence (ROTL), some excellent provision was offered to assist women with family matters and to maintain relationships outside of the prison. Support for the many women who had been abused was strong. The newly introduced community rehabilitation company (CRC) provision was still being established, but reintegration resettlement work was good, with some appropriate support provided to prepare women for release.

However, there were some areas that could have benefited from improvement. In our survey too many women had reported feeling unsafe on their first night or at some time while at the prison, and the reasons for this needed to be better understood and addressed. Many women lived in cramped dormitories with little privacy, and this was likely to have contributed to some feeling unsafe. Support for the many foreign national women needed improvement, and some detained under immigration powers, following the completion of their custodial sentence, had been held for excessive and unreasonable periods of time. Despite significant efforts by staff there were unacceptable delays in moving women with mental health issues to secure hospital beds. Public protection arrangements needed urgent attention to ensure they provided full reassurance that anyone who presented this type of risk was identified, and that release planning started as early as possible.

The most disappointing area was purposeful activity, where the prison had failed to address some of the key recommendations made at the last inspection. Despite having a reasonable amount of activity places, and enhancing opportunities in vocational training, allocation to activities was still ineffective and attendance and punctuality were not good enough. As a consequence we found far too many women locked up or not purposefully engaged during the working day, which wasted opportunities to better prepare them for release and to live productive and independent lives.

At the last inspection we highlighted progress in making the prison safer but emphasised the need to ensure the sustainability of this improvement. To their credit managers had achieved this. The environment at Holloway remained a significant challenge, but this was mitigated by managers and most staff placing decency and respect for the individual at the centre of their work. Crucial support around maintaining contact with children and families was much improved and good support was offered to the many women who had been abused. Women had received good resettlement support aided by the sensible use of ROTL. Work and education, however, should not be optional extras.

The welcome fall in the number of women in prison creates the opportunity to reduce the number of prison places available for them. The need to hold women in smaller establishments makes Holloway an obvious candidate for closure. As this inspection shows, Holloway’s poor design limits what can be achieved, despite the efforts of staff. That said, the staff and managers at Holloway should be proud of their recent successes, and if this is to be our last report on this iconic institution it is undoubtedly one of the best.

Martin Lomas                          December 2015

HM Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Holloway

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

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