HMIP Inspection of Aylesbury

The prison was given an inspection in Summer 2019, 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:

HMYOI Aylesbury is a young offender institution (YOI) holding male prisoners aged between 18 and 20. The overwhelming majority are serving sentences from four years to life imprisonment. The establishment was last inspected in 2017, at which time we raised serious concerns across a range of issues, but expressed particular worry about safety, for which we awarded our lowest grading of poor. The YOI has since been placed into special measures by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), and as a consequence of this the roll has been halved from around 400 to just over 200. At the time of the previous inspection, we judged performance in the remaining three of our healthy prison tests to be not sufficiently good.

On this occasion we found that in all four tests, the appropriate grade was not sufficiently good, so while there had been an improvement in safety, the rest of the grades remained the same. However, it would be quite wrong to infer that there had been no progress made in the time since the last inspection. What we found was that there had been some distinct movement and indeed some improvements within the gradings, but not sufficient to raise any of them to the acceptable standard of   reasonably good.

In terms of safety, the overall rate of violence had increased, but the seriousness of most of it had declined. It is quite possible that this was a consequence of introducing some ‘freeflow’ in the prison. This has made it easier for prisoners to gain access to one another and fight, but at the same time more likely to be in the sight of officers who are able to intervene and de-escalate situations before they become very serious. This is a phenomenon that we have seen elsewhere. However, it was not possible to say whether this was definitely the case at Aylesbury because there was insufficient analysis of the violence and no clear violence reduction action plan. This was one of our key concerns flowing from this inspection.

We were also concerned by the quality of the relationships between staff and prisoners, with a significant number of the latter saying they had been verbally abused or victimised by staff. There was some evidence that key working was beginning to have an impact, but it remained the case that far more needed to be done to improve consultation, focus properly on issues of equality and diversity, handle complaints more effectively and improve the regime so that there could be far greater opportunity for meaningful contact and relationships to develop between staff and prisoners.

The regime had been inadequate at Aylesbury for many years, and it remained the case that, for much of the week, there was no evening association, time out of cell was poor and often unpredictable and there was no opportunity at all for prisoners to eat together. For these very basic socialisation processes to be absent or poor in a prison holding young adults was clearly unacceptable and needed to be addressed. The fact that the population had halved while staff levels had remained the same should have enabled more positive changes to have been made. There had been some progress, but more needed to be done.

At the last inspection we found that the nationally mandated process for assessing the risks presented by, and the needs of, prisoners (OASys) was not working as it should. We made a main recommendation that concerted action should be taken to reduce the OASys backlog but inexplicably, considering the risks presented by the population at Aylesbury, this had not been acted upon. We found that over a quarter of the prisoners did not have an OASys at all, and too few of the remainder had received proper or timely reviews. Staff tried to work around these failures in a pragmatic way, but could not replicate the comprehensive nature of the approved but failing national process. In recent times HM Inspectorate of Prisons has frequently reported that as a process of risk management and sentence progression, OASys is showing worrying signs of systemic failure, in some places verging on collapse. We have been told on many occasions that when the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) programme is fully implemented, with responsibility for completion transferred to Aylesbury, the situation will improve. I had little confidence that this would be the case. It was clear that the Offender Management Unit did not have the resources to absorb the extra work. These weaknesses form one of the key concerns identified by this inspection, and I trust that, unlike our main recommendation at the last inspection, it will not be ignored.

It was clear to me that Aylesbury was an institution in transition. It was reassuring that in this instance I was able to see some positive impact from the prison being in ‘special measures’. The halving of the roll, closure of wings pending refurbishment and attempts to relax the regime had had a positive impact. It was easy for me to see a real sense of ownership and teamwork in support of the measures that were being taken to improve performance. However, I was concerned by suggestions that there might be plans to return the roll to its previous number of around 400, but without increasing staff numbers. If this were to happen, and I hope it does not, at least in the short term, I would be very worried about the potential impact on the treatment of and conditions experienced by the prisoners. There were some positive signs of progress at Aylesbury, an establishment that has experienced some very challenging times. It would be a pity if that progress were to be put in jeopardy. For the moment, I would encourage the leadership there to continue on their current path and to build the findings of this inspection into their current plans.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
October 2019  
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Aylesbury

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

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