Inspections of Wetherby and the Keppel Unit

The prison inspectors carried out an inspection at Wetherby and the Keppel unit in January December 2021.  In their report they said:

Wetherby is the largest young offender institution (YOI) in the country. It held 143 children – including three girls in the Napier unit – at the time of our inspection, much reduced from its capacity of 266. Our healthy prison test scores show that ground has been lost in the last two years, in part, no doubt, due to the pandemic.

In the Keppel unit, housed within the YOI and designated as a therapeutic provision, inspectors saw a disappointing fall in standards. At the time of the inspection it felt more like another wing of the main prison rather than provision for a vulnerable group of children with a range of complex needs. The unit needed some real grip from the leadership, with the aims re-established and suitable staff selected and trained to recover its distinct purpose.

A fall from a healthy prison test score of good to not sufficiently good in the area of resettlement reflects a deterioration in this area with a team that had become dysfunctional and disaffected. The public protection arrangements – for children who pose high levels of risk to the public – also needed urgent attention to make sure they were effectively monitored.

The governor and his team had managed to get the regime to open up more quickly from COVID-19 restrictions than we have seen on other sites, particularly on the two enhanced wings. Overall though, children were still spending too long in their cells, only being unlocked for an average of six hours on a weekday and fewer than five at weekends.

Leaders had aimed to transform behaviour management systems so that they focused more on rewarding and promoting positive behaviour and less on sanctions. However, adjudications still remained high and the governor’s expectations had not yet been absorbed by staff on the wing, where children did not always receive the rewards they had earned and there was still over[1]reliance on punishment.

Inspectors noted some improvements in the use of de-escalation of incidents and use of force had reduced since our last inspection, although it was very disappointing to see some uses of pain-inducing techniques that could not be justified.

Accommodation on the wings remained prison-like and some of the exercise yards resembled those in a high security jail. Some improvements had taken place with the introduction of showers in some cells and the refurbishment of the new girl’s wing on the Keppel unit. There will, however, need to be considerable capital investment to create an environment that is suitable for children.

Leaders had begun to roll out ‘community learning’ as an adjunct to formal education, but the curriculum had not been sufficiently developed, expectations of the children were not communicated and there were no outcome measures in place to show progress. Leaders needed to do further work to clarify the meaning of community learning, what the objectives were and how this would be communicated to staff and children.

The closure of places elsewhere and the refusal of some secure children’s homes to accept girls with more complex needs – particularly those who were violent – meant that a decision was taken by the Youth Custody Service to develop additional capacity at Wetherby. The YOI had embraced this challenge and had worked hard to provide a more suitable environment for girls. At the time of the inspection they were housed in Napier unit where staff had created a caring and supportive environment.

A leadership team of 27 seemed to far exceed what was needed to manage this prison, which contained just 140 children. A move to a flatter leadership structure would create clearer lines to the governor and his deputy, avoid duplication, improve accountability and allow resources to be deployed elsewhere.

Levels of violence had remained lower than comparator prisons and, in our survey, just 3% of children said they felt unsafe – an impressive reduction from 27% at our last inspection.

The calmer atmosphere at Wetherby should provide the opportunity for children to spend more time out of their cells and be involved in a wider range of purposeful activity. If the governor’s vision for positive behaviour management is to be translated into a change in practice on the wing, there needs to be consistent and committed focus from leaders on making sure that good behaviour is recognised and rewarded. Children who are often stuck in long[1]term patterns of negative behaviour will need to see and feel the benefits of doing the right thing.

The scores from this inspection will have been disappointing to staff at Wetherby and Keppel after what has been a difficult year. There is, however, the opportunity for this establishment to build on the many positives that we highlight in this report, particularly as the disruption from the pandemic begins to recede.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
December 2021

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 The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below:

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