Inspections of Wetherby and the Keppel Unit

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

” HMYOI Wetherby is a young offender institution in Yorkshire with space for up to 336 boys aged between 15 and 17, including 48 spaces on the Keppel unit, a specialist facility within the establishment that is designed to hold particularly vulnerable children. During the COVID-19 pandemic the number of children in custody has fallen across England and Wales and at the time of our visit the site held 173 children, including 21 on the Keppel unit.

We last visited the establishment in April 2020 at the outset of the pandemic and found that, while swift action had been taken by managers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, children were subject to a very limited regime of just one hour out of cell each day. On this visit we found that progress had been made, with evidence of improving outcomes in the areas of safety and care. However, too little had been done to make sure that children at Wetherby and Keppel received consistent education and were meaningfully involved in their sentence planning.

At the start of the pandemic, managers placed children in small ‘family groups’ and established quarantine arrangements (cohorting) for new arrivals, those who were symptomatic or close contacts of symptomatic children and those who were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. At the time of our visit, these cohorting arrangements were operating appropriately for the most part, although we were concerned that new admissions to Keppel unit had little human interaction during their first few days.

It was clear that leaders’ responses to the pandemic had fundamentally altered life for children at Wetherby and Keppel. There had been some improvements: levels of both violence and self-harm among children had reduced, although oversight in these areas needed improvement. Children and staff told us that the smaller group sizes had improved relationships and children’s perceptions of staff in our survey were generally positive.

The impact of the restrictions on time out of cell and access to education was poor. Regular face-to-face education had only been restarted for most children during the weeks immediately before our visit. For much of the preceding nine months, most education had been delivered through in-cell packs and time out of cell was very limited. In our survey, only about 30% of children said they spent more than two hours out of their cell each day and very few said they found the in-cell education packs helpful.

Health care was well led and most services had been reinstated. There was no waiting list to see a nurse or GP but waits were excessive for a dentist, optician or speech and language therapist. Most children were receiving mental health support from a responsive child and adolescent mental health service.

Long-standing delays with mental health transfers continued. Over the last 12 months all six children who had been transferred to mental health facilities had waited for too long. At the time of our visit, one boy had been waiting for more than six weeks and no realistic timeframe had been set for his transfer to hospital. These delays meant that very unwell children continued to live in an establishment with no capacity to provide the specialist care that they needed. These routine delays demonstrate a lack of will by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care to provide adequate care for some of the most vulnerable children in society.

It was positive that social visits had continued and the recent work to increase the use of video calling (Purple Visits) was something that other establishments could learn from. Resettlement caseworkers had maintained contact with children, but sentence planning meetings too often took place without the child and they became detached from the process.

We found positive outcomes in the areas of safety and care, but future progress depends on managers’ ability to increase safely the number of children who can be unlocked together. There is evidence that the prolonged use of very small ‘family groups’ had resulted in tension between groups and children becoming unused to mixing with others. This had understandably created anxiety among staff and children about mixing different groups together. This needs to be addressed so that more activity and interventions can be delivered for children at Wetherby and Keppel.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
January 2021

 Return to Wetherby

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