The two prisons in south east Wales are distinct establishments three-and-a-half miles apart, but run by the same management team. Usk is a small category C training prison built in the 19th century that for many years has specialised in delivering sex offender treatment programmes. At the time of the inspection in October 2017 it held 274 men, nearly all of whom were convicted sex offenders assessed as posing “a high risk of harm to others.” Prescoed held 252 men, with only a small number of sex offenders. Its key aim is to prepare men for release back into the community, and it uses release on temporary licence (ROTL) extensively.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “For many years we have reported that both Usk and Prescoed are fundamentally successful institutions delivering their key responsibilities very well. This was again the case at this inspection, where we found some good work taking place at both institutions. We do, however, also identify some issues where some improvement is needed.”
Both prisons were safe with very little violence and the most vulnerable men were generally well cared for. Both were also fundamentally respectful prisons with good staff-prisoner relationships, though black and minority ethnic men were less positive about staff-prisoner relationships and the reasons for this needed to be better understood. In HMP Usk, most men lived in overcrowded cells. However, both prisons were clean and prisoners received what they needed to live decently. Usk had a high proportion of older men and there was good work to support them. At Prescoed, there was excellent support to help men with substance misuse problems to find work.
Time out of cell at Usk was good and a positive range of extracurricular activities was offered. Men at Prescoed were only restricted to their units overnight. Inspectors also found a good range of education and work opportunities.
However, whereas Prescoed continued to use release on temporary licence (ROTL) extensively, rehabilitation support at Usk was a more mixed picture. Mr Clarke said: “The prison (Usk) now offered even more opportunities for men to reduce their risk through offending behaviour work, and it was particularly positive to see that the new range of programmes allowed men otherwise in denial of their offence to participate.” However, oversight of offender management arrangements at the prison was weak, and offender supervisors, responsible for working with prisoners in the jail, did not actively support all men in reducing their risk and progressing. “Communication with offender managers based in the community was weak, which again undermined efforts around risk reduction, progression and release planning. These deficiencies particularly impacted on the third of men who would not undertake offending behaviour programmes at Usk, and a strategy for the management of this group needed to be developed.”
Despite these reservations, Mr Clarke said:
“Overall, Usk and Prescoed remained successful institutions. The new governor was making a positive impact and there was clear evidence that his staff group felt re-energised and focused on further improving the prisons. At the previous inspection in 2013 we cautioned the prison to guard against complacency, and we saw no evidence of this in the new governor and his team. Nevertheless, deficiencies previously identified in offender management work were still evident, and this aspect of work, in particular, needed renewed attention.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:
“I am pleased that the good work at both Usk and Prescoed has been recognised by the Chief Inspector, which is a credit to all the staff. The Governor is committed to building on the work to further improve performance. In particular, we are reviewing the Learning and Skills provision in order to improve the quality of education and training provided across both sites. We are also introducing officer ‘Key Workers’ to provide dedicated support as offenders progress through their sentence. This will improve the resettlement process and reduce the risk of reoffending on release.”
Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook said it was a very good report – but “understandable in many respects.”
Mr Leech said: “People who read HMIP Reports must be looking at Usk and Prescoed and wondering why they seem to get it so right when others miss it by a mile – the clue I believe is in the demographic.
“Usk and Prescoed are, respectively, a Cat C prison for sex offenders and an open jail – their populations are statistically the safest because the threat of a return to normal location in closed conditions is a huge deterrent to the kind of behaviour we see across the system.
“That takes nothing away from the management team, they have done a good job, this is a good report and understandable in many respects – we just need to recognise that they are not working with same kind of difficult population that many other teams of prison management have to deal with across the country.”
A copy of the full report, published on 20 February 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons