HMP Whitemoor: A Generally Safe & Decent High Security Prison But Concerns Over Segregation

HMP Whitemoor was generally safe, with reasonable living conditions and relationships between staff and prisoners had improved, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the high security jail in Cambridgeshire.

HMP Whitemoor held 431 men at the time its inspection. All were serving long sentences for serious offences. Over 30% were category A prisoners. Just over half the population were black and minority ethnic men and the prison continued to hold a disproportionate number of Muslim men, who accounted for over 40% of the population. The Fens unit held men who had diagnosed personality disorders and there was further specialist provision in the close supervision centre (CSC), which is subject to a separate inspection. At its last inspection in 2014, inspectors had serious concerns about the use of force and the culture and regime in the segregation unit. This more recent inspection was more positive overall, but concerns remained about some aspects of segregation.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • safety outcomes for the vast majority of prisoners were reasonably good;
  • levels of violence were remarkably low given the population mix, and security was well managed;
  • use of force more generally was now well managed and proportionate;
  • care for those susceptible to self-harm was appropriate and was excellent in the Fens unit, where many of them lived;
  • living conditions were reasonable although some prisoners were frustrated about getting hold of prison clothing, bedding and everyday items;
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were reasonably good and in some aspects had moved forward since the last inspection;
  • time out of cell was reasonable, but access to the open air remained too restricted;
  • all men had access to good quality work, training and education and achievements were very strong; and
  • some excellent specialist programmes were on offer and the prison had been recognised as a centre for excellence for its work with men with personality disorders.

Muslim men were negative about many aspects of prison life and while these perceptions needed to be better understood, staff appeared to have developed more understanding of the issues. Few prisoners were released directly from Whitemoor and ‘resettlement’ meant recategorisation and/or progression to a training prison or specialist unit. Most of the work was well managed, though many men felt ‘stuck’ with little hope of progression and work to address these perceptions required further development.
Inspectors were, however, concerned to find that:

  • the segregation unit was full and the regime offered was poor, although there had been improvements in the staff culture and the use of force had dropped considerably;
  • some men with persistently challenging behaviour were held for long periods in the segregation unit and others who were not segregated under prison rules were refusing to relocate back to the normal location; and
  • the prison was not particularly well supported by other high security prisons or the long-term category B estate in providing respite or a fresh start for men who had been segregated.

Peter Clarke said:

“Overall, and given the complexity of the issues being dealt with at Whitemoor, we were heartened by what we found. For the vast majority, it was a generally safe prison, conditions were reasonable and relationships with staff had improved. The prison’s approach to diversity was developing and every prisoner could be involved in activities that would be of benefit to them. Resettlement work was appropriately focused and, despite there being many frustrations about progression, it was reasonably well supported. Our overriding concern was about the small but significant number of men in the segregation unit for long periods, and we considered that this needed urgent attention. Nevertheless, we commend the new governor, his senior team and staff for their work.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said:

“I’m pleased that the Chief Inspector has commended the work being done at Whitemoor. The Governor and staff deserve real credit for what has been achieved in difficult circumstances. Work is already in hand to provide more support for men held in long-term segregation, to assist them in returning to the main prison population as soon as it safe to do so.”

A copy of the full report, published on 26 July 2017, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:



Prisons Inspectorate’s Thematic Review on Close Supervision Centres published

Manchester Prison where there is a CSC Special Interventions Unit
Manchester Prison where there is a CSC Special Interventions Unit

Although clear progress had been made in clarifying the aims and processes of the system for managing the most dangerous prisoners in the country said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a Thematic Review report published today (25/8/2015) on Close Supervision Centres in English high security prisons, prison commentators also made clear there were a number of serious concerns.

The Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system holds about 60 of the most dangerous men in the prison system. Many of these are men who have been imprisoned for very serious offences which have done great harm, have usually committed subsequent very serious further offences in prison and whose dangerous and disruptive behaviour is too difficult to manage in ordinary prison location. They are held in small units or individual designated cells throughout the high security prison estate. These men are likely to be held for many years in the most restrictive conditions with limited stimuli and human contact.

The system is run by a central team as part of the Prison Service’s high security directorate, although day to day management is the responsibility of the individual prisons in which the units or cells are located. A further 14 men who do not quite meet the threshold for the CSC system are held under the ‘Managing Challenging Behaviour Strategy (MCBS) in similar but slightly less restrictive conditions. This is extreme custody and its management raises complex operational challenges and profound ethical issues. The aim of the system was to remove the most dangerous prisoners from ordinary location, manage them in small units and use individual or group work to reduce their risks so they could return to normal or other suitable location.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • leadership of the system as whole was clear, principled and courageous;
  • decisions to select prisoners the CSC system were based on a clear set of published criteria and a robust risk assessment;
  • some good support was provided to staff;
  • staff understood the men in their care well, enabling them to manage problematic behaviour effectively and promote change;
  • despite the significant risks the men posed, the majority of prisoners and staff felt safe;
  • most security restrictions and behavioural management work appeared measured and proportionate; and
  • staff-prisoner relationships were reassuring good, and psychological and psychiatric services were strong.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there was no independent scrutiny or external involvement in decision-making, which was particularly important given the highly restrictive nature of the units, restrictions on access to legal aid and the difficulties prisoners had in being deselected;
  • delivery of some important processes varied and a minority of managers and staff did not understand the ethos of the system or embrace their role within it;
  • the use of designated cells in segregation units had often led to prisoners being held there for many months or even years, with poor regimes and little emphasis on progression, which was contrary to the prison rule 46 under which they were held;
  • the centrally managed MCBS units also needed improved governance;
  • more needed to be done to offset the real potential for psychological deterioration by the more imaginative provision of in and out of cell activities;
  • daily living conditions in the small units were cramped;
  • there was a very high proportion of black and minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held, although management had commissioned research to look at the reasons for this; and
  • more work needed to be done on progression and reintegration, which was critical to ensuring the system was not used as a long-term containment option for dangerous men.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Leadership of the system as a whole was clear, principled and courageous. We do not underestimate the risk the men held in the CSC system pose or the complexity of working with them. The overall humanity and care provided to men whom it would have been easy to consign to the margins of the prison system was impressive. The system had a clear set of aims, was basically well run and founded on sound security and psychological principles and sought to contain men safely and decently. There were, however, a number of important issues that needed to be addressed.

“Management arrangements needed attention to ensure consistency and external involvement in decision-making was needed to provide transparency and rigor. The use of designated cells needed far greater control and there needed to be more clarity concerning the MCBS prisoners. Aspects of the environment needed to be improved, and men required greater opportunities to occupy their time purposefully. The reasons why a disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic and Muslim men were held needed to be better understood.

“Nevertheless, the CSC system provided a means of managing the most challenging men in the prison system in a way that minimised the risks to others and offered men the basic conditions to lead a decent and safe life. We support the continued commitment to resource and support it and commend many of the people who worked positively within the system, despite some of the obvious risks and challenges.”

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, and Converse the national newspaper for prisoners, welcomed the report but said there were still serious concerns that must be urgently addressed.

Mr Leech said: “There are five CSC Units located in Wakefield, Woodhill, Full Sutton, Manchester and Whitemoor prisons, with further designated CSC cells in Belmarsh, Frankland and Long Lartin prisons.

“While the CSC, and also the MCBS, systems are not ideal they are a vital way of managing a small number of very dangerous prisoners, often those who have killed other prisoners while in custody.

“The aim always must be the safe, humane and secure custody for CSC prisoners and staff, and it is vital those who manage the CSC system do not lose sight of the longer term aim of returning CSC inmates to normal location when sustained good behaviour and proven lowered risk warrants it.

“However there are real concerns over the high proportion of black, minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held in CSCs, the real lack of independent oversight in the decision-making process also needs addressing urgently because of the lack of legal aid to raise challenges, and the legality of holding such inmates in segregation units contrary to Rule 46 for extended period of time must be confronted without delay.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 25 August 2015 at:

HMP Whitemoor – A High Security Prison doing good work to manage its population

Whitemoor high security prison
Whitemoor high security prison

Most prisoners at HMP Whitemoor felt safe and the prison was generally calm and ordered, although vigilance was needed as there was potential for serious problems to occur, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the maximum security jail in Cambridgeshire.

HMP Whitemoor held 454 adult men at the time of the inspection, all of whom were serving long or indeterminate sentences for very serious offences. The prison held a disproportionately large Muslim population who accounted for approximately 40% of the total prison population. A small number of them had been convicted of offences relating to terrorism. Sixty-nine prisoners were held on the Fens unit, formerly the ‘Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder unit’, which provided intensive therapy to men with personality disorders. A further six men were held on the Close Supervision Centre (CSC), part of a network of facilities centrally managed by the Prison Service and inspected separately.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • prisoners at risk of self-harm were generally well supported;
  • security arrangements were appropriately stringent and illicit use of substances was well controlled;
  • support for those with substance misuse problems was very good;
  • living conditions were generally good;
  • in general relationships between staff and prisoners had continued to improve, although a small number of staff remained more distant;
  • time out of cell was reasonable and vocational training opportunities were good; and
  • all prisoners had good support from offender supervisors, public protection issues were very good and a range of offending behaviour courses appropriate to the population was offered.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • while use of force was low, oversight arrangements were poor and in a small number of cases, there was little use of de-escalation and evidence of excessive force being used; and
  • the segregation regime for a number of long-stay residents remained particularly poor.

Black and minority ethnic, Muslim and foreign national prisoners were much less positive about a range of issues relating to safety and respect and many Muslim prisoners said they felt victimised because of their faith. Some good work had been done to understand and address these issues better. The issues were complex. Across all groups, there were some very dangerous men, some of whom tried to influence and pressurise other prisoners. In some cases this was gang-related, and included some Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist offences who were an adverse influence on others. It was important not to confuse this with a development of religious faith which, for Muslims as for other prisoners, could be an important factor in positive changes of behaviour. More was still needed to assure prisoners of all faiths that their concerns were being dealt with seriously. The recently established multi-faith forum was a positive initiative and greater use still could have been made of the impressive chaplaincy team.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Overall Whitemoor was a safe, respectful and purposeful prison which provided some constructive opportunities for prisoners serving long sentences to address their offending behaviour. However, we had real concerns about the management and application of use of force and segregation which impacted negatively on some of the most vulnerable prisoners in the population, and which were a significant exception to this generally positive picture. The prison was doing some good work to manage its very diverse population and to understand and address the concerns of the significant number of black and minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners held. However, this remained a major challenge that needed a consistent high level of attention.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“Whitemoor manages very challenging and long-term prisoners so it is pleasing that the Chief Inspector has recognised the safe and purposeful environment it provides and the Governor and his staff deserve credit for their hard work in achieving this.

“They will now use the recommendations in the report to address the areas of improvement identified.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 22 May 2014: