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: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons