East Sutton Park was very good at helping to rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them for life back in the community, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the women’s open prison in Kent.
East Sutton Park is one of only two dedicated women’s open prisons in England. It holds around 100 women deemed suitable to be moved to open prison conditions, where those held are allowed greater freedom and the opportunity to take more responsibility for decision-making and their own lives. Many women at East Sutton Park regularly leave the prison on licence as part of a plan to prepare them for release back into the community. In October 2013 the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) announced the closure of the two women’s open prisons in favour of smaller open units outside larger women’s closed prisons. This decision was challenged in court, delaying implementation, but the threat of closure remains. In the meantime, the prison operates as normal.
The prison was last inspected in 2011. As at the last inspection, inspectors found East Sutton Park to be an excellent prison where strong staff-prisoner relationships underpinned safety and a solid approach to preparing women for release.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
- violence of any kind was extremely rare and tensions related were resolved through informal mediation;
- women lived in dormitory-style accommodation but told inspectors that the opportunities provided by the prison outweighed any disadvantages;
- the general environment at the prison was excellent, although some areas were in need of refurbishment;
- all women were required to engage in work, training or education, which were mainly very good, often equipping them with essential skills for gaining employment on release or to live productive lives; and
- resettlement and offender management work was excellent, and risk management and risk reduction work balanced the needs of women with considerations of public protection.
Peter Clarke said:
“We considered East Sutton Park to be a very good prison, which did very well what it set out to do, namely to prepare women for release and resettle them back into the community. Leadership of the prison was very strong, with a clarity of vision and purpose, and staff understood this and the role they played in achieving the aims set. Given the prolonged and continuing uncertainty about the future of the prison, this was quite an achievement. Women were clear that they were benefiting from what the prison could offer them, and a number said it had helped turn their lives around. The future of East Sutton Park is not yet clear, but it is to be hoped that full account will be taken of the quality of service provided to the women under the current arrangements.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service, said:
“I’m pleased that the Chief Inspector has recognised the excellent work taking place at East Sutton Park to provide education and training opportunities for female prisoners.
“I want to pay tribute to the commitment and professionalism of staff at East Sutton Park who have continued to deliver a high quality service in difficult circumstances. Our intention is to replicate this approach in community prisons across the country, allowing many more women to be held closer to home. East Sutton Park will continue to play an important role in the system until these improved arrangements are in place.”
A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 22 December 2016 at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons