Hindley Prison where the Inspectors "heard persistent, consistent and credible complaints about the abusive behaviour of a small number of officers."

Hindley Prison where the Inspectors “heard persistent, consistent and credible complaints about the abusive behaviour of a small number of officers.”

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, in a report on Hindley Prison published today (25th April) says:

HM Young Offender Institution Hindley is a large establishment just outside Wigan with the capacity to hold 440 boys and young people aged 15 to 18. At the time of this inspection it was only just over one-third full.

First impressions are of a pretty bleak, prison-like environment and the obvious youth of many of those held. However, the inspection found commendable efforts to soften the environment, and some determined efforts to address some of the damage that had been done to these young people before they arrived at Hindley and reduce the damage they do to others. The arrangements for a young person’s first few days at Hindley were particularly good – although, as at other establishments, needlessly undermined by the NOMS requirement that every new arrival should be strip searched when they first arrived.

Many of the young people arriving at Hindley had poor previous experience of education – almost half told us they were 14 or younger when they last left school; nine out of 10 had been excluded; eight out of 10 had played truant. So it is a tribute to the establishment that the quality of education and activities was good, and that young people made good progress and obtained qualifications. It was very welcome that speech and language therapy was available when required. Standards of behaviour were much better than that seen in some schools. More could have been done to enable young people to get real work experience in the community, and it was frustrating that half left Hindley without a confirmed education or training place – threatening to waste the progress they had made there.

In other respects, the work to prepare young people for release was good, and better than we normally see. Few young people left without suitable accommodation to go to, and there was good support with family relationships, substance misuse and health issues, and managing money. Effective work was carried out throughout the sentence to address young people’s offending behaviour. The Willow unit provided necessary intensive support to a small number of young people with the most complex needs, although the effectiveness of the therapeutic approach adopted risked being undermined by the length of time these young people spent locked in their cells.

Although there had been efforts in some wings to make the environment more appropriate for young people, in others it remained bleak and austere. The establishment was generally clean and tidy and most cells were in reasonable condition. Most young people had about nine hours out of their cells each day and a decent amount of association time, although insufficient opportunity to work off energy exercising in the open air. There were concerns that imminent changes to the core day arising from a central directive might reduce time out of cell at Hindley – this would be very regrettable.

Relationships between staff and young people were generally good and some young people spoke very highly of the officers who dealt with them. I witnessed examples of some real kindness and effective care – one member of staff had somehow got a horse into the establishment for one very troubled and challenging boy from the Traveller community to care for. As he worked on the horse, she worked on the boy – to much greater effect than more conventional interventions might have achieved. However, we also heard persistent, consistent and credible complaints about the abusive behaviour of a small number of officers. The governor had taken robust action when inappropriate conduct by staff had been identified. These generally good relationships were underpinned by sound processes. Management of diversity and complaints was good, and health care and the chaplaincy both provided very good services.

Nevertheless, despite these real strengths, Hindley was not sufficiently safe. On average, there was a fight or assault almost every day, and some of these were very serious. We were not assured the establishment had an effective grip on what was happening. The number of perpetrators and victims on violence reduction or support measures was not consistent with the number of incidents, and data were not used effectively to identify and address patterns and trends. Investigations into some alleged bullying incidents were not sufficiently rigorous. The number of adjudications and lesser ‘minor reports’ were both much higher than we see elsewhere, with 1,800 adjudications in the first 10 months of 2012, and almost 3,000 minor reports in the same period. Some of these incidents could have been better dealt with more informally.

Use of force was also very high, although much did not involve full control and restraint. Staff sometimes put themselves in harm’s way to prevent injury to young people. Governance of the use of force had improved after some young people had been badly hurt two years previously. The segregation unit was cramped and run-down, and although relationships with staff were generally good, the regime was inadequate, especially for the few young people held there for lengthy periods.

Like all juvenile prisons, Hindley held some very unhappy young people. There had been a very sad self-inflicted death at the beginning of 2012, and the establishment had taken early action as a result of the findings of an investigation into the incident. The number of self-harm incidents remained high (although relatively low level) and, despite the reduction in the population, the number of incidents each month had grown by 18% over the previous year. However, we were not assured that the drive to learn and implement lessons from the death in 2012 was being sustained, and some staff were not clear about their responsibilities in this area.

We were concerned that the sheer volume of violent and self-harm incidents threatened to be overwhelming. For the most part, individual incidents were dealt with well but there needed to be more complete strategic oversight of the entire picture that made the links between bullying and self-harm and kept responses to both perpetrators and victims under review. The safeguarding committee with its external membership appeared to be best placed to do this.

Even only one-third full, and despite very good work, HMYOI Hindley illustrates the difficulty such establishments have in discharging their most fundamental responsibility – keeping the young people they hold safe. There has been a suggestion that as the number of young people in custody declines, those who continue to be held will be a more concentrated mix of the most challenging and unhappy young people. Other recent inspections of YOIs have also identified establishments having much greater difficulty in keeping young people safe.

The YJB, ministers and other policymakers should consider this very carefully as they plan the future development of the youth custody estate.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national prisoners newspaper for England and Wales said it was a ‘deeply troubling report’.

“No one reading this deeply troubling report can fail to be dismayed by the seriously high levels of  self-harm and the high levels  of use of force by staff.

“The fact that some rogue officers appear to be abusing prisoners is a matter which the police should be required to investigate – Hindley holds some very damaged young boys and young adults, it is vital they are not subject to physical abuse by staff who think they can get away with it.”