HMP Featherstone, a training and resettlement prison near Wolverhampton, was found by inspectors to have improved significantly since a poor inspection two years earlier.
Senior staff had supported new colleagues to become more confident in dealing with up to 637 male prisoners, many serving long sentences, and inspectors found a calm atmosphere at the jail during the inspection in October 2018.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “At this inspection we were pleased to find evidence of significant improvement. Across all four (healthy prison) tests we found measurable improvements, with outcomes in respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation now all sufficiently good. The prison was still not safe enough but here, too, meaningful improvements were evidenced.”Mr Clarke added that staff-prisoner relationships reflected this broad improvement and were now good. “A largely inexperienced staff group were well supported by supervisors and managers and most prisoners indicated that they felt respected. Residential units were calm and ordered and staff demonstrated the confidence to challenge poor behaviour.”
Though much of the site needed refurbishment, living conditions were better than at the inspection in 2016. Cells were cleaner and properly equipped and there was good access to kit and amenities. “The promotion of equality and diversity was better than we usually see.”
Featherstone’s recent improvement was underpinned by a much more purposeful daily regime. Time unlocked for prisoners was good and daily routines were predictable. The range of education, training and work had increased, with Ofsted inspectors assessing this aspect as good, though the prison needed to improve men’s skills in English and maths.
About a quarter of prisoners told researchers they still felt unsafe and violence remained high, though it was falling, in recent times quite sharply. A range of initiatives had been put in place to confront violence and its causes and, Mr Clarke said, “there were some encouraging indications that this work was having an impact.”
“Linked to violence was the ready availability of illicit drugs, certainly one of the key challenges the prison still faced. The response of the prison was impressive with a whole series of active, intelligence-led measures in place to try to combat the problem. There was some early evidence that, like the initiatives to tackle violence, these measures were beginning to have an impact.” This work needed to be sustained.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“The key message of this inspection was one of improvement. The prison had come a considerable distance in a relatively brief period of time. Staff were supported to do their job and, despite many having been recruited quite recently, they knew the prisoners well and afforded them meaningful care and support. Energy and initiative were evidenced throughout the prison, being reflected in tangible benefits for those detained and the improved assessments. The governor, managers and the whole staff group should be congratulated for what they were achieving.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:
“The Governor and staff at Featherstone have worked hard to achieve a consistent and purposeful regime and the improvement since the last inspection is commendable. There is a comprehensive plan in place to further improve safety across the prison by tackling drug use and ensuring every prisoner has a dedicated officer to support them through their sentence”.