Standards have declined at HMP Featherstone, and the decline in safety was particularly concerning, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the training prison near Wolverhampton.
HMP Featherstone holds around 650 men and was last inspected in 2013. At that time, inspectors reported generally positively and it received the highest assessment in two out of four healthy prison tests. This more recent inspection found that there had been a sharp decline in three out of four areas. This was particularly concerning in the area of safety, which was assessed as ‘poor’. Of the 68 recommendations made at the last inspection, only 16 had been achieved.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- levels of violence had increased considerably, and violence against staff had increased the most;
- 63% of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs and 22% said they had developed a drug problem while in the prison;
- a number of men chose to self-isolate and stay in their cells to escape the violence;
- the segregation unit had been damaged by prisoners over the summer and was still not able to be used, while the temporary segregation unit was in a very poor condition and not properly staffed;
- it seemed that not all incidents of prisoner unrest were being reported;
- the prison was in a poor state of repair, not helped by a failing facilities management contract;
- the senior leadership team did not have sufficient knowledge or oversight of some key areas, including use of force, the unregulated segregation of self-isolators and the lack of outdoor exercise for prisoners; and
- staff shortages had reduced the prison’s ability to deliver a full regime.
However, inspectors were pleased to find that the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in education and vocational training was good.
Peter Clarke said:
“Given the well-known destabilising influence which a high level of drug availability has in prisons, with the associated debt and bullying feeding a cycle of violence, perhaps we should not be surprised at the serious decline in the safety of the men at Featherstone. If the prison is to once again become a safe and decent place which can fulfil its role as a training and resettlement prison, there needs to be dynamic, visible leadership which gets to grips with the serious issues we have identified.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:
“The deterioration in performance at Featherstone isn’t acceptable but reflects the real pressures which the system has faced over the last few years. The Government have set out a clear plan for reform in the Prison and Courts Bill laid before Parliament last week, including investing over £100m to provide 2,500 additional prison staff.
“This will make a difference and with these additional resources and committed focused leadership I’m confident that the Governor and management team at Featherstone can turn things round and achieve the improvements required.”
A copy of the full report, published on 28 February, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons