Holloway-signHMP and YOI Holloway had continued to improve, but its poor design limited what could be achieved, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the North London women’s prison.

On 25 November 2015, the government announced its intention to close HMP and YOI Holloway. Findings from this most recent inspection should be read with the knowledge of this. A number of recommendations have been made as women continue to be held for a period of time until the closure. Holloway remains the largest women’s prison in the UK. It holds a complex mix of prisoners, including those remanded in custody by the courts and women sentenced to life. Its population reflects the complexities and diversity of London with a large number of foreign national women and those with mental health issues, disabilities and substance misuse problems. After years of being very critical of the treatment provided to women at Holloway, inspectors reported a much improved picture after an inspection in 2013. Despite the size of the population and the difficulties of the physical environment, this more recent inspection found a prison which had continued to improve in three out of four healthy prison tests: safety, respect and resettlement.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

·         the prison was generally safe and well controlled with little serious violence and some excellent processes to anticipate and manage potential problems and identify those who might be vulnerable;

·         support on arrival at the prison was generally good and women identified as at risk of self-harm generally felt well cared for;

·         substance misuse services had developed since the last inspection and met the needs of the population well;

·         Holloway remained a challenging physical environment, but it was clean and reasonably well maintained;

·         relationships between staff and prisoners were mainly decent and respectful and some staff working with the more challenging and complex women in the prison were exceptional;

·         health care generally met needs and mental health support, including the day care facilities, was excellent;

·         the prison had a clear picture of the resettlement needs of the population and offender management work had improved since the last inspection;

·         some excellent provision was offered to assist women with family matters and to maintain relationships outside of the prison; and

·         support for the many women who had been abused was strong.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • too many women reported feeling unsafe on their first night or at some time while at the prison and the reasons for this needed to be better understood;
  • many women lived in cramped dormitories with little privacy;
  • support for the many foreign national women needed improvement;
  • despite significant efforts by staff there were unacceptable delays in moving women with mental health issues to secure hospital beds;
  • public protection arrangements needed urgent attention to ensure they provided full reassurance that anyone who presented this type of risk was identified and that release planning started as early as possible; and
  • allocation to work, education and training was ineffective and attendance and punctuality was not good enough.

Martin Lomas said:

“At the last inspection, we highlighted progress in making the prison safer but emphasised the need to ensure the sustainability of this improvement. To their credit, managers had achieved this. The environment at Holloway remained a significant challenge, but this was mitigated by managers and most staff placing decency and respect for the individual at the centre of their work.

“The welcome fall in the number of women in prison creates the opportunity to reduce the number of prison places available for them. The need to hold women in smaller establishments makes Holloway an obvious candidate for closure. As this inspection shows, Holloway’s poor design limits what can be achieved, despite the efforts of staff. That said, the staff and managers at Holloway should be proud of their recent successes, and if this is to be our last report on this iconic institution, it is undoubtedly one of the best.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“This is probably the best inspection report ever written on Holloway.

“Staff can be immensely proud of what they have achieved in creating a safe, decent and respectful environment for the women in their care despite the physical challenges of the site. However, as the Inspector says, the prison’s poor design limits what can be achieved, and its environment remains a significant challenge. The commitment, dedication and professionalism of staff at Holloway since the decision to close the prison was announced has been remarkable and I want to pay tribute to them as outstanding public servants.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 23 February 2016 at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons