By Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales
HMYOI Aylesbury had deteriorated further in some areas and safety was a major concern, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the young offender institution in Buckinghamshire.
HMYOI Aylesbury holds around 440 young adult men serving the longest sentences for this age group in the country. Most of the population are aged between 18 and 21. At its last inspection in 2015, inspectors commented on debilitating staff shortages which had negative consequences for prisoners. This more recent inspection found little progress had been made and some areas had deteriorated further. Inspectors found volatile and frustrated young people, too few staff and many who were inexperienced and prisoners locked up for long periods with no activity and too little sentence progression. These factors led to some poor outcomes. Safety was a major concern.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- nearly two-thirds of prisoners reported that they had felt unsafe at some point and there were high levels of sometimes very serious violence;
- mechanisms of accountability for the very high use of force had effectively broken down and management oversight was very poor;
- many residential units were in poor condition and basic standards of decency were not being achieved;
- the management of equality and diversity was weak;
- time out of cell remained poor and work, training and education activities, despite some improvements, were too limited; and
- lack of staff in the offender management unit undermined risk assessment and rehabilitation work.
Inspectors were, however, pleased to find that:
- health services were good and faith provision was very good; and
- the prison continued to provide a wide range of interventions to address offending behaviour and the Aylesbury Pathways Service, which gave some troubled prisoners opportunities to understand and then change behaviour, was reducing incidents of self-harm.
Peter Clarke said:
“HMYOI Aylesbury showed some areas of considerable potential. Most staff appeared remarkably resilient and wanted to improve the prison. There were excellent areas of innovation which provided prisoners with valuable work skills in a realistic work environment. The Aylesbury Pathways Service continued to provide outstanding support to some of the most vulnerable and troubled young men in the prison estate.
“If the cycle of poor inspections of Aylesbury is to be broken, these strengths need to be built upon. It is time to stop rediscovering the same problems and to take concerted action to deal with them at all levels. Some areas of concern, such as poor governance of use of force, could be addressed by the establishment. Others, such as staffing and difficulties with securing progressive transfers for prisoners, needed action from HMPPS. The management team had a clear understanding of the challenges and the commitment to make progress, but needed support to implement our recommendations. Failure to do so yet again cannot be acceptable.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said:
“The Chief Inspector is right to praise the professionalism and resilience of staff at Aylesbury. They do some remarkable work with young adults serving long sentences who have complex needs and whose behaviour can be very challenging.
“Improving safety and addressing ongoing staffing challenges remain the Governor’s top priorities.
“This is why additional staff are now being deployed to Aylesbury from other establishments to provide a consistent regime for prisoners and there are firm plans in place to fill vacancies through permanent recruitment.
“A Violence Reduction Plan is being actioned and the Governor will receive the support she needs to improve the performance of the YOI over the next 12 months”.
Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook who recorded a video blog on the report said: “Quite simply, HMYOI Aylesbury is a national humiliation.”
A copy of the full report, published on 17 August 2017, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons