HMP Wakefield, a high security jail holding some of the most challenging prisoners in the country, was found by inspectors to be calm, secure and decent.

Nearly all the 700 men in the West Yorkshire prison were convicted for sexual or violent offences and 60% were serving a life sentence or an indeterminate sentence for public protection. Almost half were aged 50 or over and the oldest man was 91.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “The vast majority were serving sentences of more than 10 years, and included some of the most challenging and complex prisoners in the country. Despite this, the prison was calm and had an atmosphere that spoke of good order, safety, security and decency.” Inspectors found an “impressive set of initiatives and good work” which could be shared across the prison service as good practice.

However, the inspection in June 2018 identified “a problem that was not unique to Wakefield, but which was particularly acute there.” This involved the transfer of prisoners under the Mental Health Act to secure accommodation.

“Because of the totally unacceptable delays in doing so, many prisoners across the prison estate are held in conditions that are not in any way therapeutic and indeed in many cases clearly exacerbate their condition. This is a national strategic issue to which we have made reference many times.

“The situation at Wakefield was yet another example of prisoners with severe illness not receiving the care that they needed. It is clearly something that is beyond the capability of either individual prisons or HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to resolve. Therefore…I am taking the unusual step of making a recommendation directly to the Prisons Minister in the hope that he can use his influence to initiate effective cross-departmental action to address the problem.”

Inspectors found Wakefield to be an essentially respectful prison, with many examples of good relationships and interactions between staff and prisoners. “However, as in so many establishments, our survey revealed that black and minority ethnic prisoners had a poorer perception of their treatment and conditions than their white counterparts. These negative perceptions needed to be understood.”

Purposeful activity, including education and training, had improved since the previous inspection in 2014, though too many prisoners were locked up during the working day and there was still a need to provide sufficient activity places for the entire population. A “fairly high” total of 60% of men said their experiences in the prison had made them less likely to reoffend in the future.

Mr Clarke said:

“By any standards this was a good inspection, which was highly creditable given the complexity of the prison. The high standards, good practice and improvements that have been achieved were the result of hard work and dedication on the part of those who clearly took very seriously their responsibilities for the safe, secure and purposeful imprisonment of those in their care.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has commended the high quality of work being done at Wakefield which is a credit to managers and staff. The Governor will use the recommendations in this report to further develop the establishment to meet the needs of its prisoners.”


  1. A copy of the full report, published on 1 November 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMP Wakefield was built as a house of correction in 1594. The prison became a dispersal prison in 1996 and held those posing the highest security risk. It is now a lifer centre with a focus on serious sex offenders.
  4. This unannounced inspection took place between 11 – 22 June 2018.
  5. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons at, if you would like more information.