Wetherby – a young offender institution in Yorkshire with 231 boys aged between 15 and 18, including 40 in the specialist Keppel unit for the most vulnerable and challenging young people in the national detention system – was found by inspectors to have made “very real progress” in the last year.
Since the last inspection in 2017, Wetherby and the self-contained Keppel unit had improved in terms of respectful treatment of detainees, purposeful activity (including education), and resettlement work – three of the four HMI Prisons ‘healthy prison’ tests. Safety, the other key test, had improved to ‘good’ in the Keppel unit but remained ‘not sufficiently good’ in Wetherby.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “By any standards this was a good inspection…The positive change in many areas was clear to see.
“A far more positive attitude permeated the establishment, relationships between staff and boys were generally positive, with many staff showing what seemed to be genuine commitment and indeed, in some cases, a passion for their work.” Inspectors observed a staff focus on motivating positive behaviour.
Mr Clarke added that violence had increased in Wetherby, with 280 fights in the six months to March 2018, but most of this violence was not serious, “thanks in no small part to effective intervention by staff.”
“Security was now broadly proportionate without the unnecessary restrictions that we had seen in the past.” He urged the governing team, however, to carry out more analysis of the causes of violence and to compare the Wetherby site to Keppel, where the boys felt, and were, safer. The report noted that managers at Wetherby “continued to underestimate the full scope and range of bullying behaviour.”
Inspectors also raised concerns about the governance of the use of force by staff, which had increased significantly. During the six months up to the inspection in March 2018, 576 incidents of force had been recorded. Pain-inducing techniques had been used on 32 occasions and 16 boys had been strip-searched under restraint.
On a more positive note, the amount of time boys could spend out of their cell had improved since 2017, as had the provision of education and training. It was also notable, Mr Clarke said, that “several examples of good practice were found in the provision of health care, which was a good indication that there was a determination at Wetherby not only to meet acceptable standards but to go further and drive positive improvement.”
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“In recent times young offender institutions have received considerable public criticism, not least from this Inspectorate. However, this inspection shows what can be achieved when a combination of committed staff and focused leadership work together with what in this case was a clear common purpose. There is of course a history in many establishments of progress proving to be fragile and improvements being allowed to fall away. I hope that this does not prove to be the case at Wetherby, and maintaining progress will be the major challenge for its leadership with the support of the Youth Custody Service over the coming year and beyond.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:
“I’m pleased that the Chief Inspector has reported positively on the progress made at Wetherby, which is a credit to the Governor and his team. We are determined to build on these achievements, and are providing additional training for staff and improving the way body-worn cameras are used in our continued effort to address violence. We will embed this good practice across the institute in order to drive further improvements over the next 12 months.”
A copy of the full report, published on 26 July 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons