Bronzefield Prison: Increasingly challenging population but an overwhelmingly safe prison

HMP Bronzefield in Surrey, the largest women’s prison in Europe, was found to have outcomes for the prisoners which were reasonably good or better across HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ healthy prison tests.

 With a capacity of up to 557 prisoners, and opened in 2004, the Sodexo-operated jail holds women ranging from those on remand to those considered as requiring high security restrictions.

 Mr Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “This was our first inspection of Bronzefield since 2015 and, as we did then, we found the prison to be an excellent institution.” Bronzefield was an “overwhelmingly safe prison.”

 However, the population had “become more challenging in recent years, with many experiencing significant mental health problems.” Nearly 70% of prisoners in the inspection survey reported having a mental health problem.

“Recorded violence had increased markedly since our last inspection (in 2015) but most incidents were not serious. Arrangements to reduce violence and support victims required some improvements, although weaknesses were mitigated by some very strong informal support offered to prisoners.”

An investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), following the self-inflicted death of a woman in 2016, had raised significant criticisms, but recommendations made by the PPO had been addressed. Self-harm among prisoners remained high, but overall the care for those in crisis was good.

Bronzefield had a clean and decent environment and its key strength was the quality of staff-prisoner relationships. “Most prisoners felt respected or had someone they could turn to for help. The interactions we observed were impressive. The promotion of equality was appropriately prioritised” Mr Clarke said.

Most prisoners had a good amount of time out of cell and there were sufficient activity places for all. Education, skills and work provision had improved considerably, while achievement among learners had also improved. Ofsted inspectors judged provision to be ‘good’ with some outstanding features.

Work to support rehabilitation and release planning would have benefited from a more comprehensive needs analysis but, despite this, the quality of offender management and the effectiveness of resettlement planning were good and public protection work robust. The high standard of family support was commended as good practice.

Mr Clarke said:

“Bronzefield seemed to us to be meeting nearly all its key objectives. There was work to do – a priority being the reduction of violence – but the overall success of the prison was built on healthy and supportive relationships and the knowledge and understanding the Bronzefield staff had of their prisoners, many of whom had high and complex support needs. In addition to the prison being a safe place, prisoners were treated with care and respect and were helped to progress through their sentence ultimately to the point of release. We leave the prison with a small number of recommendations we hope will assist in further progression and congratulate the managers and staff on what they have been able to achieve.”

Phil Copple, Director General of Prisons, said:

“It is clear that staff at Bronzefield are doing great work to help give women, who often have complex needs, all the tools they need to turn their lives around.

“That work includes supporting them through substance abuse and mental health issues, and ensuring they can get education and training that will help them on release.

“In common with other women’s prisons incidents of self-harm and violence remain a concern, but I am pleased to see the governor and his team put in strong mechanisms to reduce this.”

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