HMP & YOI Askham Grange, a women’s open prison near York, has been awarded the highest grading of ‘good’ in all four HM Inspectorate of Prisons healthy prison tests for the second inspection running.
Peter Clarke said it was particularly pleasing in April 2019 to see that the leadership and staff had not simply relied upon what inspectors found last time (in 2014), nor just continued along the same path.
“On the contrary, there had been new initiatives and innovations in many areas. The ethos of rehabilitation and resettlement that dominated the establishment seemed to be stronger than ever, and the extraordinarily strong nature of the relationships between staff and prisoners was clear to see. There can be no doubt whatsoever that this played a huge part in achieving the goals of building women’s confidence and self-esteem en route to eventual release.”
Very few prisoners said they had felt unsafe, there was hardly any violence, and levels of self-harm were very low. “This was a welcome finding when the levels of self-harm elsewhere in the women’s estate are so troubling. Those prisoners who did need support received it appropriately.” Drugs and alcohol were not easily available.
The prison was clean, the living conditions were good and the grounds were extensive. Acorn House, a stand-alone building in the prison grounds, enabled prisoners to look after their children for overnight stays. The onsite mother and baby unit, complete with well-equipped nursery, was an excellent facility. Mr Clarke added: “It was clear that both mothers and babies thrived in the environment.”
Prisoners were never locked in their rooms and had free access to most of the site throughout the day. There was a wide range of recreational and social activities and Ofsted inspectors judged the provision of learning and skills to be outstanding.
In terms of helping prisoners to progress, the links to voluntary organisations and employers were a key strength. Inspectors raised one significant public protection concern, relating to weaknesses in assessments of whether prisoners posed a continuing risk to children.
Overall, however, Mr Clarke said, “it would be wrong to detract from the overall excellence of the prison.” He sounded two notes of caution for the future:
“In the weeks following the inspection, the acting governor and deputy governor were both due to leave, and as we have seen elsewhere, maintaining consistency in leadership energy and ethos can be vital to maintaining good performance. The second issue is potentially more worrying, and it is that Askham Grange has been under threat of closure for some six years. This uncertainty needs to be resolved as soon as possible. This is one of the best performing prisons in the country. The prisoners clearly benefit enormously from what it can provide. It would be good to think that in the future Askham Grange might remain as an example of what can be achieved, and not fade away into a memory of what was once an exceptional establishment.”
Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:
“This is an outstanding report and I am delighted that prison staff continued to build on the success of the last inspection. HMP Askham Grange is an example of an excellent open prison focused on the needs of the women in their custody. I am particularly pleased that inspectors noted prisoners have access to an impressive range of job opportunities and over half of the women released on temporary licence are doing so to go into paid employment, setting them up for life once they have been released.”