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.”

Read the Report

Prison Monitors publish annual report on HMP Bronzefield


Main judgements

1. Overall prisoners are treated fairly, humanely and with decency.

2. The Board remains concerned about those prisoners with severe mental health problems who experience long delays awaiting transfer to secure psychiatric facilities (8.13).

3. A large proportion of prisoners are not prepared well for release. This is owing to a combination of the high churn rate and the impact of on-going high levels of homelessness on discharge (7.11, 11.2, 11.3, 11.4).

4. Rehabilitation and reduction in reoffending is frustrated due to the numbers of short stay prisoners (11.3, 11.4). 5. An efficient process for the inter-prison transfer of prisoner’s property is lacking (7.15).

Read the Report


HMP Bronzefield Women's Prison
HMP Bronzefield Women’s Prison

HMP Bronzefield was a well-led prison with committed staff and had continued to improve, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the women’s prison in West London.

HMP Bronzefield is a women’s local prison run by Sodexo Justice Services. It holds up to 527 women including those remanded by the courts, those serving short sentences and a number serving life. Ages of prisoners range from 18 to over 70. It is one of two prisons that holds restricted status women, deemed to require special management due to the level of risk they present or the notoriety of their offences. The catchment area of the prison is huge and the mix of women held continues to present a blend of complexity and vulnerability. Over 40% of prisoners indicated they had a problem with drugs and 66% said they had emotional wellbeing or mental health problems. The proportion of women reporting these types of problems was significantly higher than at the last inspection in 2013. It was encouraging to see that the prison had continued the improvement inspectors reported on after the 2013 inspection.


Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • arrangements to support women on arrival and during their early days at the prison were good and for those with substance misuse problems, some of the best inspectors have seen;
  • processes to keep women safe and to deal with high levels of self-harm and vulnerability were well developed;
  • work had improved with the small number of women who had very challenging and sometimes dangerous behaviour and vulnerabilities, including personality disorder and mental health conditions. While there were still concerns about two women who had been managed in the separation and care unit for over two years, the specialist input to manage their progression was good and would be developed further with interventions addressing personality disorder;
  • security was proportionate and the use of force was not excessive;
  • the environment was very good, and care was taken to keep the prison decent;
  • staff-prisoner relationships were very good and work to support the diverse range of women held was good;
  • the mother and baby unit provided excellent care and support;
  • resettlement work had improved significantly and excellent support was now provided for those women who had been abused, trafficked or were sex workers; and
  • offender management work was better than inspectors usually see and public protection arrangements were robust.


However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the quality of teaching and learning remained too variable and outcomes in the key area of functional skills (including maths and English) needed to be better; and
  • despite little violence and few serious incidents, many women still complained that they had felt unsafe at some time and had been victimised by both other prisoners and staff, and more needed to be done to reassure women about safety.


Martin Lomas said:

“HMP Bronzefield was a very good and improved prison. Outcomes for the highly complex population were at least reasonably good or better in all our healthy prison tests, with the quality of respect and work to resettle prisoners particularly strong. It is a credit to the very capable leadership within the prison, and the committed and motivated staff group that the challenges they face continue to be met in such a positive and caring way.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:
“This is a very positive report and I am pleased that the Chief Inspector recognises the excellent work of prison staff which has led to improvement in all aspects of work at Bronzefield.
“The Director and her team can be proud of their achievements. Bronzefield provides a safe decent regime focused on rehabilitation and effective resettlement to reduce reoffending and to keep the public safe.”


Notes to editors:    

  1. A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 13 April 2016 at:

Bronzefield Death Inquest Starts Tomorrow

HMP Bronzefield Women's Prison
HMP Bronzefield Women’s Prison


Tuesday 19 November 2013 at 10 am
Before HM Coroner for Surrey Richard Travers
Sitting at Coroner’s Court, Civic Offices, Gloucester Square, Woking, Surrey GU21 6YL

Helen Waight was 33 years old and had five young children when she died at HMP Bronzefield on 7 March 2011.  Her death was the second of two young women’s deaths at this institution within just 10 months of each other.  Both deaths raise serious concerns about the provision of healthcare and the treatment and management of drug dependency at HMP Bronzefield, a private prison run by Sodexo. 

Helen’s family hope the inquest will address the following issues:

  • ·        The adequacy of the tests carried out prior to the commencement of the detoxification regime and the quality of record keeping;
  • ·        The treatment and management of Helen’s drug dependency at HMP Bronzefield and the level of training of GPs working at the prison;
  • ·        The local policies in place at HMP Bronzefield in relation to drug dependency management;
  • ·        The response of healthcare and discipline staff to reports of Helen’s ill health on the morning of 7 March 2011, including the decision to dispense Helen methadone on 7 March 2011 when she was unwell;
  • ·        The emergency response on 7 March 2011.

 Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

This second death of a young mother in Bronzefield prison is a tragic reminder of the urgent need for a new approach to the treatment of women in conflict with the law. While the inquest should provide some answers for her family, it cannot address fundamental failings in the justice system for women. Rather than send her to prison which is expensive, damaging and dangerous, it should have been possible to address the reasons behind her offending through community based alternatives.”

Helen’s family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jasmine Chadha and Megan Phillips of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Alison Gerry of Doughty Street Chambers.


Notes to editors:

1.  Helen Waight’s death is included as a case study in INQUEST’s report ‘Preventing the deaths of women in prison: the need for an alternative approach’ published earlier this year.

2.  Helen Waight was the second woman to die at HMP Bronzefield in a ten month period. The inquest into the death of Sarah Higgins, the first woman to die, concluded recently, with a jury finding serious failings by the prison had contributed to her death.

For further information, please contact Hannah Ward, INQUEST Communications Manager on 020 7263 1111 / 07972 492 230 or

INQUEST provides a general telephone advice, support and information service to any bereaved person facing an inquest and a free, in-depth complex casework service on deaths in custody/state detention or involving state agents and works on other cases that also engage article 2 of the ECHR and/or raise wider issues of state and corporate accountability. INQUEST’s policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths occurring.

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