HMP ONLEY: A chaotic, fundamentally unsafe, prison locked in a battle with drugs and violence.

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“This is a truly shocking report of a prison in complete chaos and in danger of flipping into self-destruct – the lack of Urgent Notification from the Prisons Inspectorate is frankly bewildering.”
Mark Leech

UPDATE:  Mark Leech: Following publication of this post today, and my comments at the bottom of it, I received a juvenile email from the Chief Communications Officer at The Prisons Inspectorate – you can read it, and my reply, here


HMP Onley, a training prison in Warwickshire with 80% of its population from London, is “fundamentally unsafe” with high levels of drugs and violence.

When the Prisons Inspectorate last inspected HMP Onley in 2016 they made 70 recommendations overall. The prison fully accepted 53 of the recommendations and partially (or subject to resources) accepted 16. It rejected one of the recommendations.

At this follow-up inspection in November 2018 – two years later – the Prison Inspectorate found that the prison had achieved 24 of those recommendations, and not achieved 46 recommendations.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison had been assessed as ‘poor’ for safety – the lowest assessment – at the previous inspection in 2016.

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When inspectors visited in November 2018, Mr Clarke added, it was “particularly disappointing” to find Onley was still fundamentally unsafe.   “Time and again we find that prisons which are unsafe will struggle to make progress in other areas, and HMP Onley was no exception.”

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The lack of safety was “all too obvious”. The report noted that the reception wing was chaotic and “new arrivals, still carrying their property and stood in the busy corridor, were approached and faced predation by more experienced prisoners.”

 Mr Clarke added: “Perhaps it is not surprising that in our survey only 62% of prisoners said they felt safe on the first night. Sadly, their feelings were an all too accurate reflection of what life in Onley would be like during their time there.”

The prevalence of illicit drugs played a major role in causing destabilising factors such as violence, debt, bullying and health emergencies. During the previous three months there had been 200 emergency health calls related to the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS). “Despite this, we found that far too little was being done to obstruct the flow of drugs into the jail.”

Violence was higher than at similar category C prisons and although prisoner-on-prisoner assaults had decreased since 2016, assaults on staff had more than doubled. Far too many prisoners were self-isolating – refusing to come out of their cells or to go to education, work and training. The prison believed much of the violence was gang-related.

Mr Clarke said: “HMP Onley was a clear example of where the failure to deal with drugs and violence undermined many other aspects of prison life. There was a vicious circle where fear, frustration and boredom increased the demand for drugs, which in turn fuelled the violence.

“In order for Onley to break out of this circle, there must obviously be more effective action taken to reduce violence and the availability of drugs. But at the same time, more can be done in other areas.”

Rubbish was consistently thrown from cells windows and, the report noted, “there were problems with rats, and recent attempts to control the infestation had left some dying in wall cavities and vents, leaving an intolerable smell in some cells.” Accommodation on Onley’s newer wings was better than on its “shabby, cramped” older wings.

Onley was a training prison without enough activity places for the population, and during the inspection only 50% of prisoners were engaged in purposeful activity at any one time. Some 39% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day – far too high a proportion for a training prison. Extensive PE facilities were underused by the prison population, which was predominantly young, with around 60% from a black and minority ethnic background.

Inspectors noted that the prison had run a restricted daily regime for more than four years because of chronic staff shortages, though this was gradually being addressed.

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Mr Clarke said: “There can also be little doubt that doing more to support family relationships would help prisoners rehabilitate and prepare for their eventual release.” The report noted that Onley was in a remote location but there was no transport for families from local stations.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“I would not wish to detract from the many good things being delivered by dedicated and skilful staff. Health care, education, training, industry and offender management leading to release were all areas where there was some very good provision. Sadly, Onley will fail to fulfil its role as a training and resettlement prison until it can deal with the inextricably linked blights of drugs and violence.”

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

“Tackling drugs and violence at Onley is our top priority and, while challenging, significant efforts have been made to drive improvement. These have included a major recruitment drive, with 30% more officers soon to be in place compared to 2018, along with additional security measures such as mail scanners, while a new drug recovery unit is due to open this spring. As the Chief Inspector makes clear, despite the difficulties there is good work going on at Onley to help prisoners turn their lives around and reduce the risk of reoffending on release.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the report showed “a prison in complete chaos”.

Mr Leech writes:

This is a truly shocking report of a prison in complete chaos and in danger of flipping into self-destruct – the lack of Urgent Notification from the Prisons Inspectorate at Onley is frankly bewildering.

Onley is a fundamentally unsafe prison, previous recommendations on safety, decency, and respect have been ignored wholescale.

Drugs and violence have taken control, and Onley ticks all the Urgent Notification boxes – yet the Prisons Inspectorate has failed yet again to activate a procedure designed for exactly these kind of situations.

I have heard it suggested elsewhere that political pressure was placed on the Prisons Inspectorate to ‘give it a rest’ and not to activate the Urgent Notification procedure ‘for a while’, after four in a row were bowled stump high at the Justice Secretary last year – true or not, if Onley doesn’t meet the test for the Urgent Notification procedure, then I’d like someone to tell me exactly what does.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales
@prisonsorguk

HMP Onley – Safety Had Declined say Inspectors

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 2.39.57 PMStandards had declined at HMP Onley and it had become an unsafe prison, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Friday 2nd December 2016 he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the category C prison near Rugby.

HMP Onley held around 740 prisoners at the time of its inspection. Since its previous inspection in 2012, it had been designated as a resettlement prison for Greater London, which had had a significant impact on the prison in terms of the changed nature of its population. This more recent inspection found that there had been a dramatic decline in standards since 2012, particularly in safety, where outcomes for prisoners were now poor, having been judged good in 2012. The number of assaults had nearly tripled and was far higher than at similar prisons. Despite the rise in violence, not enough had been done to analyse the root causes.

Inspectors were also concerned to find that:

  • there was no comprehensive violence reduction or drug reduction strategy;
  • the existing drug reduction strategy did not specifically address the problem of new psychoactive substances (NPS), which were having a significant impact in the prison;
  • a massive backlog of security-related information reports undermined a proactive approach to violence;
  • staff shortages had contributed to a restricted regime, which had a direct impact on the ability of prisoners to attend activities, learning and training;
  • offender supervisors were often moved to other duties and therefore had limited contact with prisoners; and
  • most prisoners did not have an up-to-date risk assessment (OASys), although that was largely a problem with London prisons transferring in prisoners without the assessments having been completed.

 

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • staff-prisoner relationships were reasonably good, as were health services;
  • the range and quality of education and training opportunities at the prison were good; and
  • support for prisoners to resettle back into the community was mostly good, especially the good advice and assistance provided to address family relationships.

 

Peter Clarke said:
“The challenge for the management team at Onley is to find ways to halt the decline, and there are clear lessons to be learned from what the inspection revealed about the reactive approach that had been taken to too many issues. There was a clear need for the leadership of the prison to get a grip of the problems facing them and move away from merely reacting to events. Of course staff shortages have had an impact on many areas of service delivery, but they did not offer an excuse for a decline in standards of the severity that we found. There was actually much good work being done at Onley.”

Michael Spurr, CEO of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“As the Chief Inspector points out, there is much good work being done at Onley but the deterioration in safety is unacceptable and reversing this is the Governor’s top priority.

“Additional staff are being recruited to meet the commitments set out in the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper and the Governor will use these additional resources to drive forward the improvements required.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 2 December 2016 at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons