HMP Isle of Wight – holding nearly 1,000 men convicted of sexual offences – was found to be a respectful prison but one where safety had deteriorated and rehabilitation and release planning was not sufficiently good: Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook, writes these findings have ‘shocked’ staff at the prison and are disputed by prisoners too.
Notable features from this inspection:
HMP Isle of Wight consists of two distinct sites, HMP Albany and HMP Parkhurst;
Cellular accommodation on wings 11 to 15 at the Albany site uses a night sanitation system requiring prisoners to be unlocked one at a time during the night to use the toilet;
40% of prisoners held are over 50 years of age;
83% of the population are high risk; 90% of prisoners are serving sentences of more than 10 years; in our survey, only 8% of prisoners said it was easy for family and friends to visit them, and only 7% said they received a visit each week.
Most of the prisoners held at the time of the inspection in April and May 2019 were serving long sentences for serious offences. Forty per cent of the population were over 50 years old and a significant proportion were elderly and sometimes frail. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison continued to house a very small remand population from local courts on the island, although it was ill-suited to this role.
Since the last inspection of Isle of Wight in 2015 the assessment of respect had slipped from good, the highest grading, to reasonably good, and safety fell from reasonably good to not sufficiently good. Purposeful activity remained at reasonably good and rehabilitation and release planning remained not sufficiently good.
Despite the deterioration in safety and respect, Mr Clarke said, much positive work continued at the prison. “Relationships between staff and prisoners remained good, underpinning prisoners’ experience of everyday life.” Most prisoners said they had a member of staff they could turn to if they had a problem and living conditions were also reasonably good.
Most prisoners could get 10 hours out of their cell each weekday and gym and library provision were good. Teaching and learning were also good and achievement rates were very high on most courses, though inspectors found a large number of prisoners underemployed in a significant number of wing roles.
More concerningly, Mr Clarke said, “we found prisoners had very poor perceptions of safety. In our survey, more than half said they had felt unsafe during their time at HMP Isle of Wight and nearly a quarter felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. While violence was still not widespread, it had risen significantly since the previous inspection and the response of managers was not good enough, leading to inconsistent challenge of perpetrators and little support for victims.”
Many Isle of Wight prisoners were held a long way from home and families experienced significant travel times and expense visiting the prison. It was therefore disappointing that support for prisoners to maintain contact with the outside world was limited to letters, phone calls and some fairly basic visits facilities.
The long-term, high-risk sex offender population presented significant challenges in rehabilitation and release planning, Mr Clarke said. “We found a very similar picture to the previous inspection. Fundamentally, some good work was undermined by a lack of up-to-date assessments of risk and need, high offender supervisor caseloads and a lack of contact between offender supervisors and prisoners.
“This meant the one-to-one motivational work needed with the large number of prisoners who were maintaining their innocence could not take place.” Around half the men at the prison maintained their innocence.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“HMP Isle of Wight is a respectful place where good relationships between frontline staff and prisoners result in many positive outcomes. However, there needs to be a better operational grip on safety. Managers need to address the weaknesses in offender management to ensure the prison fulfils its purpose of reducing the risks these long-term prisoners pose, both within the prison and, importantly, when they are eventually released.”
Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:
“The high-quality education and training at HMP Isle of Wight are vital for helping offenders lead a productive, law abiding life on release, but we recognise that more work is needed to make the prison safer. The Governor and his staff are working hard to bring down levels of violence and self-harm, and the excellent relationships between prisoners and staff will be important in doing this. Every prisoner now has a dedicated officer giving them personal support and, combined with working closer with probation and local authorities, we expect to see an improvement in arrangements to prepare prisoners for release.”
HMP Isle of Wight has had a considerable influx from the YOI estate despite which HMP IoW is reported by residents and staff to be a safe prison.
The prison only does local release for remands and their sentenced population go onto the mainland, it is not resettlement prison, probation at the prison is overloaded and residents report it is often impossible to make appointments – despite which every resident has a dedicated Key Worker – even remands.
Over the last 18 months HMP IoW has taken numbers from the YOI estate and some that have been re-catted from dispersal, the result is high testosterone levels, but the clear view of residents and staff is that it is a largely safe prison.
HMP IoW is a Level Three prison, out-performing many others.
As one IoW staff member told me: “I was shocked to read this report .. the thing about the inspection teams are they have to find fault in order to justify their existence.
“The reality is while HMPPS pays the wages that it does it is unlikely to retain the staff and so the experience that it needs, until that happens, HMPPS is going to keep slipping and Boris can forget about an additional 10,000 spaces, we do not have staff to run it now, never mind with 10,000 more.”
HMP Isle of Wight is a training prison holding around 1,000 prisoners, almost all of whom have been convicted of sexual offences. It opened in April 2009 with the merger of three prisons: HMP Albany, HMP Parkhurst and HMP Camp Hill. Albany was constructed in the 1960s and occupies the site of a former military barracks. Parkhurst was originally a military hospital and became a prison in 1863.
Camp Hill was built in 1912 using prisoner labour from Parkhurst, but closed in April 2013.
This unannounced inspection took place between 15 April and 2 May 2019.