HMP Channings Wood: improvement and greater consistency across many aspects of prison life

HMP Channings Wood, a men’s prison in Devon, was found in an independent review of progress (IRP) to have successfully addressed many of the inconsistencies and weaknesses evident in a full inspection in 2018.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that at the inspection in September 2018, “we assessed outcomes for prisoners as not sufficiently good across all four of our healthy prison tests – the same assessment as at the previous inspection in 2016.

“We found that inconsistency of outcomes was a recurrent theme. This was best exemplified in varying standards being accepted across the different accommodation blocks, and in partial or uncoordinated implementation of initiatives designed to improve outcomes [for prisoners].” In 2018, Mr Clarke had concluded “that the enthusiasm and openness of managers at Channings Wood needed to be supplemented with active, visible leadership, ensuring that improvement was achieved and sustained.”

A largely positive IRP visit in July 2019 found that the prison and its leaders “had taken their cue very positively from our findings and recommendations, and within nine months had moved ahead in the great majority of the areas where we had identified weaknesses.

“In particular, our call for much greater coordination and consistency of standards had been heeded.” Reasonable or good progress had been made in carrying out 11 of the 13 key recommendations in 2018.

On two recommendations, inspectors judged there had been insufficient progress. However, Mr Clarke said that one of those – relating to the resourcing and timing of mandatory drugs tests of prisoners – had to be set against the prison’s overall improved effectiveness in tackling the supply of illegal drugs into the prison.

There was also insufficient progress in dealing with the poor physical condition of some of the living units but improvement in this area depended to a large extent on budgetary issues, “where other priorities had proved pressing on security grounds.”

Among positive IRP findings, the level of violence against staff had decreased, and in other areas of safety the figures relating to violence did not show any increasing trends. There were also some signs that use of new psychoactive substances, and of drugs in general, were on the decrease. Vulnerable prisoners said that they were now safer on their induction unit.

Inspectors found that leadership and governance in health and social care had improved, a more satisfactory complaints system had been established and there had been some recent improvements in equality work. Ofsted inspectors found some improvements in education, skills and work.

Work to reduce reoffending had already become more consistent, with layers of assurance added to ensure that public protection responsibilities were carried out thoroughly, especially for high-risk prisoners approaching release, Mr Clarke added.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“At this IRP, we found strong leadership beginning to bear fruit in real improvements to almost all of the areas which we followed up from our recent inspection. There was a clear sense of coordination and of direction; this was attested to not just by managers, but also by staff, and by some prisoners as well. Most staff whom we met or observed, including many in their first year of service, were engaged, appreciative of the new management approaches and well-motivated in their work.”

 Facts

HMP Channings Wood is a training and resettlement prison near Newton Abbot in Devon, holding up to 724 adult men.

Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) are a new type of prison visit, which began in April 2019. They were developed because Ministers wanted an independent assessment of how far prisons had implemented HMI Prisons’ recommendations following particularly concerning prison inspections. IRPs are not inspections and do not result in new judgements against our healthy prison tests. Rather they judge progress being made against the key recommendations made at the previous inspection. The visits are announced and happen eight to 12 months after the original inspection. They last 2.5 days and involve a comparatively small team. Reports are published within 25 working days of the end of the visit. We conduct 15 to 20 IRPs each year. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons selects sites for IRPs based on previous healthy prison test assessments and a range of other factors. For more on IRPs please see – https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/about-hmi-prisons/independent-reviews-of-progress-irps/

This IRP visit took place between 1 and 3 July 2019.

At this IRP visit, we followed up 13 of the 60 recommendations made at our most recent inspection and made judgements about the degree of progress achieved to date. We judged that there was good progress in six recommendations, reasonable progress in five recommendations and insufficient progress in two recommendations. We found no recommendations where there had been no meaningful progress.

HMP Channings Wood: Stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

HMP Channings Wood, a training and resettlement prison near Newton Abbott in Devon, was found by inspectors to present “a very mixed picture”, with stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

Overall, the prison had not changed since the last inspection, in 2016. All four ‘healthy prison tests’ – safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – were assessed again as being not sufficiently good, the second lowest assessment.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison environment reflected stark contrasts. “Much of the accommodation was of a good standard and prisoners appreciated their access to the pleasant surrounding grounds. On three units, however, in our view, failures of leadership had led to some very poor standards with prisoners living in often bleak and dirty cells.”

There had been efforts to improve safety at the prison, which held up to 724 men, but these were often uncoordinated, which undermined their effectiveness. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners had felt unsafe in the prison at some point, with a third still feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection.

Violence was rising but inspectors were concerned about the prison’s efforts to tackle it. The report noted: “Levels of violence had increased and were high. Although reported data were comparable to other category C prisons, we also found evidence of significant under-reporting that managers were aware of but had not yet addressed.”

“We were not assured,” Mr Clarke added, “that that the well-being of vulnerable prisoners was always sufficiently safeguarded and the prison lacked a coordinated approach to the reduction of violence linked to the problem of drugs.”

Over three-quarters of prisoners thought illicit drugs were easy to access.  “Inadequate supervision of prisoners, for example, meant there were repeated opportunities for drug misuse and associated violence.” Since the last inspection two prisoners had taken their own lives and the number of self-harm incidents had doubled.

Work to promote equality had deteriorated since 2016, though, more positively, most prisoners felt respected by staff and indicated that they knew who to turn to for help. Here, again, however, inspectors observed “variability and polarisation.”

“We saw much positive work being undertaken by staff of all disciplines working appropriately to set and maintain standards. On the poorer wings, in contrast, we found staff congregating in offices, failing to set standards or maintain supportive living conditions and failing to challenge delinquent behaviour on the part of prisoners.” Inspectors noted that the significant number of newer, less experienced officers needed greater support.

However, more positively, prisoners had reasonable access to time out of cell. The prison had sufficient full-time activity places for most men but the management of attendance and punctuality was poor and quality of teaching, learning and assessment required improvement. Public protection measures, as well as release and resettlement planning, were weak and inconsistent.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Inconsistency of outcomes was a recurrent theme of our findings at this inspection. This was best exemplified in varying standards being accepted across the different accommodation wings, but also in the way initiatives to bring about improvement were often implemented in a partial or uncoordinated way. Managers were enthusiastic and open about making progress, but optimism and energy needed to be harnessed in a way that ensured leaders at all levels were visible, demanding consistent standards, and ensuring improvement was embedded and sustainable.”

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

“We recognise the need to achieve greater consistency in order to improve standards across the prison, which is the Governor’s priority. But I am pleased that the Inspectorate acknowledge a range of positive work being undertaken by staff at all levels at Channings Wood. An additional 22

officers have now been recruited to provide key workers for every prisoner, and we have increased resources to improve safety and accommodation conditions.”

Read the Report: https://www.prisons.org.uk/ChanningsWood022019.pdf