HMYOI Werrington inspection report positive but violence still a concern

By Agencies
June 7, 2018

HMYOI Werrington, near Stoke-on-Trent, was found by inspectors to be a successful establishment with an “overriding culture” for the 100 boys aged from 15 to 18 of incentive rather than punishment.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “By any standards this was a good inspection (in January 2018) and showed what could be achieved in an area of custody that has drawn considerable adverse comment in recent times, not least from this Inspectorate.”

However, Mr Clarke sounded a note of caution. “Our major concerns were around the levels of violence, which had risen since the last inspection (in 2017) and were too high. There had been a significant increase from some 142 incidents in the six months prior to the last inspection to 206 incidents in the period leading up to this one.” Use of force by staff had also increased.

Inspectors noted, though, that Werrington had “good initiatives in place to tackle the violence, and early indications were that they were having a positive effect.” The ambition, Mr Clarke added, was to make the YOI safer, “but not at the expense of the regime” – the day-to-day running of the establishment.

In 2018, inspectors assessed respect in the YOI as “good”, the highest HMI Prisons assessment, with much of the progress due to good partnership working with other bodies, including in education, health and the voluntary sector.

The inspection, Mr Clarke said, “very quickly established that the overriding culture at Werrington was one of incentive rather than punishment. This was reality, not merely an aspiration, and the leadership and staff deserved much credit for having the determination to deliver it. This was in stark contrast to what we see all too often at other establishments, where a negative cycle of punishment and restriction is pursued as the preferred means of behaviour management.”

All boys had signed behaviour-related compacts in which access to private cash, computer games and time out of cell were good incentives and were appreciated by boys. Inspectors noted: “The scheme was more focused on incentives than we often see. The merit scheme had developed since the previous inspection and continued to offer boys an immediate reward for good behaviour which could be exchanged for confectionery at the merit shop. We observed officers who were quick to acknowledge good behaviour and this was reflected in the number of positive entries in boys’ files.”

Inspectors also commended good work in the area of resettlement for boys who were released. “There was imaginative use of release on temporary licence (ROTL), which was to be commended. There was also a proactive casework team that worked with partners to address offending behaviour and meet other resettlement needs.”

In conclusion, Mr Clarke said: “It is pleasing to be able to publish a very positive report about a YOI. The Inspectorate always welcomes good practice being identified and promulgated, which is why we have gone to particular lengths in this report to do so. Nevertheless, it is clear that if the progress that has been made at Werrington is to be consolidated and maintained, there needs to be a continued and unwavering focus on reducing the violence that is the major threat to its continuing stability and success.

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said: “I’m pleased that Inspectors have highlighted the positive work done at Werrington with some very challenging young people. In particular, the skills training and support provided to help young men gain employment on release is commendable. Good progress has been made in tackling violence and this will continue to be a priority for the establishment going forward.”

Commenting on the report, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The overall tone of the inspectorate’s report is positive. For example, it is rare in prison to see children eating with other children, let alone staff, so it is good that officers are encouraged to sit with the boys at mealtimes. The Howard League has visited Werrington, and we were impressed to hear officers describing the children in their care as children, rather than trainees or inmates as we have heard in other prisons.

“From the dozens of calls we have received from children in Werrington through the Howard League advice line, however, and from looking at the finer detail in the report, it is clear that there is still a long way to go.

“Violence is a major concern. Inspectors call for action on very serious issues, including: child protection; the infliction of pain on children by staff; diversity and equality training; the amount of time boys spend out of their cells; and better support for children who are at risk or have been exposed to child sexual exploitation.

“In any other environment for children, concerns about any one of these problems would be grounds for urgent action to be taken. It is shameful that prisons are held to a much lower standard.”

The Howard League runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young people in custody. In the last 12 months, the charity has received 36 calls from young people in Werrington. More than three-quarters of these calls raised concerns about adjudications, treatment and conditions, or the use of segregation.

One young person who was assisted by the Howard League had been given more than 300 additional days of imprisonment through the prison discipline system.

In January – the month in which the inspection took place – the Howard League was told that several children had complained that they did not have coats. Prison officers were walking around with coats, hats and gloves. It is understood that the prison had green semi-waterproof coats but that they were not going to distribute these in case the children then put their hoods up.

A young adult called the Howard League to say that he was going to be released from Werrington in a couple of days but had nowhere to live. He said that probation had told him that his release would not be allowed until he had a fixed address.

A boy was charged with assaulting a prison officer, after he brushed past the officer in an attempt to run away from another child and an adult visitor, who were attacking him in the visiting hall. The boy was subsequently attacked by the other child and the visitor. The boy felt that he had been punished for being victimised.

A boy did not feel safe to leave his cell, which was leading to deterioration in his mental health. He said that he was able to use the phone only once every three or four days, and he considered himself “lucky” if he was able to go to the gym once every two weeks. He did not leave his cell to meet the other children, and he had education classes on his own.

Another boy said that he was asked by a prison officer if he wanted to plead guilty or not guilty to an adjudication for disobeying a lawful order while in his cell. The adjudication hearing then took place in the boy’s absence. A prison officer told him his punishment and said that the hearing had gone ahead in his absence because he had refused to attend, which the boy said was not true.

* Read the inspection report here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons  https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

* Howard League for Penal Reform https://howardleague.org/

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