HMP Whitemoor: Dirtiest Jail Ever Seen by a Prison Inspector
HMP Whitemoor is a category A prison that is part of the long-term, high-secure estate. At the time of our inspection, it held 315 men of whom 40% were category A and eight were high-risk category A.
When we last inspected the prison in 2017, it was running well and was awarded scores of reasonably good in each of our healthy prison tests. It was very disappointing on this inspection to find it had declined in three out of our four tests.
Staffing shortfalls were certainly a factor in this decline, but levels remained much higher than in most prisons. Despite being told multiple times that officers were too busy to attend to prisoners, we often came across them congregating in wing offices or standing in pairs on the wings talking to each other. The example we give in this report of staff not bothering to answer an emergency cell bell because it ‘wasn’t their job’ showed a lack of imagination from leaders in coping with staff shortages that was illustrative of the problems at this jail.
Neither staff nor prisoners could explain the daily regime to inspectors, so there was no clarity on what was supposed to be happening. It was very complicated and inflexible, and prisoners complained about frequent cancellation of activities. The situation was similar for those on the psychologically informed planned environment (PIPE) unit, where one prisoner told me it was often no different to living on a mainstream unit.
The provision of education was very poor, sessions were frequently cancelled and there were not enough spaces for English and maths despite the high levels of need in the jail. Many prisoners were desperate to learn but too often were left with photocopied ‘learning’ packs delivered to their cells.
The work of the offender management unit (OMU) was curtailed because of the frequent cross deployment of prison offender manager (POMs). The prison was delivering a significantly reduced number of accredited programmes, leaving prisoners feeling stuck in their sentences and unable to demonstrate the behaviour they needed to progress.
There is no better sign of decline in a prison than a lack of cleanliness and at Whitemoor the wings were the dirtiest I have seen since I became Chief Inspector. Floors, walls, serveries and prisoners' kitchens were filthy, there was rubbish lying around and bins were overflowing. The rigidity of the regime meant that cleaners were unlocked for as little as an hour a day, which evidently did not give them enough time to do their job. Prisoners said cleaning materials such as mop heads were, for some inexplicable reason, in short supply. When I walked round the jail, they frequently complained to me about the dirt, a contrast to their cells which most men kept in immaculate condition.
One of the bright spots in the prison was the Fen unit, which held up to 70 prisoners with personality disorders and provided a much more reliable, therapy-based regime. Here staff were actively engaged in supporting a vulnerable and potentially risky group of prisoners in an environment that was calm and relaxed. The Bridge unit, when the regime was not curtailed, also provided help for prisoners who had previously been segregated to get back onto the main wings. The segregation unit showed some improvement with a well-motivated staff group working well with some challenging prisoners, but we were concerned to see that prisoners were also being segregated on the inpatient unit, without the usual statutory safeguards in place such as visits from the duty governor, chaplain, and Independent Monitoring Board.
Leaders at Whitemoor rightly prioritised the security and keeping staff and prisoners safe, but the focus was on procedure – searching, controlled unlocks, maintaining the perimeter and providing support to some particularly risky individuals. They had failed to pay sufficient attention to the other things that motivate prisoners to behave, such as a predictable regime, cleanliness, access to work and education, and sentence progression. Many prisoners were angry and frustrated with the lack of opportunity to move on with their sentences, and this added to the level of risk in the prison.
There was work in progress to recruit more staff, both locally and nationally, but in the meantime the governor needs to consider how she can maintain a decent regime with the staff she has. Although there were some prisoners who posed the most serious risk to safety, half the prison was made up of category B men who could potentially be in prisons that are able to operate with far lower officer to prisoner ratios. Our roll checks found 59% of prisoners locked in their cells which was simply not acceptable in a jail where many men will be spending a substantial proportion of their lives.
There is much to be done to improve things at Whitemoor after this disappointing inspection, but there were some excellent staff and managers at the prison. Leaders will benefit from visiting other jails and understanding how they are able to cope with staff shortages. There must be a determination to provide a much better regime and access to activities that give these prisoners a sense of meaning and hope as they serve their long sentences.
Charlie Taylor HM Chief Inspector of Prisons January 2023