One of the country’s largest prisons HMP Hewell previously considered ‘not fit for the 21stcentury’, has ‘the worst’ living conditions the chief inspector has seen. The most recent report on the prison near Redditch, Worcestershire follows an unannounced inspection of the prison and records ‘a marked decline’ in conditions. Violence persists, low-level misbehaviour goes unchallenged and living conditions have been described as ‘squalid, demeaning and depressing’.
HMP Hewell currently houses 1,278 men split across two sites, with house blocks on the closed site holding remand, sentenced and vulnerable Category B prisoners; and an open site at Hewell Grange. The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, has said that this was a ‘very worrying inspection’ and highlighted a series of serious concerns. Nearly seven out of 10 of prisoners claimed that drugs were easy to obtain with just under a quarter having developed a drug habit since arriving. The rate of self-harm at the closed site had doubled since the last inspection and since then there had been four drug-related deaths, two self-inflicted deaths and one manslaughter. Prisons and Probation Ombudsman recommendations following deaths in custody had still not been fully implemented, the oversight of this being considered inadequate.
Ofsted also found that the provision of education, skills and work at the prison was inadequate. Attendance at activities was poor, and those who did not engage were often locked in their cells for up to 22 hours a day, the watchdog reported. The dormitories at the open site at Hewell Grange were reported to be crowded and damp, some of the lavatories and showers being described as ‘filthy’. The inspectorate considered the poor living conditions to be compounded by the fact that that part of the establishment was ‘failing in its core purpose as an open prison’.
Having already been in ‘special measures’ for some considerable time, HMP Hewell narrowly missed being subjected to the new urgent notification process. Had it been triggered, this process would have required the Secretary of State to produce an action plan for improvement at the prison within 28 days.
Mr Clarke justified his decision not to invoke the UN process on the basis of ‘several factors’. He explained: ‘I believe the urgent notification process is best reserved for when there is no other obvious or feasible solution, when the intervention of the Secretary of State is needed to bring about some strategic or significant organisational change.’ The chief inspector considered that the changes that are needed to bring about improvement are ‘all within the gift of the prison itself’.
Detailed recommendations have been given by the authors of the report to address the ‘wide range of weaknesses and failings’ that led to the marked decline of HMP Hewell. A review of the prison’s progress will be undertaken in the coming months.
Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) director general for prisons, has said that the ‘particularly worrying’ concerns over living conditions would be addressed. He also stated that ‘[a] new drug strategy, extra sniffer-dog patrols and increased searches in partnership with local police will make the closed prison safer’.
Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), responded to the report by saying that Hewell had been through ‘a significant period of restructuring and change’. ‘At the time of the inspection the prison’s performance was below acceptable standards although the new Governor was working hard to address the deficiencies,’ he continued. ‘Since the inspection we have strengthened the management team. Decisive action has been taken to improve both safety and security. The prison is now clean. Hewell will receive the external support necessary to ensure it further improves performance and delivers a safe, secure and decent regime for prisoners.’