What inspectors found when they visited HMP New Hall women's prison near Wakefield

Inspectors made an unannounced visit to HMP andYOI New Hall earlier this year.
Inspectors made an unannounced visit to HMP andYOI New Hall earlier this year.

Staff are working effectively to deal with violence at a women's prison near Wakefield but some punishments seemed excessive, inspectors have reported.

HMP and YOI New Hall was found to be a "safe, respectful and purposeful" facility where work to resettle and rehabilitate prisoners was improving, according to a report published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons today.

The women's prison in the village of Flockton can hold up to 425 inmates at any one time.

The women's prison in the village of Flockton can hold up to 425 inmates at any one time.

Read more: Damning report into 'seriously overcrowded' Leeds prison

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said recorded violence in the prison at Flockton was quite high “but nearly all incidents were very minor and overall most prisoners felt safe".

His report notes that work to intervene and support those perpetrating threatening or antisocial behaviour, and the victims of such incidents, was effective.

The report sets out the findings of an unannounced inspection carried out between February 25 and March 8 this year - the first since New Hall was last inspected in 2015.

Since the last inspection there had been three self-inflicted deaths and inspectors found most recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following its investigations into those deaths had been implemented.

Prisoners at risk of self-harm and with complex needs received good oversight and case management and those inspectors spoke to were positive about the care they received.

However, inspectors noted a seeming over-reliance on the use of formal disciplinary processes and felt some punishments seemed excessive.

Use of force had also increased substantially and several women had been in ‘special accommodation’ conditions on the house units, although records failed to adequately justify these decisions.

The segregation unit in which some prisoners are held was described as a clean but austere facility with a basic regime.

Read more: Lack of professionalism at Wakefield’s New Hall prison was a factor in death of inmate from Leeds

Inspectors said the prison environment was good but the quality of accommodation was more variable, although reasonable overall.

Staff-prisoner relationships were also good, although some prisoners expressed frustration at their inability to get some simple tasks done by staff.

Mr Clarke said: “The prison would have benefited from greater visibility and support from managers. It was also our observation that the proportion of female staff was too low and was something that was a very stark and particular feature of the senior team.”

The mother and baby unit at the prison was found to be excellent and health care was similarly good, but mental health provision was undermined by staff shortages among the mental health team.

Women experienced good time out of their cells, including association on Friday evenings, which inspectors said they now rarely see.

The provision of learning, skills and work was improving with plans for a new curriculum and evidence of strong partnership working.

“Our colleagues in Ofsted assessed the overall effectiveness of provision as ‘good’, but undermined in part by quite poor levels of attendance,” Mr Clarke said.

The coordination of resettlement work was found to have improved greatly since 2015 and offender management was clearly focused on risk reduction.

Read more: Prison officer who had sex with inmate on washing machine is jailed for four years

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “New Hall remains a good prison, delivering effective outcomes for those held there.

"At the time of our inspection the prison was experiencing something of an interregnum with a temporary governor in post and new permanent governor about to be appointed. Our report highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of this prison.

"We trust the findings we detail will help the new governor to ensure momentum is maintained and continuous improvement sustained.”

The report made 24 recommendations, with the main recommendation being that the prison's mental health service should be improved.

Director general of prisons Phil Copple said inspectors had rightly recognised the effective work of staff and management in making New Hall a safe and respectful prison.

"Since the inspection, a recruitment drive has increased the proportion of female staff to within reach of the 60 per cent target, and staff have received training on rewarding good behaviour," he said.

"A new Governor is set to be appointed in the coming weeks, and will be focusing on the Inspectorate’s recommendations to oversee further improvements at New Hall.”

HMP New Hall in numbers

425 - Maximum number of prisoners

395 - Prisoners being held at time of inspection

13 - Percentage of prisoners on remand

10 - Percentage of prisoners serving life

39 - Percentage of prisoners serving more than four years