A prison that had the highest suicide rate in England and Wales in 2017, and where 20 men have taken their own lives since 2011, has a “staggering” death rate and is still failing inmates, a report has said.
Inspectors who turned up unannounced at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes in February said that there were “chronic and substantial” staff shortages.
Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, said the prison was “still not safe enough”, adding that a “disappointingly small number of recommendations from our previous inspection [in 2015] had been achieved”.
Clarke said in his report that “chronic staff shortages and inexperience” underpinned nearly all of the concerns raised in 2015. HMP Woodhill has over 600 male inmates, mainly remand prisoners and those serving short sentences, alongside a small proportion of category A high-security prisoners.
When inspectors visited Woodhill in February, there were 55 prison officer vacancies, and 20% of officers having less than one year’s experience. They found a “decidedly mixed” picture while assessing the prison. In relation to respect of prisoners and rehabilitation and resettlement work – both were judged as “reasonably good.”
However, safety and purposeful activity were both assessed as poor, the lowest assessment, and had worsened since 2015, with nearly a third of prisoners saying they felt unsafe.
The report said: “At the time we inspected, eight prisoners had taken their own lives since our previous inspection in 2015 and, staggeringly, 19 prisoners had taken their own lives at the establishment since 2011.
“Tragically, a few months after this inspection another prisoner was reported to have taken his own life.”
Michael Spurr, the chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said “the prison manages a complex and vulnerable population” and “remains focused on safety and supporting vulnerable men”. He insisted new recruits would increase staff numbers in the months ahead.
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