Report on an Unannounced Inspection Ash House Women's Prison Hydebank Wood

Publication: 09/06/20
Inspections find improved performance at Hydebank Wood Secure College and Ash House women’s prison

Two independent inspection reports have commended prison officers, health care and education staff for the ‘remarkable progress’ they have made to improve performance and outcomes for young men held at Hydebank Wood Secure College and Ash House women’s prison.
 
The unannounced inspections of both facilities were carried out by a multi-disciplinary team of inspectors from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).

“When Inspectors visited Ash House and Hydebank Wood Secure College in late 2019, our Inspection Team found improvements had been made in three of the four ‘healthy prison’ tests,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland and Peter Clarke, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales.

“The areas of safety, respect and rehabilitation and release planning or resettlement were assessed to be at the highest level of ‘good,’ with the remaining category of ‘purposeful activity’ assessed at the second highest level of ‘reasonably good’ at both facilities,” said the Chief Inspectors.

“The Inspection Team found 64% of the recommendations made to the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and their partners in 2016 to improve Hydebank Wood Secure College had been achieved and a further 12% partially achieved. The findings were similar at Ash House with 58% of recommendations achieved and 13% partially achieved. 

“These are exceptionally high figures and show what improvements can be achieved when inspection recommendations are approached in a constructive and positive way,” said Ms Durkin.

Levels of violence and incidents of self-harm at Ash House were found to be both lower than at the time of the last inspection and lower than at other women’s prisons in England and Wales inspected by HMIP.

“Outcomes for young men at the Secure College were dramatically better than at comparable prisons in England and Wales. In light of this, we recommend those with responsibility for designing and delivering custodial services for young adults, should study the findings of this report carefully and where appropriate, learn from it,” said Mr Clarke.

Improvements in collaborative working between health care and prison staff at all levels had significantly improved which was encouraging.

“Colleagues from the RQIA who inspected the health care arrangements provided by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT) found the women and young men had good access to primary health care services and were treated professionally with compassion and dignity. Efforts by staff to undertake quality improvement work had the potential to deliver further positive outcomes,” said Ms Durkin and Mr Clarke.

However, the Chief Inspectors were concerned that previous inspection recommendations to tackle the supply and use of illegal and prescription drugs and improve governance around the use of force at both facilities still needed to be addressed.

“The strategy in place to reduce the supply and trade of prescription and illegal drugs or other substances was not sufficiently robust.  The number of positive results following a mandatory drug test were too high and security intelligence was not effectively used to better understand and manage the risk of drugs in the women’s prison and Secure College,” said Ms Durkin.

“An effective strategy should be implemented now to reduce the supply of drugs,” she said.

In addition, Mr Clarke said too many reports did not clearly explain why the use of force or anti-tear clothing at Ash House was necessary.  He called for managers in the women’s prison to systematically review body worn camera and CCTV footage and for improvements in how body worn cameras were used at the Secure College.

“These are areas the Governor and his team need to address,” he said.

The Inspection Team found the relationship between the NIPS and Belfast Met, its education and training provider, was good but that the women and young men would benefit from access to higher level qualifications.

“Colleagues from the Education and Training Inspectorate found that more attention needed to be paid to learning and skills provision, with all prisoners having more opportunity to achieve higher level accredited qualifications and vocational skills that would improve their prospects of gaining employment on release,” said Ms Durkin.

“Consequently, we have made a recommendation in both Inspection Reports to support the further development of learning and skills provision and inform a more coherent strategic plan,” she said.

In conclusion both Chief Inspectors highlighted the positive relationships which existed between prisoners and prison staff which did not compromise officers’ ability to carry out their duties.

“This culture of respect and strong personal relationships - where staff don’t wear prison officer uniforms and are on first name terms with the women and young men in their care - has undoubtedly helped Ash House and Hydebank Wood Secure College to function well under the changed regime and visit arrangements needed to protect both prisoners and staff during the current Covid-19 crisis,” said Ms Durkin.

“We also acknowledge while the co-location of young men and women on a shared site is not fully in accordance with international standards that support the separation of male and female prisoners, these inspections have shown a small amount of well-managed, properly controlled contact can be of considerable benefit,“ said Mr Clarke.

“We are thoroughly impressed by the findings from these two inspections and commend all who have worked hard over many years to achieve these positive outcomes,” the Chief Inspectors said.