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HMP Wymott: high staff sickness rates drastically impact the regime and drug debt incites fear, self-harm and isolation

Leaders at Wymott failed to tackle the very high staff sickness rates, which meant too few officers were available for operational duties on the wing. This led to an incredibly restricted part-time regime for unemployed prisoners on the main site, some of whom spent 21 hours a day locked up, and the weekend regime was poor for all.

Activities across the prison and prisoners’ key health care appointments were often curtailed or cancelled. Specialised officers, such as those with additional psychological training or prison offender managers, were frequently redeployed to do operational tasks.

Staff shortages meant the wait for psychological intervention was extensive, with therapy being 39 weeks and over a year for counselling. This may have contributed to the findings in the inspectorate’s survey in which 20% of prisoners with mental health difficulties said they has developed a problem with drugs since arriving at Wymott. Whilst there had been over 10,000 intelligence reports submitted relating to drugs, a lack of operational officers meant staff completed less than a third of searches, many delayed, and only a third of suspicion drugs tests.

The influx of drugs at Wymott remained a serious problem. It was a cause of debt that resulted in prisoners self-isolating and self-harming because of their fears of violence. There were limited resources available to keep drugs out of the prison with no scanners, systematic checks on staff or adequate technology to reduce the frequent arrival of contraband-laden drones over the large perimeter fence.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Wymott was not fulfilling is role as a training prison with insufficient education, skills and work opportunities for the population, particularly for those living on the main wings where roof damage meant most workshops were closed. The number of places for education were insufficient and part-time allocations only accounted for around a tenth of the overall prison population. Leaders had made sure that prisoners convicted of sexual offences had access to a variety of relevant education, skills and work activities. However, there were no higher-level learning or training opportunities beyond distance learning courses for those who already achieved level 2 qualifications. Access to the library was also poor for most prisoners, with 46% in our survey saying they could visit once a week or more.

Mr Taylor continued:

“Despite staffing shortages there was some good work to support sentence progression and there was a wide range of accredited programmes available. Although not a resettlement prison, Wymott was releasing around 20 prisoners a month because of population pressures elsewhere. Despite not having the funding, staff worked hard to support those who were leaving the jail through some good liaison with external services.”

Whilst there was evidence of innovation at Wymott, such as the Haven Unit, specialised in looking after elderly and unwell prisoners, leaders must address the problems with drugs, staff sickness and the limited education, work and skills provision as a priority.

Notes to editors:

  1. A copy of the full report on Wymott, published on 3 April, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  2. This unannounced inspection took place between 11–21 December 2023.
  3. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  4. Please email if you would like more information.