HMP Onley: Chief inspector crticises Northamptonshire prison over 'dire' staff shortages

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A team of inspectors visited the prison for two days in May and five days in June

Staffing levels at a Northamptonshire prison have been described as “dire” following an unannounced inspection.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said in a report that the staffing issues at HMP Onley, near Rugby, “was one of the worst” he has seen.

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He said the quality of education was 'inadequate', the food was 'poor', the provision of purposeful activity was 'poor' and the levels of violence “still remained higher than in similar prisons”.

HMP Onley was inspected in May and June of this yearHMP Onley was inspected in May and June of this year
HMP Onley was inspected in May and June of this year

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Violence at HMP Onley has reduced by 65 percent.

“Across the prison estate we have recruited 4,000 extra staff in the last four years and have committed to increasing the number of officers in public and private sector prisons by 5,000 by the mid-2020s.”

The facility is a category C training and resettlement prison, which largely serves a London population.

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Mr Taylor and his team of inspectors visited for two days in May and five days in June.

He said: "The work of this jail was being constrained by the staffing situation which was one of the worst I have seen.

"Staff shortfalls in many areas limited progress in achieving better outcomes for prisoners."

He added that the reason for low staff levels could be due to nearby jails - HMP Five Wells and HMP Rye Hill - paying better wages.

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Inspector Taylor also criticised the education provision for prisoners.

He said: "The prison was unable to deliver a proper category C regime. Out of a population of 732, less than half were working or attending education, and because the prison was operating a split regime even these prisoners were only spending half the day off the wing.

"Moreover, this restrictive regime wasn’t always being carried out; short staffing was leading to it being frequently curtailed, a situation that was worse during the weekends.

"The education provider had underperformed and had been unable to recruit enough staff, meaning that most of the workshops were empty."

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Prisoners were also described as “indolent” by following two years of Covid restrictions.

"Lower levels of violence, and the end of Covid-19 restrictions, offer a springboard for leaders at Onley to open up the regime and motivate prisoners, many of whom have become indolent after two years of lockdowns, so that the prison can really fulfil its function as a category C prison," the report said.

"Unless the dire staffing situation improves however, it is hard to see to see how this can be achieved."

Addressing violence in the prison, inspector Taylor said: "Violent incidents against prisoners had reduced by 65 percent and by 24 percent against staff, and 38 percent of prisoners in our survey, against 55 percent last time, told us that they had felt unsafe sometime during their time at the prison.

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"Similarly, there had been a 19 percent fall in the number of prisoners who said it was easy to get drugs in the jail. Levels of violence however, still remained higher than in similar prisons."

Inspector Taylor did congratulate the HMP Onley team for “reducing the supply of drugs and bearing down on the high levels of violence” that were found in the last inspection in 2018.

Click here to view the report in full.