Given its different functions HMP Woodhill has a complex mix of prisoners to manage. Its recent inspection in February 2018 found Woodhill to be unsafe for vulnerable prisoners. Although the prison has put in place many improvement since its horrific spate of suicides prior to 2016 it still needed a great deal of work to put in the recommendations of the previous, 2014, inspection.
Both prison inspections, 2014 and 2018 blamed many of the prisons failings, especially self inflicted deaths, on the chronic lack of staff, and the inexperience of new staff. At the time of the report there were 55 staff vacancies. This had led to a very restrictive regime and little time out of cell for around 50% the prisoners. Peter Clarke, HM Chief inspector of prisons said the priorities were to stabilize the jail through adequate staffing, to improve safety and embed work to reduce self-harm.
However the report did find the prison to be respectful, clean with good living conditions and access to amenities and resources.
Highest Number of Self inflicted Deaths
In 2016 alone HMP Woodhill had seven suicides, the highest number in any jail. From 2011 to June 2018 there were 20 suicides in total, with a lull in 2017 and 2018. Then there was a spate of three self-inflicted deaths in early 2019 in a 16 day period.
Woodhill’s Independent Monitoring Board had warned that the staff shortages were a significant problem alongside increased use of new psychoactive drugs flooding into the prison.
The national prison suicide rate, at 120 deaths per 100,000 people, is about 10 times higher than the rate in the general population. In the six months prior to February 2018 the jail recorded 314 self-harm incidents, 65 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, 57 assaults on staff, and 47 fights.
In 2019 there were three more suicides at the prison within 16 days of each other, Mark Culverhouse, Philip Green and Kevin Iverson
The Ministry of Justice said: “The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will hold independent investigations.”
HMP Woodhill was in the news again earlier this year when three inmates murdered Ukrainian prisoner Taras Nykolyn. Stephen Boorman, Jibreel Raheem, 27, and James Brabbs, 33, tried to behead Nykolyn with home made weapons in the prison exercise yard, under CCTV coverage and in front of prison guards. All were convicted of murder.
A Jail within a Jail
Within HMP Woodhill is another jail, one for extremist prisoners, those convicted of terrorism or though likely to convert others to extremism. However, as of December 2018 the unit still had no prisoners. There are around 300 prisoners in the UK identified as extremist, 200 of whom are held on terrorism charges.
Michael Gove commissioned the units in 2015 when he was justice secretary. A report had report found complacency among jail managers over the growing problem of Islamist extremism in prisons.
The lack of prisoners in the unit is seen as the MoJ’s reluctance to use these units, as they may actually become a breeding ground for extremist views.