HMP Woodhill is the seventh high security prison to be examined in our recent series of Britain’s most secure jails. Woodhill is notorious for the number of self inflicted deaths that have occurred at the prison since 2011, and the recent attempted beheading of an inmate
HMP Woodhill is located near Milton Keynes and was opened in 1992. It operates as a core local establishment and serves the courts across the Thames Valley region and Northamptonshire. It has an operational capacity of 819 as of March 2008. It currently holds just over 600. HMP Woodhill is earmarked to become a category B training prison.
Woodhill also operates as a category A high security prison. It holds a small number of category A prisoners, around 17, who are amongst the most dangerous and difficult to manage inmates in the prison system. HMP Woodhill holds a number of prisoners awaiting trial and also operates as a Youth Offending Institution. Within its perimeter is a close supervision centre and a special unit for holding extremist prisoners. This is one of three such units within the prison estate; they tend to be known as jails within jails.
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.
Who’s Been Inside HMP Woodhill?
Lee Foye, convicted of killing his partner, and then murdering a paedophile in prison. Apparently the two had taken part in a group therapy sessions and Foye was heard muttering that the child rapist should be “put down” for his crimes. Foye was sent to Woodhill close supervision centre where he cut off one of his own ears with a razor blade. Three months later, he cut off the other one.
Victor Castigador is an illegal Filipino immigrant. He killed two people in London in 1989. He had attempted to kill four people by locking them in a cage, dousing them in white spirits and setting them on fire. Two survived, but with severe burns. In 2016 he admitted to killing a fellow inmate and was given a second life sentence.
Charles Bronson, 66, has spent time in nearly every high security prison in the UK including the CSC at Woodhill. Here he was caged for a time. Bronson was a very troublesome prisoner, directing his rages against fellow inmates and guards. During one episode he took hostages at Woodhill in 1994 and demanded a helicopter and an inflatable doll. Over his time he has taken 11 hostages and been involved in nine sieges.
Currently at HMP Woodhill Bronson has been reported as saying his prison escort has been reduced from the seven officers who accompanied him everywhere down to two. He is hoping that one day he will be released back into the mainstream prison population and eventually released.
Bronson is known as Britain’s most violent prisoner and was originally jailed for armed robbery.
Huntley is another notorious prisoner who has spent time in many of the UKs high security prisons.
Huntley was sentenced to life for the murder of school girl friends Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, he was given two life sentences and will serve 40 years before he is released. He served the first part of his sentence in Wakefield before being transferred to Frankland Prison in 2008.
Woodhill Prison Contact Details
The address is Tattenhoe Street, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK4 4DA. The phone number is 01908 722 000.