YOI branded ‘most violent prison’ in England and Wales by inspectors

Fiona Simpson
Friday, May 20, 2022

A Staffordshire young offender institution (YOI) has been described by inspectors as the most violent prison in England and Wales.

Improvement at Werrington should be expected, inspectors have said. Picture: HMP Werrington/Twitter
Improvement at Werrington should be expected, inspectors have said. Picture: HMP Werrington/Twitter

Incidents of violence at Werrington YOI were higher than any other establishment in England and Wales and a significant number were serious in nature, a report by chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor states.

During the six months prior to a visit from HM Inspectorate of Prisons in January and February more than 30 boys, all under the age of 18, had been taken to hospital following assaults, the report adds.

More than 400 weapons had been found in the YOI during 2021.

Children explained that they carried weapons because they were not confident that staff could keep them safe, according to inspectors.

“Nearly 40 per cent of children told us that they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay,” Taylor says, adding that “work had begun to reduce bullying and violence, but this was only recently initiated and was disorganised.”

The report also criticises decisions to keep children in isolation following incidents of violence meaning many had missed out on education.

“This ineffective and harmful arrangement was, in effect, a reactive process of risk avoidance, rather than risk management and had come to totally dominate life in Werrington,” it states.

Taylor describes standards at the YOI as “disappointing” noting a “deterioration” since a previous inspection in 2020.

“We were left with the sense that Werrington had lost its way and needed to rediscover a sense of purpose,” he says.

“Improvement at Werrington should be expected. There are currently about 400 staff of various grades and disciplines responsible for just over 60 young people,” he notes.

Responding to the report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that “the government’s provision of custody for children is in disarray”. 

“This latest, shocking, inspection report about an institution once held up as a model of good practice shows how urgently a coherent plan is needed. It is deeply worrying that ministers appear content with a forecast that the number of children in custody will increase, at a time when so much of the provision to hold them — public or private — is in crisis. Nothing could serve public protection worse than continuing to send children to places that are clearly failing in their rehabilitative mission,” he added.

Andrea Coomber, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, described the document as “one of the most horrifying inspection reports” that the organisation has seen.

“It is a 69-page document of failure that could be summarised in just seven words: prison is no place for a child,” she said.

“Instead of being kept safe, boys as young as 15 are living in fear from violence and abuse in Werrington – and the prison’s response has made matters worse.

“Werrington was barely half-full when the inspectors arrived and, even then, the children were in danger. It is time for ministers to act. Look at the evidence, keep children out of prisons, and ensure that boys and girls in trouble receive the care and support they need,” Coomber added.

A report in late 2020 by the previous chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke raised concerns that young people in YOIs, including Werrington, were at "real risk of psychological decline" due to the impact of the pandemic on living conditions. 

In 2018, youth work and education services at Werrington were praised by the inspectorate, but a report in 2019 highlighted rising levels of violence at the YOI. 

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