Howard League responds to urgent notification for Woodhill prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded today (Friday 1 September) after His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons invoked an urgent notification for Woodhill prison.

The inspectorate visited the prison, in Buckinghamshire, in August and discovered conditions so concerning that the Chief Inspector, Charlie Taylor, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC MP.

The Secretary of State must respond to the Chief Inspector’s letter within 28 days, setting out an action plan for improving the prison.

Inspectors found Woodhill to be unsafe. More than 800 self-harm incidents had been recorded in the last 12 months – the highest rate in any prison holding men – and incidents of violence had risen by 64 per cent. More than seven in ten men living in the prison said that they had felt unsafe at some point during their say.

Staff shortages were still a big problem in Woodhill, with more officers leaving than joining. This meant that work and education were routinely cancelled. The library had been closed since 2020. 

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The details in the Chief Inspector’s letter are shocking, but this warning has not come out of the blue.

“Woodhill has been unsafe and understaffed for several years, and it is a scandal that conditions inside the prison have been allowed to deteriorate for so long. People living and working there have been failed repeatedly, and the high rates of self-harm, violence and staff turnover should come as no surprise to ministers.

“In the past, when prisons have been found to be failing, the default response has been to ease pressure by moving some men to other jails. But that option no longer exists because most prisons are overcrowded already.

“There will be more harrowing inspections, and more urgent notifications, unless the government takes sensible steps to reduce the number of people in prison. Unfortunately, ministers seem determined to build still more prisons, at a time when there are insufficient staff to work in the ones we already have.”