HMP Warren Hill a ‘prison to be proud of’ but the Governor should be allowed to temporarily release prisoners to prepare them for life outside

Independent Monitors, who are appointed by Ministers to check that prisons are fair, just and humane, say that HMP Warren Hill on the Suffolk coast is providing very well for long-term prisoners, many of whom have found it difficult to make progress in other prisons.

The local Independent Monitoring Board, whose volunteer members made 204 visits to the prison during the year, reports that the prison’s success is the result of a clear sense of purpose, imaginative leadership and dedicated staff. Prisoners often told the monitors that Warren Hill is a lot safer, is more decent and is better at helping them with their rehabilitation than the larger and more turbulent mainstream prisons from which they have transferred. The monitors conclude: “At a time when many prisons are struggling, we consider that this is an establishment of which the Prison Service can be justifiably proud.”

Warren Hill provides an innovative progression regime for 258 men on life or indeterminate sentences, with many of the latter still in prison several years after completing their minimum sentence. These men are only released when they can demonstrate to the Parole Board an increased sense of responsibility and reduced risk to the public.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) says that:
• staff are respected as they both challenge and help prisoners;
• inmates are fully consulted about developments and both work and education opportunities have improved;
• there is a rich arts and cultural programme (aided by Snape Maltings and the Red Rose Chain Theatre) which helps both the sense of community within the prison and many individuals in their personal progress.

As a result of this overall approach, men are being well prepared for parole.

However, those who have been inside for many years can face major challenges on their release – for example coping with modern technology including the internet or negotiating the London Underground without an Oyster card – and the IMB remains concerned about prisoners who are recalled to custody, not having committed a further offence, but through minor breaches of the terms of their licence. The prison is taking imaginative steps to help men with the transition but the monitors say that the Governor should be given the power to release some prisoners on temporary licence as part of the rehabilitation process. The IMB also considers that the prison’s work needs to be better matched by the care and supervision provided during the non-custodial part of a man’s sentence.

Warren Hill was recently rated the top performing prison in the country and its pioneering system, under which every prison officer is a key worker for a small number of men, has been adopted as the national model.

The Chair of the Monitoring Board, Colin Reid, says “Warren Hill is helped by its small size, but the keys to its success are its clear sense of purpose, bold leadership and the excellent relationship between staff and prisoners. The positive culture and the key worker system enable many men to make progress and to feel more hopeful about themselves.”
“Nevertheless not allowing the Governor any discretion to release men on temporary licence restricts the ability to prepare them in a step-by-step way for discharge into the community, often after many years behind bars.”

The IMB also calls for better cooperation nationally between the Prison Service and the NHS to see that those with demanding mental health difficulties are more swiftly transferred to an appropriate healthcare setting.

Members of the IMB come from a wide range of backgrounds and, having been appointed by the Prisons Minister, they each volunteer two or three days a month to ensure that prisoners are treated decently and fairly and prepared appropriately for release. Colin Reid said “We are the eyes and ears of the local community in the prison.”

Read the report in full here.