HM Prison Woodhill
|Location||Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire|
|Security class||Closed prison|
|Population||819 (as of March 2008)|
|Managed by||HM Prison Services|
|Website||Woodhill at justice.gov.uk|
HM Prison Woodhill is a Category A male prison, located in Milton Keynes, England. Woodhill Prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. There is a Young Offenders Institution adjacent to the prison.
One of its main roles is that of a local prison serving Crown and Magistrates' Courts. The prison holds remand and sentenced prisoners aged 18 and above. In addition, Woodhill is one of the eight national high security prisons, holding Category A prisoners, some in the "Close Supervision Centre".
Woodhill Prison opened in 1992, with a further unit added to the complex in 1996. In 1998, one wing of the prison was re-designated as a "Close Supervision Centre" for prisoners who are amongst the most difficult and disruptive in the prison system. Two years later, an inspection report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons criticised conditions in the Close Supervision Centre, stating that inmates being held there were being deprived of mental stimulation and human contact.
A further inspection report in February 2003, stated that there were too few prison staff at Woodhill. The report also highlighted the prison's suicide monitoring as an area that needed improvement. However the staff at the gaol were praised for maintaining a positive attitude.
In February 2006, another inspection report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons criticised Woodhill Prison for poorly supporting at-risk prisoners and failing to bring in anti-bullying measures. The report also stated that staff in charge of youths held in the prison had not been trained or vetted to work with them.
The prison today
Woodhill is a category A prison for male adults, with an adjacent unit for young offenders. The prison holds both convicted prisoners and remand prisoners for local magistrate courts along with foreign nationals awaiting deportation.
The regime at Woodhill includes full-time and part-time classes. Other features include a job club, and listener schemes. Woodhill also has a multi-faith full-time chaplaincy. There is a visitor's centre at the prison, run by the Prison Advice and Care Trust.
Dr Elizabeth van Horn, an experienced prison psychiatrist left her job at Woodhill and alleged that staff shortages prevented change. The courts, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and the prison's independent monitoring board all expressed concerns over regular understaffing, too much reliance on agency and temporary staff, assaults on both staff and inmates have also risen in the last few years as have suicides see below. Van Horn claimed no real changes happened despite promises management made, they knew what needed to be done but did not know how to achieve improvements. Staff shortages meant prisoners were often locked in their cells for 23 hours a day which added to stress for prisoners with mental health issues.
There were seventeen suicides at Woodhill Prison since 2013. This is the highest suicide rate of any prison in the UK. Staff shortages and the complexity of the prison are blamed. Woodhill’s Independent Monitoring Board had warned over “significant problems” in the prison, due to “serious staff shortages” and “increased use of new psychoactive drugs”, which made prisoners inclined to violence and self-harm. Coroners’ reports have noted the jail repeatedly failed to meet requirements of national policy on suicide and emergency response.
Daniel Dunkley hanged himself in July 2016 and senior prison officers claimed he was a low suicide risk although he had threatened to kill himself repeatedly and had once been found with a noose round his neck. On the day Dunkley hanged himself he told an officer he could find no way out and would kill himself. The officer issued Dunkley with disciplinary paperwork and reported the threat but observations on Dunkley were not increased. Dunkley should have been checked once every half hour but no checks were made for two hours before he was found hanged. Deborah Coles of campaign group Inquest, said 35-year-old Dunkley's suicide showed people had ignored warnings and posed serious questions for senior prison managers. Coles said, “The unbroken pattern of Woodhill deaths reveals a systematic failure at a local and national level to act in response to critical inquest findings and recommendations for action. The prison service must be held accountable for failures to implement recommendations and this litany of failures. They have clearly ignored warnings about the risks to health and safety of prisoners and the necessary sanctions should be enacted against those responsible. When any organisation fails to act on repeated warnings and this failure leads to the shocking death toll witnessed at Woodhill, it demands nothing less than a corporate manslaughter investigation.” Acting governor at Woodhill, Nicola Marfleet, told a coroner's hearing that the prison had repeatedly informed the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman that his recommendations were implemented, and agreed this was not true. She said if the changes had been implemented, Dunkley probably would not have died.
- Annual report of the independent monitoring board, 2009–2010
- "Britain's own Alcatraz opens". BBC News. 8 February 1998. Retrieved 2009-02-15.
- "'Alcatraz' prison conditions criticised". BBC News. 22 March 2000. Retrieved 2009-02-15.
- "'Too few' staff at prison". BBC News. 19 February 2003. Retrieved 2009-02-15.
- "Watchdog condemns suicides prison". BBC News. 7 February 2006. Retrieved 2009-02-15.
- Suicide jail failed to improve, says prison doctor BBC
- Woodhill prison’s suicide epidemic is by far the worst in the UK - but it’s not the governor’s fault, says expert – Milton Keynes Citizen, 28 November 2016
- Why do so many inmates die at Woodhill prison? The Guardian
- Call for inquiry over 'unbroken pattern' of deaths at prison The Guardian