Shaw Report: Staff Shortages at HMP Woodhill Put Inmates’ Lives at Risk

Prisoners’ lives were still at risk owing to staffing shortages at a jail with the highest suicide rate in Britain, according to a report commissioned by the government and delivered in May. The study by the former prisons and probation ombudsman Stephen Shaw found that difficulties in recruiting and keeping staff had led to a “completely unacceptable situation” at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes. Twenty prisoners killed themselves at the prison between 2011 and 2016, by far the highest death toll in any UK prison over a comparable period. The next worst site for prisoner fatalities, HMP Leeds, had 11 deaths over the same period.

The Ministry of Justice commissioned Shaw to investigate the 20 deaths in February, and his unpublished report has been seen exclusively by the Guardian. It concluded that HMP Woodhill was still struggling with staff recruitment and retention problems that had plagued the prison since it opened in 1992, and that “until levels are stabilised, the vulnerability to further deaths or near misses will remain”. Shaw, who was the prisons ombudsman for England and Wales until 2010, found that one in 10 of the prison’s roughly 800 inmates were on a form of suicide watch, a ratio he said was “unique to Woodhill” and far higher than most prisons. The high level of observation on inmates was unsustainable, he found, and damaged everyday prison life, with activities often cancelled. Shaw found that six prisoners were on round-the-clock suicide watch, meaning 18 staff were taken away from normal duties on a daily basis. There were failings in the recording of data on inmates thought to be at risk of self-harm, Shaw found, due to the uniquely high number of prisoners judged to be suicidal at Woodhill.

Read more: Eric Allison, Guardian,

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