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21 Mar 2019

Howard League responds to Onley prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Onley prison, published today (Thursday 21 March).

Inspectors visited the prison in November last year and found that it remained fundamentally unsafe. Of the 18 safety recommendations made by the watchdog following the prison’s last inspection in 2016, only five had been achieved.

Although Onley is in rural Warwickshire, it was designated as a resettlement prison for Greater London in 2013 – during Chris Grayling’s tenure as Secretary of State for Justice.

The prison has since been moved administratively from the London to the Midlands group of prisons, but inspectors found that 80 per cent of the men it was holding were from the London area. Many men felt disorientated by being held so far from home, with some rarely receiving visits from friends or family.

One in six prisoners had acquired a drug habit since entering the prison, and almost half said it was easy to get drugs.

Onley is supposed to be a training prison, but inspectors found that only half of prisoners were engaged in purposeful activity at any one time. Almost 40 per cent of the men were locked in their cells during the working day.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Onley’s story typifies the dislocation and disorder that exists within our troubled prison system.

“Here is a prison that was itself dislocated, under misguided reforms led by Chris Grayling, now holding men who have been dislocated from their families and often placed far from home. Many are then exposed to drugs and violence.

“Ministers have rightly identified that we must ease pressure on prisons like Onley. Ultimately, reducing the number of prisoners is the key to saving lives, protecting staff and making the public safer.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A copy of the Onley inspection report will be available from Thursday 21 March on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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