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2 Dec 2016

Howard League responds to Onley prison inspection

Onley has become “an unsafe prison”, an inspection report reveals today (Friday, 2 December).

The report, published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, reveals a dramatic decline in standards at the prison and a rise in violence. The number of assaults at Onley had nearly tripled and was far higher than at similar prisons.

Inspectors visited the prison in July and August 2016. Despite the high levels of violence, inspectors found that there was no comprehensive violence reduction strategy. Inspectors found that staff could not be certain “that all serious assaults had been recorded correctly as such, so these were likely to be under-reported”. Levels of self-harm had also increased considerably and were far higher than inspectors saw at similar prisons.

Inspectors found chronic staff shortages and a restricted and too limited regime that had been in place for two years. There was evidence that drugs were easily available and more prisoners than at similar prisons said it was easy to get illegal drugs or that they had developed a drug problem whilst at Onley.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This report into Onley prison paints yet another grim picture of a prison that has seen a rising tide of violence overwhelm a workforce that is chronically understaffed.

“Unlike many prisons, Onley is not itself overcrowded. As the Chief Inspector of Prisons suggests, this means the severe decline in standards around safety is particularly concerning. It suggests that the government’s muddled and troubled Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, which saw a rural prison near Rugby designated as a resettlement prison for Greater London, have conspired alongside the staff shortages to bring violence and instability to Onley.

“The Howard League has been in meetings this week with both the Secretary of State and her prisons minister to press upon them the urgent need for change.”

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 can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from Friday 2 December at: 


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