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28 Nov 2023

Howard League responds to Woodhill prison inspection report

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Woodhill prison, published today (28 November 2023).

Inspectors visited the prison, in Buckinghamshire, in August and found the highest rates in the country for use of force by staff and serious assaults against staff. More than seven in 10 men living in the prison said that they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay.

Severe staff shortages meant that men were locked inside their cells for more than 21 hours a day with nothing to do. Sixty-five per cent of the men living in the prison said that they had a mental health problem, and 853 incidents of self-harm were recorded over the past year.

In random mandatory drug tests, 38 per cent of the men tested positive. Inspectors found that debt generated by the misuse of drugs was the major driver of violence and bullying.

Conditions were so bad that inspectors invoked an urgent notification, giving the Secretary of State for Justice 28 days to respond with an action plan for improvement.

 Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “When people are sent to prison for serious offences, it is imperative that they are given the support they need in an environment that will help them to turn their lives around and move on from crime.

“This does not happen in Woodhill. Staff shortages are chronic, and they have led to a surge in drugs, violence and self-harm. Locking men up for 20 plus hours a day in such a prison and expecting them to somehow be less dangerous upon release makes us all less safe.

“Why is the government pressing ahead with plans to build more prisons when it can’t safely run the jails it already has?”

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.
  2. The inspection report for Woodhill prison is available on the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website at:



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873


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