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Thursday 19 April 2018
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HMP Leyhill - generally positive


The men held at HMP Leyhill were being well prepared for release back into the community, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an announced inspection of the open jail in Gloucestershire. However, there was scope to improve in some important areas, he added.


HMP Leyhill was the first modern open prison when it opened in 1946. Many of the 500 men it holds are serving long sentences for serious offences. Central to its role is the need to prepare most of these men for release back into the community while managing the risks they pose. This was no easy task, but inspectors found evidence that opportunities to gain work experience while at the prison had a real impact on prisoners' ability to find employment after they were released.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • Leyhill was a safe prison, with low levels of self-harm and violence;
  • the atmosphere was generally calm;
  • the number of absconds had fallen sharply since the last inspection;
  • the effective management of risk enabled an impressively large number of prisoners to participate in the 'Through the gate' programme and undertake paid or community work outside the prison;
  • there was valuable support from a range of community organisations which offered opportunities to prisoners to gain the skills needed to get and hold down a job;
  • time out of cell was very good and there were sufficient activity places for all the men held;
  • despite the economic climate, about a third of prisoners who had been discharged in the three months before the inspection had found permanent employment;
  • help with resettlement needs, such as accommodation and money worries, was very good;
  • offender management and public protection arrangements were generally satisfactory; and
  • an excellent palliative care suite had recently been developed, which met a clear need and should be sustained as an important regional resource.


However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the primary mechanism for managing poor behaviour was a return to closed conditions, but some prisoners feared a return to closed conditions might be imposed arbitrarily, which caused a lack of confidence in certain processes, such as complaints;
  • the prison was aware of the use of 'spice', a synthetic cannabinoid, and was addressing this;
  • despite some positive elements, resettlement support was not managed strategically and did not ensure that the interventions the men received were matched to their needs and risks;
  • staff-prisoner relationships were too passive, and there was too little positive engagement;
  • support for the 29% of prisoners over the age of 50 was generally good, but other equality and diversity work was less good and some perceptions from black and minority ethnic prisoners were significantly worse than those of the population as a whole; and
  • the prison’s own diversity monitoring data revealed some unequal outcomes that were a real cause for concern, but little had been done to address them.


Nick Hardwick said:

'HMP Leyhill provided a safe, decent environment in which to prepare the men it held for release back in to the community and carefully managed the risks involved in doing so. However, in a generally positive picture there was scope to improve its approach in some important areas – and weaknesses in diversity work were a serious shortcoming that needed to be quickly addressed.'


Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

'I am pleased that the Chief Inspector concludes that Leyhill is an impressive open prison; that it is safe, that employment outcomes are strong and that offender management and public protection are well managed.

'The Governor and staff will now work to ensure that the issues around diversity and resettlement support are tackled and improvements are made in the areas highlighted.'


  1. View a copy of the report.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This announced inspection was carried out from 16-20 April 2012.
  4. HMP Leyhill accommodates sentenced category D prisoners aged over 25. Its specialist function is to assess and prepare life-sentenced prisoners for release.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons in HMI Prisons Press Office on 0207 035 2123 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.


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Ministry of Justice