It’s back to West Yorkshire – more or less exactly halfway between York and Leeds – for my next visit. HMP Wealstun is the ‘offspring’ resulting from the amalgamation of two earlier prisons, HMP Thorpe Arch (named after the local village) and HMP Rudgate. These were in turn built on the site of a former Royal Ordnance Factory.
The managers considered Wealstun to be a ‘nice environment’, and they particularly valued the fact that there was ‘plenty of green space’. They described relationships between prisoners and staff as ‘very good’. They had praise for their ‘highly committed’ staff, who had a ‘can do’ attitude, and said there were ‘excellent’ and ‘friendly’ relationships among staff at all levels. Wealstun was one of the pilot sites for PAVA (the synthetic pepper spray), and the managers reported that its use had had a ‘major’ and ‘positive’ impact on staff safety. They also highlighted the value of having two full time mentors for POELTs, which they thought had contributed to very low levels of attrition. There was also appreciation for the popular staff mess. They valued the gym being available for staff use. They praised the gym more generally (‘excellent all round’), and added that it had developed good links with local sports teams, including Leeds Rhinos, the renowned Rugby League team. They said there were good vocational training and work opportunities for prisoners, along with ‘strong’ community links ‘in general’, and noted that that these included positive connections with local employers.
The prisoners described Wealstun’s staff as ‘excellent’ and said they had ‘very good’ relationships with them. They added particular praise for, and appreciation of, the ‘very good’ all day family visits. Like the managers, they too gave a strong thumbs up to the gym and its staff.
The officers also praised staff-prisoner relationships. They said the staff were ‘very friendly’ and ‘supportive to one another’, and cited the value of a ‘strong camaraderie’ and regular ‘staff nights out’. They said the mess, ‘well used by staff of all grades and disciplines’, helped with mixing across disciplines. They called PAVA spray ‘awesome’ in making ‘a real difference’ to staff confidence and safety.