Woodhill holds Cat A prisoners as well as serving a core local function. It is another relatively modern prison, opened in 1992 – although most buildings in Milton Keynes, where it’s set, are relatively modern, having been founded as a ‘new city’ in the late 60’s. I didn’t get to see a lot of the city on the cab ride from the station, but they weren’t joking about the roundabouts…
The prisoners praised the jail’s safety and relationships with staff, who ‘really care’, ‘take you at face value’ and ‘give you a chance’. There were better opportunities to change and progress than in comparable prisons elsewhere, and keywork was ‘excellent’. Visits were good, and the chance to have clothes brought in was prized. The gym, and daily access to it, were highlighted as positives, as were the drug recovery champions, Listeners and prisoner advice and support mentors (‘insiders’), and monthly mentors forum with governors.
Managers agreed staff-prisoner relationships were good and noted recent reductions in violence and self-harm, which they attributed to keywork. The gardens (including a duck pond), greenery, cleanliness and quiet were highlighted as positives for prisoners and staff. Reception and induction had been overhauled and was now recognised as best practice. There was a strong focus on staff training and team development (monthly full day shutdowns and weekly team meetings), and staff recognition (monthly awards, ‘on the spot’ vouchers and formal long service recognition). A weekly newsletter including ‘human interest’ pieces, was also rated. ‘Grab bags’ of clothes and toiletries for staff who had been ‘potted’ were ‘unique to Woodhill’ and much appreciated by staff.
The Officers highly rated keywork and felt it had helped improve staff-prisoner relationships and safety, and also highlighted reception and induction. Management were approachable, and supportive of staff. All incidents were followed up by managers and the care team, and the ‘potting bags’ were highly rated. Personalised Xmas cards from the Governor, flowers for bereaved staff, as well as the staff newsletter (including birthdays and anniversaries) were appreciated, as was the approach to staff recognition. The gardens, greenery and the duck pond, as well as the low level of noise, were positives for both staff and prisoners.