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21st Oct, 2021

Hewell: How 'the worst prison of its type' forged a community

STAFF, inmates and the governor of Hewell Grange open prison have been widely praised in a new report from independent prison inspectors.

The Grange Resettlement Unit, an adult Category D open prison, closed at the end of March this year after a report in June 2019 described its living conditions as ‘the worst seen in this type of establishment’.

However an inspection carried out by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) covering its last six months speaks of a remarkable transformation thanks to the efforts of the then deputy governor, Amanda Hughes, staff and the inmates themselves.

IMB chair for Hewell Grange, Rodger Lawrence described the forging of a real community as the prison’s 196 inmates dealt with the consequences of being moved to other prisons, the nearest 60 miles away.

This culminated in a special event in which inmates presented certificates of appreciation to those prison staff they felt had gone above and beyond the call of duty.

“It was an extraordinary moment, one that will live in the memory, and our observer said it brought tears to his eyes to see it,” said Mr Lawrence.

Once the closure was announced Ms Hughes introduced a weekly forum – open to inmates – and a fortnightly newsletter as prisoners were gradually moved elsewhere.

“We spent a lot of time watching how it was closed down with humanity,” said Mr Lawrence.

“It was tough for the inmates, many were on courses that they wouldn’t be able to finish.”

And he singled out Ms Hughes for particular praise.

“She showed leadership – she said this is what we are doing and this is how we are doing it. The effort she put in cannot be underestimated.”

The result, he added, was that there were ‘no negatives’ from the inmates.

“Hopefully for the guys they can take this forward as a positive experience for their future release.

“They saw how they were being treated and they reacted well to it.”

CONDITIONS at the Hewell Grange prison complex – there is also a Cat B prison in the site – have been so poor that it was put into Special Measures in June 2018.

In a report the Chief Inspector of Prisons said: “I can only describe it as squalid, demeaning and depressing.”

At the Grange the inmates slept in dormitories rather than individual cells and the IMB report tells how, as those dormitories gradually emptied as prisoners were moved elsewhere, the rodent population was seen ‘in unaccustomed areas’.

Local Independent Monitoring Board chair Rodger Lawrence described the unit as a ‘missed opportunity’ had the main building been used as an education centre and accommodation blocks built in the grounds of the site instead.

“It must have sucked millions out of the public purse in terms of heating and lighting,” he said.

Hewell Grange is a listed Grade II country house which was built in 1894. The Category B prison remains.

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