HMP Warren Hill: England's best jail 'all about relationships'

image copyrightMinistry of Justice
image captionSonia Walsh is governor of a jail which houses mostly men serving life sentences or indeterminate sentences for public protection

The governor of England's best jail - where inmates are called "residents" - has said its success is "all about" strong staff-inmate relationships.

HMP Warren Hill in Suffolk, where upon release inmates are given postcards to keep in touch, has been praised for personal development and low violence.

Governor Sonia Walsh said the jail had to prepare inmates for "functioning" outside to prevent "further victims".

But a report added it had high levels of men recalled to jail after release.

The jail, near the village of Hollesley, was recently rated the best in the country by the Prison Service and has a capacity of 258 men, many of whom are serving life sentences or indeterminate sentences for public protection.

Ms Walsh said the prison's aim was to have a "rehabilitative culture" and to "create an environment where they feel at ease in the community", despite having spent a lengthy time incarcerated.

image copyrightGeography Photos/UIG via Getty Images
image captionHMP Warren Hill is located near the Suffolk village of Hollesley, near an open jail

She said the relationships between inmates and staff were "all about risk management and principles of normality... being able to engage in conversation, being able to look at and understand their risk factors, being able to go to a parole board and know what their risk factors are".

"If we don't prepare them for functioning when they go out then they will fall - if they fall that can create further victims," she added.

Ms Walsh made the decision to name all of the prison's inmates "residents", a term that had already been used in the jail's therapeutic unit and in line with what they will be called on release to approved premises.

Cells have also been renamed "rooms", but the former Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) chair at nearby Hollesley Bay prison, Faith Spear, said: "Are we trying to normalise a prison to make it more acceptable or palatable by changing our language?"

Ms Walsh said she understood the name "residents" may be seen as a "softer option" but added: "I think what we should be focusing on is reducing reoffending and preventing risk factors rather than what they're called, to be honest."

An IMB report said that last year 105 of 130 inmates to go before the jail's parole board were granted release under licence or a move to an open prison.

However, it said the Prison Service should consider giving temporary release for offenders to adjust to outside life as there were high levels of recall - mostly for breaching conditions.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "Our priority is keeping the public and communities safe. There are no immediate plans to change the current arrangements at HMP Warren Hill."

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