HMP Wakefield, one of only eight high security prisons in the country, has made “a number of distinct achievements and improvements” in the last year, according to a local watchdog.
In its annual report the Independent Monitoring Board, which is made up of local volunteers, says many of the four century-old jail’s 750 prisoners are in the highest risk categories and a large proportion of these are serious sex offenders.
It said: “It has a challenging task, reflecting the nature of the prisoners’ offences, many of which are denied by the offenders, as well as the aged Victorian fabric of much the prison, and inevitably limited resources.”
The prison has been dubbed the “Monster Mansion” due to the large number of high-profile, high-risk sex offenders and murderers held there.
Its recent inmates include paedophile rock singer Ian Watkins, who was jailed for 29 years in 2013 for child abuse but has since been transferred to another site.
In 2015, the prison introduced a new strategy for what is described as “Resettlement, Reducing Reoffending and the creation of a Rehabilitative Community”.
Part of this was allowing prisoners to access to access the necessary qualifications and personal development in order to encourage long term rehabilitation and resettlement.
The report said the evidence its authors had seen showed that “significant progress” had been made in this area. It also praised the workshops such as textiles, welding and woodwork set up for inmates.
It added: “In general, partly due to the long term nature of the inmates here, most prisoners do want to be able to work and look for meaningful, productive work wherever possible.”
The report said that the overall care of prisoners was considered to be good and that pioneering work was being carried out on helping inmates prepare for life outside prison.
It said: “Perhaps the greatest challenge in this area will be in maintaining the momentum for change, and sustaining the considerable number of different initiatives now being undertaken in developing the pathways designed to achieve a rehabilitative community.”
IMB Chairman David Smethurst told The Yorkshire Post: “It is an unfortunate characteristic of sex offenders that many deny their offences, often blaming others or not recognising the nature of their offending or considering that it is offending at all.
“Thus working with these prisoners – to achieve recognition and ultimately progression towards rehabilitation - is particularly challenging in Wakefield.
“This is not new - but is a continuing issue with sex offenders, and thus a continuing facet of the role of HMP Wakefield.
“Wakefield does have a very good record currently however of tackling denial and working towards engagement.
“It is that aspect of Wakefield’s work which we are recognising as particularly worthy of praise (and perhaps more significantly of Government recognition and most importantly of all, continued funding) in our report.”
The IMB said the number of deaths in custody had risen because of the age of the population, but that all the recent deaths had been from natural causes.
According to the IMB, the average age of the population at HMP Wakefield is 48, with a significant number above normal retirement age. A total of 45 per cent of inmates have mental health issues.
The prison has a fully furnished gym including gym floor, equipment room and classroom, and an opportunity for prisoners to get involved in physio sessions, weight-related sessions and “elderly sessions”.
In a separate report, a watchdog yesterday warned that a rise in the number of killings in prison laid bare the “unacceptable” levels of violence behind bars in England and Wales.
Official figures show there were six apparent homicides in jails in 2015-16 - the largest number for a year to March since current records started in 2000.
Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen examined eight cases that have been investigated since the beginning of 2013 in a new report. He said homicides are still rare in prisons, although they have increased over recent years.