From 1 November 2018, the governance structure for the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) will change – in an announcement that critics have called ‘a travesty’.

This follows a government consultation, which was reviewed and revised by the National Chair, Dame Anne Owers after her appointment in November 2017, and discussed at four regional chairs’ forums in the first part of 2018.

The new structure will support the work of the 128 IMBs that monitor prisons in England and Wales and places of immigration detention within the UK.  It will strengthen their independence, effectiveness and impact, at a time when their role is becoming increasingly important in highlighting conditions and treatment in detention.

Dame Anne will chair a national Management Board, which will be responsible for setting the strategies, policies and procedures that underpin IMBs’ work.  The Board will produce a business plan, which will be published, along with the supporting strategies and policies.

The initial membership of the Management Board is drawn from IMB members with relevant experience in monitoring techniques, and also in HR, training, IT, information management and analysis.  Members are: Will Baker, Pauline Fellows, Keith Jamieson, Jane Leech, Mike Siswick, Alex Sutherland and Brian Thomas.

They will soon be joined by two external members, with experience in finance/audit and equality/diversity.  The Management Board has already identified priority areas of work. A business plan will be published in December and work will be reported in a new governance section of this website.

Alongside the Management Board, there will be a network of regional representatives, to provide direct support to IMBs in their region and liaise with the Chair and Management Board, ensuring that the needs and views of the regions are integral to the development of national strategies, policies and plans.  Eleven regional representatives have been appointed, and will be joined by two additional representatives.  They will formally take on their role on 1 December, after a handover period in November.

At the same time, we are working to ensure that our information is acted on more swiftly, and informs policy and practice. This includes promoting consistency in the way that we monitor and report, to strengthen the evidence base for our findings. The National Chair regularly visits boards to discuss their work, and looks at all annual reports (an overall national annual report will be published in early 2019).  So we are better able to analyse and pull out key themes, for example:

  • Our prison reports are now fed into a prison scrutiny research tool, which will make it easier for policy makers and HMPPS to use data from IMB reports.
  • Our findings are increasingly reported in the media, for example BBC Radio 4’s File on Four on prison maintenance problems, and coverage of individual annual reports – read a small snapshot of media interest in several reports that have recently been published here.
  • We provide evidence to parliamentary inquiries: the Justice Select Committee’s Prison Population Inquiry (download here) and to the Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee’s Immigration Detention Inquiry, which is not yet published. Anne Owers and Jane Leech (Management Board member) will be giving oral evidence to the JCHR later this month.
  • The National Chair regularly meets with Ministers and senior officials to pass on real-time information and issues arising from boards’ monitoring and to ensure that IMB findings feed into developing policy and practice: for example on prisoners’ property, resettlement, complaints handling and suicide and self-harm processes, and immigration escort arrangements.
  • We are undertaking and planning joint work with other independent detention oversight bodies, within the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism under the UN Optional Protocol against Torture.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook who was invited to take part in the review that led to the new IMB structure, called the new system ‘a travesty’.

Mr Leech said: “Four years we’ve waited since the independent MOJ-commissioned Karen Page Associates Review of IMBs said the IMB was in need of ‘root and branch reform’ – and what have we got?

“Exactly the failed system we had before, just rebranded that’s all.

“This isn’t a new structure at all, it is exactly the same MOJ horses, being ridden by exactly the same discredited jockey’s, who are now just wearing different colours.

“Its a travesty of the real opportunity to reform the IMB that this review represented.”

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