The prison service system for holding its most disruptive and dangerous men in highly restrictive custody was run with a focus on giving even the most difficult prisoners some hope of progress, prison inspectors found – in a report that one prisons expert described as “a really impressive part of the prison estate.”
More than 50 men are held in the closed supervision centre (CSC) system, under prison rule 46, which allows the removal of the “most significantly disruptive, challenging and dangerous” men from the ordinary prison system into conditions which are managed centrally by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). The men are held either in specialist high-security units in a small number of prisons, or in segregation units ‘designated’ to take rule 46 men in certain jails. There is also a further group of about 20 men managed centrally under the ‘managing challenging behaviour strategy’ (MCBS), sometimes in special units or more normally in a mainstream location in a high-security prison. The MCBS is used for men who do not meet the threshold for the CSC, but who nevertheless show challenging behaviour in custody.
Publishing a report on an inspection of the CSC and MCBS system, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Men are selected because of the serious risk of harm they present to prisoners and staff, demonstrated by their exceptionally problematic custodial behaviour.” A statement in the previous inspection report, in 2015, remained relevant, Mr Clarke added. It read: “This is extreme custody and its management raises complex operational challenges and profound ethical issues.”
In December 2017, inspectors found tangible progress on the previous inspection in 2015, Mr Clarke said. “Care and management planning had been improved, and the tiered approach to target setting motivated men to demonstrate their progress. Key decision-making was structured, systematic and evidence-based…Units were psychologically informed, and all were on their way towards achieving Royal College of Psychiatry Enabling Environment accreditation. The focus on giving men hope and persevering even with those who were the most difficult to reach was impressive.”
It was positive that far more men than previously had progressed out of the CSC and central MCBS systems, often to less restrictive special units and sometimes to mainstream prison wings. “The serious risk of harm presented by the men held should not be underestimated and we were impressed by staff’s proportionate and nuanced approach to managing them,” Mr Clarke added. Staff-prisoner relationships remained a key strength. “It was impressive how staff could be subject to verbal and sometimes physical assault, yet retain a focus on men’s well-being and progression. The units were mostly clean and decent, but exercise yards needed improvement to offset the units’ claustrophobic environment. Excellent work had been undertaken to better understand why Muslim men were over-represented in the CSC system.”
However, inspectors noted that there was still no independent scrutiny of key decisions. “This meant the systems lacked external assurances on the robustness and fairness of assessment, selection and deselection decisions, and CSC managers missed out on potentially helpful constructive criticism. In addition, we remain concerned about the treatment and conditions of men held in designated cells who generally experienced impoverished segregation-like regimes, limited care planning and a lack of progression opportunities often for months, and in a few cases, years.”
Mr Clarke said:
“Given the severity of CSC custody, we were impressed by staff’s focus on giving men hope, working with them as individuals, and their determination to help some men who were unnameable to interventions. Some significant issues still needed to be addressed, and the CSC system was under increasing strain from the rise in serious violence across the prison estate and the resulting number of referrals for assessment. Nevertheless, we commend the progress made to help men reduce their risks to others and to lead more purposeful and productive lives.”
“This report shows real evidence of progress; not just words of politicians and Ministers, but real evidence of work to deal with that small minority of the prison population who are the most dangerous and difficult of all to manage.
“Richard Vince at Prison Service Headquarters deserves particular praise for this, he took over a CSC/MCBS system that needed real leadership and a genuine commitment to deliver change – and this report shows what can be achieved when both of those vital elements are in place.”
“Despite the important criticisms, which will have been heard, the fact remains that this is now a really impressive part of the prison estate.”