Close Supervision Centres – A very positive report on dangerous offender management

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.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook described the report as showing ‘a really impressive part of the prison estate.’

“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.”


Prisons Inspectorate’s Thematic Review on Close Supervision Centres published

Manchester Prison where there is a CSC Special Interventions Unit
Manchester Prison where there is a CSC Special Interventions Unit

Although clear progress had been made in clarifying the aims and processes of the system for managing the most dangerous prisoners in the country said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a Thematic Review report published today (25/8/2015) on Close Supervision Centres in English high security prisons, prison commentators also made clear there were a number of serious concerns.

The Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system holds about 60 of the most dangerous men in the prison system. Many of these are men who have been imprisoned for very serious offences which have done great harm, have usually committed subsequent very serious further offences in prison and whose dangerous and disruptive behaviour is too difficult to manage in ordinary prison location. They are held in small units or individual designated cells throughout the high security prison estate. These men are likely to be held for many years in the most restrictive conditions with limited stimuli and human contact.

The system is run by a central team as part of the Prison Service’s high security directorate, although day to day management is the responsibility of the individual prisons in which the units or cells are located. A further 14 men who do not quite meet the threshold for the CSC system are held under the ‘Managing Challenging Behaviour Strategy (MCBS) in similar but slightly less restrictive conditions. This is extreme custody and its management raises complex operational challenges and profound ethical issues. The aim of the system was to remove the most dangerous prisoners from ordinary location, manage them in small units and use individual or group work to reduce their risks so they could return to normal or other suitable location.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • leadership of the system as whole was clear, principled and courageous;
  • decisions to select prisoners the CSC system were based on a clear set of published criteria and a robust risk assessment;
  • some good support was provided to staff;
  • staff understood the men in their care well, enabling them to manage problematic behaviour effectively and promote change;
  • despite the significant risks the men posed, the majority of prisoners and staff felt safe;
  • most security restrictions and behavioural management work appeared measured and proportionate; and
  • staff-prisoner relationships were reassuring good, and psychological and psychiatric services were strong.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there was no independent scrutiny or external involvement in decision-making, which was particularly important given the highly restrictive nature of the units, restrictions on access to legal aid and the difficulties prisoners had in being deselected;
  • delivery of some important processes varied and a minority of managers and staff did not understand the ethos of the system or embrace their role within it;
  • the use of designated cells in segregation units had often led to prisoners being held there for many months or even years, with poor regimes and little emphasis on progression, which was contrary to the prison rule 46 under which they were held;
  • the centrally managed MCBS units also needed improved governance;
  • more needed to be done to offset the real potential for psychological deterioration by the more imaginative provision of in and out of cell activities;
  • daily living conditions in the small units were cramped;
  • there was a very high proportion of black and minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held, although management had commissioned research to look at the reasons for this; and
  • more work needed to be done on progression and reintegration, which was critical to ensuring the system was not used as a long-term containment option for dangerous men.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Leadership of the system as a whole was clear, principled and courageous. We do not underestimate the risk the men held in the CSC system pose or the complexity of working with them. The overall humanity and care provided to men whom it would have been easy to consign to the margins of the prison system was impressive. The system had a clear set of aims, was basically well run and founded on sound security and psychological principles and sought to contain men safely and decently. There were, however, a number of important issues that needed to be addressed.

“Management arrangements needed attention to ensure consistency and external involvement in decision-making was needed to provide transparency and rigor. The use of designated cells needed far greater control and there needed to be more clarity concerning the MCBS prisoners. Aspects of the environment needed to be improved, and men required greater opportunities to occupy their time purposefully. The reasons why a disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic and Muslim men were held needed to be better understood.

“Nevertheless, the CSC system provided a means of managing the most challenging men in the prison system in a way that minimised the risks to others and offered men the basic conditions to lead a decent and safe life. We support the continued commitment to resource and support it and commend many of the people who worked positively within the system, despite some of the obvious risks and challenges.”

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, and Converse the national newspaper for prisoners, welcomed the report but said there were still serious concerns that must be urgently addressed.

Mr Leech said: “There are five CSC Units located in Wakefield, Woodhill, Full Sutton, Manchester and Whitemoor prisons, with further designated CSC cells in Belmarsh, Frankland and Long Lartin prisons.

“While the CSC, and also the MCBS, systems are not ideal they are a vital way of managing a small number of very dangerous prisoners, often those who have killed other prisoners while in custody.

“The aim always must be the safe, humane and secure custody for CSC prisoners and staff, and it is vital those who manage the CSC system do not lose sight of the longer term aim of returning CSC inmates to normal location when sustained good behaviour and proven lowered risk warrants it.

“However there are real concerns over the high proportion of black, minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held in CSCs, the real lack of independent oversight in the decision-making process also needs addressing urgently because of the lack of legal aid to raise challenges, and the legality of holding such inmates in segregation units contrary to Rule 46 for extended period of time must be confronted without delay.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 25 August 2015 at: