HMP Preston – No Mambulances Since January. Copy that?

The IMB at Preston report the prison has found an effective way to stop inmates getting their hands on psychoactive substances like Spice – by using a photocopier.

Preston staff found the drugs were being smuggled into the jail via the prisoners’ mail, after the paper used to write the letters was soaked in the substance.

The notes could then be ripped up and smoked by the inmates.

In a bid to crack down on the problem, the category B men’s prison began photocopying all mail and keeping the originals locked away.

According to an annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board, the move has produced positive results – with not a single ambulance call-out needed for a prisoner under the influence since the scheme began in January.

The report said: “The Board’s analysis has clearly identified the effectiveness of this precaution in a directly correlated reduction in reported incidents of use of PS (psychoactive substances).

“Since the photocopying was introduced there have been no ambulances called to take a prisoner to hospital under the influence, resulting in savings to the NHS and improvements to prisoner welfare.”

The watchdog admitted the move might not eradicate the problem completely – adding that prisoners would find new ways of getting hold of the drugs – but said it had “demonstrably reduced the availability of PS within the prison”.

The report suggested the use of drug testing devices in prisons to scan incoming mail could prove a more cost-effective and less labour-intensive solution in the long term.

Read the report in full here.

Prisons Inspectorate Issues 4th Urgent Notification About HMP Bedford

Inmates have effectively taken control at a violent, overcrowded and vermin-infested jail, a watchdog report has warned

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

Pressing the Government to take urgent action, he said a recent inspection of the prison had revealed a “dangerous lack of control”.

Mr Clarke’s assessment, sent to Justice Secretary David Gauke on Thursday, detailed how “extremely inexperienced” staff struggled to exert their authority.

Prisoners regularly and blatantly ignored rules and staff instructions, often without sanction or challenge.

Mr Clarke said: “Despite the best efforts of staff at all levels, there was a dangerous lack of control in many parts of the prison, leading us to fear that there could all too easily be a complete breakdown in order and discipline.

“At times it felt as if prisoners were effectively in control, choosing when or if to comply with directions and consent to authority.”

On one occasion during the visit, an inspector found prisoners throwing food from higher landings.

Mr Clarke said: “Prisoners’ behaviour was very rowdy and unrestrained and the incident had the potential to escalate.

“Staff were unwilling to go upstairs to intervene, and prisoners told the inspector this was not unusual.”

Mr Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme, which means the Government must respond within a month to set out its response to the findings.

The inspection at HMP Bedford, which concluded last week, found:

– Assaults on staff had risen dramatically, with the rate – 116 in the last six months – the highest in the country;

– There had been five self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection;

– The smell of cannabis and other drugs being smoked “pervaded” some of the wings;

– Living conditions were poor, often overcrowded, dirty and vermin-infested.

It emerged in May that HMP Bedford had been placed into “special measures” after the Prison Service determined it needed additional, specialist support to improve performance.

In November 2016, the facility for adult male inmates was hit by a major disturbance, which reportedly caused £1 million of damage.

Bedford is the fourth jail to be subject to a notice under the urgent notification scheme since it was introduced less than a year ago.

Last month, Mr Clarke triggered the process as he published a scathing assessment of HMP Birmingham.

Mark Day, of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This fourth urgent notification issued against a local prison since January this year should be a wake-up call to ministers.

“The Chief Inspector highlights an unchecked decline in standards over the space of nine years and so no-one can say that they didn’t see this coming.”

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “Bedford prison faces serious challenges. We placed it in special measures before the inspection was conducted and we are bringing in senior experienced managers.

“Our focus will be on reducing violence and drugs along with supporting our prison officers to turn Bedford around. It is abundantly clear that further action is needed.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said:

“Its truly shocking – honestly, how could it have got to this?

“Peter Clarke reports [page 4]: ‘Two prisoners who were amputees were unable to shower regularly as they didn’t have the necessary adaptations. One said he had only had five showers this year and to wash himself he had to sit on the floor of his cell and try to splash water on himself from the sink.’

“Come on, be honest; what if that was your son – and if it isn’t yours, it will be someone’s right?

“Charles Dickens wrote books about prisons like this and, were he alive and able to walk its landings, a lot of what he saw he would still recognise as Bedford Prison today.

“Does the Ministry of Justice have no shame?”

Main Points

HMP Bedford has:

  • Had NINE YEARS of unchecked decline in standards
  • Managed to implement just 21 of the 68 Inspectorate Recommendations made in 2016;
  • The highest rate of assaults at any prison in the whole of England and Wales;
  • Prison Staff where well over three quarters of the total compliment have less than ONE YEAR Prison Service experience;
  • Cannabis smoke pervading through the wings, and;
  • Deplorable conditions in which no one should be made to live or work.



1. Safety

Reception processes were good but many prisoners were not supported well enough on their first night. Too many prisoners felt unsafe and violence, particularly against staff, was very high. Perpetrators of violence faced few challenges or sanctions. Victims of violence were poorly supported. Use of force was exceptionally high. Conditions in the segregation unit were appalling and managerial oversight was weak. There was a lack of order and control on some wings. Drugs were easily available. A good local supply reduction plan was in place but was undermined by a lack of investment nationally. Levels of self-harm were high and prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm were not well supported. Outcomes for prisoners were poor.

Early days in custody

Reception staff and prisoner orderlies were welcoming but holding rooms were bland and provided little to occupy prisoners.

Initial safety interviews were now conducted in private and had a suitable focus on risk issues.

Shortages of prisoner kit meant some new arrivals were not issued with sufficient clothing and bedding. Too often new prisoners did not go to the dedicated first night unit as it held prisoners who could not be located elsewhere. Instead they were located wherever there was a space, and these cells were not well prepared. Wing staff were often unaware of new arrivals and did not routinely check on their welfare.

In our survey, less than half of prisoners said they felt safe on their first night.

Induction was adequate, but many prisoners did not attend all elements. Peer worker involvement was positive but was not overseen by staff.

Managing behaviour: Encouraging positive behaviour

In our survey two-thirds of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some time and over one-third felt unsafe at the time of the inspection.

Recorded levels of assaults, when measured over 12 months, had increased significantly since the last inspection and were much higher than all but one local prison. Assaults on staff had risen sharply and were higher than at any other local prison.

Some detailed work had been undertaken to understand the causes of violence and a comprehensive safety strategy was in place, but there was no dynamic action plan to monitor actions to make the prison safer.

The Governor chaired the safer custody meeting which was well structured, but minutes showed a lack of engagement from some key areas.

The current prisoner violence reduction scheme was largely ineffective. There were few challenges or sanctions faced by perpetrators of violence beyond use of the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) and formal adjudications processes, which in themselves were not effective.

There was still no specific violence reduction strategy for young adults who were over-represented in violent incidents.

Support for victims of violence was inadequate.

Vulnerable prisoners located on the dedicated vulnerable prisoner wing received a reasonable regime but others located elsewhere across the prison were often intimidated by other prisoners and had a poor regime.

The IEP scheme was ineffective. It did too little to incentivise good behaviour and was applied inconsistently. Too many IEP reviews did not take place on time. Target setting for prisoners on the basic level of the scheme was poor. Some prisoners were given generic targets, and others no targets at all.

The adjudication system was not used effectively to tackle more serious concerns and challenge poor prisoner behaviour. Over the last six months only around one-third of adjudications had been completed. The prison had begun to address the dysfunctional process for police referrals.

Use of force

Use of force was very high, at four times that at the last inspection and almost three times that of similar prisons we have inspected. Baton use was high. We found numerous occasions where special accommodation was used but not recorded.

Although there was some analysis of available data to identify hotspots and trends, managerial oversight was insufficient and the use of force committee did not review videos or incident paperwork. Almost all dossiers were incomplete and none included an injury to prisoner form.


• Use of segregation was similar to last time and to that of other local prisons.

It was evident that the unit managed some extremely challenging behaviour, but it was chaotic and managerial oversight of both the unit and segregated prisoners on normal location was lacking. Recording of individual behaviour was poor and the daily occurrence log was rarely used.

The environment and conditions in the segregation unit and overspill landing were appalling. General areas and cells were dirty and in constant need of repair, toilets did not flush properly and some cell call alarms were inoperative. The regime for those currently on the unit was poor.

There was some evidence of previous reintegration of prisoners back onto normal location, but too many prisoners were transferred out of the prison without their issues being addressed.


The lack of order and control on some wings was a major concern. Staff struggled to contain an act of concerted indiscipline during our visit and we frequently observed periods where staff control was tenuous.

Dynamic security was poor and we witnessed little effective engagement from staff on some residential wings.

Intelligence was well managed and searching resulted in regular finds of drugs and other contraband, but too few searches and suspicion drug tests were completed.

The prison was focused on known and emerging threats, including organised gang activity, drug supply and associated debt. There was an appropriate focus on the risks posed by extremism.

• Almost half of all prisoners surveyed said it was easy to get illicit drugs and a fifth said they had developed a drug problem at Bedford. Random drug testing rates were at 27%. We regularly smelt cannabis and other substances being burnt throughout the prison. A supply reduction strategy and action plan was in place, but it was hampered by a lack of funding and investment in available technology.

Safeguarding: Suicide and self-harm protection

There had been five self-inflicted deaths since the previous inspection, the most recent a year ago. Progress against Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) recommendations was too slow and some actions had not been completed.

The number of incidents of self-harm had increased substantially since the previous inspection and was higher than in similar establishments.

ACCT processes (case management for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm) were weak. Initial assessments were mostly adequate but some care plans were missing or failed to address the issues of concern to prisoners. Many staff comments were observational rather than demonstrating quality interaction.

In our survey only a third of prisoners who had been subject to ACCTs felt cared for, and any care provided was severely undermined by poor living conditions and a lack of purposeful activity.

There were too few Listeners to meet the needs of the population and they were not available during the night.


2. Respect

Most staff were extremely inexperienced and struggled to exert their authority. Prisoners regularly and blatantly ignored rules and staff instructions – often without sanction or challenge. Living conditions were poor, often overcrowded, dirty and vermin-infested. Access to clean clothing and bedding was inadequate. Food and purchasing arrangements were reasonable overall. The number of complaints was high and too many were responded to too late or not at all. Equalities work was developing but too little was done to support most minority groups and outcomes for some disabled prisoners were particularly poor. Health care and substance misuse services were reasonable overall but mental health provision required improvement. Outcomes for prisoners were poor.

Staff-prisoner relationships

Staff-prisoner relationships had deteriorated since the last inspection and were of considerable concern.

The prison was managing a challenging, dynamic mix of prisoners, with a particularly inexperienced staff group. Seventy-seven per cent of available officers had less than one year’s experience and almost half of middle managers were temporarily promoted.

Staff at all levels were committed to their work and trying to do their best, but as a group they were out of their depth. This lack of experience was having a significant adverse impact on many aspects of prison life.

Some prisoners routinely and blatantly disregarded rules and appropriate standards of behaviour, without challenge. We frequently observed prisoners refusing to do as instructed by staff – and getting away with it. Poor supervision and control of prisoners created unacceptable risks.

Daily life Living conditions

Living conditions were poor. Common areas in most wings were not kept clean. A wing, in particular, was filthy. Despite recent attempts to control vermin, rats, pigeons and cockroaches were everywhere.

There were too few working showers in some wings. Many shower rooms were dirty and in poor physical condition. Some were decrepit.

Many cells were overcrowded and cramped. Cleanliness was variable and many cells were grubby and poorly decorated. Some toilets were dirty and many were poorly screened. There was much graffiti, some of it offensive.

Most cells had basic equipment such as kettles and TVs, although some had insufficient furniture. Some bunk beds were broken and a number had no ladders. Some cells had missing windows and many had broken, or blocked, observation panels.

There was a huge backlog of general repairs and maintenance. Many cells were vandalised and assessed as not fit for habitation, but we nevertheless found a prisoner located in one.

Laundry facilities were inadequate. Prisoners struggled to get access to essentials such as sufficient clean clothing. Towels and sheets were changed only every four weeks which was deplorable.

Residential services (catering and shop)

The food was of reasonable quality, although breakfast packs were meagre. Having the main meal at lunchtime was not popular. The kitchen, despite a period of severe understaffing, was well organised and standards of hygiene and cleaning were high, but non-core work such as consultation and special event menus had suffered.

The weekly small-item purchasing system worked well, but prisoners had to wait up to 10 days for their first full order which increased the likelihood of debt. The catalogue order system had improved, but many electrical items had been delayed for weeks awaiting testing.

Prisoner consultation, applications and redress

Prisoner consultation arrangements were adequate.

Until recently oversight of the applications process was poor. We were not assured applications were dealt with in a timely manner, or at all.

The number of complaints submitted was high. Too many responses were late and 12% in a recent three-month period had not been responded to.

Most complaint responses were adequate. However, some had not been properly investigated and apologies were not always offered when warranted.

Some complaints about staff were not always investigated by an appropriately senior or independent person.

Insufficient support was available to help prisoners with their legal needs.

Equality, diversity and faith

There was now an established pattern of equality meetings and protected characteristic forums. Our survey showed relatively few major differences in perception between minorities and others, although staff-prisoner relationships stood out as the one area where black and minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners had more negative perceptions than others.

There was good use of local data to look for evidence of inequity between different groups. However, there were, as yet, few real actions coming from the processes of consultation and analysis, except in a few cases such as the library.

There were prisoner equality representatives, and equality officers had been identified but were not yet active. The handling of discrimination incident reports had improved, but the quality of investigation was inconsistent.

Foreign nationals who spoke little English were disadvantaged by a lack of translated material and low use of telephone interpretation, and were at risk of being very isolated. Visiting immigration staff, whose visits were irregular, were the only source of information, though forums had been held.

Prisoners with disabilities were identified to some extent, but for those on the wings there were no care plans and insufficient attention to meeting their basic needs. A few with significant disabilities were living in very poor conditions.

A transgender prisoner was given reasonable care. No current prisoners had identified themselves as gay or bisexual. There was no positive affirmation of different sexual orientations to encourage openness.

There was no distinct provision either for under-21s or for older prisoners, though the latter were largely content with their treatment.

Faith and religion

• The chaplaincy team was now much stronger; it was well led and core tasks were carried out efficiently. Additional services were provided, such as bereavement counselling, yoga and some through-the gate work through faith channels. There was insufficient focus in the establishment on enabling worship sessions to start on time with full attendance.

Health, well-being and social care

Health care services had improved since our last inspection, but some concerns remained regarding mental health provision.

A range of primary care services was available, but the team was struggling to engage podiatry services which had been absent for four months. Waiting lists were acceptable for most clinics.

The confidential health complaints process was not routinely used by prisoners, and forms were not widely available. Prisoners had to ask wing staff and peer workers for health care application forms, which was inappropriate.

Inpatients received a good level of care from all staff and had good access to a range of activities.

One prisoner was receiving social care. Processes for referral and assessment were effective.

Medication administration on the main wings was poorly supervised by prison staff and was not confidential.

Dental facilities had improved since our last inspection, and the service was good.

A well-integrated mental health team offered a limited range of primary support, but lacked capacity to provide sufficient levels of therapeutic interventions. Secondary care was reasonable. Urgent referrals were seen promptly but routine referrals took too long to be assessed.

Overall provision for prisoners with substance misuse issues had improved, although only 55% of new arrivals requiring stabilisation were located on D wing, the designated drug treatment wing, which was unsatisfactory. Twenty-four-hour monitoring and observation was now taking place for most prisoners. Clinical care was good and we observed good joint working between clinical and psychosocial support services. Psychosocial support for prisoners with drug and alcohol problems had improved, and a third of all prisoners were engaged with the service. While one-to-one support was available to all, there was still limited access to group work for those not located on D wing.


3. Purposeful activity

Time unlocked was poor for most prisoners and when they were unlocked most had nothing purposeful to do. Library and PE services were adequate. The leadership and management of education, skills and work activity were inadequate. There were sufficient education, skills and work places for all prisoners to work at least part-time, but very few prisoners chose to attend. Far too many were unemployed. The range of provision was narrow and low level. The quality of provision, including teaching and learning, was inadequate and prisoners made too little progress. Too few prisoners completed their courses and gained a qualification. Outcomes for prisoners were poor.

Time out of cell

Time out of cell was poor and few prisoners used it constructively, mostly spending it on the wings with nothing purposeful to do.

A restricted regime had been in place for many months but there were often lengthy delays in locking and unlocking prisoners and moving them to activities.

The few prisoners who engaged in work, education and training had up to five and a half hours out of cell most week days. Most others had about two and a half hours.

Too many prisoners, around 39%, were locked in cells during the working day.

Library and PE

Access to the library was reasonable and facilities were good. An adequate range of materials was available but activities to promote literacy were too limited.

The gym was a well-equipped facility and the PE department offered a range of recreational PE activities, but nothing for older prisoners. We were not assured that access to PE was monitored for fairness.

Education, skills and work activities

Leadership and management of education, skills and work activities

Leaders and managers had made very slow progress in tackling the weaknesses identified at the last inspection. All of the past weaknesses remained, most notably prisoners’ low attendance and involvement in activities and induction, prisoners’ poor punctuality, and the narrow and low-level range of provision.

Further weaknesses at this inspection included some key aspects of teaching and learning which were still not good enough, a sharp fall in the number of prisoners attending initial skills assessments, and the low proportion of prisoners completing their courses and gaining qualifications.

The prison’s quality improvement arrangements were ineffective. Regular externally-led evaluations of purposeful activity provided thorough and accurate assessments about the quality of provision but ultimately charted a progressive decline in its effectiveness. Leaders’ strategic planning did not lead to clear or systematic action planning. The prison did not promote a culture which recognised education, work and skills as a means of rehabilitation.

There were enough activity places for all prisoners to attend work, training or education at least part time. But we found only around 20% of prisoners were engaged in any form of purposeful activity at any one time. Too many sentenced prisoners were not allocated to an activity and a third of prisoners were recorded as being unemployed.

The community rehabilitation company (CRC) had begun to provide prisoners with pre-release support to enter employment, training or education, but this was mostly  recent and poorly attended. The education provider had begun to provide some useful information advice and careers guidance. Prison managers did not gather meaningful or accurate data to monitor prisoners’ involvement in education, training or employment after release.

Quality of teaching learning and assessment

Teachers were professional, committed and resilient but were not all providing consistently effective teaching and learning. Teachers’ expectations of learners were not routinely high enough and there was a lack of challenge for prisoners generally.

Planning for individual learning was too often ineffective, not least because most teachers did not know routinely who was going to attend a class. The few instances of prisoners’ poor behaviour were not always managed well enough by teachers which led to low-level disruption of learning.

Prisoners were not all making enough progress in sessions observed or over time.

No specialist learning support was available to the substantial number of prisoners requiring it.

Personal development and behaviour

Prisoners’ behaviour in sessions observed had improved since the previous inspection but was still not consistently good. However, interactions observed between prisoners and with their teachers were generally positive and respectful.

Very few of the prisoners we interviewed valued their learning or believed it would enhance their prospects on release.

The accreditation of prisoners’ skills developed through work was poor.

Too few prisoners actually attended following enrolment on a course, and too many arrived at sessions determined to be sent back to the wings.

Achievements and outcomes for prisoner

Too many prisoners started but did not complete an accredited course or gain the qualification. This was particularly the case in full functional skills courses in English and mathematics, ESOL and employability. The relatively few prisoners who did complete an accredited course usually achieved their qualification.

Too many prisoners left the prison no more qualified or skilled for work than on entry to the prison.


4. Rehabilitation and release planning

Work with children and families was adequate. A majority of sentenced prisoners, including all high-risk prisoners, received regular and meaningful offender supervisor contact. However, the offender management of low- and medium-risk prisoners – about 40% – had effectively ceased because of staff shortages. Many prisoners did not have an up-to-date OASys. Home detention curfew (HDC) processes were not effectively managed. Prisoners struggled to progress and move on to other suitable prisons. Public protection arrangements were reasonably good. The need for housing and debt support was high but provision was too limited and too many prisoners were released homeless. Demand for release planning was high and resettlement needs were identified promptly on arrival, but there was no assurance they were met. Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good.

Children, families and contact with the outside world

• There was a good new strategy document on children and family ties, but the level of delivery had reduced, with no parenting courses or family ‘craft box’ sessions. Children’s visits were held regularly, a cycle of quarterly family days had begun, and a community worker provided a valuable service for families of prisoners who lived locally.

• The visits hall, although of limited size, was well run, with good assistance from Ormiston Trust staff and volunteers. The environment was tired with fixed rigid furniture but with a good cafe and play facilities. Visits booking was now working reasonably well.

Reducing risk, rehabilitation and progression

Strategic management of reducing reoffending remained weak. The reducing reoffending strategy was thoughtful but aspirational and based on a limited needs analysis. The reducing reoffending committee rarely met and did not drive improvement. There was no action plan to monitor progress.

A lack of staff and experience undermined the work of the offender management unit (OMU). The CRC remained under-resourced and the two were not well integrated.

Those prisoners supervised by on-site probation officers (amounting to about 60% of sentenced prisoners), including all high-risk men, were well managed, and had regular, meaningful contact.

Uniformed offender supervisors were constantly cross-deployed which meant that about 40% of the OMU’s caseload, of low- and medium-risk prisoners, had little or no ongoing contact.

About 40% of all eligible prisoners did not have an up to date OASys assessment and many others had already transferred without an assessment to inform their move.

Basic, but critical, administrative tasks such as sentence calculation were not promptly completed, which frustrated prisoners and affected outcomes in areas like release planning.

HDC processes were not effectively managed. Some prisoners who should have been considered for HDC were not.

There was insufficient oversight to ensure the appropriate and prompt transfer and progression of sentenced prisoners.

Public protection

There was a regular interdepartmental risk management team (IRMT) meeting with an appropriate scope, but attendance from other departments was weak and high-risk prisoners were considered too close to release to allow time for remedial action.

There was good information exchange between community offender managers and on-site probation officers in most high-risk cases we looked at.

Mail and telephone monitoring arrangements were generally well managed and reviewed in a timely manner.


The introduction of the Reactiv8 programme (a sports-based approach to improve thinking skills) was very positive and suitably focused on a young and short-term population.

In our survey, significantly more prisoners than at other local prisons reported they needed help around finance, benefit and debt. Support from the CRC overall was too limited, but prisoners could now open bank accounts, which was an improvement.

There was high demand for help with accommodation. Despite the best efforts of the CRC, a third of prisoners with an identified accommodation need were released homeless. Remand prisoners who made up half of the population were not helped to find accommodation at all.

Release planning

Demand for resettlement services was very high, with about 90 prisoners released each month. Many prisoners stayed for a very short time – about 60% of the population had been at Bedford for three months or less.

CRC provision remained too limited. While initial resettlement plans were completed on time and appropriately identified need, too many prisoners did not have their plan reviewed prior to release to ensure that referrals and actions were completed.

The pre-release board, which was potentially extremely useful, was poorly attended and was not given sufficient priority by the prison.


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Related articles:

13/9/2018 Urgent Notification HMP Bedford

16/8/2018: Urgent Notification HMP Birmingham

30/5/2018: Urgent Notification HMP Exeter

17/1/2018: Urgent Notification HMP Nottingham

All Urgent Notifications, Responses & Action Plans

HMP Bedford Latest IMB Report (June 2017)

HMP Bedford: Ministerial Response (13 November 2017)


“The first priority of any prison should be to keep those who are held or work there safe, in this regard HMP Birmingham had completely failed.”

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Two weeks ago when the Gate at Birmingham Prison banged shut behind Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, he must have thought as he walked away to write his Report: ‘how on earth could it have got to this?’

How indeed?

Behind him he left a prison he’d found in “an appalling state” with high violence, widespread bullying, squalid living conditions and poor control by fearful staff, who suffered an arson attack on their supposedly secure car park during the inspection.

Birmingham is only the second jail ever to be assessed by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) as poor, its lowest assessment, across all key aspects of prison life.

How did we get here?

Until a year or so ago the problem with our prison system had just two basic roots – and to a large extent it still does.

The first is a public who demand ever longer sentences and harsher prison conditions, despite a wealth of evidence that neither reduces crime and serves only to land them with a £15bn a year bill for reoffending.

The second has been the failure of politicians on all sides to rise to the challenge, to stand up to the public and argue for what they know the evidence shows is in everyone’s best interest: reducing reoffending is brought about through engagement, decency, respect, humane conditions and support – all things far too many of our prisons cannot deliver.

Politicians need to educate the public that treating prisoners humanely is not being soft on crime – humane treatment of prisoners has nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with investing prisoners (whatever they’ve done) with the rights of a human being – and that is always a test that we must pass, not them.

Eighteen months (and three Justice Secretary’s) ago, Liz Truss sought to bring common sense to the law and order debate with a change of direction, the White Paper she published on Prison Reform would have gone a long way towards making real progress, but it was not to be.

Theresa May then went for her infamous walk and the White Paper, much like her parliamentary majority, was tossed in the trash.

But while all that makes for fine theory, it is the dreadful translation of that recipe for chaos into practice that has brought the prison system to its knees.

The minefield that is our prison system today goes back to 2013 when Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling  slashed front line prison officer numbers by 7000 (and cut budgets by over £900m) when he introduced VEDS – Voluntary Early Departure Scheme; in effect – redundancy.

And this at a time when prisoner numbers were rapidly increasing too.

When I first learnt of the scale of the frontline cuts Grayling was going to make I fully expected the Prison Officers Association (POA) to mount large scale protests across the prison estate to fight them – but not a bit of it.

There was not even a whimper from the POA – and the reason?

The VEDS package (coupled with the promise by Grayling to end prison privatisation) was so generous that it ‘bought off’ any objection to the staff cuts from the POA – indeed not only were the POA complicit in the staff cuts, but the evidence shows their own bid to run the prison actually involved 150 LESS staff than the winning G4S bid offered – something the POA seem today to have quietly forgotten.

And VEDS really was generous too – Grayling blew more than £50million in just one year sacking staff at Britain’s overcrowded jails; in 2013 the Prison Service spent £56.5million on severance payments – ten times the amount spent in 2012.

Its not rocket science – you can’t run a modern, safe, humane, reforming prison system with a handful of staff and on tuppence ha’penny.

And, its got nothing to do with Birmingham being a private prison – that’s a red herring.

The moral argument is no one should earn a profit from imprisonment – well tell that to the 25,000 prison officers when they collect their ‘profit’ each month.

I’m a pragmatist – I don’t care whose name is over the prison gate, I’m more concerned with what happens to real people who live and work on the other side of it.

The truth is there are good and bad public and private prisons – and don’t forget until we had private prisons in 1992 our prison system was in an even worse state than it is today.

With private prisons came integral sanitation – instead of a bucket prisoners were required to urinate and defecate in and ‘slop out’ – also with private prisons came access to telephones, reduction in mail censorship, evening family visits, drug and alcohol detox, offending behaviour courses and until 1992 time out of cell was 11 hours a week – with the opening of the first private prison that became 11 hours a day.

We have had private prisons for almost 30 years and generally they have worked quite well – the difference now is that the government austerity spending cuts have driven down private sector contracts to such low levels that they are simply unsustainable – we see that with Birmingham (not to mention Liverpool, Nottingham and Exeter) and we saw it too with Prison Service facilities management company Carillion.

There is one thing however about the privatised Birmingham prison that is different to other failing public sector jails – public prisons don’t have a wicket keeper.

When private prisons were introduced Parliament insisted that behind every private prison Governor must sit a ‘Controller’, an experienced public sector prison governor, there to monitor how the contract to run the prison was being delivered – and where they believe the Governor was at risk of losing control, to ‘step in’ and take over.

There were four, full-time, Controllers at HMP Birmingham, Peter Clarke suggested they were all ‘asleep at the wheel’ and that’s impossible to disagree with given that none of them appeared to notice that security, order, safety and control at the prison had been lost.

What is the solution?

Recent speeches by Justice Secretary David Gauke, and his Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, show they have clearly recognised the dire state the prison system is in, and there has been a raft of welcome policy initiatives to address identified problems.

We have seen a commitment to end rough sleeping, a package to steer the vulnerable away from custody, a drive to address the problems at the ten most challenging prisons, and a £9m ‘blitz’ on drugs in prison too.

These are welcome and useful – but they are also piecemeal, disjointed and there is no overall clarity of ‘mission’ that pulls them all together – you won’t reduce reoffending by sticking plasters over prison problems and ignoring the much bigger picture.

What we need now is a Public Inquiry, not just into the debacle that is Birmingham, but the prison system as a whole – defining not only how we get out of this mess but drafting the course of prisons and probation development well into the 2030’s.

We need to clearly define the ‘mission’ of our prison system.

What, exactly, do we as a society want our prison system to deliver in terms of punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, reducing reoffending and victim care?

Once we have the mission clear, then we just need to pay for its delivery.

At present we are on our EIGHTH Justice Secretary since 2010, and the Prison Service itself in that time has been reorganised four times too – from Prison Service to Correctional Services, to NOMS and now to HMPPS.

Our Prison Service is disorientated by changes of organisation, leadership and the disarray caused by abrupt policy and funding changes that inevitably flow from a change at the top.

It has to stop.

Birmingham prison needs to be the point where a halt is called, where emotion is taken out of the law and order debate, and the future of our prison and probation services are handed over to an impartial public inquiry where evidence and not rhetoric shows what works best for everyone.

Birmingham Prison – A Troubled History

HMP Birmingham, one of the country’s largest jails, has seen soaring drug-fuelled violence and serious disorder in recent years.

In December 2016, while run by G4S, the category B prison was rocked by the worst outbreak of rioting at an English jail in more than two decades.

Inmates caused widespread damage after seizing control of four wings and releasing 500 prisoners from their cells during the disturbance – which lasted for more than 12 hours.

Riot squads had to be deployed to the prison after reports of prisoners setting fire to stairwells and destroying paper records.

One man, believed to be in his 20s, was taken to hospital with a facial injury as well as cuts and bruises, but no prison staff were injured.

Some 240 prisoners were moved out of the prison as a result.

Seven men were later convicted of prison mutiny for their role in the rioting.

The city centre jail, formerly known as Winson Green, can hold up to 1,450 inmates and was taken over by G4S in 2011.

A June 2017 inspection found it had been gripped by drug-fuelled violence, with many inmates feeling “unsafe” behind bars.

The first official report since the riot concluded there was too much fighting on wings, often triggered by easy access to “problematic” new psychoactive substances.

Half of the prisoners surveyed also told inspectors it was “easy to get drugs”, with one in seven reporting they were getting hooked on drugs while in the jail.

The inspection also found the use of mobile phones and drones to arrange and deliver contraband, such as the highly addictive Spice, over the Victorian jail’s high walls was also “a significant threat”.

Three months later staff were involved in another stand-off with inmates following a disturbance.

A number of prisoners refused to return to their cells at the end of an evening.

Specially trained prison staff resolved the incident, which lasted almost seven hours, with no injuries to staff or prisoners.

The prison made headlines again earlier this month after nine cars were torched during an arson attack on the staff car park.

Two masked men used an angle grinder to cut their way into the parking compound before dousing vehicles in flammable liquid.

Further damage was prevented after the men, one of whom was armed with a handgun, were confronted by two prison staff.

The incident came as an unannounced inspection of the prison was carried out.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons later wrote to the Justice Secretary to raise the “significant concerns” about the state of HMP Birmingham.

Peter Clarke took the step of issuing an urgent notification to David Gauke about the jail, warning it had “slipped into crisis” following a “dramatic deterioration” in the last 18 months.

On Monday it was announced HMP Birmingham was being taken back under Government control.

Birmingham Prison: A Prisons Where “Violence is rife and staff are fearful” Says Ex-inmate

Violence is rife, staff are even more fearful than prisoners, and drug use is routine inside HMP Birmingham, according to an inmate who was released on Monday.

Other prisoners being freed after completing their sentences claimed mobile phones were changing hands inside the jail for around £150.

One inmate, waiting for a relative to pick him up after being released from a six-week sentence, said: “It’s fair to say most of the prisoners are terrified in there but the screws are even more terrified than the prisoners.

“I’m surprised it has taken so long for the inspectors to do something – there are drugs everywhere. The place is a joke.”

Another man, in his 20s, told reporters: “I’ve just spent six weeks in there and the conditions are pretty shit, to be honest – from what I have seen there are a lot of drugs.

“Drugs have taken over the prison and G4S have just let it happen. The prisoners were in control and it doesn’t feel safe.

“There were a lot of people on my wing that just stayed behind the door because they were scared to come out.”

A third inmate being freed from the jail’s main gate said he believed prisoners had gained more influence since a 15-hour riot in 2016 during which a bunch of keys were taken from a warder and used to unlock cells.

“I’ve been inside for five-and-a-half years and I think the prisoners run it, to be honest – and that’s the best way in my opinion.”

Some of the men being released also claimed that trainers were often stolen, leaving more vulnerable inmates wearing flip-flops on wings where even the smallest argument could trigger serious violence.

None of the men would give their names.

HMP isis IMB Report: A 10% Staff Reduction Sees Staff Assaults Up Over 20% & Prisoner Assaults Up Over 40%

“Many aspects of the “temporary” restricted regime introduced in September 2013 are still in place four and a half years later, despite repeated assurances from respective Ministers that the staffing situation is being addressed.”

The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP/YOI isis today publishes its 2017 Annual Report. The Board’s main message – as it was in 2015 and 2016 – is that the prison is failing to fulfil its primary role to train and rehabilitate prisoners. The Board is concerned that the ‘temporary’ prison regime, still in place after four and half years, does not facilitate improvement and prepare the men for release.

Ministers have given repeated assurances in recent years that 2,500 extra staff were being recruited across the country’s prisons to deal with the staffing crisis. But in 2017 HMP/YOI isis the staffing crisis worsened with a further 10% drop in prison officer numbers.

Concerns raised in the 2017 Annual Report are:

  • High levels of violence – incidents of assaults on prisoners up by over 40% and assaults on staff up by 20% from 2016 figures.   The nature of the violence is more targeted with drugs, debts and gang-related bullying frequently behind assaults.
  • Drug usage remains high with Spice appearing to be the “drug of choice” and an increasing use of cannabis. In late 2017 there were between 30 and 50 instances each month of drug use with many prisoners requiring medical attention and drug debts increasing.
  • Time out of cell – prisoners are locked in their cells for too many hours, with no evening association and periods of between 25 hours and 28 hours locked in cells on weekends, contributing to poor attendance at education and training. Attendance is typically 100 of the 600 prisoners.

The Board has again urged the minister:

  • That staff numbers be returned to the agreed levels, not simply by hiring new officers but also by implementing strategies to retain and motivate existing staff, and
  • To give serious and urgent consideration to the plight of those prisoners with mental health illnesses detained in HMP/YOI isis inappropriately when they should be being treated intensively by mental health professionals in a different setting.

The Board is encouraged by the many initiatives introduced by the Governor, including recently taking responsibility for the local recruitment of prison officers. It is to be hoped that a full training regime will be implemented during 2018.

The full report will be published at

Information for Editors 

HMP/YOI isis – named after the River Thames – opened in July 2010. It is a public sector training prison for sentenced men, with a mix of young prisoners between the ages of 18 and 21, and Category C adult prisoners. It is situated in Thamesmead in South-East London. The maximum population it can safely and decently hold is 628.

Every prison in the country has an Independent Monitoring Board. Members are appointed from a wide variety of backgrounds by the Secretary of State for Justice to act independently as the eyes and ears of Ministers and the general public. They have unlimited access to the prison; they routinely check the buildings, the administration, the regime and the treatment of prisoners; and they hear prisoner complaints. They are unpaid. Each Board reports annually to the Secretary of State.

Winchester Prison: “Teetering on The Edge of Major Incident” Warns Watchdog

winchesterThe situation at a prison is “fragile” with a prevailing sense that it is “teetering on the edge of a major incident”, a report has warned.

It said a lack of staff at HMP Winchester has resulted in a “steady deterioration” of the environment and a “noticeable rise in tension”.

There has been an increase in self-harm, assaults on officers and disruptive behaviour, according to the jail’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).

Despite the efforts of staff, mobile phones are frequently found in the prison, the assessment said.

The IMB’s report said: “The prisoners who are unemployed are allowed out of their cells for just an hour a day for all domestic activity and association.

“This is neither restorative nor rehabilitative and only adds to the frustration of the prisoners.

“It is entirely due to the resilience and dedication of the whole staff and their leadership that disruptions similar to that reported by other prisons have not yet been repeated in Winchester.”

It noted the jail, which holds about 690 male inmates, has had a level of success in tackling the inflow of drugs, including new psychoactive substances (NPS).

Changes in the patterns of contraband were observed following the outlawing of NPS – previously known as “legal highs” – and the introduction of a smoking ban at HMP Winchester at the end of January.

The IMB report, covering June 2016 to May 2017, said: “There has been a reduction in NPS related incidents and the introduction of tobacco as a competing contraband with other drugs.”

Read the full report here:

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons welcomes new ‘Urgent Notification’ agreement with potential to strengthen the impact of inspections in failing jails

PeterClarkePeter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, has welcomed a new process allowing him to publicly demand urgent action by the Secretary of State for Justice to improve jails with significant problems – a move also welcomed by one of the Inspectorate’s fiercest critics, Mark Leech.

Commenting after the Secretary of State for Justice David Lidington announced a new ‘Urgent Notification’ protocol, Mr Clarke said: “I welcome the new ‘Urgent Notification’ protocol which the Secretary of State for Justice has announced.

“This has the potential to be an important outcome of prison inspections, and to strengthen the role of HM Inspectorate of Prisons. Our job is to report on the treatment and conditions experienced by prisoners, and these new arrangements should mean that in the most serious cases there will be an effective and speedy response.

“In particular, I welcome the principle of transparency and accountability underpinning this new protocol. The Secretary of State has accepted that he and his successors will be held publicly accountable for delivering an urgent, robust and effective response when HMIP assesses that treatment or conditions in a jail raise such significant concerns that urgent action is required. The protocol requires the Secretary of State to respond to an urgent notification letter from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons within 28 days. The Chief Inspector’s notification and the Secretary of State’s response will both be published.”

Mr Clarke said HMIP supported the inclusion of measures in the Prisons and Courts Bill to require greater accountability and transparency in the response to HMI Prisons’ recommendations. “We regretted the fact that the provisions in the Bill relating to prisons were lost after the general election, but welcomed the commitment by the Secretary of State to achieve their objectives so far as possible without legislation.

“The Urgent Notification process announced this week is the culmination of many months of discussions between HMIP, the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).”

Explaining the impact of the new arrangement, which is incorporated into the existing protocol through which HMIP inspects prisons, Mr Clarke added: “Whenever the new process is invoked, we will expect swift and effective action to be taken in response.

“However, the implementation and monitoring of improvements is a clear responsibility of HMPPS, not the Inspectorate. HMI Prisons will take account of a range of factors to decide when, in the judgement of the Chief Inspector, a prison should next be inspected. If for any reason an HMIP recommendation is not accepted, we would expect the rationale to be explained and published.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook, who wrote a blistering attack on the Prisons Inspectorate in The Independent in August 2017 described it as “a huge step forward.”

Mr Leech, who had criticised the Inspectorate for its failure to have the vast majority of its recommendations implemented, said: “This is a huge step forward, not only for the reputation of the Prisons Inspectorate, but for the safety and security of those who live and work in our prisons.

“Now the Justice Secretary will need to publicly explain why HMIP recommendations are not implemented, and that can only mean that at last we will see either progress in our prisons or obtain an explanation we can all scrutinise as to why nothing is happening.

“Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector, a person of whom I have been critical many times, has clearly been hard at work behind the scenes and its important to give criticism where that is justified but credit where that is due too.”

Mr Leech said there was one area where progress could be made much faster.

“The Prisons Inspectorate quite rightly admits that it doesn’t have the resources to monitor progress on its recommendations – but every prison has Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) and they should be utilised now to follow up on HMIP recommendations and ensure progress is made – IMBs have been largely seen as a waste of time in the past but if they want to correct their dreadful reputation this is one area where they could step up to the plate and do something about it.”


Questions & Answers:

Q: Was the previous system of inspections, followed by a report and recommendations, too slow?

A: HMIP places great importance on fairness and rigorous fact-checking in its reports, to ensure the evidence on which we base recommendations is sound. Currently, the process from inspection to published report takes around 18 weeks. That said, there is nothing in the current system to prevent the leadership of a prison, and HMPPS/MoJ, from starting to take urgent action to address serious problems raised in an inspection. Inspectors share their major concerns with the jail’s leadership at the end of the inspection, supported by a written copy of the main findings. HMIP’s concern has not been so much about the speed of the system but rather that recommendations are either not acted on at all, or are inadequately addressed.

Q: How will the urgent notification process work in practice?

A: The test will be whether an inspection raises significant concerns that in the judgement of the Chief Inspector need to be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State. That judgement will be made after the conclusion of an inspection, and formal notification made to the Secretary of State within 7 days.  24 hours after the letter has been sent privately, it will be published on the HMIP website and distributed to the media and through social media. The letter will be supported by the end-of-inspection briefing material shared with the prison. These notes will also be made public.

Q: Why can’t HMIP monitor work to improve a jail subject to an urgent notification.

A: HM Inspectorate of Prisons does not have the capacity continuously to monitor the prisons we inspect. This is the clear responsibility of line management from HMPPS. HMIP resources are fully committed to carrying out more than 80 inspections each year of prisons and other places of detention.

Q: When will the prison subject to an urgent notification be re-inspected?

A: In line with current practice, the timing of inspections will remain a matter for the judgement of the Chief Inspector. Some inspections may be announced, though the vast majority are currently unannounced. The monitoring of UN action plans is a matter for HMPPS but the action plan would, plainly, be something HMIP looks closely at in any repeat inspection.

Q: How many urgent notifications will there be?

A: In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any because treatment and conditions in all our prisons would meet acceptable standards. Sadly, though, that has not been the case in recent years and conditions – particularly relating to prisoner safety – have deteriorated alarmingly in some prisons. However, it is simply not possible to predict the number of urgent notification letters. It will depend on the circumstances in a jail and the judgement of the Chief Inspector.

The protocol is available, from 30 November, at

IMB Reform: National Council to be Scrapped and Replaced by a Chair and Management Board


The Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, has approved plans to overhaul the national governance structure for Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs).

In July 2014 the Ministry of Justice received an independent report it had commissioned by Karen Page Associates (KPA) (read the report) which looked at the current national IMB system of monitoring in our prisons and in a severe condemnation of the current management and governance arrangements concluded that “critically, IMBs did not have enough credibility with key stakeholders” and that there should be, for the whole national IMB system, “urgent root and branch review and reform of sponsorship, governance and leadership.”

kpaThe KPA Review found among other things:

• Some members did not inspire confidence because of the way they undertook monitoring or because they seemed not to know enough about prisons or immigration removals systems. This minority could affect the way all members were perceived.

• There were unexplained inconsistencies between boards in the way they worked.

• Boards did not express their findings in a sufficiently compelling, evidence based way.

• The arrangements at national level for sharing information and reviewing findings between government and IMBs were, with some exceptions, not sufficiently focused and business-like. There were missed opportunities for cooperation and shared approaches with government and with other government sponsored independent bodies.

In response to the KPA Report the Ministry of Justice set up a closed, invitation-only, Governance Review with three suggested governance formats going forward.

Mark Leech, the Editor of The Prisons Handbook, and an invited contributor to the review said:

“The consultation proposed three potential models for IMB reformed national governance to address concerns around confused governance, leadership and accountability, the first two models really only consisted of a fudging of the current arrangements; Model 3 although not ideal represented the most deep-rooted governance reform – like the majority of the contributors to the Review I opted for option three and this has now been approved, with some minor changes, by the Secretary of State for Justice.”

Key features of the revised Model 3 include:

  • President and National Council replaced by a Chair (a part-time, paid public appointee) and Management Board (a mix of IMB members and Non-Executive Directors, all unpaid, each with their own specialism).  The Management Board will be responsible for setting the policy and strategy, taking on a more executive role than the current National Council does and will be accountable to the Chair.
  • Management Board to be supported by a network of working groups and regional representatives (a function currently provided by the National Council) to support chairs and members in the regions.
  • IMBs continue to be supported by the Secretariat, with the head of the secretariat line-managed by a civil servant but task-managed by the chair of the management board, in accordance with directions set by the Management Board.
  • A new Governance Framework, sitting alongside the Monitoring Framework, to set clear roles and responsibilities for each part of the governance structure.
  • It is important to stress that the structure of IMBs (Chair, Vice Chair and Board Development Officer), their monitoring role and their right to inform the Minister of any concerns will not change under these proposals. 

The Ministry of Justice has said that these changes will of course take time to implement and further changes may be required as the Prison Reform proposals take shape.

Commenting on the decision to implement a revised Model 3 Mark Leech said:

“In May this year, in The Prisons Handbook 2016, my Editorial posed the question as to whether the time had come for IMBs to be abolished as my view was that, as the KPA Review found, the IMB as a national organisation, lacked any credibility with prisoners and indeed with many prison staff too.

“My Editorial was followed by an article written by the then Chair of Hollesley Bay prison IMB Faith Spear, writing under the pseudonym of ‘Daisy Mallet’.

“Faith’s article, “Whistle Blower Without A Whistle”, exposed a shambolic system of monitoring in our prisons that was – as the KPA Review also found – unfit for purpose and in need of complete reform.

“Mrs Spear’s article lifted the lid on a system of prison monitoring in which IMB Members, despite their clear legal independence, were ‘gagged by grooming’ from speaking to the press and, among other things, were coerced in many cases from discharging their full monitoring functions by, for example, failing to visit the prison during night.

“It was a powerful article, and one that set in motion a savage train of events which has seen Mrs Spear treated disgracefully; she is currently suspended from the IMB and facing disciplinary action at the end of this month.”

You can read the Editorial and Mrs Spear’s expose: here

By implementing Model 3, the new governance arrangements of the IMB will see the much-needed scrapping of the discredited and dysfunctional ‘IMB National Council’ and its completely ineffective ‘President’.

Mr Leech said: “Model 3, although the option that brings the most change, is not ideal – real reform will only come when the IMB are removed from the MOJ completely and placed within the Prisons Inspectorate, along with whom it forms a part of the 20-strong National Preventive Mechanism, which discharges custodial monitoring duties owed to the United Nations, but sadly that was not an option that was on the table.”

Shocking Failures of the Preston Prison IMB Revealed

IMB Preston_Page_1IMB Preston_Page_2

All IMB Members have the legal power to visit prisons ‘at any time’, but it is a power they rarely if ever exercise at night – despite the fact that prisoners have died as a result of night time failures by prison staff to do their jobs properly which IMB Members are supposed to monitor but simply fail to do so – and now we have proof.

Faith Spear, the Chair of the Hollesley Bay IMB spoke out about this  – and is currently suspended for doing so. But now we have irrefutable proof that the IMB refuses to learn lessons even when inmates die.

This failure to visit prisons at night is not some minor academic issue; it’s an incredibly serious one.

In 2012 Shaun and Lisa Percy, married prison officers working at Preston Prison, were handed suspended jail sentences when they were convicted of misconduct in public office for covering up failings in suicide watch procedures on the night an inmate was found hanging in his cell.

Shaun Percy failed to carry out half hourly cell checks on Christopher Oldham, who was on remand in HMP Preston.

His wife Lisa, the Night Orderly Officer in charge of the prison overnight, then made false entries into the care log to cover up for her husband’s failings.

In one entry, Mrs Percy reported she had seen Mr Oldham standing at the back of his cell.

In another entry, made by Mr Percy, he said Mr Oldham was sitting on his bed watching television and had said he was OK when spoken to.

Medical evidence showed, and both officers in court accepted, that by the time of these false entries were made, the inmate was already dead.

In the four years since then, how many unannounced night time visits have the Preston Prison IMB made to the jail?

Zero. Not a single one in five years – the proof is in the above Freedom of Information responses I have received.

And the failures of the Percy’s are not the only example of such appalling behaviour either.

In April 2014 a Maghaberry prison officer was also handed a 15 month suspended prison sentence after admitting he had not kept a proper watch on a suicidal prisoner who hanged himself.

Daniel Barclay pleaded guilty in court that he had “wilfully neglected to perform his duty without reasonable excuse or justification, in that he failed to carry out and record the appropriate observations in respect of a prisoner at risk, namely Colin Bell” on a date between 30 July and 2 August 2008.

Mr Bell hanged himself in the CCTV-covered “safer cell” at Maghaberry prison when he was on heightened suicide watch after repeated bouts of self harming, meaning prison officers had to check on him every 15 minutes.

Prison CCTV evidence showed that while Daniel Barclay was supposed to be monitoring Colin Bell on CCTV he was seen watching television, chatting with colleagues, and making himself a snack. At one stage – while 34-year-old Bell lay slumped dead against his Maghaberry Prison cell door – Barclay was seen on a rolled out mattress on which he was trying to nap.

The court heard that over the course of almost 90 minutes – while Bell made four suicide attempts – Officer Barclay “glanced” twice at CCTV screens showing what Bell was doing in his cell.

One current IMB Member from Maghaberry told me in a private written communication they too do not carry out night visits.

Our IMB system is a joke, sure there are many had working, committed, IMB members who work tirelessly – but nationally the system is corrupt and unfit for purpose, where members are coerced into not exercising the powrs that Parliament gave to them.

How many more inmates must die before this failed system is scrapped completely and dragged into the 21st Century?