HMP MAIDSTONE – Violent incidents and Use of Force increase and the growing drugs problem must be addressed

Inspectors found that the number of violent incidents and the use of force by staff had increased since the previous inspection but levels were lower than in most similar category C prisons.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “In terms of behaviour management, it was good to see what we have recorded as good practice in the use of incentives and earned privileges.”

However, Mr Clarke added: “I would sound a note of caution about the…impact of illicit drugs. The prison, unlike so many others, had not been destabilised by an influx of drugs, but there were some worrying signs.” The positive test rate in random tests of prisoners had risen and now stood at 14.5%.

“This was too high to be taken lightly. Shortly after this inspection some 15 parcels containing contraband, including drugs, were thrown over the wall into the prison in the space of a single night. Despite the clear indications that drugs were a growing problem, the response to intelligence was poor, with backlogs and suspicion searches not being carried out in a timely fashion or at all. There was clearly a need to refocus on the strategy for reducing the supply of illicit drugs, and there is certainly no room at all for complacency.”

Inspectors found generally good relationships between staff and prisoners “and a higher than usual proportion of prisoners told us they were treated with respect by staff.”  However, much of the residential accommodation was old, shabby and in need of refurbishment and the sports hall had been condemned and closed.

One of the most serious concerns was the decline in terms of the purposeful activity available to prisoners. Mr Clarke said: “For those in employment the amount of time out of cell was perfectly adequate, but there were only sufficient activity places for around three-quarters of the population.

“Far too much of the work that was available was mundane and menial, and I was surprised to see large numbers of prisoners in workshops playing games rather than being engaged in work.”

In contrast, rehabilitation and release planning had improved since the last inspection, though Mr Clarke added: “Those prisoners who were destined to be held in detention under immigration powers at the conclusion of their sentence should have been told that this was going to happen sooner rather than later, and certainly not left until very close to the time when they anticipated that they would be released.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“The prison was completely aware of the distinct needs of their population, although more needed to be done to understand the more negative perceptions of their treatment and conditions held by prisoners with protected characteristics. The establishment also needed support in terms of investment to get the fabric of the buildings back to an acceptable standard and facilities such as the sports hall restored.

A copy of the full report, published on 19 February 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Maidstone prison was originally built in 1819. The prison underwent a re-role in 2013 and is now a designated foreign national prison.

The unannounced inspection took place between 8 and 19 October 2018.

“Complete Failure” to deal with foreign national offenders

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An influential group of MPs has hit out at the Home Office’s “Complete Failure” to deal with foreign national offenders.

The Committee of Public Accounts said the department will have to act with urgency to improve the way it manages and removes foreign national offenders.

Among a range of recommendations, the group of MP’s said the Home Office and National Offender Management Service should evaluate whether designated foreign national offender prisons result in more early removals and, if so, extend their use.

The committee’s report comes after the Government’s spending watchdog has revealed up to £1 billion of public money was spent in the year to March 2014 on thousands of foreign criminals in the UK.

One in six – or 760 out of 4,200 – foreign national offenders (FNOs) living in the community absconded, including 58 ”high harm” individuals who had been missing since 2010, the National Audit Office (NAO) found.

The NAO also revealed in its report last October that police are failing to conduct overseas criminal record checks on more than two-thirds of arrested foreign nationals.

In a joint statement, Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, and committee member Richard Bacon, said: “There has been a complete failure to improve the management and removal of foreign national offenders.

“Despite firm commitments to improve and a massive ten-fold increase in resources, the system still appears to be dysfunctional.”

The statement went on: “There is a worrying combination of a lack of focus on early action at the border and police stations, poor joint working in prisons, inefficient case-working, very poor management information and non-existent cost data.”

The MPs added: “The Home Office will need to act with urgency on the recommendations we make in this report if it is to secure public confidence in its ability to tackle effectively these and the wider immigration system issues on which we have previously reported.”

The number of foreign nationals in prison has remained at around 10,000 with the number of foreign national offenders removed from the UK peaking at 5,613 in 2008/09 and not matching that level since. The figure fell to 4,539 in 2011/12 and it remains below the peak levels.

It was also revealed the Home Office was forced to pay out £6.2 million in compensation payments to 229 foreign national offenders because of delays in dealing with cases since April 2012 – an average of £27,000 each.

The committee recommends that the Home Office sets out how it will improve the management of foreign national offenders with specific measures against which it expects to be held accountable.

The Home Office, working with the police, also needs to make better use of existing information from overseas and at home, to prevent more potential foreign national offenders from entering the UK, the committee said.

The Department, along with the National Offender Management Service, should evaluate whether designated foreign national offender prisons result in more early removals, and if so extend their use, the group of MPs said.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The Home Office must act quickly to address the findings of this damning report or public trust will be seriously damaged.

“The myriad failings are staggering and show a desperate need to tear up the system and start again, as the cost of delays and compensation is truly eye-watering.

“Even by the standards of this often embattled Department, managing to lose one in six foreign criminals is shocking and people must be held accountable for these errors.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is a damning report of failure and incompetence in Theresa May’s Home Office. Previous home secretaries have resigned over this kind of thing. Yet time and again Theresa May just hides and blames everyone else.

“Under Theresa May, the Home Office is deporting fewer foreign criminals, criminal records are not being checked at the borders, basic errors are delaying deportations, her department isn’t sharing information on criminals with the police.”

Ms Cooper added: “This report makes clear that Theresa May has never treated the problem of foreign criminals as a priority. She needs to take responsibility now for four and a half years of growing chaos and incompetence that is not only undermining trust in the immigration system, but putting public safety at risk.”

Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “Foreign nationals who commit crime in Britain should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them. We have removed 22,000 foreign criminals since 2010, despite an almost 30 per cent surge in appeals – while the Immigration Act we brought in last year represents the most radical reform of the deportation process in four decades.

“That Act has helped to rebalance the law in favour of the British public – by slashing the number of appeal routes for foreign criminals from 17 to four, and introducing tough new ‘deport first, appeal later’ powers which have already resulted in more than 400 deportations.

“We are also dealing more robustly than ever before with those who break our laws. Joint work with the police to intercept foreign nationals in custody suites has led to 3,300 removals since 2012, while police checks on the overseas convictions of EU nationals are up almost 600% under this government.

“Alongside tougher crime fighting measures, improved protection at the border and greater collaboration between police and immigration enforcement officers, the Immigration Act will help us to identify, remove and ban more foreign criminals than ever before.”

National Policing Lead for Foreign National Offenders, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse, said: “We welcome the focus that the Public Accounts Committee Report has brought on the subject of tackling crime committed by foreign offenders.

“The report rightly identifies that the police have an important role to play and I am pleased that it praises the innovative work of Operation Nexus, a joint initiative between the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office that has led to over 3,000 foreign national offenders being removed from the UK since 2012.

“The report states that in the past only around 30% of arrested foreign nationals were the subject of a check to understand any previous convictions for offences committed abroad.

“It is pleasing to note that this figure has risen to over 75% across the country, with close to 100% compliance in London in cases where a check can be carried out. These checks have allowed serious offenders to be identified and removed from the country.

“Around 14% of all arrested people in England and Wales are foreign nationals. This rises to 30% in London. It is important that we use all available information in order to keep the public safe.”

Action Demanded To Remove Foreign Prisoners

A public spending watchdog has demanded action to speed up the Government’s “frustratingly poor” record on removing from the UK foreign criminals who are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

Too many overseas inmates are still being locked up at public expense as the rate they are sent home has dropped by 14% over the past four years, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

MPs also called for improvements in under-performing new prisons and questioned the closure of several which had been among the best in the country as part of a successful money-saving programme.

In December, the National Audit Office said speeding up the removal of foreign prisoners – who number about 11,000 and make up 13% of the prison population – was the best way to reduce the bill for jails.

The PAC said the National Offender Management Service (Noms) “should work with the Home Office to better understand the reasons for delays in removing foreign national offenders, tackle the barriers to removal, and take all steps to improve performance in this area”.

Its report welcomed progress in securing a significant improvement in value for money, with new prisons providing good, modern accommodation.

But inmates still routinely share cells, some in overcrowded conditions. And in a bid to make savings, some high-performing prisons were closed before newly built ones started to perform well, it noted.

More space could be freed up by giving prisoners serving indeterminate sentences more access to courses that would reduce their risk to the public, allowing the Parole Board to release them, it suggested.

The PAC said the poor performance of new prisons HMP Oakwood and HMP Thameside – which were among only three give the lowest quality rating last year – should be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.

Any failure to get them up to four-star standard by 2014/15 would require an explanation to the committee, it said, including improvements in the amount of “good-quality purposeful activity” being provided.

Prisons’ individual performance should be considered when deciding which to close, the MPs suggested, in addition to other factors.

The committee’s chair, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, said: “Performance in reducing the number of foreign national prisoners continues to be frustratingly poor, costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.”

While more than 1,000 foreign national offenders are deported each quarter, a similar number are convicted, so the overall number of foreign national prisoners stays at the same level of around 11,000 – 13% of the total prison population.”

The agency should work with the Home Office to understand why there are delays in removing foreign national offenders, and tackle the barriers to their removal.”

She welcomed the “significant savings in running costs” achieved by Noms, which is on track to achieve reductions of £70 million a year and a good standard of accommodation on time and within budget.”

The programme has been well managed and has benefited from experienced and consistent leadership,” she acknowledged.”

The strategy has not, however, done as well at creating constructive regimes in which to work with offenders to support rehabilitation and prevent reoffending by preparing prisoners for work.”

Although the two new large, contracted-out prisons were constructed on time, they have not performed well since opening.”

Neither prison gives enough priority to meeting offenders’ rehabilitation needs.

HMP Oakwood does not provide enough education time, and relies too much on less purposeful activities such as cleaning.

HMP Thameside has no workshops.

“On the other hand, the agency has closed some prisons that were performing well.

Although it considered a range of criteria in deciding which prisons to close, such as their geographic location and relative running costs, the agency did not take their performance into account.”

Three of those closed had recently been awarded top performance ratings.

“There was “much room for better performance in preparing prisoners for release at the earliest opportunity”, she suggested.”

In June 2013, the prison population included more than 6,000 prisoners with indeterminate sentences who had served the minimum term of their sentence so potentially could be released.”

However to qualify, many prisoners are expected to attend courses like behaviour management; yet these have been cut, making it less likely for many prisoners to secure release.”

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said:

“The foreign national prisoner population is lower than it was in 2010 and reducing it further is a top priority for this Government. We are working hard to reduce the numbers in our prison system – in 2012 alone we deported more than 4,500 foreign criminals from the UK.

“Under this Government we have made it a priority to establish compulsory prisoner transfer agreements. We have also increased the numbers removed through the Early Removal Scheme and the introduction of the Tariff Expired Removal Scheme. We are also working closely with the Home Office to ensure removal processes are as efficient as possible.”