Doing Your Bird on Chicken Wing!

It gives new meaning to “doing bird” – inmates are looking after chickens as part of a new prison activity scheme.

Eggs produced at HMP Leeds’ “Chicken Wing” are used in the kitchen or sold to staff.

Under the supervision of staff, prisoners help tend to around 50 free-range chickens.

The birds are located in an outdoor area within the prison’s grounds, with sheds used to house them at night.

The initiative was revealed in the annual report of the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).

It said that “2018 saw the introduction of chickens into the prison (the ‘Chicken Wing’) and the eggs that are produced are sold to staff and also used in the kitchen”.

The IMB’s chairman Barrie Meakin said the idea was for prisoners to learn about animal husbandry.

“It’s a matter of looking after the chickens and keeping the place clean,” he said.

“It’s just another added activity, another added interest.”

In another “purposeful activity” scheme, the prison has introduced a small mushroom farm, with the produce sold to a commercial user, the report said.

It added: “Both the Chicken Wing and mushroom farm are popular with prisoners, who state that they feel that these activities give them a sense of achievement.”

Another popular programme is the “fusion kitchen”, where prisoners are taught how to cook Asian food.

The IMB report, which covers January to December 2018, said: “It is hoped that in 2019 an Asian restaurant will open in the prison for staff use.”

HMP Leeds, a category B prison for men, had a population of 1,050 as of the end of last month.

The availability and use of drugs known as new psychoactive substances posed “particular challenges” last year, while the number of mobile phones found in the prison was “of concern”, the IMB’s report said.

It welcomed the introduction of a scanner and extra sniffer dogs to detect drugs at the prison as part of a Ministry of Justice scheme to boost security and standards at 10 jails.

Mr Meakin said: “In a difficult operational environment and despite significant staffing constraints, we believe that, overall, prisoners at HMP Leeds are treated with humanity and respect.

“However, much more needs to be done by the prison and the wider Prison Service to tackle the availability of drugs and the widespread use of the ‘mini’ mobile phones which are smuggled in to support the distribution network.”

Monitors highlight ‘indecent conditions’ at Wormwood Scrubs – one of ’10 Prison Project’ jails

A prisoner spent more than a week in a cell with no window during winter, according to a watchdog report.

Inmates and staff were living and working in “indecent and unacceptable” conditions at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, the Independent Monitoring Board for the west London jail found.

The board’s annual report covering the 12 months to the end of May 2018 said the physical environment at the prison remained “unacceptably poor” in many residential areas.

It said: “It is not right that a modern-day prison should have rat infestations in its grounds, unheated cells with broken windows, or insufficient access to water.”

Over the course of the year, the IMB said it found “unacceptable” temperatures at the prison, showers that were either cold or scalding hot, and staff using heaters to stay warm.

There were rat infestations in external areas, and one wing lost network access for several days after rodents chewed through cabling.

A prisoner had spent more than a week in a cell with no water supply and no window during a cold winter, the IMB said.

It added: “By the end of December, there were multiple problems with the boilers and half the prison had been unheated for six weeks, including cells that had no window and were open to the elements.”

The report also said a prisoner had been released early because of a “serious” error in calculating his release date. He was later returned to custody.

Built between 1875 and 1891, Wormwood Scrubs had a population of 1,106 at the end of March.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Wormwood Scrubs, like other Victorian prisons, faces challenges around living conditions and maintenance.

“As part of our 10 prisons project it is receiving extra investment and support, and since the reporting period new secure windows have been installed and refurbishment of the wings is ongoing.”

The spokeswoman added: “Releases in error are very rare but we take them extremely seriously and work with the police to bring offenders back into custody quickly.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook,  writes:

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Wormwood Scrubs have highlighted what they call  ‘indecent conditions’ at the prison – rats, vermin, broken windows, no heating or water in cells and prisoner released in error – and this is one of the ‘10 Prisons Project’ jails.
While this is serious – what is risible is that it’s taken a full year after the end of the reporting period for this report to see the light of day.
The IMB claim to be an independent body, the clue is right there in their name, but no independent body worthy of the name would behave like this – no wonder a previous IMB Chair at Wormwood Scrubs walked out in disgust.
This report is of historical value only – much like the entire IMB organisation itself.

The IMB should agree a protocol with publication one month after submission to the MOJ – the public should not be forced to wait a year to find out what on earth is going on.

Read The Report

“MASS INTOXIFICATION” At Cumbria Prison – As Prisons Minister Rory Stewart Does A Photo Call At Bristol Prison 250 Miles Away

In their latest annual report published today 1st March 2019 the IMB at HMP Haverigg, Cumbria’s only prison says there is continuing concern about the impact of widespread use of Psychoactive Substances (PS) not only on those addicted to its use but on the general prison population, staff and but also on the overall regime.

The report is published on the day that the Prisons’s MP – and Prisons Minister – Rory Stewart – spends the day 250 miles away at Bristol Prison.

Death risk from Psychotic Drugs

 It is disturbing to note in two reports from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, that PS may have been a contributory factor in two deaths in custody which occurred during the year within weeks of each other. Near fatalities in the latter half of the year have only been prevented by the swift and effective action of officers and healthcare staff.

Increased surveillance systems initially disrupted the supply chain of illicit drugs into the prison, but access to PS resumed, despite the best efforts of the management.

IMB Chair Lynne Chambers explains

“The Board has observed on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, the effects of the use of illicit substances, and on one day in November, when seventeen prisoners were found to be under the influence of PS in a ‘mass intoxication’

The impact on the populations of South and West Cumbria of the concentration of Northwest Ambulances at the prison throughout that day is likely to have been significant”.

Emotional challenges

The geographical isolation of HMP Haverigg, the limitations of public transport and an underdeveloped road network present both practical and emotional challenges to prisoners and their families in maintaining links. However, the Board commends the innovative work of the “Visitors and Children’s Support Group” in hosting a range of events for Families, Lifer/Long term prisoners, Enhanced prisoners, and the Kainos “Challenge to Change” programme.

Although tackling the use of PS and other illicit substances, has, necessarily, been of high priority throughout the reporting year, the Board has, nonetheless, observed the good progress and positive impact of the Rehabilitative Culture initiative on the prison population.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, said it was a “shocking report”.

Mr Leech said: “Rory Stewart, who is not only a Cumbrian Member of Parliament but also Prisons Minister, should not be all smiles and shaking hands 250 miles away outside Bristol Prison – but right outside Haverigg main gate answering questions as to what on earth he is going to do to correct the defects identified in this shocking report.

“It seems Rory Stewart couldn’t care less”

Key Report Findings  

Are prisoners treated fairly?  

The effectiveness of the Rehabilitative Culture and Restorative Justice initiatives have had a significant impact on the outcome of adjudications with the IMB receiving just two applications from prisoners arising from this process. The Independent Monitoring Board is of the view that prisoners are treated fairly.

Are prisoners treated humanely?

The Board is of the opinion that the prison continues to have an emphasis on humane treatment and has regularly observed sensitive and respectful interaction between staff and prisoners. However, there have been occasions when some prisoners have had to endure unacceptable and adverse living conditions.,

Are prisoners prepared well for their release?

The Board has received a large number of applications from prisoners relating to sentence management and of these a third concerned preparations for release including accommodation, approved premises, bank accounts, support services and medication, for example. The Board is concerned that lack of preparation and resources to support prisoners in the community after release may increase the risk of re-offending.

For further information contact: the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Haverigg:


The Independent Monitoring Board is a body of volunteers established in accordance with the Prison Act 1952 and the Asylum Act 1999 which require every prison and IRC [Immigration Removal/Reception Centre] to be monitored by an independent Board, appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice, from members of the community.

To carry out these duties effectively IMB members have right of access to every prisoner, all parts of the prison and also to the prison’s records.

HMP Haverigg opened over 50 years ago, is on an old military airfield site dating from World War II and some of the original wartime buildings, are still in use.

Most of the prisoners are serving sentences of four or more years, although a significant number are serving a life sentence and a small number are of foreign nationality.

Read The Report

Deaths in Custody: The Noose Around The Ombudsman’s Neck

pdf version

open letter from Mark Leech The Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, to The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman


Dear Sue,

Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation.

Did you bother reading each of those words – or notice I had inserted a number in one of them?

Actually, I didn’t, but you went back anyway and read them again; right?

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happens to the ‘Recommendations’ you make in your Fatal Incident Reports into deaths in custody; people don’t go back and read them again.

When you set out your ‘Recommendations’ designed to learn lessons and reduce deaths in custody, no one takes a blind bit of notice of them – and, what’s worse, your Office ignores the fact they’re ignored too.

Tragically you’re not alone in looking the other way. Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) in whose prisons these deaths take place, and to whom monitoring the implementation of these Recommendations should be a priority, ignore them too. Year after year, they simply airbrush them out of their Annual Reports as if they have never been made; I will return to this shortly.

Every single Prisons Ombudsman that’s gone before you in the last 25 years at least had the excuse that they’ve never unlocked a prison cell door and found a prisoner swinging dead with a noose around their neck; but as a former Prison Governor you don’t have the luxury of that excuse. You know exactly what it’s like: the shock, horror, frantic attempts at resuscitation, and the wave of utter devastation that then descends on the whole prison afterwards.

Yet, despite that personal experience deaths in custody keep happening and frequently too; as I write this we are six weeks into 2019 and already 20 people have died in our prisons – 17 of whom have seemingly taken their own lives, and eight definitely have.

Your Office still keeps investigating these deaths, still keeps writing their reports, still keeps making recommendations, and still does absolutely nothing when, time after time, those recommendations are ignored – lamentably this week you’ve done it again.

John Delahaye was 46 years old when he was found dead in his cell at Birmingham Prison on 5 March 2018; let me remind you of the catalogue of errors that lead up to it.

Ten weeks before his death Mr Delahaye was taken from Birmingham prison and admitted to hospital almost certainly having taken an insulin overdose; he returned to prison 24 hours later.

In your report into his death published this week, you write:

“When Mr Delahaye returned to Birmingham on 1 January following this overdose, there was no handover between hospital and prison healthcare staff and prison healthcare staff did not know he had returned to prison until the next day. 

I am also concerned that suicide and self-harm monitoring procedures (known as ACCT) were not started until the day after he had returned to prison. In addition, I have concerns about the way the ACCT procedures were managed when they were started. Staff did not effectively investigate why Mr Delahaye had taken the overdose and healthcare staff were not involved. The ACCT was closed prematurely two weeks later, with little having been done to identify or mitigate Mr Delahaye’s risk to himself. This was compounded by the fact that Mr Delahaye was discharged from mental health services after just one appointment.

I am concerned to be repeating recommendations to Birmingham about suicide and self-harm prevention procedures. [emphasis added]

“It is very difficult to understand why Mr Delahaye was allowed to have his insulin back in his possession less than a month after his overdose. I am concerned that NHS guidelines were not followed when this decision was made. 

“I also have serious concerns about the way staff at Birmingham conducted roll checks and unlocks. When Mr Delahaye was found on the morning of 5 March, he had clearly been dead for some time and it seems possible that no member of staff had seen him for more than 13 hours.

“This needs to be rectified urgently. 

“Staff also failed to use an emergency code when they found Mr Delahaye unresponsive. Although this did not affect the outcome for Mr Delahaye, it could make a critical difference in other cases.” 

Now, take a moment to look too at the Birmingham Prison IMB Annual Report published just 10 weeks ago and covering the period in which Mr Delahaye died in the prison. Neither his name, the circumstances of his death, nor the fact that your repeated recommendations had been ignored, are ever mentioned; not even once – they’re airbrushed out of existence; small wonder then why so many consider the IMB as completely and utterly useless?

I would remind you that your Office is not investigating the loss of someone’s property here, but the loss of someone’s life; yet it consistently fails to understand this vital distinction.

I accept the fact you are new to this role, and while there are those who say that as a former Prison Governor you are not the right person to be holding this critical Independent Office, I’m not yet one of them. I think your experience as a Governor means you know where to look, what questions to ask, what answers to demand and having opened cell doors and cut dead people down you know exactly how important all this really is.

The question is: when will we see action from your Office and not just words that everyone, including IMBs, totally ignore?

Yours sincerely,

Mark Leech

Editor: The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales


Stop placing elderly inmates in jails with few ground floor cells

The prison service has been urged to stop placing elderly or immobile inmates in jails with few cells on the ground floor.

Some men held in upstairs accommodation at HMP Brixton struggled to collect their meals or make it to social activities, a watchdog report found.

They also faced difficulties accessing a mobility scooter located at ground level.

The Independent Monitoring Board for the south London prison found that its “cramped” cells cannot accommodate two men humanely, particularly if they are old or infirm.

The majority of men aged over 60 and all those over 70 were held in G-wing, where there is only one cell on the ground floor and no lift.

The report said: “This made it difficult for men to get their meals, access social activities and exercise, and use the one mobility scooter on the ground floor.”

As of August, 21 inmates were assisted by “buddies”, who collected their meals and did other tasks like making the bed.

The IMB called on HM Prison & Probation Service to end the practice of allocating men who are aged over 65, or have chronic mobility problems, to prisons with minimal or limited ground floor accommodation, and where they may have to share cells with bunk beds.

Last year, a joint assessment by two watchdogs warned that the prison service and local authorities are failing to plan for a rise in elderly, ill and frail inmates

The report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission found many older jails are ill-equipped for prisoners in wheelchairs or with mobility problems.

There were 13,636 prisoners aged 50 or over in England and Wales in September, representing 16% of the prison population.

Projections indicate that the number of individuals in older age brackets held in custodial settings is likely to increase.

The report on HMP Brixton found the prison has improved significantly over the past year.

Graham King, chairman of the IMB, said: “The Governor and his team, including staff at all levels and in agencies, have pushed forward with vision and commitment to make Brixton a fairer and more decent prison.

Read the Report

Monitors at Birmingham Prison have published a ‘breathtaking’ catalogue of danger and chaos – but not once did they say anything to the public


A prisoner at one of Britain’s largest jails had to ask someone on the outside to alert staff after he was placed in a cell without a working toilet, a watchdog has disclosed.

Monitors also raised concerns that phone calls into crisis-hit HMP Birmingham were not always answered.

In one instance, the father of an inmate was unable to get a message to his son informing him of his mother’s death for two days.

HMP Birmingham came under scrutiny earlier this year when Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over “appalling” squalor and violence at the establishment.

As his findings were revealed in August, the Ministry of Justice confirmed it had taken over running of the jail from G4S for at least six months.

In a new report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the prison said it had observed instances of men being placed in cells that are not fit for purpose.

The report said: “A man, placed in a cell without a working toilet, had to arrange for a person outside the prison to phone the duty director to get this resolved.”

The board said it was concerned that telephone calls from outside the prison are not always answered.

“In one instance the father of a prisoner was unable, for two days, to get a message via the phone line informing the prisoner of his mother’s death,” the report said.

“In another case, calls were made about concerns for the safety of a vulnerable prisoner, who was subsequently seriously assaulted.”

The report covering the 12 months to the end of June found bullying, debt, drugs and gang-related issues continued to be the main causes of violence in the prison.

Security activity had increased significantly, with mobile phone finds in the first half of 2018 exceeding the number for the whole of last year.

Despite it being a non-smoking prison, men were observed smoking in cells and on landings, according to the report.

It also warned that rats and cockroaches were in evidence in many areas of the jail.

The board said the prison is “considered by many to be the most violent and challenging in the country” but concluded that it is turning a corner and showing early signs of improvement in conditions for prisoners and staff.

Roger Swindells, chairman of the IMB, said: “We have monitored a prison in crisis for the last 18 months and have described many incidents that have caused great concern.

“Since August we have seen a ‘step in’ by HMPPS (Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) to take over the running of the prison and are now seeing early signals that outcomes for prisoners are improving in terms of cleanliness, safety, security activity and the provision of an acceptable daily regime.”

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “We took decisive action at HMP Birmingham, stepping in to strengthen the management, bringing in additional staff and reducing the population, and I’m pleased the IMB recognises that we are making progress.”

Mr Stewart said the prison’s new governor and his staff are “working tirelessly to drive up standards and urgent action continues to improve safety and living conditions”, adding: “We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham becomes a place of stability and reform.”


Monitors at HMP Birmingham have published their 2017/2018 Annual Report.

This report presents the observations and opinions of the Monitoring Board (MB) at HMP Birmingham for the period July 2017 to June 2018.

Events detailed in the report occurred prior to and after the reporting window and are noted as they are considered relevant.

This annual report has been informed by observations made by members during frequent visits to the prison and through contact with prisoners, prison officers, and staff at all levels in all areas.

The Prison:

HMP Birmingham is a local category B prison for adult men, run by G4S. It has a potential operational capacity of 1,450 but currently runs at a capacity of 1,340, with one wing being temporarily closed. HMP Birmingham is a Victorian prison with additional, modern accommodation including a healthcare centre, a gymnasium, an education centre and workshops. The prison has a total of twelve residential wings. These wings include a wing for the elderly, and a healthcare wing, a detoxification wing, two wings for sex offenders and vulnerable prisoners, a First Night Centre and a Care and Separation Unit The prison holds men, both convicted and on remand, including those who are serving life sentences and indeterminate public protection (IPP) sentences. During the year there have been over 20,000 prisoner movements into and out of the establishment and nearly 5,000 new prisoner admissions.

The Board say:

We have sought evidence through a review of daily reports and monthly feedback from the Senior Management Team (SMT) at Board meetings. It has been a difficult and challenging year and the Board found it necessary to write and advise the Prisons Minister of serious deficiencies at the prison. Alongside this, HMPPS also served two notices to improve to the prison over four serious failings. The timing of both events coincided with a drive by G4S to tackle the many challenges. In the final three months of the reporting year there were some early signs of improvement in staffing levels and morale.

The letter to the Prisons Minister detailed a number of deeply worrying issues, including specific examples of men being placed in uninhabitable cells and management failing to move them to satisfactory conditions.

The issues were:

• six deaths in custody in a seven-week period

• levels of violence, assaults, and self-harm that, whilst having stabilised, had created an unsafe environment, and given cause for concern.

• the widespread availability of prohibited drugs, even in the segregation unit.

• occasions when the treatment of prisoners had fallen below acceptable levels of decency and humanity

• overcrowded and unfit living conditions In the letter, the Board highlighted the issue of staff relinquishing authority to prisoners. G4s knew of the problems and took very little action to remedy them. The Board has plenty of examples of how difficult and frustrating the G4S response has been to simple issues, such as IT access, ID cards, informing the board of new entrants to the Care and Separation Unit (CSU), or obtaining certain data. This inability to address relatively simple concerns is symptomatic of a significant cause of frustration that prisoners experience over their complaints being answered fairly and reasonably. Just after the end of the reporting period:

• HMIP carried out an unannounced inspection and issued an Urgent Notification to the Secretary of State

• HMPPS released a redacted copy of the Investigation Report into the riot of December 2016 Both documents noted the many failings and concerns already raised by the Board in monthly meetings with the Director and referred to in the letter the Board sent to the Minister for Prisons in May 2018. This annual report reflects the changes occurring in the prison environment over twelve months, and so observes both improvements and deteriorations in outcomes for prisoners.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the report was ‘breathtaking’.

Mr Leech said: “Its no secret that I’m critical of the national system of Monitoring Boards, with its selection by and payment of reports on his own prisons by the Justice Secretary, it smacks of non-independence.

“This report is a breathtaking example of how such Boards, when they know the prison is in absolute meltdown say nothing at all to the public – that is the antithesis of independence.

“Boards seem to think they’re part of some kind of Golf Club Committee; they’re not.

“While staff and prisoners were suffering appalling conditions at Birmingham Prison, Monitors there wrote just one letter in 18 months to the Prisons Minister, never uttering a single word to the public about it, they came in and went home without saying a word and leaving behind them increasing chaos and danger.

“How much longer do we have to put up with this second-rate system of alleged independent oversight of our prisons?”

Read the Report

Prison Monitors publish annual report on HMP Bronzefield


Main judgements

1. Overall prisoners are treated fairly, humanely and with decency.

2. The Board remains concerned about those prisoners with severe mental health problems who experience long delays awaiting transfer to secure psychiatric facilities (8.13).

3. A large proportion of prisoners are not prepared well for release. This is owing to a combination of the high churn rate and the impact of on-going high levels of homelessness on discharge (7.11, 11.2, 11.3, 11.4).

4. Rehabilitation and reduction in reoffending is frustrated due to the numbers of short stay prisoners (11.3, 11.4). 5. An efficient process for the inter-prison transfer of prisoner’s property is lacking (7.15).

Read the Report

HMP Warren Hill Monitors Annual Report

This is the Monitoring Board’s Press Release.

The Monitoring Board, whose volunteer members made 204 visits to the prison during the year, reports that the prison’s success is the result of a clear sense of purpose, imaginative leadership and dedicated staff. Prisoners often told the monitors that Warren Hill is a lot safer, is more decent and is better at helping them with their rehabilitation than the larger and more turbulent mainstream prisons from which they have transferred. The monitors conclude: “At a time when many prisons are struggling, we consider that this is an establishment of which the Prison Service can be justifiably proud.”

Warren Hill provides an innovative progression regime for 258 men on life or indeterminate sentences, with many of the latter still in prison several years after completing their minimum sentence. These men are only released when they can demonstrate to the Parole Board an increased sense of responsibility and reduced risk to the public.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) says that:
• staff are respected as they both challenge and help prisoners;
• inmates are fully consulted about developments and both work and education opportunities have improved;
• there is a rich arts and cultural programme (aided by Snape Maltings and the Red Rose Chain Theatre) which helps both the sense of community within the prison and many individuals in their personal progress.

As a result of this overall approach, men are being well prepared for parole.

However, those who have been inside for many years can face major challenges on their release – for example coping with modern technology including the internet or negotiating the London Underground without an Oyster card – and the IMB remains concerned about prisoners who are recalled to custody, not having committed a further offence, but through minor breaches of the terms of their licence. The prison is taking imaginative steps to help men with the transition but the monitors say that the Governor should be given the power to release some prisoners on temporary licence as part of the rehabilitation process. The IMB also considers that the prison’s work needs to be better matched by the care and supervision provided during the non-custodial part of a man’s sentence.

Warren Hill was recently rated the top performing prison in the country and its pioneering system, under which every prison officer is a key worker for a small number of men, has been adopted as the national model.

The Chair of the Monitoring Board, Colin Reid, says “Warren Hill is helped by its small size, but the keys to its success are its clear sense of purpose, bold leadership and the excellent relationship between staff and prisoners. The positive culture and the key worker system enable many men to make progress and to feel more hopeful about themselves.”
“Nevertheless not allowing the Governor any discretion to release men on temporary licence restricts the ability to prepare them in a step-by-step way for discharge into the community, often after many years behind bars.”

The IMB also calls for better cooperation nationally between the Prison Service and the NHS to see that those with demanding mental health difficulties are more swiftly transferred to an appropriate healthcare setting.

Members of the IMB come from a wide range of backgrounds and, having been appointed by the Prisons Minister, they each volunteer two or three days a month to ensure that prisoners are treated decently and fairly and prepared appropriately for release. Colin Reid said “We are the eyes and ears of the local community in the prison.”

Read the report in full here.

HMP Altcourse Monitors publish their 2017/2018 annual report


The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Altcourse in Liverpool, has published its annual report today.


HMP Altcourse is situated six miles north of Liverpool city centre and is set in an 80 acre site surrounded by woodlands.

The prison was purpose-built in 1997 under the government’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI) on a design, build and finance contract by Group 4 and key partner Tarmac. Group 4 (now G4S) holds a 25 year contract to operate and manage the prison.

HMP Altcourse opened for prisoners in December 1997. It is a Category B Local and Remand prison serving the courts of Cheshire, North Wales and Merseyside. Currently contracted for the provision of 1184 places, it is the designated prison for all the courts in North Wales from where approximately 30% of prisoners originate. It is currently designated a Resettlement Prison.

There are seven residential units, a Healthcare Unit, Sports Hall and a football pitch, Care and Separation Unit, Workshops and Vocational Training Units on site, together with a variety of facilities which support the daily routine of the prison. The site is well laid out and maintained and prisoners are trusted to move from unit to unit without escort and with minimal supervision wherever possible.


• Levels of violence and self-harm decreased between July 2017 and April 2018 although there was a brief spike in September when Altcourse became a smoke free establishment. The introduction of PAT (Pets as Therapy) dogs helped with the downward trend in self-harm. May saw a sharp upturn with 45 violent incidents recorded which fell to 35 in June. There were 109 instances of self-harm in June which was the highest number since October 2016. These included multiple incidents carried out by a small number of individuals.

• There were 3 deaths in custody during the reporting year. Two were apparently self-inflicted and one from natural causes. The Board was impressed by the support offered to staff, prisoners and next of kin affected by these deaths.

• The ACCT process has been reviewed resulting in an increase in assessors and key workers. There is a first night watch for all new admissions. Numbers of open ACCT books rose to 95 in May. There has been a reduction in incidents for those on an open ACCT reflecting the effectiveness of the system.

• Safer Altcourse and Use of Force meetings have been introduced weekly. The IMB are invited to attend. The former discusses prisoners of interest together with intensive intervention plans. The latter scrutinises any incidents which have required the use of force. This was considered a model of good practice by HMCIP.

• The Admissions area has been repainted, showers refurbished and there are two new interview rooms. Large posters display training and employment opportunities. A choice of microwave meals is available so prisoners are now able to have a hot meal on arrival. Peer supporters act as greeters. The new First Night leaflet gives clear practical information. Prisoners comment at IMB induction about the positive experience at Admissions.

• However, late arrivals from the courts and increased paperwork requirements for Healthcare have, at times, resulted in prisoners spending prolonged periods of time in Admissions. This peaked in the third week of April when it took between 5 to 8 hours to process new arrivals. Healthcare now allocate additional staff to carry out the initial screening.

• Bechers Green, the vulnerable prisoner (VP) unit, holds a challenging and demanding mix of offenders. When the unit is full VPs are housed elsewhere but are brought over for association. These prisoners have reported feelings of intimidation although we note that managers have identified and are addressing the underlying issues. • Overall prisoners tell us they feel safer at Altcourse than at other establishments.

• A new 20 bedded enhanced support unit (SEEDS) has opened targeted at prisoners who require an enhanced level of support. This can be due to learning disabilities, autism, those suffering from heightened levels of stress or trauma, or who have difficulty coping on normal location. The intention is to offer a range of therapeutic activities and ‘Manchester Survivors’ will provide an input, addressing issues of trauma. Four dedicated prisoner mentors have been identified and trained to work on the unit along with other specialist staff. The IMB welcomes this initiative.

• The prison has commissioned the services of ‘Manchester Survivors’ to offer a service to individuals and groups of prisoners who have experienced past trauma. The prison is also undertaking the use of PAT (Pets as Therapy) dogs for prisoners who are socially isolated, prolific self-harmers or who have mental health issues.

Drug Strategy & Security

• MDT failure rates have fluctuated but have exceeded the target of 12%. The use of psychoactive substances has dipped and cannabis has increased. The Security department continues to work to reduce the presence of illegal items.

• Prisoners are well supported by the Substance Misuse Team which offers a range of interventions and provides structure and support from the drug recovery and stabilisation units on Furlong. A Community Connector works with focused individuals and meets them on release.

• The prison now uses a paper scanner to detect the presence of illicit substances on incoming mail. The prison has also had the temporary use of a body scanner as part of a national trial. This has proved effective both in detection and as a deterrent.

The Report contained no stakeholder survey information, none was carried out, to validate the views of the Board.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook called the report ‘completely valueless’.

Mr Leech said: “The opinion of any Board that is allegedly independent, but whose members are nameless to the public, that is selected by and answerable only to the Ministry of Justice whose prisons they are in place to monitor, and in the absence of any stakeholder views to confirm or deny their conclusions, has to make for a completely valueless report that would have been better off not being written.

“No report is better than a valueless report.”

Mr Leech’s view on the IMB are well known and set out here.


A Travesty: The lost opportunity to reform the IMB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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