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.”