Update: Prison Estate Transformation Programme

Richard Carling

Prison Estate Transformation Programme

HM Prison and Probation Service

post Point 8.15

102 Petty France

LONDON SW1H 9AJ

 Telephone 020 3334 3555

Mark Leech FRSA

Editor: The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales

Email:

 

Our reference: TO18/647

8 January 2019

 

 

Dear Mr Leech

Thank you for your email of 3 January seeking information about the Prison Estate Transformation Programme (PETP) in preparation for the 2019 edition of the Prisons Handbook.

PETP is a key enabler of one of the Secretary of State’s four strategic objectives: the development of a prison and probation service that reforms offenders. The Programme supports all four key aspects of the objective – maintaining the highest level of public protection, keeping prisons safe and decent, reforming offenders, and reducing reoffending – by transforming our custodial estate to provide an environment that enables prisoners to turn their lives around.

Through PETP we are getting the basics right by building decent prisons to improve rehabilitation and create safe and secure environments for staff and offenders. The department is committed to delivering up to 10,000 decent prison places providing the physical conditions for Governors to achieve better educational, training and rehabilitative outcomes.

We remain committed to previously announced plans, subject to planning approvals, value for money and affordability, to build six modern category C prisons in the following locations:

  • HMP Wellingborough (Northamptonshire);
  • HMP&YOI Glen Parva (Leicestershire);
  • on land adjacent to HMP Full Sutton (East Yorkshire);
  • HMP&YOI Hindley (Greater Manchester);
  • HMP&YOI Rochester (Kent); and
  • we remain committed to a prison in South Wales where there is a clear need for modern, fit-for-purpose category C prison places. We continue to engage with local communities, businesses and other stakeholders. This will potentially create up to 500 jobs in Wales and contribute £11m a year to the regional economy.

We intend to build the first prison at Wellingborough through public capital, with construction work expected to begin shortly.

We are continuing work to demolish the buildings at Glen Parva. In the 2018 Budget it was announced that we now intend to build the second prison there through public capital. This will enable the prison to open earlier than originally planned to meet the needs of the growing and complex prison population. The redevelopment will be subject to contract value for money and affordability tests. A new houseblock at HMP Stocken, which will create 206 modern prison places is expected to open in the Spring. We will explore funding routes, including through private investment, for the delivery of the remaining prison places.

We are committed to a mixed market in the custodial sector, to keep driving innovation and service improvement. Private Finance prisons (PFI) have a strong track record of delivery. The department already has 10 PFI prisons which opened between 1997 and 2012. They comprise the majority of our 14 privately-operated prisons, range in capacity from 400 to 1,700 prison places, operate at security categories B and C and fulfil a variety of functions.

We have announced the launch of the Prison Operator Services framework competition through a notice published in the Official Journal of the European Union, from which we will select the operator for the new prisons at Wellingborough and Glen Parva, subsequent new build prisons as required and potentially further prisons following expiry of current private sector contracts. HMPPS will not take part in the prison competition. We will provide a ‘public sector benchmark’ against which operators bids can be assessed and will take on the provider role if bids do not meet quality or value for money thresholds

As well as constructing new prisons we are reconfiguring the existing estate so that men will be held in the right place at the right time in their custodial journey to support their rehabilitation. We will simplify the organisation of the prison estate into three key functions: reception, training and resettlement through to 2021. Decisions regarding which function individuals will serve are subject to ongoing modelling. In your email you asked about our plans for Altcourse prison; its future function has not yet been confirmed.

To support the transformation of the prison estate we have developed evidence-based Models for Operational Delivery (MODs) which recognise the need to consider the varying requirements of prisoners. Specific modelling activity has been undertaken to ensure cohorts with specific needs including men convicted of sexual offences, older prisoners and foreign nationals can be managed effectively.

The MODs enable governors and commissioners to deliver effective services for the function(s) of the establishments and the specialist groups they hold. By matching people in prison to the function(s) that a prison fulfils, prisons will be able to deliver the right outcomes, and people in prison will be better supported to turn their lives around.

As part of the wider prison reform agenda, the PETP is introducing a significant expansion of video capability in prisons through the introduction of Video Conferencing Centres (VCC). New VCCs are already operational in HMP&YOI Durham and HMP&YOI Wandsworth with a new facility at HMP Leeds to be opened in early 2019. These VCCs underpin Reconfiguration by supporting Reception prisons to serve the courts.

There are currently no plans to close any prisons (male or female) in England and Wales. Turning to your concern about creating new immigration hubs we are working with the Home Office to explore options for managing foreign national offenders.

In the meantime, it is right that we continue to focus on safety and decency in the prison estate. In addition to our baseline funding for maintenance, we have agreed an additional £16m to start to improve conditions across the estate.

The combination of building new prisons and the reconfiguration of the existing estate will address basic issues such as safety and decency, reduce crowding and drive improvements in rehabilitation.

I shall be respond separately to your Freedom of Information request for information about PETP.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Carling

Briefing and Stakeholder Manager

Prison Estate Transformation Programme

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

HMP/YOI SWINFEN HALL – Positive work undermined by continuing poor regime

HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall in Staffordshire, holding 530 males aged between 18 and 28, was found by inspectors to have improved in some respects, and to have committed and hard-working staff. However, all areas of prison life were adversely affected by a poor regime.

Many prisoners were locked up for 22 hours a day, which meant they did not attend training and education or get access to telephones or showers, and often had to eat in their cells, on or near cell toilets.

Swinfen Hall was last inspected in 2016. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “While there had been noticeable improvements in some areas, none of them had been sufficient to raise any of our healthy prison assessments.

“There had been improvements in the provision of education and skills, and some of the residential accommodation had benefitted from refurbishment…But the simple fact was that, despite the improvements, too many fundamental issues still needed to be resolved.

“First and foremost among these was the poor regime, which had a negative impact on so much else in the prison. We found that it was disrupted about 60% of the time, limiting access to work and education. Thirty-nine per cent of prisoners told us they were locked in their cells for more than 22 hours each day during the week, a figure that rose to 65% at weekends. This meant that only 27% had daily access to telephones, limiting their ability to maintain family contact or to complete domestic tasks such as cleaning their cells.

“Only a quarter of prisoners were able to have a daily shower, which compared very poorly with the 89% who were able to do so in other similar prisons…The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners was also clearly adversely affected by the poor regime and the long periods of lock up.

Mr Clarke added: “It was our clear view that if the regime could be improved, Swinfen Hall could become a quite different prison.”

Inspectors noted that health care provision was generally good, and prisoners held positive views about it. The prison also had a robust approach to dealing with violence, and the fairly new violence reduction strategy had much to commend it, although there needed to be a sharper focus on violence reduction. However, Mr Clarke said, “we were particularly concerned by the very high levels of self-harm, and the fact that this was disproportionately high among younger prisoners…A significant amount of this total was attributable to a small number of prisoners, but this was nevertheless extremely worrying.

“The poor regime undoubtedly affected many areas of prison life, but clearly had a particularly acute impact on younger prisoners and those who were vulnerable or prone to committing acts of self-harm.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There was much good work being carried out at Swinfen Hall by a committed and hard-working staff group, but the prison will not fulfil its potential to provide a consistently purposeful and caring environment for the young prisoners held there unless and until the poor regime is improved.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has recognised the improvements in living conditions and education and skills training which are crucial to successful rehabilitation. However, we realise that more needs to be done to tackle self-harm in the prison, so we have hired additional psychology and mental health resources to support vulnerable prisoners. We are also improving the daily regime by increasing purposeful activity.”

Read the Report here

New £600,000 study to probe ways to rehabilitate offenders in prison.

A study is to examine whether measures such as referring to prisoners as “men” and their cells as “rooms” can help rehabilitate offenders.

The three-year project will focus on HMP Berwyn, the largest prison in England and Wales and the second largest in Europe.

Researchers from the Universities of Bath and Leicester will study factors such as prison design, leadership and the relationship between staff and inmates.

HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, North Wales, was opened in February 2017 and is a Category C jail for 2,106 men.

Attempts have been made to improve the physical environment at the prison, such as filling empty wall space with large photographic images of the local Welsh landscape.

The study will look at whether such initiatives, which researchers say are small and cheap to implement, lead to positive effects on prisoners.

Cultural changes have also been implemented at the jail, including the language used by prison officers.

Offenders are referred to as “men” rather than prisoners, and are housed in “communities” as opposed to blocks.

They are locked up in “rooms”, not cells.

Professor Yvonne Jewkes, from the University of Bath, said: “Some of these changes at Berwyn are relatively simple but they might be having an important effect when it comes to making prisoners feel that they are treated with respect and decency.

“And if, as a society, we are serious about rehabilitation and stopping re-offending then we need to look seriously at how these sorts of steps could be helping.

“It’s about striking the right balance between the competing aims of prisons – punishment but also rehabilitation.”

The £600,000 study has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Researchers say that if the initiatives at Berwyn are successful, it will be a flagship model for the next phase of prisons to be constructed by 2012.

Prof Jewkes said: “We are particularly interested in looking in detail at how rehabilitation currently works in prisons in England and Wales.

“This is an age-old debate which is impacted by a range of factors – such as how prisons are designed, prison leadership and staff-prisoner relationships.

“We’re interested in learning from the case of HMP Berwyn so that improvements can be made nationwide.”

The initiatives, made by Berwyn’s management, are aligned more with prison cultures in small Scandinavian projects, researchers say.

Jails in England and Wales house on average 600 inmates – with some accommodating more than 2,000 – whereas average capacity for Norwegian and Danish prisons is about 80, they added.

The research will build on a three-year project by Prof Jewkes which ended last year.

This looked at prison architecture, design and technology in England and Wales, Scotland, Norway and Denmark.

Prof Jewkes has also advised prison governors in the UK and Ireland on how to improve custodial environments.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said he welcomed it.

Mr Leech said: “A prison is still a prison even when it does not look like the traditional idea of a jail, and calling people by their names isn’t being soft on crime its about decency and respect.

“I welcome this and hope that it will inform future designs and operations, convicts and dungeons have no place in a modern reforming prison system, and should be consigned to the Dickensian era where they belong.”

HMP LOWDHAM GRANGE – A Violent Training Prison with ‘Very Poor’ Work Opportunities

HMP Lowdham Grange, a training prison in Nottinghamshire operated by Serco and holding many men serving very long sentences, had become more violent since it was last inspected three years ago and there had been a “quite marked deterioration in the provision of education, skills and work.”

This area of ‘purposeful activity’ was assessed as poor, the lowest assessment.

The report noted that “the number of violent incidents was high and some were serious.” Much of the violence related to the trade in illicit drugs in the prison.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison had an encouraging new violence reduction strategy with a prisoners’ ‘violence hotline’, which was commended as good practice. However, Mr Clarke added: “While much of what we saw was good and seemed to us a good foundation for progress, it was too early to say if the approach was working. Levels of violence remained high.

“In keeping with the amount of violence evident, use of force had doubled and the use of segregation was also high. Oversight and accountability for the use of force and segregation required significant improvement.” However, the use of technology to scan mail as a potential source of drugs was “a useful initiative” and the availability of drugs had reduced in recent months.

The amount of self-harm in the prison had increased significantly and, since 2015, two prisoners had taken their own lives.

Most prisoners had “quite good” time out of cell but outcomes in education, skills and work had deteriorated. Mr Clarke said: “The range of provision was diminished and quality assurance arrangements were lacking. Teaching, learning and assessment outcomes were poor and too few completed their courses.”

On a more positive note, the prison environment was reasonable, although internal areas could have been cleaner. Access to services was generally very good and included a well-used internal advice line. Outcomes for minority groups were reasonable but some negative perceptions among these groups required further exploration. Health services were good but delays in access to some important elements of health care were excessive. Prisoners could wait up to 64 days for a routine GP appointment. Mr Clarke added that, in view of the risk posed by many of the 920 men held at Lowdham Grange, “it was reassuring that work to support risk reduction and rehabilitation was reasonably good.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Our findings at Lowdham Grange were adequate if inconsistent. There had been some progress but there was very much the sense that the prison was doing just enough. For example, the prison’s level of attention to our 2015 recommendations was very disappointing and a missed opportunity. We did see some innovative practice, and recent improvements needed to be embedded. There was much more to do, however, to enhance the prison’s very poor training offer.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“Lowdham Grange holds a challenging long-term prisoner population. Outcomes from this inspection confirm that they manage risk, public protection and rehabilitation requirements reasonably well but need to do more on safety and in providing quality education and training for prisoners. Serco are committed to improving performance at the prison and we will closely monitor their response to the recommendations in this report.”

On Purposeful Activity the Chief Inspector found:

Time out of cell and access to association and exercise were good for most prisoners. On average, 27% of prisoners were locked up during the working day. The library service was adequate but did not promote literacy effectively. Recreational gym provision was reasonably good but indoor facilities and equipment were very poor and the floor in the weights room was damaged and hazardous. Monitoring of library and gym use was weak and it was difficult to determine who used them and whether access was equitable.

Leaders and managers had not achieved any of our previous recommendations.

Most strengths highlighted at the previous inspection had deteriorated into weaknesses.

Leaders and managers did not have sufficient oversight of the quality of education, skills and work, including the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. Quality assurance and improvement processes were not effective. The self-assessment report was not evaluative enough and demonstrated that leaders did not have an accurate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the provision. The number and range of education courses had reduced since the last inspection. NVQ qualifications in industries had been withdrawn, and there was now no externally recognised accreditation in the workplace. The curriculum did not reflect the needs of the population accurately. Staff shortages and regular cross  deployment of education staff led to cancelled classes. Staff performance management and development were minimal and did not address identified weaknesses. The number of purposeful activity places did not meet the needs of the whole population. Allocation to education activities was arbitrary. Prisoners were allocated to education courses while applying for work opportunities. The pay rates afforded a significant disincentive to prisoners to engage with education and vocational training. Prisoners sometimes did not arrive on time to their lessons because of a staged movement to activities.

Since the previous inspection, the quality of teaching, learning and assessment had declined significantly. Trainers and teachers did not have high enough expectations of what prisoners could achieve and did not make enough use of prisoners’ starting points to plan their individual learning and training. Induction into education was not sufficiently detailed or  robust. Prisoners’ individual learning plans were weak. Targets were often generic and did not help prisoners to achieve qualifications or develop new skills. Trainers did not routinely develop prisoners’ English and mathematics in vocational training and prison work. Prisoners with additional learning support needs were not supported effectively enough. Trainers and teachers did not routinely feed back clearly to prisoners on how they could improve their knowledge, skills and understanding. There was no virtual campus12. Teaching, learning and assessment in the sports academy were good and prisoners made reasonable progress.

Inside Media13 was well resourced and staffed by very experienced professionals who developed prisoners’ skills successfully. Trainers and teachers built good working relationships with prisoners.

In employability and information and communication technology lessons, prisoners developed successfully the skills and behaviour needed for future employment, such as effective communication and word processing skills, and the importance of good personal presentation and hygiene.

Trainers did not record prisoners’ progress, learning and skills development in workshops. Prisoners were often motivated by financial reward rather than personal and academic development. Prisoners in industries did not develop new skills that were likely to benefit them in the future. The number of prisoners attending education lessons was not consistently high. Attendance was good in vocational training and industries. Prisoners who attended education and training improved their confidence. Prisoners behaved well and showed respect for each other and for staff. Some prisoners in a minority of education and vocational training classes were proud of what they had achieved. The standard of their work was high. In some sessions, teachers developed prisoners’ skills for employment effectively.

Too many prisoners who started education programmes did not complete them. In 2017, only 65% of prisoners who started a course achieved it. Data recording, monitoring and management, particularly of progress, skills development and achievement, were weak.

Leaders did not monitor achievement gaps between different groups of prisoners. Most prisoners could not make informed decisions about the next steps in their education, employment or training because of a lack of information about the curriculum. Progression through levels in the same subject was poor. Staffing issues in some subject areas affected prisoners’ progress, achievement and learning experiences.

Read the report here

Additional: Photo Booth installed.

A jail has installed a photo booth so inmates can take pictures with family members.

Prisoners at privately-run HMP Lowdham Grange can use the facility to capture group shots with relatives during visits.

The move was praised in an inspection report on the Nottinghamshire prison.

It said: “There was a photo booth for prisoners and their families to take a group photograph, which was another good innovation.”

The prison’s operator Serco said the photo booth was introduced in March last year as part of efforts to help families and children have a more positive experience of visiting their fathers.

Used more than 2,200 times, it has been “extremely popular”, the firm added.

Following the trial at Lowdham Grange, Serco expects to introduce photo booths at its other prisons.

Ministers have highlighted the importance of enabling prisoners to keep up relationships with loved ones when behind bars.

Last month, the Government announced plans that will allow thousands more inmates in England and Wales to make phone calls from their cells.

The report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons also disclosed that Lowdham Grange introduced a “violence hotline” in an effort to improve safety.

Inmates can use the service to report concerns about violent or anti-social behaviour.

HMIP described the measure as an example of “good practice”.

It said: “Prisoners could call to report concerns about violence and the safer custody team responded quickly.

“The team also worked with health care to offer support to prisoners who had been using illicit substances.”

The inspection, which took place in August, found the number of violent incidents was high for a category B training prison, with 64 assaults on staff and 83 on prisoners in the last six months.

There had been 30 serious incidents involving weapons, some of which had resulted in puncture wounds and hospitalisation.

Most violence related to the trade of illicit drugs, the inspectorate said.

HMIP noted that the use of technology to scan mail for drugs was a “very useful” initiative but it said the practice of destroying all correspondence that indicated positive, including photographs and stamps, was “excessive”.

opened in 1998, Lowdham Grange holds up to 920 adult men.

Mark Hanson, Serco contract director at Lowdham Grange, said: “We are pleased that this report highlights a number of areas of progress, good practice and innovation in the prison, particularly our new violence reduction programme.

“However, we know we have much more to do to address all the recommendations in the report and embed the improvements that we been making in recent months and we are working on these as a matter of urgency.”

Michael Spurr: Reflecting on 35 years in the Prison Service.

Women jail staff are as likely to be attacked as their male colleagues after long-standing “norms” disappeared from life behind bars, the head of the prison service has warned.

Reflecting on changes during his 35-year career in the system, Michael Spurr noted that for a long time, male inmates would not hit female officers.

But, giving evidence at the Commons Justice Committee, he said: “Over the last 10 years, that has changed – there’s pure equality.

“If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time you get hit, for things that are quite trivial today compared to previously, which would have been dealt with potentially by an expletive rather than a punch.

“Those are norms that are changing.”

Mr Spurr also flagged up the influence of technology and social media as he outlined how changes in society have filtered through to prisons.

He said: “Social interaction isn’t as it was. People are so used to engaging in media.

“When you allow people out of cell, unstructured time with adults engaging with one another was the norm.

“Younger prisoners find that much more difficult.”

Issues relating to mental health and drug use in the community have a bearing on what goes on behind bars, added Mr Spurr, who will leave his role as chief executive of HM Prisons & Probation Service next year.

At the same evidence session, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart admitted he faces a battle to keep his job after he pledged to resign unless a drive to tackle violence and drugs at struggling jails succeeds.

Mr Stewart declared in August that he would quit if there was no improvement in safety standards at 10 establishments hit by “acute” problems within a year.

Describing the latest estate-wide violence statistics as “very, very worrying”, he said: “I have promised to resign unless we turn that graph round on violence in those 10 key prisons.

“At the moment, that graph is going in the wrong direction for me.”

Latest prison safety figures for England and Wales show there were a record 32,559 assault incidents in total in the 12 months to June, up 20% from the previous year.

Assaults against staff increased by over a quarter (27%) to 9,485 incidents.

Mr Stewart said he believed there are some “green shoots”, but he told the committee: “It’s going to be a tough fight because we are having to work with a situation that is not just violence in our prisons – assaults on police officers are going up, assaults on ambulance workers are going up.”

He re-stated his belief that very short custodial sentences can be counter-productive.

He said: “The wrong kind of short sentence may feel good in the short term because you feel you are banging someone up.

“But just putting someone in prison for a few days, a couple of weeks – it’s long enough to damage them, it’s not long enough to change them.”

In other comments, Mr Stewart disclosed that an electronic tag which allows GPS monitoring of offenders in the community has now “gone live”, and floated the idea of setting up charitable foundations through which local residents, particularly those in “quite wealthy communities”, could contribute “philanthropically” to their local prison.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons renews call for an independent inquiry as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months.

Inmates at one of Britain’s largest jails walked around “like zombies” while high on drugs in scenes likened to a war zone, the Prisons Inspectorate reveals.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons also makes renewed calls for an independent inquiry as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months.

Prisoners at crisis-hit HMP Birmingham flouted rules without challenge from staff, many of whom were “anxious and fearful” as they went about their duties, HM Inspectorate of Prisons found.

Its report said: “We witnessed many prisoners under the influence of drugs, and some openly using and trafficking drugs around the site.

“Shockingly, some staff were ambivalent and accepting of such behaviour, and failed to respond to this overt drug misuse.”

On one occasion, when inspectors reported smelling drugs an officer was said to have “shrugged and laughed”, while another said they had “only just come on duty”, according to the report.

It quoted one prisoner describing a wing at the jail as “a war zone” with inmates “walking around like zombies, high on Spice”.

Spice, a psychoactive substance, has been identified as a major factor in the safety crisis that has hit much of the prisons estate in England and Wales.

At the time of the inspection in the summer, HMP Birmingham was run by G4S.

In the wake of the visit, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme to demand immediate action from the Government.

As the first details of his findings emerged in August, the Ministry of Justice announced it was taking over the running of the prison for at least six months.

publishing the full inspection report on Tuesday, Mr Clarke renewed his call for an independent assessment into how the prison had been allowed to “slip into crisis”.

He said: “Why was it that those with responsibility for Birmingham either did not see these problems unfolding or seemed incapable of acting decisively when they did?

“Put simply, the treatment of prisoners and the conditions in which they were held at Birmingham were among the worst we have seen in recent years.”

The inspectorate’s report said:

– In the previous 12 months, there had been more assaults at the establishment than at any other local prison

– Frightened and vulnerable prisoners “self-isolated” in locked cells but could not escape bullying and intimidation

– Control in the prison was “tenuous”, with staff often not knowing where prisoners were

– Many cells were dirty, cramped and overcrowded

– The prison was failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for release, including hundreds of sex offenders

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We have conducted a full and thorough investigation of the situation at Birmingham to understand the causes, learn lessons and prevent it happening again.

“We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham returns to being a place of stability and reform, and we won’t hand the prison back until we consider it is safe to do so.”

A G4S spokeswoman said: “The well-being and safety of prisoners and prison staff is our key priority and we continue to work with the Ministry of Justice to urgently address the issues faced at the prison.

Mr Clarke added:

“The challenges facing this prison are huge;managers and staff need support if they are to turn the establishment around.

“The helpful action plan published by the Secretary of State provides an important framework for progress and is a start, but there also needs to be accountability among those implementing the plan.

“It is crucial for there to be transparent, open conversations about the state of the prison and the progress being made.

“It will undoubtedly take some time for Birmingham to make the improvements needed, and as an Inspectorate we leave the prison with a number of recommendations.”

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

‘The Chief Inspector of Prisons renews calls for an independent inquiry as to how G4S allowed HMP Birmingham, one of Britain’s biggest jails, to descend into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months…’?

Hold on, let’s read that again.

“The Chief Inspector renews calls for an ‘independent inquiry'”?

That’s like the surgeon in theatre ordering that the patient on his operating table be taken to hospital.

They’re already in a hospital – and the Prisons Inspectorate is already ‘independent’.

Who then is better placed than the Prisons Inspectorate, with statutory independence and all expertise and experience that they have on tap to find out exactly what happened at Birmingham, if not the Prisons Inspectorate itself?

It sounds awfully like they’ve ‘fessed up’ to not being up to the job.

Or could it be they’ve recognised that any truly independent inquiry into Birmingham is inevitably going to find that the Prisons Inspectorate and Independent Monitoring have their own contributing failures to answer for?

The unpalatable truth for the Prisons Inspectorate is this:

Our prisons are in the mess they are largely because the Prisons Inspectorate have been quietly complicit in a system that has allowed governments over the last ten years to routinely ignore Prison Inspectorate recommendations with impunity.

I wrote an investigative article about this a year ago in The Independent, an article that (welcome by-product of another process or not I don’t know) saw the Urgent Notification procedure being signed four months later – but the fact is the Prisons Inspectorate doesn’t have clean hands here.

Yes the Urgent Notification procedure is a huge improvement, I welcome it, but I’ve never understood why we have to wait until a jail is in complete security, safety and control meltdown, warranting an Urgent Notification, before corrective action is taken?

Every recommendation of the Prisons Inspectorate should be seen as an ‘urgent notification’ – because unless it is, inevitably one day that is precisely what it is destined to become.

Read the Report here.

HMP Magharberry: Violence and disorder at high security prison reduced

A prison once branded dangerous and Dickensian has made immensely encouraging progress, a report said.

Maghaberry high-security jail in Co Antrim holds life prisoners convicted of the most serious offences including murder and paramilitaries.

Many struggle with substance abuse, self-harm, lack of education and poor mental health and some are extremely vulnerable.

In April watchdogs revisited the institution three years after finding it “unsafe, unstable and disrespectful”, and said excellent leadership efforts to stabilise it had borne fruit.

The inspectors said: “We rarely see a prison make the sort of progress evident at Maghaberry and it is to the credit of all those involved that many of the outcomes for the men held at the prison are now among the best we have seen in this type of prison in recent years.”

Levels of violence and disorder had reduced significantly and the prison was much more stable and calm, while relations between staff and prisoners had been “transformed”.

Areas where inmates congregate were once no-go zones for staff but are now regularly patrolled.

Reservations remain over the handling of vulnerable prisoners, the inspectors said.

Five inmates have killed themselves since the last inspection and a “very high” 500 reports of prisoners at risk had been opened recently.

Observation cells for inmates vulnerable to self-harm had been used 200 times and strip clothing, designed to be resistant to suicide bids, in 80% of cases, which inspectors noted can add to distress.

The unannounced inspection was conducted in April this year by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and the Education Training Inspectorate.

It said the regime inside was much better than observed previously and was being delivered reliably.

It also said learning, skills and the provision of work had improved but much more still needed to be done.

The inspectors said rehabilitation and release planning work was amongst the best they had seen.

Prisoners received good support on arrival, a special area is set aside for the first few days with arrangements for mentoring by other prisoners and enhanced contact with family and friends, and the prison seemed safer, with a relatively low level of violence but many men still said they felt unsafe, the report said.

Robust and effective action had been taken to reduce the supply of illegal drugs.

Some men spent long periods in a special care and supervision unit but more was being done to integrate them, inspectors said.

Levels of self-harm had fallen but management arrangements were too risk- averse, which can mean over-reliance on intrusive monitoring which can itself be stressful, and the underlying issues were not addressed adequately, the review found.

The response to recommendations following deaths in custody was “insufficient”, the report said.

At the time of inspection there had been five self-inflicted deaths since a previous inspection in 2016.

Living conditions were reasonable, although some “houses” offered poor cell accommodation, the inspectors said. A new block is being opened soon.

A more conducive environment for training and learning was created but inspectors said not enough activity places existed and the curriculum was too narrow.

Attendance records needed improvement. Long waiting lists were noted for more popular courses. Outcomes were not sufficiently good.

Release from prison planning and outcomes for prisoners were good.

The report made 14 recommendations surrounding the negative perceptions held by many prisoners, the need for timely responses to health complaints and poorer outcomes seen by Catholic inmates.

It said the practice of supplying medicines which had been prescribed for direct administration by prison staff should be reviewed to reduce the opportunity for bullying by other prisoners.

Prison Service director general Ronnie Armour said: “This latest report demonstrates the huge progress which has been made at Maghaberry Prison.

“From a facility which was described in 2015 as ‘unsafe, unstable and disrespectful’, criminal justice inspectors are now reporting ‘progress rarely seen’ with ‘outcomes for prisoners now among the best’.”

HMP Peterborough (Male): Many strengths but serious problems with drugs and violence

Peterborough men’s prison has much good practice to share with the wider service but was found by inspectors to have become less safe over the last three years because of the ravages of drugs and violence.

The jail, holding 800 prisoners and run by Sodexo, is on the same site as a female prison and the two establishments share a management team. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said there was much to commend in the men’s jail when inspectors visited in July 2018.

“However, the simple fact was that while Peterborough was a safe prison in 2015 (the previous inspection), our judgement on this occasion was that safety had declined to such an extent that we had no choice other than to reduce our assessment in this area by two levels, to ‘not sufficiently good’.” That is the second lowest assessment in HMI Prisons’ “healthy prison tests.”

“In common with many other prisons, Peterborough has suffered the ravages of the epidemic of drugs – especially new psychoactive substances (NPS) – that have flowed into them in recent years and the debt, bullying and violence they cause,” Mr Clarke said.

Over 50% of prisoners told inspectors it was easy to get hold of illicit drugs, and more than one in five had acquired a drug habit since entering the jail. “As a result, levels of violence had doubled since the last inspection. Unsurprisingly, 55% of prisoners had felt unsafe since coming into the prison and 20% felt unsafe at the time of the inspection.”

Inspectors noted, however, a determined attempt by the jail to get to grips with the drugs and violence. Encouragingly, in the three months leading up to the inspection, there had been a reduction in levels of violence.

Aside from the violence, and the need to strengthen the governance and clinical oversight of health care, most of the functions that a prison must perform were being delivered well. Dedicated staff, many new and inexperienced, worked hard in very difficult circumstances.

It was refreshing, Mr Clarke said, to see a local prison where time out of cell was good for most prisoners and where there were activity places for 80% of the population. In rehabilitation and release planning, the prison was judged to be ‘good’, the highest assessment.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“HMP Peterborough still had much work to do to reduce the violence that had flowed from the influx of drugs into the establishment. Nevertheless, at the time of this inspection the signs were promising that further progress could be made. It is essential that the prison is restored to being a safe place, so that all the good work that was being delivered in so many areas is not put in jeopardy.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:

“HMP Peterborough continues to provide a positive regime with good levels of purposeful activity and an effective resettlement scheme to reduce reoffending. As with other prisons across the estate, Peterborough has faced a rise in the illicit supply of drugs and a population more prone to violence – tackling this is a priority and progress is being made. The prison’s Director will use the report’s recommendations to support further improvement.”

A copy of the full report, published on 27 November 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons