Although clear progress had been made in clarifying the aims and processes of the system for managing the most dangerous prisoners in the country said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a Thematic Review report published today (25/8/2015) on Close Supervision Centres in English high security prisons, prison commentators also made clear there were a number of serious concerns.
The Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system holds about 60 of the most dangerous men in the prison system. Many of these are men who have been imprisoned for very serious offences which have done great harm, have usually committed subsequent very serious further offences in prison and whose dangerous and disruptive behaviour is too difficult to manage in ordinary prison location. They are held in small units or individual designated cells throughout the high security prison estate. These men are likely to be held for many years in the most restrictive conditions with limited stimuli and human contact.
The system is run by a central team as part of the Prison Service’s high security directorate, although day to day management is the responsibility of the individual prisons in which the units or cells are located. A further 14 men who do not quite meet the threshold for the CSC system are held under the ‘Managing Challenging Behaviour Strategy (MCBS) in similar but slightly less restrictive conditions. This is extreme custody and its management raises complex operational challenges and profound ethical issues. The aim of the system was to remove the most dangerous prisoners from ordinary location, manage them in small units and use individual or group work to reduce their risks so they could return to normal or other suitable location.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
- leadership of the system as whole was clear, principled and courageous;
- decisions to select prisoners the CSC system were based on a clear set of published criteria and a robust risk assessment;
- some good support was provided to staff;
- staff understood the men in their care well, enabling them to manage problematic behaviour effectively and promote change;
- despite the significant risks the men posed, the majority of prisoners and staff felt safe;
- most security restrictions and behavioural management work appeared measured and proportionate; and
- staff-prisoner relationships were reassuring good, and psychological and psychiatric services were strong.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
- there was no independent scrutiny or external involvement in decision-making, which was particularly important given the highly restrictive nature of the units, restrictions on access to legal aid and the difficulties prisoners had in being deselected;
- delivery of some important processes varied and a minority of managers and staff did not understand the ethos of the system or embrace their role within it;
- the use of designated cells in segregation units had often led to prisoners being held there for many months or even years, with poor regimes and little emphasis on progression, which was contrary to the prison rule 46 under which they were held;
- the centrally managed MCBS units also needed improved governance;
- more needed to be done to offset the real potential for psychological deterioration by the more imaginative provision of in and out of cell activities;
- daily living conditions in the small units were cramped;
- there was a very high proportion of black and minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held, although management had commissioned research to look at the reasons for this; and
- more work needed to be done on progression and reintegration, which was critical to ensuring the system was not used as a long-term containment option for dangerous men.
Nick Hardwick said:
“Leadership of the system as a whole was clear, principled and courageous. We do not underestimate the risk the men held in the CSC system pose or the complexity of working with them. The overall humanity and care provided to men whom it would have been easy to consign to the margins of the prison system was impressive. The system had a clear set of aims, was basically well run and founded on sound security and psychological principles and sought to contain men safely and decently. There were, however, a number of important issues that needed to be addressed.
“Management arrangements needed attention to ensure consistency and external involvement in decision-making was needed to provide transparency and rigor. The use of designated cells needed far greater control and there needed to be more clarity concerning the MCBS prisoners. Aspects of the environment needed to be improved, and men required greater opportunities to occupy their time purposefully. The reasons why a disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic and Muslim men were held needed to be better understood.
“Nevertheless, the CSC system provided a means of managing the most challenging men in the prison system in a way that minimised the risks to others and offered men the basic conditions to lead a decent and safe life. We support the continued commitment to resource and support it and commend many of the people who worked positively within the system, despite some of the obvious risks and challenges.”
Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, and Converse the national newspaper for prisoners, welcomed the report but said there were still serious concerns that must be urgently addressed.
Mr Leech said: “There are five CSC Units located in Wakefield, Woodhill, Full Sutton, Manchester and Whitemoor prisons, with further designated CSC cells in Belmarsh, Frankland and Long Lartin prisons.
“While the CSC, and also the MCBS, systems are not ideal they are a vital way of managing a small number of very dangerous prisoners, often those who have killed other prisoners while in custody.
“The aim always must be the safe, humane and secure custody for CSC prisoners and staff, and it is vital those who manage the CSC system do not lose sight of the longer term aim of returning CSC inmates to normal location when sustained good behaviour and proven lowered risk warrants it.
“However there are real concerns over the high proportion of black, minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held in CSCs, the real lack of independent oversight in the decision-making process also needs addressing urgently because of the lack of legal aid to raise challenges, and the legality of holding such inmates in segregation units contrary to Rule 46 for extended period of time must be confronted without delay.”
A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 25 August 2015 at: justiceinspectorate.gov.uk/hmiprisons