“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

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 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.”

Thameside IMB Annual Report: “There are 70+ gangs with members in the prison who need to be kept apart.”





The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Thameside, a public sector prison in London, has published it annual report.


HMP Thameside holds a diverse and fluctuating prisoner population with different needs (young and elderly, remand and convicted [short and long sentences], UK and foreign nationals). Every day it accepts whomever the courts and HMPPS send it, and the average stay is short. Operating within, but very close to, its operating capacity of 1232 men, it has been ‘crowded’ throughout the reporting year (as defined by HMPPS). It meets these challenges well.

Main judgements

Are prisoners treated fairly?

The prison’s systems and practices are properly designed to be fair but the IMB is seriously concerned at the unfair impact of inadequate management of some processes. Areas of ‘low level’ unfairness identified in the 2016/17 Annual Report persist (5.7). Far from improving, the handling of prisoners’ complaints deteriorated markedly at the end of 2017/18 (5.9). The organisation of home detention curfew (11.6) remains unreliable. Delays making repairs when equipment is broken (7.1, 7.2, 7.8), cancellation of activity sessions (7.3), and more use of restricted regime with men spending longer in their cells (7.4), all cause the IMB growing disquiet. A simple task, like delivering necessary post to prisoners, has been taking up to two weeks (5.8). Nevertheless, the IMB can also report that the prison has implemented valuable initiatives, detailed in the evidence sections below (e.g. 4.2.1, 4.4, 5.1, 8.4, 8.7, 10.4, 11.5).

Are prisoners treated humanely?

HMP Thameside remains a humane prison with an unoppressive ethos. The nine protected characteristics are taken seriously and prisoners’ basic rights are recognised (5.1). The Early Days Centre provides appropriate oversight when men first arrive (4.6) but the care with which the ACCT system is implemented deteriorated during 2017/18 (4.3). Adjudications and Reviews are conducted humanely (6.4, 6.7). A smoking ban was introduced in March 2018 following good preparation. Men suffering from the withdrawal of tobacco are helped (8.2). The quality of healthcare is not consistent. There are unexplained delays in treatment or referral (8.4). Some men held in the In-Patient Unit have too little time out of cell (8.3.2).

Are prisoners prepared well for their release?

Prisoners committed to HMP Thameside stay for periods ranging from a few days to several years. The average is 5 weeks (11.1). Many have needs that cannot be met by the prison. Because of their diversity, it is impractical to establish all-inclusive programmes to prepare men for life in society. Disappointingly, the availability of suitable accommodation for released men remains poor (11.4). A typical prisoner leaving the establishment has not been prepared well for a law-abiding lifestyle. On the plus side, substance misusers are helped whilst in prison (8.7); maintenance of family links is supported well (7.7, 11.5); some men improve their numeracy and literacy (9.2), or gain employment-related skills in textiles or reprographics (10.4); job fairs involving employers are organised (10.5). However, such measures impacted a fraction of the ~1500 men who were released in 2017/18 (11.1).


Violence. Levels of violence within the prison remain too high but have declined slightly since 2016/17. During the final quarter of the reporting year the average monthly number of assaults (prisoner on prisoner and prisoner on staff) was 39 (43 in 2016/17), with 8 classed as serious (9 in 2016/17). The prison does not collect similar data about prisoner on prisoner and staff on prisoner bullying but there has been an increase in Applications to the IMB alleging bullying (Section D).

4.2 Violence reduction. There are two limbs to violence reduction – (i) organisational arrangements to minimise the opportunities for violent behaviour and (ii) behavioural interventions to help those prone to anger and violence to increase their self-control.

4.2.1 There are 70+ gangs with members in the prison who need to be kept apart. This is done well, through close understanding of gang affiliations and enmities and good intelligence. In May 2018, a revised regime for the movement of prisoners (to activities, etc.) was introduced. Early indications are that it reduces violent incidents though it appears to have consequences in other areas that need to be addressed (7.8, 8.3.2).

4.2.2 Behavioural interventions are less impressive. Given the classification of the prison, longer term violence reduction courses are not run. There is a reliance on in-cell reading packs which require the willingness, often absent, of prisoners to get involved. A new programme, due to start in August 2018, facilitates more staff interaction with violent offenders, but without good supporting courses its effectiveness will be limited.

4.3 Vulnerable prisoners. The IMB’s monitoring this year has reinforced its 2016/17 opinion that “Assessment Care in Custody Teamwork (ACCT) paper-work … does not encourage officers to monitor vulnerable prisoners thoughtfully because it promotes a box-ticking mind-set”. In May 2018, a spot check of all 42 ACCT documents then open found little evidence of mental health needs assessment or therapeutic input from NHS staff to care plans, or of regular meaningful interactions between prisoner and custodial staff as specified by an ACCT. Not all routine observation records were reliable. The prison identified this weak practice early in 2018 but has not succeeded in correcting it.

4.4 Self-harm. Prisoner self-harm incidents (as reported in the prison’s daily meeting) averaged over one a day in June 2018; few were life threatening, and repeat selfharming by the same prisoner is common. The number is static but too high. The safer custody team have introduced several initiatives, such as identifying men who seldom interact with other prisoners, spending considerable time withdrawn in their cells, and providing social opportunities to help take them out of themselves. This is good.

4.5 Deaths in Custody. There were two deaths in custody during 2017/18. Neither was apparently self- inflicted. Inquests have yet to be held.

4.6 Early days. The Early Days regime introduced in January 2017 has bedded down. All new arrivals are monitored with particular care by officers on a dedicated wing, with readily available trained prisoner ‘insiders’ to offer help and reassurance.

4.7 Health and safety. The prison’s design and construction make it generally healthy and safe. The smoking ban introduced in March is positive. Rodent infestation is now better controlled. Significant resources are committed to eliminating corruption and preventing drugs and phones entering the prison. Much is intercepted, but not everything. In June, 31% of mandatory random drug tests were positive (mostly ‘spice’).

4.8 Prisoners sometimes put themselves at risk. The monthly averages during April to June 2018 were 7 incidents at height, 2 cell fires, 16 drugs finds, 6 hooch finds and 7 improvised weapons. Sometimes men tamper with electrical equipment. Substance misuse, especially taking ‘spice’, regularly damages both health and safety.

Read the full report here

HMP Preston – No Mambulances Since January. Copy that?

The IMB at Preston report the prison has found an effective way to stop inmates getting their hands on psychoactive substances like Spice – by using a photocopier.

Preston staff found the drugs were being smuggled into the jail via the prisoners’ mail, after the paper used to write the letters was soaked in the substance.

The notes could then be ripped up and smoked by the inmates.

In a bid to crack down on the problem, the category B men’s prison began photocopying all mail and keeping the originals locked away.

According to an annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board, the move has produced positive results – with not a single ambulance call-out needed for a prisoner under the influence since the scheme began in January.

The report said: “The Board’s analysis has clearly identified the effectiveness of this precaution in a directly correlated reduction in reported incidents of use of PS (psychoactive substances).

“Since the photocopying was introduced there have been no ambulances called to take a prisoner to hospital under the influence, resulting in savings to the NHS and improvements to prisoner welfare.”

The watchdog admitted the move might not eradicate the problem completely – adding that prisoners would find new ways of getting hold of the drugs – but said it had “demonstrably reduced the availability of PS within the prison”.

The report suggested the use of drug testing devices in prisons to scan incoming mail could prove a more cost-effective and less labour-intensive solution in the long term.

Read the report in full here.

Why The Parole Board and Secrecy have no right to be Bedfellows

By Mark Leech.

Today The Times reports that Members of parole panels who decide to release prisoners should not be identified because of fears for their safety, the Parole Board has recommended to the government.

The Board has also opposed allowing the public into parole hearings and the release of details of the decision in full or a redacted form. Instead it wants a summary of the decisions to be made available on request, according to the board’s response to the justice ministry’s review of the processes. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/keep-parole-panels-secret-says-board-c8nn3dvck

How ridiculous is this yet one more example of Parole Board professional self-harm?

The High Court quashed the release decision in the Worboys case largely because the secrecy that surrounded it, enshrined in the now declared ultra vires Rule 25, offended against the common law principle of open Justice – our criminal justice system consists of two distinct ends: one the Courts that send people to jail and, at the other, the Parole Board that in the case of serious offenders, releases them.

Both ends – and the full journey between them both – should be subject to exactly the same degree of public openness and transparency as each other.

If we name our Magistrates and Judges who send people to jail, what on earth is the point of concealing the names of Parole Board panel members who decide whether to release them or not?

This ridiculous drive for criminal justice secrecy is also to be seen within our prisons, among the 2000 or so Members of the rightly much-criticised ‘Independent Monitoring Boards’ (IMBs) – lay people appointed to statutory office by the Secretary of State for Justice to report on conditions inside our prisons and whose names the public are banned from knowing – a decision upheld by the Secretary of State for Justice in 2016.

This ban on IMB names being published comes despite the ludicrous fact that every single report from the Prisons Inspectorate names the IMB Chairman in the prison the Report refers to – and it ignores the fact too that when IMB members are at work inside our prisons, they all wear name badges.

Secrecy has no part in our criminal justice system, it still seems bizarre to me that in 2018 when a defendant appears in court all the public get to see on television are (admittedly good) charcoal drawings of the person on trial.

It is time for television cameras to be placed inside all courts, first instance and appeals – and yes inside Parole Board Hearings too; the public have a right to know who does what, in their name, inside the criminal justice system.

If a judge or magistrate can be named and held responsible for the sentences that they pass, why should Parole Board Members be treated any differently when they decide whether or not to release those from that sentence?

Parole Board Members have the right to go about their lawful professional duties in a safe environment but if they are subject to threats or abuse, then those are rightly matters for the police and the courts to deal with – but a fear of it cannot be used to draw defensive lines ousting the public’s right to know who makes decisions on their behalf, on what are purely subjective and defensive lines.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales @prisonsorguk

Winchester Prison: “Teetering on The Edge of Major Incident” Warns Watchdog

winchesterThe situation at a prison is “fragile” with a prevailing sense that it is “teetering on the edge of a major incident”, a report has warned.

It said a lack of staff at HMP Winchester has resulted in a “steady deterioration” of the environment and a “noticeable rise in tension”.

There has been an increase in self-harm, assaults on officers and disruptive behaviour, according to the jail’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).

Despite the efforts of staff, mobile phones are frequently found in the prison, the assessment said.

The IMB’s report said: “The prisoners who are unemployed are allowed out of their cells for just an hour a day for all domestic activity and association.

“This is neither restorative nor rehabilitative and only adds to the frustration of the prisoners.

“It is entirely due to the resilience and dedication of the whole staff and their leadership that disruptions similar to that reported by other prisons have not yet been repeated in Winchester.”

It noted the jail, which holds about 690 male inmates, has had a level of success in tackling the inflow of drugs, including new psychoactive substances (NPS).

Changes in the patterns of contraband were observed following the outlawing of NPS – previously known as “legal highs” – and the introduction of a smoking ban at HMP Winchester at the end of January.

The IMB report, covering June 2016 to May 2017, said: “There has been a reduction in NPS related incidents and the introduction of tobacco as a competing contraband with other drugs.”

Read the full report here:

Shocking Failures of the Preston Prison IMB Revealed

IMB Preston_Page_1IMB Preston_Page_2

All IMB Members have the legal power to visit prisons ‘at any time’, but it is a power they rarely if ever exercise at night – despite the fact that prisoners have died as a result of night time failures by prison staff to do their jobs properly which IMB Members are supposed to monitor but simply fail to do so – and now we have proof.

Faith Spear, the Chair of the Hollesley Bay IMB spoke out about this  – and is currently suspended for doing so. But now we have irrefutable proof that the IMB refuses to learn lessons even when inmates die.

This failure to visit prisons at night is not some minor academic issue; it’s an incredibly serious one.

In 2012 Shaun and Lisa Percy, married prison officers working at Preston Prison, were handed suspended jail sentences when they were convicted of misconduct in public office for covering up failings in suicide watch procedures on the night an inmate was found hanging in his cell.

Shaun Percy failed to carry out half hourly cell checks on Christopher Oldham, who was on remand in HMP Preston.

His wife Lisa, the Night Orderly Officer in charge of the prison overnight, then made false entries into the care log to cover up for her husband’s failings.

In one entry, Mrs Percy reported she had seen Mr Oldham standing at the back of his cell.

In another entry, made by Mr Percy, he said Mr Oldham was sitting on his bed watching television and had said he was OK when spoken to.

Medical evidence showed, and both officers in court accepted, that by the time of these false entries were made, the inmate was already dead.

In the four years since then, how many unannounced night time visits have the Preston Prison IMB made to the jail?

Zero. Not a single one in five years – the proof is in the above Freedom of Information responses I have received.

And the failures of the Percy’s are not the only example of such appalling behaviour either.

In April 2014 a Maghaberry prison officer was also handed a 15 month suspended prison sentence after admitting he had not kept a proper watch on a suicidal prisoner who hanged himself.

Daniel Barclay pleaded guilty in court that he had “wilfully neglected to perform his duty without reasonable excuse or justification, in that he failed to carry out and record the appropriate observations in respect of a prisoner at risk, namely Colin Bell” on a date between 30 July and 2 August 2008.

Mr Bell hanged himself in the CCTV-covered “safer cell” at Maghaberry prison when he was on heightened suicide watch after repeated bouts of self harming, meaning prison officers had to check on him every 15 minutes.

Prison CCTV evidence showed that while Daniel Barclay was supposed to be monitoring Colin Bell on CCTV he was seen watching television, chatting with colleagues, and making himself a snack. At one stage – while 34-year-old Bell lay slumped dead against his Maghaberry Prison cell door – Barclay was seen on a rolled out mattress on which he was trying to nap.

The court heard that over the course of almost 90 minutes – while Bell made four suicide attempts – Officer Barclay “glanced” twice at CCTV screens showing what Bell was doing in his cell.

One current IMB Member from Maghaberry told me in a private written communication they too do not carry out night visits.

Our IMB system is a joke, sure there are many had working, committed, IMB members who work tirelessly – but nationally the system is corrupt and unfit for purpose, where members are coerced into not exercising the powrs that Parliament gave to them.

How many more inmates must die before this failed system is scrapped completely and dragged into the 21st Century?

Knock down Pentonville and start again say IMB



Knock down Pentonville and start again, or urgently upgrade the decrepit, 174 year-old building if the new threats plaguing prisons up and down the land – ‘Spice’ and drones – are to be tackled.

That’s the stark message being delivered to the new Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, by the Victorian prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).

Staff routinely intercept parcels being thrown over walls, but criminal gangs have successfully exploited the shoddy state of the prison’s windows by sending small, near-silent drones – which can be steered to window sills – with payloads of drugs, mobile phones, and other contraband, according to the Annual Report, published today.

Members of the board report seeing prisoners collapse after taking Spice (also known as New Psychoactive Substances) prompting prison officers and teams of healthcare staff to rush to their aid.

The report says: “Spice is driving a whole illicit economy, violence, self-harm and bullying. Pentonville’s security team works with the police and use drugs dogs to make every effort to stop Spice and other contraband getting in. But it is like holding a hand up against the incoming tide, when dilapidated windows in this ancient building make most parts of it porous.”

The report calls for the windows on the most exposed aspects of the prison to be replaced immediately while pointing out that plans to do so have been in place for two years: “Only 10 windows have been replaced.  And not 10 of the worst because the glazing units were the wrong size. 100 more are supposed to follow.  Everyone is waiting.”

Outsourced procurement and buildings maintenance firm Carillion have repeatedly failed to respond on time to jobs, according to the board, leaving cells out of action for days; chronic shortages of basic kit (towels, toothbrushes and soap); and a lift for wheelchair access to the visits hall out of action for 6 months.

“This is distressing for prisoners and families and frustrating for staff. The Board doubt that a problem with wheelchair access to the Ministry of Justice would be allowed to languish for 6 months.”

The North London prison’s population – of about 1290 inmates, including 120 Young Adults and 300 foreign nationals – has 40% more prisoners than the Prison Service’s own measure of ‘uncrowded capacity’.

Overcrowding coupled with a shortage of prison officers regularly leads to ‘temporary regimes’ in which safe staff-prisoner ratios can only be achieved by confining inmates to their cells. This means prisoners can’t get to basic education, vocational workshops or the library. So while board members welcome efforts to increase provision for such ‘purposeful activity’ – they note that library visits are down and educational attendance rates were just 56% in the last year.

Furthermore, staff shortages result in a litany of other problems: on-site and external healthcare appointments missed; drug tests curtailed in the ‘drug free’ Jubilee Wing; prisoners going without showers or unable to phone their families; and, extraordinarily, mental health assessments sometimes taking place through the locked doors of cells.

However despite these challenges, the report shows that Pentonville has bucked the national trend of increases in violent incidents with a modest, but encouraging, reduction in the period 2015-16 of 847 compared to 870 the previous year.

Staff morale has taken a battering over several years due to a combination of factors, not least poor annual reports, and a lack of investment from Government. But November’s announcement that nine new prisons would be built and “ageing and ineffective” Victorian prisons would be closed did not help matters, according to the report.

Although Pentonville has benefitted from the welcome transfer of a number of staff from the former women’s prison HMP Holloway, board members say more staff is not in itself enough: “The condition of this 174-year old prison is poor and nothing short of a massive injection of capital will improve the conditions for any but a handful of prisoners.”

The full report is available here:     http://www.imb.org.uk/report/pentonville-2015-16-annual-report/


What are IMBs?

The Prison Act 1952 requires every prison to be monitored by an independent board appointed by the Secretary of State from members of the community in which the prison is situated.  The Board is charged to:

  • satisfy itself as to the humane and just treatment of those held in custody within its prison and the range and adequacy of the programmes preparing them for release.
  • inform promptly the Secretary of State, or any official to whom he has delegated authority as it judges appropriate, any concern it has.
  • report annually to the Secretary of State on how well the prison has met the standards and requirements placed on it and what impact these have on those in its custody.

To enable the Board to carry out these duties effectively its members have right of access to every prisoner, to every part of the prison and to the prison’s records.