Prisons Minister responds to IMB National Annual Report – with not a word about Deaths in Custody

The Prisons Minister Robert Buckland QC has responded to the IMB national annual report for 2017/18, that was published on 5 June 2019; the response can be viewed here

The Response is noticeable for the fact that it doesn’t once mention deaths in custody – something that is hardly surprising given that deaths in custody was itself completely missing from the IMB National Annual Report.

This was a point that was  made in Mark Leech‘s recent article on deaths in custody – Discharged: Dead – you can view the article here

IMB finds increase in violence, self-harm and drug use at HMP Lewes

Violence, self-harm and drug use is on the rise at a prison,inspectors warned.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Lewes, East Sussex, raised the concerns when it published its report on today (Friday 28th June 2019 – but as yet it doesn’t appear on the IMB web site).

The body said there was a “significant increase in prisoner-on-prisoner violence” while “high levels of self-harm and the availability of drugs” were all “major issues”.

Of particular concern is the recorded violence between inmates, which rose from 165 incidents to 278 in 2018/19, an increase of 68%, the report said.

There were 579 instances of prisoners identified as being at risk from self-harm or suicide, according to the IMB.

And the availability and usage of drugs in the prison remains high, it said.

Searches by the prison included 106 occasions of drugs being found and the average failure rate of prisoners from random drug testing between April and November 2018 was more than 20%.

Mary Bell, chairman of the IMB at Lewes Prison, said: “The board also considers the residential accommodation at HMP Lewes is often not of a high enough standard.

“Increased efforts are needed to improve the accommodation conditions, including the timely replacement of furniture, and that cleanliness is made a higher priority.”

She said there were still “major failings in that men who do not go to work or education are likely to be locked up for more than 22 hours a day”.

The report is not yet published on the IMB web site

Discharged: Dead – When Truth Falls Through The Trap Door

 

By Mark Leech FRSA. Editor: The Prisons Handbook

I remember it all like it was yesterday – and I doubt I will ever forget.

The 23rd May 1985 was a bitterly cold day in Dartmoor prison as the howling wind whistled off the local Tors and I found myself once again shivering as I walked alone Midnight Express style around a small caged exercise yard in the E.Hall punishment block of a prison built to hold Napoleonic prisoners of war 200 years before.

I was serving 56 days’ solitary confinement, completely my own fault, having just spent two weeks protesting about the change in parole policy by the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan, on the roof of Long Lartin Maximum Security prison in Evesham.

In the cage next to me was a young man called David Greenhow, 23 years old, with learning difficulties, his hair matted with mucus he occupied the cell next to mine and I would often hear him screaming in the night.

That day he spent his hour of exercise standing against the wall of the cage rocking backwards and forwards – he was in E.Hall for repeatedly kicking his cell door in the main prison, he couldn’t explain why, and the Governor had responded by placing him in the E.Hall punishment block for what was euphemistically called the ‘Good Order and Discipline’ of the prison.

We never spoke that day, not once, I asked him how he was but he never responded, his ceaseless rocking backwards and forwards left me with the impression of a young man more in need of help than punishment, and I continued my circular walk lost in my own thoughts against the biting Dartmoor wind.

It was three hours later when I heard the first Officer shout, followed by the stampede of feet to the cell next door. Urgent voices rang out ‘Get the Minuteman’ – the resuscitation machine – but by the time that arrived 20 minutes later from the hospital at the other side of the prison, David Greenhow was beyond help.

His young life ended there, dangling from a ripped bed sheet that he had tied around the cell window bars. This young man, with his whole future stretching out before him, had chosen to take his own life rather than face the anguish of going through even one more day.

That evening the police arrived, they spoke only to prison officers and stayed long enough to rule out foul play. According to the later Inquest Report what were then called the ‘Board of Visitors’, but are today known as Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) – the supposed ‘watchdogs’ of the public interest – never attended that night. The Chairman, according to the report, had been telephoned at home and advised of the death but seemingly saw no reason to drive the 20 miles from his home in Plymouth to the prison; the man was dead, so what?

Even a century ago, at least in Reading Gaol, the Chaplain called.

At 11pm as I looked through the drill hole in the centre of the spyhole fitted into my cell door I watched as David Greenhow’s lifeless body, wrapped in a green blanket and strapped to a wheelchair, was pushed along the landing outside my cell door to a waiting ambulance on what was to be his final journey in this world – a trip to the hospital mortuary.

David Greenhow was just one of many I have seen choose death over life to prison suicide over the years, it’s hard for those who have not experienced the devastation of despair that descends on a prison wing after someone has taken their own life to explain it, but there is a silence that wasn’t there before, some people talk in hushed whispers while others resort to morbid comedy to cope: “He was too young to be hanging around bars anyway.”

I’ve heard it all – but every death in custody is an event that I never forget and it is to this day what focusses my attention and drives me to confront the horrors of lives needlessly lost which are simply written off as par for the prison course by those who should know better.

Recently some on social media have criticised me for focussing on this, for not understanding, they assert, ‘the issues’; for seemingly misunderstanding the roles that certain officials have to play, and for critically pointing out that too many of today’s IMBs fail to mention in their annual reports how deaths in custody in the prisons that they monitor are treated as events unworthy of any real attention.

They’re wrong: I do understand, and too well as only someone who has been through it too many times can do.

The fact is that lessons that should be learnt from each death are not only routinely ignored, but the very fact that they are ignored is itself shamefully unworthy of any acknowledgement or note.

For every death in custody in England and Wales the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) conducts an investigation, attempting to learn lessons to prevent the next death. They make a plethora of well-intended recommendations designed to prevent repetition, pointing out where things went wrong, how events may have turned out differently if the rules, regulations, practices, procedures, policies and previous identical recommendations made for the second, third and fourth time had been followed.

But they’re not followed; indeed they are almost routinely ignored, without consequence to those who ignore them, but not to those who later die needlessly when they may have been saved.

In IMB annual reports every year, and I read them all, so often the text relating to the number of deaths that have occurred in the prisons these IMBs ‘monitor’ are cut and pasted from one annual report to the next, with only the often increasing numbers changed from one year to the next.

Today, as I write this, 29th June 2019, the PPO published yet another death in custody report, this time into the death by hanging of 30 year old James Turnbull at HMP Durham. In that report the PPO again points out to HMP Durham the failures to implement the same recommendations in respect of Mr Turnbull’s death that the PPO had made previously to Durham Prison – and which like so many before it remain ignored and not implemented.

Mr James Turnbull was found hanged in his cell on 23 December 2017 at HMP Durham. He was 30 years old. Mr Turnbull experienced a severe decline in his mental health in the weeks before he died. His transfer to a psychiatric hospital had been approved and he was awaiting a bed space when he died. The investigation found there was a delay in arranging a psychiatric assessment for Mr Turnbull. If he had been assessed more promptly, it is possible he may have been transferred to hospital earlier where he could have received appropriate treatment. 

Staff managed Mr Turnbull under suicide and self-harm prevention procedures (known as ACCT) when his mental health declined. Initially, they did this well. However, I am concerned that staff wrongly assessed his level of risk and stopped ACCT procedures prematurely. They restarted ACCT procedures on 20 December, after Mr Turnbull told them he had been thinking of ways to hang himself, but worryingly, stopped them just over 24 hours later. I am concerned that despite Mr Turnbull’s continued paranoid behaviour, his pending transfer to psychiatric hospital and a recent stated intention to take his life, he was not being monitored under ACCT procedures when he died. Previous investigations at Durham have identified similar deficiencies in assessing prisoners’ risk and managing ACCT procedures. The Prison Group Director needs to satisfy himself that staff at Durham are properly applying ACCT procedures to protect prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm. 

Why were the recommendations by the PPO of failures in the past to carry out the mandatory suicide and self-harm procedures correctly at Durham not implemented – and why were these later criticisms even required at all?

Durham is a prison with a shocking record of suicides – precisely perhaps because the lessons and PPO recommendations are neither learned nor implemented. But the failure to implement death in custody recommendations is not something the IMB at Durham found worthy of any note at all – indeed they imply that all is well when it clearly isn’t.

In the latest HMP Durham IMB annual report, covering the period November 2017 (a month before Mr Turnbull died) to October 2018 and published in March 2019, this is what they say:

“Over the last year deaths in custody have increased from 7 (2017) to 11 (2018). Out of the 11 deaths this year, no Coroner’s report is available. The Board have been informed promptly of these deaths and where possible have observed the initial actions and subsequent investigation. All Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) reports have been monitored by the Board and discussed with the Governor. The prison action plans have been monitored accordingly. “

Not a single word about the death of Mr Turnbull, indeed none of the 11 prisoners who died at Durham during this year warrant any specific mention at all. There is nothing, not a word, about the criticism of the PPO and the prison’s failure to implement previous recommendations – and the fact is they must have known when writing their annual report because every prison and its IMB are given the contents of PPO Reports within weeks of a death, and often well over a year before the report itself is made public.

Instead the Durham prison IMB just make the risible claim that PPO reports have been monitored; what on earth does that even mean?

This isn’t just happening at Durham, this is a nationwide problem where IMBs fearful of rocking the Ministry of Justice’s ‘boat’ prefer silence to sanction, concealing from the public whose loved ones have died in their jail, how their deaths might have been prevented if the prisons they monitor had implemented recommendations made previously and ignored.

This problem was made more obvious recently when Anne Owers, the Chair of the National IMB Management Board, issued her first National IMB Annual Report on 5th June 2019. Because this report is merely a rehashing of the flawed IMB annual reports from Boards around the country, this too made no mention at all of any failures, by any prison, to implement PPO recommendations on deaths in custody.

Indeed when you read this report, which others who ought to know better have commended, you will find that the word ‘death’ or ‘deaths’ in this 56 page report appears just once, as a passing reference only, on page 11.

This lamentable fact was forcibly brought home in the Ministerial Response to the National IMB Annual Report when the Prisons Minister, Robert Buckland QC, responded formally to the Report on 28th June 2019 – in which he failed to mention even once, the subject of deaths in custody.

It is not just IMBs and Ministers who are to blame for this, the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman are themselves complicit in this concealment – and it starts right on Day One.

The PPO is advised immediately there is a death in custody. But they make no announcement about it, they conceal what deaths they are currently investigating and they have absolutely no mechanism in place for monitoring the implementation of their recommendations at all – which is why prisons ignore them with impunity and without consequence.

That concealment is supported by both HM Prison and Probation Service and the Ministry of Justice, neither of whom make public when someone has died in their care; they leave that to journalists to discover when news ‘leaks’ out days or weeks later – if at all.

The PPO is the first to trumpet its alleged independence, it makes much of it in every report they publish, but the fact is that this is little more than a mirage.

When a person dies in the custody of the State the PPO should announce they are investigating, there should be an online list of current investigations, it can be anonymised, there are sensitivities of next of kin to be considered and the judicial process of an Inquest to consider too, I understand all that. But the very fact they are investigating a death in custody, where it happened, when it happened, male or female and the age of the deceased should be made public – this is the United Kingdom, not North Korea.

This concealment has to stop.

I recently conducted a search of our Fatal Incident database, it contains all the PPO Fatal Incident Reports and I conducted a search of how many reports the PPO had issued on deaths in custody where the PPO had been forced to repeat recommendations that had been made previously but ignored – recommendations that had to be made again when further death in similar circumstances had occurred; the almost 100 cases runs to some six pages.

Unless we learn the lessons of why so many die in custody, unless we are open and transparent about deaths, acknowledging immediately when they occur, unless the PPO can put in place a robust mechanism for monitoring the implementation of their recommendations – and IMBs can be honest about when that implementation just isn’t happening – then people will continue to die, perhaps needlessly, in our prisons.

And, just like 35 years ago when 23-year-old David Greenhow was being driven out of the gates of Dartmoor Prison for the final time, the facts is that prison officials will continue to stamp the front of far too many prisoners’ records with the brutal self-explanatory text: “Discharged: Dead”.

Mark Leech FRSA, is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales.

IMB National Annual Report – Prisons in ‘fragile recovery’

The prison system is in a state of ‘fragile recovery’ after a lengthy period of staffing problems, increases in drugs and violence, and inadequate rehabilitation opportunities, said in their national annual report summarising the findings of prison independent monitoring boards in England and Wales to the end of 2018.

In the report, Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of the IMBs, highlights:

• the damage to regimes caused by insufficient staff, and then the risks resulting from a high proportion of new and inexperienced staff
• the impact of new psychoactive substances on prison safety, with a rise in violence and self-harm
• continuing failings in prison maintenance contracts, with crumbling infrastructure and sometimes degrading conditions
• the over-use of segregation for prisoners with serious mental health concerns or risks of self-harm
• the long-standing inability to manage prisoners’ property effectively; and
• the shortcomings of community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) and housing and benefits problems that undermine successful resettlement.

Dame Anne said that some new initiatives were showing signs of promise, but that it was too early to say whether they would have a sustained impact on outcomes for prisoners. They include:

• staff recruitment drives
• management focus on decent conditions
• the new drug strategy and measures to prevent the entry of drugs
• the roll-out of offender management in custody; and
• revised processes for supporting prisoners at risk of self-harm and reducing violence.

Boards will continue to monitor the impact of these changes.

The report also raised significant concerns about the number of prisoners with serious mental health conditions, or at risk of self-harm, being held for lengthy periods in segregation units, where their condition deteriorates. It points to the need for more appropriate alternative provision, particularly in NHS facilities.

Dame Anne said: “There is no question that IMBs are still reporting some serious and ongoing problems in prisons. The decline in safety, conditions and purposeful activity in prisons over the last few years has seriously hampered their ability to rehabilitate prisoners.

“This will take time to reverse, and will require consistent leadership and management both in the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice, as new staff, policies and resources bed in.

“This report provides a benchmark against which we will be able to judge progress. IMBs will continue to monitor and report on the new initiatives now being rolled out and their impact on the ground on the conditions and treatment of prisoners and the ability of prisons to turn lives round.”

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

Overall I think this is a really balanced report, it sets out clearly the progress that has been made across the estate, but doesn’t shy away from highlighting the major problems that it still faces, according at least to annual reports from individual Boards.

That said, the IMB as a national organisation, is still in need of root and branch reform. Too many Boards are cloaked in total darkness from the public who pay upwards of £2m a year to cover their expenses, or the prisoners in the establishments that they Monitor.

In 2019, is it still acceptable that we can know the name of the Head of MI5, but not the name of any IMB Member – that is what the Secretary of State has ruled, he claims for ‘personal safety reasons’?

If the IMB are to be taken seriously, and let’s not forget they are a statutory independent body, then they need to come from behind their cloak of secrecy and into the light of day, where they can be questioned and challenged on what they report or, more frequently, on what they help to conceal.

Read the Report

Doing Your Bird on Chicken Wing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook,  writes:

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

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

Read The Report

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

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

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

Death risk from Psychotic Drugs

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

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

IMB Chair Lynne Chambers explains

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

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

Emotional challenges

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

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

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

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

“It seems Rory Stewart couldn’t care less”

Key Report Findings  

Are prisoners treated fairly?  

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

Are prisoners treated humanely?

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

Are prisoners prepared well for their release?

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

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

Notes

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.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PRISON

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.

SAFETY

• 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.

READ THE REPORT

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.”