Government blamed amid ‘alarming rise’ in violence at Pentonville Prison

Government neglect has “directly contributed” to an “alarming rise” in violence and drugs at one of the country’s oldest and busiest jails, it is claimed.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Pentonville has called on Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and prisons minister Lucy Frazer to provide “adequate funds” so improvements can be made “as a matter of urgency”.

It also asked the pair to visit the prison so they could see the conditions for themselves.

The concerns have been raised a week after chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke warned violence fuelled by gangs, drugs, debt and “volatile young prisoners” has “increased markedly” at the north London jail.

Violence has shot up by more than 50% since 2017. In the last six months there have been 264 assaults on staff and inmates and 61 fights, compared with 196 and 65 respectively during a previous inspection, according to Mr Clarke’s report.

Officers and prisoners were “frequently assaulted”. In March four officers and around 40 prisoners were attacked each week. “Improvised weapons” are being found on an almost daily basis, the IMB said.

It called for more funds for equipment to tackle drugs and carry out searches, saying illegal substances were “pervasive”.

The age of the prison made it “impossible” to install a full body scanner, the report said.

IMB chairman Camilla Poulton said: “Neither Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) nor the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have given Pentonville the money, care and scrutiny that it needs for years, in the IMB’s opinion.

“An audit revealed that less than half of the skilled Government Facilities Services Limited (formerly Carillion) workforce required to maintain the building to health and safety standards were in place. Other audits, commissioned by the new governor after arriving in August 2018, revealed shortfalls relating to safety, use of force and other issues.

“The board believes this neglect directly contributed to the violence, drugs and self-harm.”

The Victorian jail’s four wings – which are largely unchanged since it was built in 1842 – now hold up to 1,310 adult men, with nearly 10% being under 21.

There are around 33,000 “movements” through the category B prison’s reception every year – making it the busiest in the country, inspectors previously said.

The prison lacked the staff it needed for most of the year, according to the board. But it acknowledged new officers were “doing their best for prisoners”.

Reported incidents of self-harm have increased this year from 500 to 598, the report said.

The IMB also raised concerns about the prevalence of insecticide-resistant cockroaches and mouldy, broken showers.

It said: “Whilst other London prisons have benefited in recent years from additional resources, Pentonville has not.

“It desperately needs money now to raise the standard of day-to-day life for prisoners and staff and deliver its dual function of serving local courts and helping prisoners lead productive lives.”

IMBs are made up of volunteers appointed by justice ministers to scrutinise prison conditions.

The MoJ would not confirm whether ministers were considering visiting the prison but said they would respond to the IMB in writing.

The Prison Service reiterated the Government pledge to spend an extra £100 million on airport-style scanners and mobile phone blocking technology to “boost security and cut violence” in jails.

Pentonville’s new management team had made “significant improvements” in the months since the inspection, a spokesman added.

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:


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

Monitors at Birmingham Prison have published a ‘breathtaking’ catalogue of danger and chaos – but not once did they say anything to the public


A prisoner at one of Britain’s largest jails had to ask someone on the outside to alert staff after he was placed in a cell without a working toilet, a watchdog has disclosed.

Monitors also raised concerns that phone calls into crisis-hit HMP Birmingham were not always answered.

In one instance, the father of an inmate was unable to get a message to his son informing him of his mother’s death for two days.

HMP Birmingham came under scrutiny earlier this year when Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over “appalling” squalor and violence at the establishment.

As his findings were revealed in August, the Ministry of Justice confirmed it had taken over running of the jail from G4S for at least six months.

In a new report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the prison said it had observed instances of men being placed in cells that are not fit for purpose.

The report said: “A man, placed in a cell without a working toilet, had to arrange for a person outside the prison to phone the duty director to get this resolved.”

The board said it was concerned that telephone calls from outside the prison are not always answered.

“In one instance the father of a prisoner was unable, for two days, to get a message via the phone line informing the prisoner of his mother’s death,” the report said.

“In another case, calls were made about concerns for the safety of a vulnerable prisoner, who was subsequently seriously assaulted.”

The report covering the 12 months to the end of June found bullying, debt, drugs and gang-related issues continued to be the main causes of violence in the prison.

Security activity had increased significantly, with mobile phone finds in the first half of 2018 exceeding the number for the whole of last year.

Despite it being a non-smoking prison, men were observed smoking in cells and on landings, according to the report.

It also warned that rats and cockroaches were in evidence in many areas of the jail.

The board said the prison is “considered by many to be the most violent and challenging in the country” but concluded that it is turning a corner and showing early signs of improvement in conditions for prisoners and staff.

Roger Swindells, chairman of the IMB, said: “We have monitored a prison in crisis for the last 18 months and have described many incidents that have caused great concern.

“Since August we have seen a ‘step in’ by HMPPS (Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) to take over the running of the prison and are now seeing early signals that outcomes for prisoners are improving in terms of cleanliness, safety, security activity and the provision of an acceptable daily regime.”

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “We took decisive action at HMP Birmingham, stepping in to strengthen the management, bringing in additional staff and reducing the population, and I’m pleased the IMB recognises that we are making progress.”

Mr Stewart said the prison’s new governor and his staff are “working tirelessly to drive up standards and urgent action continues to improve safety and living conditions”, adding: “We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham becomes a place of stability and reform.”


Monitors at HMP Birmingham have published their 2017/2018 Annual Report.

This report presents the observations and opinions of the Monitoring Board (MB) at HMP Birmingham for the period July 2017 to June 2018.

Events detailed in the report occurred prior to and after the reporting window and are noted as they are considered relevant.

This annual report has been informed by observations made by members during frequent visits to the prison and through contact with prisoners, prison officers, and staff at all levels in all areas.

The Prison:

HMP Birmingham is a local category B prison for adult men, run by G4S. It has a potential operational capacity of 1,450 but currently runs at a capacity of 1,340, with one wing being temporarily closed. HMP Birmingham is a Victorian prison with additional, modern accommodation including a healthcare centre, a gymnasium, an education centre and workshops. The prison has a total of twelve residential wings. These wings include a wing for the elderly, and a healthcare wing, a detoxification wing, two wings for sex offenders and vulnerable prisoners, a First Night Centre and a Care and Separation Unit The prison holds men, both convicted and on remand, including those who are serving life sentences and indeterminate public protection (IPP) sentences. During the year there have been over 20,000 prisoner movements into and out of the establishment and nearly 5,000 new prisoner admissions.

The Board say:

We have sought evidence through a review of daily reports and monthly feedback from the Senior Management Team (SMT) at Board meetings. It has been a difficult and challenging year and the Board found it necessary to write and advise the Prisons Minister of serious deficiencies at the prison. Alongside this, HMPPS also served two notices to improve to the prison over four serious failings. The timing of both events coincided with a drive by G4S to tackle the many challenges. In the final three months of the reporting year there were some early signs of improvement in staffing levels and morale.

The letter to the Prisons Minister detailed a number of deeply worrying issues, including specific examples of men being placed in uninhabitable cells and management failing to move them to satisfactory conditions.

The issues were:

• six deaths in custody in a seven-week period

• levels of violence, assaults, and self-harm that, whilst having stabilised, had created an unsafe environment, and given cause for concern.

• the widespread availability of prohibited drugs, even in the segregation unit.

• occasions when the treatment of prisoners had fallen below acceptable levels of decency and humanity

• overcrowded and unfit living conditions In the letter, the Board highlighted the issue of staff relinquishing authority to prisoners. G4s knew of the problems and took very little action to remedy them. The Board has plenty of examples of how difficult and frustrating the G4S response has been to simple issues, such as IT access, ID cards, informing the board of new entrants to the Care and Separation Unit (CSU), or obtaining certain data. This inability to address relatively simple concerns is symptomatic of a significant cause of frustration that prisoners experience over their complaints being answered fairly and reasonably. Just after the end of the reporting period:

• HMIP carried out an unannounced inspection and issued an Urgent Notification to the Secretary of State

• HMPPS released a redacted copy of the Investigation Report into the riot of December 2016 Both documents noted the many failings and concerns already raised by the Board in monthly meetings with the Director and referred to in the letter the Board sent to the Minister for Prisons in May 2018. This annual report reflects the changes occurring in the prison environment over twelve months, and so observes both improvements and deteriorations in outcomes for prisoners.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the report was ‘breathtaking’.

Mr Leech said: “Its no secret that I’m critical of the national system of Monitoring Boards, with its selection by and payment of reports on his own prisons by the Justice Secretary, it smacks of non-independence.

“This report is a breathtaking example of how such Boards, when they know the prison is in absolute meltdown say nothing at all to the public – that is the antithesis of independence.

“Boards seem to think they’re part of some kind of Golf Club Committee; they’re not.

“While staff and prisoners were suffering appalling conditions at Birmingham Prison, Monitors there wrote just one letter in 18 months to the Prisons Minister, never uttering a single word to the public about it, they came in and went home without saying a word and leaving behind them increasing chaos and danger.

“How much longer do we have to put up with this second-rate system of alleged independent oversight of our prisons?”

Read the Report

HMP Warren Hill Monitors Annual Report

This is the Monitoring Board’s Press Release.

The Monitoring Board, whose volunteer members made 204 visits to the prison during the year, reports that the prison’s success is the result of a clear sense of purpose, imaginative leadership and dedicated staff. Prisoners often told the monitors that Warren Hill is a lot safer, is more decent and is better at helping them with their rehabilitation than the larger and more turbulent mainstream prisons from which they have transferred. The monitors conclude: “At a time when many prisons are struggling, we consider that this is an establishment of which the Prison Service can be justifiably proud.”

Warren Hill provides an innovative progression regime for 258 men on life or indeterminate sentences, with many of the latter still in prison several years after completing their minimum sentence. These men are only released when they can demonstrate to the Parole Board an increased sense of responsibility and reduced risk to the public.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) says that:
• staff are respected as they both challenge and help prisoners;
• inmates are fully consulted about developments and both work and education opportunities have improved;
• there is a rich arts and cultural programme (aided by Snape Maltings and the Red Rose Chain Theatre) which helps both the sense of community within the prison and many individuals in their personal progress.

As a result of this overall approach, men are being well prepared for parole.

However, those who have been inside for many years can face major challenges on their release – for example coping with modern technology including the internet or negotiating the London Underground without an Oyster card – and the IMB remains concerned about prisoners who are recalled to custody, not having committed a further offence, but through minor breaches of the terms of their licence. The prison is taking imaginative steps to help men with the transition but the monitors say that the Governor should be given the power to release some prisoners on temporary licence as part of the rehabilitation process. The IMB also considers that the prison’s work needs to be better matched by the care and supervision provided during the non-custodial part of a man’s sentence.

Warren Hill was recently rated the top performing prison in the country and its pioneering system, under which every prison officer is a key worker for a small number of men, has been adopted as the national model.

The Chair of the Monitoring Board, Colin Reid, says “Warren Hill is helped by its small size, but the keys to its success are its clear sense of purpose, bold leadership and the excellent relationship between staff and prisoners. The positive culture and the key worker system enable many men to make progress and to feel more hopeful about themselves.”
“Nevertheless not allowing the Governor any discretion to release men on temporary licence restricts the ability to prepare them in a step-by-step way for discharge into the community, often after many years behind bars.”

The IMB also calls for better cooperation nationally between the Prison Service and the NHS to see that those with demanding mental health difficulties are more swiftly transferred to an appropriate healthcare setting.

Members of the IMB come from a wide range of backgrounds and, having been appointed by the Prisons Minister, they each volunteer two or three days a month to ensure that prisoners are treated decently and fairly and prepared appropriately for release. Colin Reid said “We are the eyes and ears of the local community in the prison.”

Read the report in full here.

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.


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.