HMP Manchester: Some improvements but progress is slow and weak in key areas

HMP Manchester, an important local prison in a major English city, was assessed by inspectors as having made slow and weak progress in many key areas where improvement was urged after a full inspection in 2018.

An Independent Review of Progress (IRP) at Manchester took place in June 2019, 11 months after the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said the prison needed to “up its game.”

Mr Clarke said: “The response to the 2018 inspection can only be described as too late and too weak. It is true that there were some encouraging outcomes, and most functional heads demonstrated enthusiasm and a commitment to improving their areas. However, we found there had been little or no meaningful progress against two-thirds of our recommendations.”

The prison had recently revised its safety strategy. “Assaults on prisoners had reduced significantly since the full inspection, and we judged there to have been reasonable progress in this area.” Mr Clarke added, though: “If the establishment is to reduce violence further, particularly against staff, the lengthy list of actions aimed at reducing violence should be prioritised.”

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The use of force by staff remained high. “Despite this, there had been no meaningful progress against this recommendation; governance had not improved, staff rarely used their body-worn cameras, with no adequate explanation for this, and too few recorded incidents were scrutinised to provide assurance and institutional learning.”

The prison had made reasonable progress – the second-highest assessment, below good – in efforts to reduce the supply of drugs. Mandatory testing results showed that drug use was relatively low compared with other local prisons.

However, promising work to support prisoners in crisis had started so recently that progress at the time of the IRP visit had to be judged as insufficient. “This was very concerning given that there had been three further self-inflicted deaths since the full inspection in July 2018. It was bewildering to find that actions to prevent deaths in custody simply had not been reviewed until shortly before our visit. Similarly, the introduction of key work and wing peer support had been so slow that we could not yet see sufficient progress in this area.”

The prison had made concerted efforts to tackle the ongoing vermin problem, and some improvements had been made to living conditions.

There was also evidence of reasonable progress in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, though Ofsted inspectors found that attendance at work and education was not prioritised and too much activity was curtailed. Too few prisoners completed their courses and achievements were not sufficiently good.

Mr Clarke said there had been no meaningful progress in the important areas of equality and diversity or time out of cell. A spot check on one wing found 49% of prisoners locked up during the day.

Mr Clarke said: “HMP Manchester was relatively well resourced and had fewer inexperienced staff than we have found at similar prisons. It was therefore hard to understand why progress had been so slow in many critical areas. Such progress as there had been had only started in the weeks and months immediately leading up to this review visit.

“Without a fundamental shift in attitude towards the findings of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, we had no confidence that there could be significant improvements in the future. At the full inspection we had been told that reconfiguration to a category B training prison was imminent. On this visit… we were told that the target date had been moved to October 2019. It is my considered view that unless the culture of the prison changes, and the need for improvement is taken seriously, it will not be ready for this change.”

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HMP Birmingham – a mixed bag of some progress in tackling violence and squalor, but weaknesses in education and management of sex offenders

HMP Birmingham has made reasonable progress in tackling the violence, drug use and squalor evident in a disturbing inspection of the prison in the summer of 2018.

However, an Independent Review of Progress (IRP) in May 2019 found a mixed overall picture, with insufficient progress in tackling antisocial behaviour and in improving work, training and education for most prisoners. There was no meaningful progress in work to support the large number of sex offenders to address their offending behaviour.

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Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, recalled that HMP Birmingham was found to be in an “appalling state” during an inspection in August 2018, with the treatment of prisoners among the worst inspectors had seen in recent years. He was so concerned that he invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification Protocol. Birmingham was then run by G4S but it has since been announced that it will return to the public sector.

At the IRP visit in May 2019, Mr Clarke said, inspectors found that the prison “had worked exceptionally hard to address violence. The causes of violence were now well understood and a range of actions had been taken to make the prison safer.” Levels of violence had decreased since 2018, though they remained considerably higher than the average for similar prisons.

There had been no progress at all on the recommendation that:

  • The prison should implement a strategy to manage and progress sex offenders in order to address their offending behaviour, who cannot be appropriately progressed, specific and sufficient offending behaviour work should be provided at Birmingham. The skills mix in the offender management unit should be improved, to reflect the need to work effectively with a large high-risk population.

There had been insufficient progress on recommendations that:

  • the perpetrators of violence and antisocial behaviour should be subject to appropriate administrative or disciplinary actions
  • all victims of violence and antisocial behaviour should be identified and assisted with comprehensive support plans which include access to regime activities
  • progress leaders and managers have made in implementing an education, skills and work provision that meets the prison population’s needs, including the prioritisation of sentenced prisoners’ session attendance
  • English and mathematics development and pre-release preparation
  • there should be a fundamental improvement in the quality of care for prisoners in distress and those at risk of self-harm who should be properly supported, and triggers addressed such as poor living conditions and isolation.

There had been reasonable progress on recommendations that:

  • The prison’s drug supply and demand strategy should be further developed, to identify additional practical measures to stop the ingress of drugs and reduce demand more robustly. It should include measures to develop a culture that does not tolerate drug use and actively supports those who are using to stop.
  • Staff should be effectively supervised, coached and trained to maintain appropriate professional standards and provide a proper balance of care and control.
  • All steps, including consultation with prisoners, should be taken to understand and analyse the causes of violence and antisocial behaviour. Actions should be taken to reduce violence, and the effectiveness of these should be monitored over time.
  • Gaps and weaknesses in public protection arrangements should be identified and urgent remedial action should be taken to protect victims and potential victims.
  • What progress have leaders and managers made in identifying and addressing fully the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, who attend education programmes, so they achieve to an appropriately high level? Addresses previous inspection report recommendation.
  • Measures to ensure prisoners faced sanctions for their poor behaviour looked encouraging but had only recently been introduced and were not yet working effectively. Similarly, considerable efforts had been made to identify victims of violence and bullying but as yet too little support had been offered.

Inspectors no longer observed overt drug use on the wings, Mr Clarke said. However, one in four prisoners were still testing positive for drugs “and I found it inexplicable that the prison had been unable to secure funding for equipment such as a body scanner to help them stop drugs entering the prison.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners had improved, and the prison felt more ordered and controlled. In August 2018 inspectors had found that control in the “fundamentally unsafe” prison was tenuous. In 2019, “staff were more accountable, better supported and more able to establish appropriate boundaries and challenge poor prisoner behaviour.” The prison was also now much cleaner.

The prison had made reasonable progress in identifying and addressing the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. But progress across other areas of education, skills and work, assessed by Ofsted inspectors, was insufficient. “The provision did not meet most prisoners’ needs – most critically the substantial number of prisoners requiring English and mathematics education. Attendance at activities was low.”

Many of the weaknesses in public protection arrangements evident in 2018 had been addressed. However, Mr Clarke added: “The prison had devised a strategy to manage and progress the substantial number of prisoners convicted of sexual offences but, with no support or agreement from across the wider HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), the strategy was unrealistic and likely to fail.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“It is only right that I recognise the scale of the task to improve the treatment and conditions for prisoners at Birmingham. It is huge. There is no doubt that the prison faces a long journey of recovery. It is very clear that the governor, through his vision and very visible leadership, has energised the staff and undoubted pride and optimism are emerging around the prison. I think that optimism is well founded. Birmingham has already made some tangible improvements and has the capacity for further change and improvement if it retains strong leadership and if those responsible for Birmingham at national and regional level provide it with the support necessary to sustain what has begun.”

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

On the face of it, this is a fairly balanced report, showing that Birmingham under the step-in powers (that become permanent next month) has made real progress under the Governorship of the rightly-regarded Paul Newton – but the problem I have with it, and it’s a failure running through all of Peter Clarke’s reporting – including this one –  is the complete lack of detail in terms of support for his findings.

All Inspectorate reports contain ‘partially achieved’ assessments, but the Chief Inspector has publicly confirmed there is no criteria for these assessments; it depends on the judgement of the inspector on the day. Moreover, requests for copies of the notes taken by Inspectors to support those assessments have been refused by the Chief Inspector.

The same flaw has regrettably infected these new ‘Interim Reviews of Progress’.

For example in this report, he lists areas where there has been ‘no progress’, ‘insufficient progress’, and ‘reasonable progress’, but he gives absolutely no detail whatsoever as to the evidence to support those conclusions nor, where he finds a lack of progress, does he set out what needs to be done for progress to be made.

This is contrary to previous Chief Inspectors who when they made assessments provided clear evidence to support their conclusions.

This has been a constant feature of this chief inspector and it is one that he has continually failed to remedy.

Additionally, while Clarke makes sweeping statements such as he made about Bristol prison recently (that the prison was fully staffed) he gives no details about that staffing, nor the basis upon which the calculations as to a full complement of staff are based.

A further common flaw in Clarke’s reports has been to make recommendations without any thought as to where the resources are to come from to implement those recommendations – and he later then castigates the prison for their failure to implement those very same recommendations which in many cases were destined to fil for a lack of resources to implement them from the beginning.

Peter Clarke is due to retire next February from this role, my hope is that whoever replaces him brings a greater understanding of the problems faced by our prisons than Clarke has brought to the role.

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First of the new HMI ‘Independent Review of Progress’ Reports shows “Too Little Too Late” at HMP Exeter

“A thoroughly depressing report”
Mark Leech, Editor:  The Prisons Handbook
for England and Wales

Work to address key failings at HMP Exeter, a troubled prison found last year to suffer high levels of drug-fuelled violence, has lacked urgency, according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

In the first of its new ‘Independent Reviews of Progress’ (IRPs) – in Exeter in April 2019 – HMIP tested progress against key recommendations from a full inspection in May last year. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, was so concerned by the conditions in Exeter at that time that he issued a rarely-used ‘Urgent Notification’ requiring the Secretary of State to respond with plans for improvement within 28 days.

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The IRP visit presented a mixed picture. One of the most troubling findings was ‘no meaningful progress’ in understanding the factors underlying high levels of illicit drug use.

Mr Clarke said that while there had been progress on some aspects, “the lack of progress in over half the 13 recommendations that we reviewed could be characterised by the statement ‘too little too late’.

“The purpose of the Urgent Notification Protocol, which is only used where I have serious concerns about the treatment of and conditions for prisoners, is to initiate immediate remedial action.

“At Exeter, in too many critical areas, this simply had not happened. It was not clear whether this was as a result of a conscious decision not to prioritise our recommendations, bureaucratic inertia, or whether managers were simply overwhelmed or uncertain as to how to set about making the much-needed improvements. 

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“Whatever the reason, there had not been a sufficient sense of urgency in the prison’s response to a number of key recommendations.”

In the May 2018 inspection, inspectors found there had been six self-inflicted deaths between 2016 and 2018 and self-harm had risen by 40%. Despite these levels of vulnerability, self-harm and suicide, cell call bells were routinely ignored by staff. The rate of assaults between prisoners was then the highest inspectors had seen in a local prison in recent years.

In April 2019, the IRP found that overall levels of violence had decreased, though they remained higher than in similar prisons. Mr Clarke said: “A number of actions had been taken to reduce violence and the strategy to reduce violence further in the future was promising.” The use of unregulated segregation had been eradicated, and governance of the use of force by staff was improving.

“However, despite a rise in the already high use of illicit drugs in the establishment, there had been an inexplicable failure to develop a comprehensive drug strategy which, if properly implemented, would certainly contribute to a reduction in violence. A draft strategy was being put together and it is essential that this is now treated as a priority.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners were found to be improving and improvement processes were in place to monitor cell bell responses. There was progress on prisoner applications and complaints, though equality and diversity work had not been prioritised at all. Similarly, attendance at education and work, some of which remained mundane, had not been prioritised.

Mr Clarke said that after the Urgent Notification the prison was required to produce an action plan for the Secretary of State but a number of the deadlines in this plan had not been met on time.

“Nevertheless, there had been a proactive response to some recommendations in critical areas and there are now credible plans to make further improvements in the future. It is unfortunate that the prison had not devised and implemented some of these plans earlier as they would no doubt have led to a more positive assessment at this review of progress.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales called the report ‘thoroughly depressing’.

Mr Leech said: “We all had high hopes that the Urgent Notification process would lead to real and lasting improvements in those prisons which have been subject to it – HMP Exeter was the first such prison to benefit from a post Urgent Notification IRP and this review of progress is a thoroughly depressing report that demonstrates that not even the Justice Secretary’s public undertakings of progress can be relied upon.”

The report is available here: https://www.prisons.org.uk/Exeter-HMI-IRP-052019.pdf