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