Durham annual report published: IMB reflects on significant improvements in safety

In its annual report for the period 2018/19 the Independent Monitoring Board – made up of volunteers appointed by Ministers to ensure prisoners are treated fairly and humanely – reports that HMP Durham has tackled the main issue highlighted last year, namely safety.

As a result, there have been significant decreases in the use of force, assaults, death in custody and illegal use of drugs.

There is however an increase in the number of incidents of self-harm and the Board is concerned to see this increase.

Key findings:

John Davidson, IMB Chair during 2018/19 , said “Within the annual reporting period the prison has responded well to the many challenges which it faced last year

“Last year the main issue affecting the prison was safety. The prison has tackled this issue well with decreases in all areas except self-harm. Whilst the Board accepts the prison are taking various steps to address this issue, the Board is still concerned that there has been an increase in the number of such incidents.”

Last year the main issue affecting the prison was safety.

The prison has tackled this issue well, however the Board is concerned to see an increase in the number of incidents of self-harm.

  • The Board is concerned that whilst the funding arrangements for education have changed, after seven months these are not fully up and running.
  • Overcrowding in the prison was highlighted by the Board last year and continues to be a major problem. It is accepted that overcrowding is a national issue but given that prisons such as Durham now operate with a higher dynamic OPCAP (maximum capacity), the Board feels this area should constantly be looked at.
  • The Board understands there may be a national shortage of Category B places (for higher risk or more complex prisoners), however the prison still remains unable to move Category B prisoners on for a variety of reasons:
    • Other prisons unable/unwilling to accept them ie cherry picking – a major issue. This is reflected in prisons declining to take prisoners with medical conditions requiring additional follow up at external hospital appointments.
    • Inadequate number of high security placements
    • Waiting list for NHS mental health unit beds
    • Immigration detainees awaiting deportation

This issue, whilst mainly relating to Category B, applies to all convicted prisoners, including Category C.

The Board has raised this issue with the Prisons Minister but still feels this is not being addressed.

  • Concern about the deterioration in delivery of induction; a new system commenced September 2019 and the Board looks to continued improvement.
  • The Board notes that following a prisoner survey, many prisoners feel that the key worker scheme is beneficial, however the Board is concerned that the level of delivery has fallen.


The prison has worked hard over the year to improve areas throughout the establishment and these improvements are reflected in individual sections, e.g. activity attendance rates were excellent – eclipsing many training establishments, which is a remarkable achievement given that remand prisoners can’t be forced to attend.

The following, however, are of particular note:

  • The governance of use of force (UOF) incidents has further improved.
  • Formation of dedicated search teams – major contributing factor to improvement of MDT (mandatory drug testing) against targets.
  • Exemplary management plans for and level of care shown to transgender prisoners.

John Davidson, IMB Chair during 2018/19, said “It is pleasing to report improvements throughout the prison which all help to provide a safer, stable environment”.

Board member Chris Hutchinson whose area of special interest is monitoring resettlement preparation, said “The key worker scheme is an initiative operating in its first year. Its main objective is to encourage prisoners to take up meaningful learning and employment opportunities as well as being a personal point of contact. This has also proved to be beneficial in assisting prisoners to reform.

Later in 2020 the Board will be recruiting for new members.

Board member Therese Quincey said “ Joining the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Durham has given me a real opportunity to support, voluntarily, some of the most vulnerable men in our society. Following training in a totally different professional field I, with other Board members, monitor the daily life experience of prisoners to ensure the care they receive is informed by dignity and respect.

“The role allows me to use my personal and professional skills to monitor and evaluate prison care and has given me the opportunity to work within a professional and dedicated team. I have been asked why I would want to do such a role. My role is not to judge but to make a positive contribution to the men’s prison experience. At the same time I am intellectually challenged and have had the privilege to meet other dedicated professionals and volunteers. I find the role extremely rewarding.”

Prison key aims 2020

Provide men with a safe, stable environment when they are first committed to custody, addressing all their immediate needs.

Promote a procedurally just culture of safety and decency for all who live and work in HMP Durham, reducing the trafficking and use of illicit substances which are the fundamental driver as to why men are in custody.

Encourage men to participate in work and education, building relationships with them and empowering them to use the opportunity presented by custody to build hope for the future and have chances for change.

IMB key objectives 2020

The Board will continue, impartially and independently, to monitor whether prisoners and detainees are treated with fairness and humanity whilst in custody

The Board will continue to monitor the outcomes of strategies and policies adopted,  particularly in relation to safety and access to all forms of healthcare and education.

John Davidson, IMB Chair during 2018/19, said “The Board is committed to a meaningful monitoring of the prison , which constantly helps the prison in identifying independently not only areas which need tackling, but also areas of best practice.”