The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Brixton has today published its 2016-17 report. When Brixton was inspected by HMIP in January 2017, it was not safe, awash with drugs, and there were severe staff shortages. Conditions started to improve in the spring, especially for the priorities of safety and staffing. The Board recognises the commitment of the governor, the management team and officers who have persevered to turn the prison round.
The last year demonstrates how difficult it is to restore decent conditions. The prison has been successful in recruiting and retaining staff, by mentoring them. Training for all staff, long neglected, has been another priority. But men have had to be locked down regularly to allow this, sharing small cells in poor conditions. A full resettlement regime will not be in place until early 2018, well over two years since it collapsed.
The Board regretted the loss in January of the category D wing, for men able to go out on day release to employment. There is no prison with day release in London, and a shortage of category D places for men from Brixton who get to that level. In February, the transfer of sex offenders to Brixton demonstrated the population pressures on the system: men were moved in whether or not they met the criteria for Brixton, and some had to be re-transferred out.
By August 2017, safety was much improved on three of the five wings and management processes for vulnerable men and for bullies were operating better. The number of assaults on prisoners and on staff had reduced. The Board has consistently seen men with mental illness and psychological difficulties treated with compassion and patience: longer term management plans have been put in place for some of the most difficult cases. For such men, prison is not an appropriate place.
The drug problem persisted at a reduced level, despite continuous efforts to block supply routes and identify dealers. The shortage of dogs to search out drugs and phones was a handicap which should have been avoided.
Prisoners continued to arrive from reception prisons without sentence plans, and this hindered their progress. Some men got good employment training and jobs on release, for instance in catering and building trades, and through job fairs facilitated by third sector agencies. By August, the groundwork had been laid for a better induction process, and a sharper focus on reducing reoffending, which should reach more men and give them a better chance of employment on release. Regime changes were introduced on the wings, to encourage the most intractable men into activities.
In early summer 2017, the Board interviewed 68 men about to be released, and found that seven of them had accommodation for less than one week, and 15 had nowhere to go. 18 of these 22 men had no job either.
‘Brixton is providing a safer environment and a better opportunity for men to turn their lives round’, said Liz Duthie, IMB chair. ‘Some men are getting steady jobs on release. For those least able to help themselves, without family ties or a job, the shortage of housing may be the biggest factor in reoffending.’
Read the report in full here.