The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP/YOI Isis today publishes its 2016 Annual Report. The Board’s primary message – as it was in 2015 – is about the continuing failure of this prison, opened as a purpose built training facility for sentenced male prisoners in 2010, to fulfil its role to retrain and rehabilitate these men, and meet the government’s plans for reducing re-offending.
‘Despite significant progress around the fair and decent treatment of prisoners being made during the year after the appointment of a new Governor in July, the prison continues to fail in its role as a Training Prison, a view shared by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons in their October inspection report.’ (Peter Ward, Chair of the Board).
Although over 30 new officers were hired during the year, the actual number of prison officers only increased across the prison by three. The shortage of officers on a daily basis leads to prisoners being locked in their cells for too many hours and contributes to poor attendance at education and training, where, on any one day in 2016, there were typically only 100 of the 600 prisoners in attendance.
High levels of violence continue to be a concern, with violent incidents being 60% higher compared to the similar period in 2015. January and August were particularly bad with 40 or more incidents of violence reported in each month. Pleasingly, in the final quarter of 2016, the monthly average number of reported violent incidents has dropped from 24 to 10 incidents, although the number of assaults against officers has remained worryingly high.
‘Violence continues at unacceptable levels across the prison. While the reasons are various and complex, the continuing week by week tempo of violence must be reduced, to enable both prisoners and prison staff to feel safe. The Isis prison officers are to be commended for the manner in which they handle the violence and put themselves in harm’s way to protect both their colleagues and the vast majority of prisoners who are not involved in violent activity.’ (Peter Ward, Chair of the Board).
In the issues for the attention of the Minister, the Board urges that staff numbers be returned to the agreed levels from 2014, not simply by hiring new officers but also by implementing comprehensive programmes to retain and motivate existing staff. The Board also asks the Minister to consider more autonomy and control for the Governor to manage the prison, and to increase funding for training activities to enable more men to be prepared for release, thus reducing re-offending.
On the plus side, the Board is encouraged by the initiatives being implemented across the prison by the new Governor and her senior team, but remain concerned that lack of staff will hinder progress during 2017.