IMB reflects on major change in role of HMP Durham to reception prison

In its annual report for the period 2017/18 the IMB reports that this change has increased the workload in many areas and required the prison to constantly adapt to the challenges.The main issue affecting the prison is safety. The prison has seen large increases  in the use of force, assaults, death in custody and illegal use of drugs. The Board feels this is the biggest challenge facing the prison.

Key findings:

  • The Board would welcome an evaluation of the concept, planning, national policies and rollout of the reception prison process
  • Whilst overall prisoners are treated fairly the Board has the following concerns:
    • most cells are designed for one but occupied by two prisoners leading to cramped conditions and lack of privacy
    • long waits in the holding cell in the Reception without diversion
    • the lack of adequate toilet screening and furnishing in some cells
  • Prisoners are generally treated fairly in this establishment except for the problem in transferring sentenced prisoners to training prisons or the high security estate. This is unfair in that they are denied the right to commence their custodial journey towards rehabilitation in an establishment that is geared to their needs.
  • The prison should be provided with better technology to help tackle drugs.
  • The Board feels that Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) isn’t fit for purpose for a fast-paced reception prison and feel IEP should be reviewed separately for reception prisons.
  • Phase One (phones in cells/kiosks on wings) has been fully implemented but it has been decided not to implement Phase Two (individual tablets). This should be revisited.
  • The difficulty in moving some prisoners out of the establishment to more appropriate prisons should be addressed. This prison is not able to provide the training and rehabilitation which some of these need to make progress and they are being failed by the service.
  • There is no Cat B training prison in our catchment area with the inevitable consequence that Cat B prisoners are sent long distances making it difficult for friends and family.


  • Monitoring of use of force has greatly improved.
  • The “split” regime on the wings has been a significant improvement.
  • The Integrated Support Unit has had a very successful first year. Some individual prisoners have benefited so much that they no longer present a management problem and may not need transferring to NHS facilities.
  • The development of portfolios to document learning has proved to be an excellent concept and has in some cases resulted in shorter sentences and there is clear measurable evidence of prisoners learning skills and personal development achieved through the activities.

John Davidson, IMB Chair, said We are very clear on what our objectives are as an Independent Monitoring Board with the emphasis on safety and reform as our fundamental priorities. Board member Chris Hutchinson, whose area of Special Interests is monitoring Learning Skills and Employability said, “The prison is well placed with 25 areas where prisoners can engage in developing meaningful activities to help reform and return to the community.”


IMB Key Objectives 2019

The Board will monitor closely the areas affecting safety and the steps taken by the prison to improve this area.

The Board will continue to monitor the ongoing issues that a reception prison faces to ensure that all the needs the men face at this crucial period in their custody are met.

John Davidson, IMB Chair, said “Our monitoring process reflects the National Monitoring Framework which gives clear guidelines to ensure the prison reaches the standards required.  Our key priorities of observation monitoring include those held in segregation, healthcare, catering and reform programmes.”


Read the report in full here.