Prisons in ‘fragile recovery’ says national IMB report

The prison system is in a state of ‘fragile recovery’ after a lengthy period of staffing problems, increases in drugs and violence, and inadequate rehabilitation opportunities, said a report published today, summarising the findings of prison independent monitoring boards in England and Wales to the end of 2018.

In the report, Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of the IMBs, highlights:

• the damage to regimes caused by insufficient staff, and then the risks resulting from a high proportion of new and inexperienced staff
• the impact of new psychoactive substances on prison safety, with a rise in violence and self-harm
• continuing failings in prison maintenance contracts, with crumbling infrastructure and sometimes degrading conditions
• the over-use of segregation for prisoners with serious mental health concerns or risks of self-harm
• the long-standing inability to manage prisoners’ property effectively; and
• the shortcomings of community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) and housing and benefits problems that undermine successful resettlement.

Dame Anne said that some new initiatives were showing signs of promise, but that it was too early to say whether they would have a sustained impact on outcomes for prisoners. They include:

• staff recruitment drives
• management focus on decent conditions
• the new drug strategy and measures to prevent the entry of drugs
• the roll-out of offender management in custody; and
• revised processes for supporting prisoners at risk of self-harm and reducing violence.

Boards will continue to monitor the impact of these changes.

The report also raised significant concerns about the number of prisoners with serious mental health conditions, or at risk of self-harm, being held for lengthy periods in segregation units, where their condition deteriorates. It points to the need for more appropriate alternative provision, particularly in NHS facilities.

Dame Anne said: “There is no question that IMBs are still reporting some serious and ongoing problems in prisons. The decline in safety, conditions and purposeful activity in prisons over the last few years has seriously hampered their ability to rehabilitate prisoners.

“This will take time to reverse, and will require consistent leadership and management both in the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice, as new staff, policies and resources bed in.

“This report provides a benchmark against which we will be able to judge progress. IMBs will continue to monitor and report on the new initiatives now being rolled out and their impact on the ground on the conditions and treatment of prisoners and the ability of prisons to turn lives round.”

Notes to Editors

1. Members of an IMB are from the local community, appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice under the Prison Act 1952. Each IMB has a duty to:

a. satisfy itself as to the humane and just treatment of those held in custody within its establishment and (for prisons and YOIs) the range and adequacy of the programmes preparing them for release;
b. to inform promptly the Secretary of State, or any official to whom s/he has delegated authority as s/he judges appropriate, any concern it has;
c. to report annually to the Secretary of State on how well the establishment has met the standards and requirements placed on it and what impact these have on those in its custody.

2. To enable the Board to carry out these duties effectively, its members have right of access to every prisoner or detainee, every part of the establishment and all its records (except for personal medical records). There are 117 prison/YOI IMBs in England and Wales.

3. Dame Anne Owers was appointed as IMB National Chair in November 2017. She was previously the Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), (now the Independent Office for Police Conduct). Dame Anne was Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons between 2001 and 2010 and chaired a review of prisons in Northern Ireland from 2010 to 2011.