Progress at HMP Norwich – despite the system?

This Annual Report of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Norwich relates to the year from March 2015 to February 2016.

HMP Norwich under the effective leadership of the Governor and his management team, ably supported by committed staff, has continued its improvement and is now regarded as an exemplar nationally of a local prison. This was recognised recently by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

However, some progress has been inhibited by serious cuts in funding from central government. As an example, we have repeatedly observed that staffing constraints restrict personalised work with individual prisoners on the Wings. Usually, only one officer is available on a landing, inhibiting any quality interaction with prisoners and compromising safety of all.

This past year the rise in violent behaviour nationally has put at risk the security of prisons. Low staffing levels and the prevalence of “legal high“ drugs have contributed to this, and we are not confident that recent changes in the law on the latter will lead to improvement. It is important to stress that, while violent incidents have increased at Norwich despite CCTV on the landings, the situation nationally is much worse.However, we commend Norwich prison staff for endeavouring to provide as full a regime as possible for prisoners in the face of severe budgetary restrictions.

As always we remain very concerned over the limited support available for the severe mental health issues of the too large numbers of ill prisoners for whom prison placement is totally inappropriate, but recognise the good work of the small mental health team who do their best to address prisoners’ needs. We welcome the greatly improved dental provision, a reduction in agency healthcare staff, a new GP contract, and increased resettlement opportunities through innovative joint ventures with outside businesses and social enterprise.

There has been enforced privatisation of several services. In place of the former estates “Works” department, the combination of an inadequate contract and the chosen provider, Carillion, has brought about unacceptable delays in essential repairs, and often straightforward maintenance has taken weeks to complete. The introduction of the Through the Gate service locally subcontracted to St Giles started poorly, underfunded and understaffed, and it has yet to attain the levels of resettlement services previously achieved by the Prison Service.

We are asking the Minister to address these and other concerns, but are not optimistic that the response will bring about effective change.

To end on a positive note: when so many prisoners have insufficient literacy and numeracy skills we are encouraged that prisoner enrolment on improved education courses has risen and attendance is actively pursued using the incentives and earned privileges ( IEP ) scheme.

The IMB at HMP Norwich are also recruiting new members to join their team. For further information, go to our current vacancies page.