"There is a Simple And Unpalatable Truth About Too Many Of Our Prisons.
They Have Become Unacceptably Violent and Dangerous Places" Peter Clarke HMCIP
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales Annual Report 2015/16
This is my first annual report since being appointed HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. I am privileged to lead a skilled and dedicated team in HM Inspectorate of Prisons who take great pride in their work, their independence, their values and their focus on the personal experiences of those held in detention. Our many and varied stakeholders hold the Inspectorate in very high regard. My predecessor, Nick Hardwick, can take pride in his achievements at the Inspectorate, and I wish him well in his future endeavours.
I took up post on 1 February 2016, and as a consequence of the inevitable delay between an inspection taking place and the publication of the report, all of the inspection activity referred to in this annual report took place under my predecessor. The reports of those inspections have all now been published and are available on our website.
In my first few months as Chief Inspector I have tried to visit and inspect as many prisons, secure training centres, young offender institutions and immigration removal centres as possible. I have found that the grim situation referred to by Nick Hardwick in his report last year has not improved, and in some key areas it has, if anything, become even worse. This is despite a slight upturn in our assessments of adult prisons and young offender institutions.
Any improvement is welcome, but it is far too soon to say whether these improvements will be maintained. They are, in any event, still at historically low levels, and in all bar one area far below where they were five years ago. Year on year comparisons are also notoriously tricky as we do not inspect the same institutions each year, and we deliberately skew our inspection programme towards those places where we assess the risk to be greatest. These are usually announced rather than unannounced inspections, designed to help the establishment make improvements within a short timeframe. There is thus a risk in placing reliance in year on year comparisons.
What I have seen is that despite the sterling efforts of many who work in the Prison Service at all levels, there is a simple and unpalatable truth about far too many of our prisons. They have become unacceptably violent and dangerous places.
During 2015 there were over 20,000 assaults in our prisons, an increase of some 27% over the previous year. As if that were not bad enough, within that huge increase, serious assaults have risen by even more, by 31%, up to nearly 3,000. It is hardly surprising that in the face of this surge in violence, the number of apparent homicides between April 2015 and March 2016 rose from four to six. In the face of this upsurge in violence, we should not forget the dangers faced by staff who work in our prisons and other places of detention. The tragic death of court escort officer Lorraine Barwell, killed by a prisoner at Blackfriars Crown Court in June 2015, serves as a stark reminder of this.
The picture in respect of self-harm and suicide is equally shocking. Over 32,000 incidents of self-harm in 2015 is an increase of 25% on the previous calendar year, and the tragic total of 100 selfinflicted deaths between April 2015 and March 2016 marks a 27% increase.
It is clear that a large part of this violence is linked to the harm caused by new psychoactive substances (NPS) which are having a dramatic and destabilising effect in many of our prisons. In December 2015 we published our thematic report Changing patterns of substance misuse in adult prisons and service responses. The report pointed out that these synthetic substances, often known as 'Spice' or 'Mamba,' were becoming ever more prevalent in prisons and exacerbating problems of debt, bullying, self-harm and violence. The effects of these drugs can be unpredictable and extreme. Their use can be linked to attacks on other prisoners and staff, self-inflicted deaths, serious illness and life-changing self-harm. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has recently identified 39 deaths in prisons between June 2013 and June 2015 that can be linked to the use of NPS. The situation has shown no signs of improvement since June 2015; in fact quite the reverse, and tragically the death toll will inevitably rise.
During my visits to prisons I have met prisoners who have 'self-segregated' in order to escape the violence caused by these substances, and I have talked with members of staff who have described the terrifying effects they can have on those who take them. Some prisons are making every effort to mitigate the impact of these drugs by trying to disrupt the supply routes and lessen demand for them through education and targeted interventions. However, in other places the response has been more patchy, with no clear strategy in place.
On a national level, while various aspects of the problem are being addressed, through, for example, criminalising possession of the products and the better use of testing and detection technologies, the simple fact remains that there is, as yet, no overall national strategy for dealing with the problem. I have been told by a member of staff in a local prison that too many prison leaders regard the problem as just another iteration of the long-standing problem of drugs in prisons. He told me in no uncertain terms that this was wrong. In many years of working in prisons he had seen nothing like it before. We have seen how NPS-fuelled instability has restricted the ability of staff to get prisoners safely to and from education, training and other activities. The implications of this for a reform programme based on enhancing the role of education in rehabilitation and resettlement should be obvious.
In my first few months I have also been struck by the sheer number of people in various forms of detention who are clearly contending with mental health issues. There can be no substitute for professional assessment, diagnosis and treatment, but if as a layman I may make an observation it is this: I have seen for myself that sometimes those with the most severe issues find themselves being subjected to the most severe treatment. All too often those who cannot be accommodated on a wing, either for their own safety or that of their fellow prisoners, find themselves housed in the segregation unit. There, the conditions are often such that by internationally recognised standards they would be classified as solitary confinement. At one prison where this was happening, I was told that it was because there were no secure beds available elsewhere. No one could sensibly argue that a segregation unit is a therapeutic environment or a suitable place to hold such people.
These three issues of violence, drugs and mental health will, on many occasions, find themselves intertwined. They are, in turn, compounded by the perennial problems of overcrowding, poor physical environments in ageing prisons, and inadequate staffing. The fact that I shall not explore these issues in depth in this introduction does not mean that I do not attach great importance to them. They are inextricably linked to, and indeed to some extent underpin what I might describe as the strategic threats posed by NPS, violence and the prevalence of mental illness in our prisons.
In contrast with much of the men's prison estate it is reassuring to be able to report that outcomes for prisoners in the two women's prisons inspected during the year were impressive. Three of the four areas of our healthy prison tests covered in those inspections were judged to be good or reasonably good in both prisons, although Holloway continued to struggle in delivering meaningful purposeful activity. Holloway has, of course, now closed, and it is to be hoped that the standards that are now widespread across the women's estate will be replicated or indeed improved on in the facilities to which the women move.
Perhaps some of the most troubling findings and incidents in the past year have been in relation to those places where children are detained. We inspected five young offender institutions and two secure training centres, with an additional unscheduled visit to a secure training centre. Section 5 should be required reading for anyone who is in any doubt as to whether the current arrangements for the detention of children are satisfactory. Four out of the five young offender institutions that we inspected were found to be not sufficiently good in the area of safety. This had a knock on effect on purposeful activity, as a result of which education and training opportunities suffered. Children are being kept locked in their cells for far too much of the day. They are frequently getting insufficient fresh air and exercise. As with my layman's view of mental health issues in adult prisons, my first impression from an inspection of a young offender institution (not included in this report) was that many of the boys were not thriving physically. To my eyes, many of them looked unhealthy.
Early in 2016 allegations emerged in a BBC Panorama programme of mistreatment and abuse of children at Medway secure training centre. A team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Ofsted immediately deployed to Medway and took steps to ensure that the children in detention there were being properly safeguarded. An Improvement Board was installed by the Secretary of State and as a result of its later, highly critical report, the centre is no longer run by G4S, but has reverted to direct management by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). At the time of writing we are awaiting a review of the youth justice system being carried out by Charlie Taylor. Clearly there is a need for fundamental change in order to create safe and purposeful detention for children. Meanwhile, HM Inspectorate of Prisons will maintain the momentum of its inspection programme of children's detention in 2016–17, with no easing back in the face of budgetary pressures, as had at one stage been envisaged.
During our inspections of immigration detention, perhaps the most shocking discovery was in Dover. While inspecting the immigration detention facilities there during summer 2015, inspectors found that another detention facility was being used for short-term detention of migrants who had sought to evade border controls. This was in a facility known as the Longport Freight Shed. We had not previously been notified of this facility, and the conditions that inspectors found when they insisted on visiting were totally unacceptable, even for fairly short periods of detention. Even after several months of use, conditions had not improved. The fact that the freight shed had been used at all to house detainees and that little, if anything, was done to improve matters over the course of the summer, betrays a shocking lack of contingency planning and agile response to a developing, although entirely predictable, situation. The facility has since been closed, and I have been assured that if such a situation arises again, we will be notified so that proper independent scrutiny can take place. A further inspection in the immigration detention estate that gave cause for great concern was at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre. The issues at this establishment were serious, and we have therefore included a specific case study in Section 6 of this report.
We have been encouraged by Parliamentary committees and others to improve the impact of the Inspectorate, and this is an ambition to which I am fully committed. Following an inspection, an establishment is expected to complete an action plan in response to our recommendations. 'Action plan' is, in too many cases, a misnomer. I have seen poorly performing prisons where their implementation of previous inspection recommendations has been woeful. It is therefore hardly surprising that they have either failed to improve or actually deteriorated. As part of the prison reform programme, individual establishments and government departments alike should be placed under an obligation either to accept recommendations, or to set out very clearly why a recommendation will not or cannot be implemented. These explanations should then be open to public and Parliamentary scrutiny.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons repeatedly asserts its independence from government and others, and it is right that it should do so. But true independence is about more than simply making an assertion. We must be able to report exactly what we find. My distinguished predecessor Lord Ramsbotham has written that 'My orders were to report what I saw.' In essence that is still the case. HM Inspectorate of Prisons neither validates nor criticises government policy, except insofar as it affects the conditions and treatment of prisoners.
Uniquely we focus on the prisoner experience. We make our judgements based on international human rights standards, in support of the UK's treaty obligations. The Inspectorate is not a regulator in the sense of having powers to enforce standards. Our power comes from the ability to publish our reports, persuade the unwilling, encourage the good and expose that which is unacceptable. We will continue to report what we see.
Download the full report: http://tinyurl.com/jle26z3