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Boost Inspectorate to reverse decline in prisons

16 February 2018

Recommendations made by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) did not lead to improvements at HMP Liverpool, and given this appears to be the case in other prisons, HMIP should be given additional resources to follow-up on their recommendations - according to a report from the Justice Committee.

Failure not limited to one establishment

The Committee took evidence from the Minister and officials following an inspection report on HMP Liverpool, published on 19th January, which describes "the abject failure" of the prison "to offer a safe, decent and purposeful environment". The Committee's report, considers why Government and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service failed to prevent a deterioration of conditions at HMP Liverpool between the 2015 and 2017 inspections, and makes a series of recommendations.
The report finds that national, regional and local management failed in their oversight of HMP Liverpool and the evidence suggests that, in varying degrees, that failure is not limited to one establishment.
The Committee welcomes actions taken to improve the current situation at HMP Liverpool, but notes that the action plan put in place following the previous inspection in 2015 did not result in the improvements required. 

Clear HM Inspectorate of Prisons require additional resources

Committee Chair, Bob Neill MP, said:

"This is the first time the Committee has taken evidence on an individual prison, reflecting the seriousness of the Chief Inspector's findings. The situation at HMP Liverpool is not unique and is symptomatic of shortcomings evident across the prison estate which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

It is clear that HMIP require additional resources so they can make sure that their recommendations are properly acted upon. I am not satisfied that existing plans to re-organise the way in which HMPPS operates above establishment level will be enough to bring about real improvement to conditions.

The Justice Committee intends to ensure that ministers, officials and individual prisons are properly held to account when urgent and serious failings are highlighted."

Big challenges ahead

Committee Member, David Hanson MP, added:

"While our report focusses on the inspection of HMP Liverpool, in recent months there has been a 'very disappointing' inspection of Swansea and a report highlighting a 'persistence of failure' at Wormwood Scrubs.

All three of these drew attention to the lack of demonstrable improvement since previous inspections, underlining a failure of HMPPS and ultimately ministers to ensure that recommendations are responded to.

I am encouraged by some of what we heard when we took evidence but big challenges lie ahead. Our Committee has an important role in holding to account on this issue and I hope our report will make a difference. I welcome especially the recommendation on more transparency in current private sector contracts."

Key recommendations

  • We recommend that HMIP should be given additional resources to follow-up on recommendations, and hold prisons to account when they do not achieve recommendations. We also recommend that Ministers should take personal responsibility for ensuring that recommendations are implemented. 
  • We recommend that major contracts are subject to a public framework which outlines expectations, performance and penalties levied against the provider. If contractors are penalised for poor performance there should be an annual public notification of where, why and by how much, as a percentage of the value of the contract.
  • We recommend that the Minister, the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS publish a plan to resolve the persistent overcrowding of the estate, so that governors do not feel pressure to house men or women in cells that are deemed unfit. It is clear that in order to be successful, such a plan must aim to reduce the prison population and/ or increase safe and decent capacity, and we will return to this question.
  • We request that the Ministry of Justice set out how it plans to ensure that gaps during which there is no formal working arrangement between justice and healthcare systems do not occur in future.

Further information

Image: Ministry of Justice