The National Annual Report from the Independent Monitoring Boards was published recently, with the volunteer members reporting that the prison system is in a state of ‘fragile recovery’.
A lengthy period of staffing problems, increases in drugs and violence, and inadequate rehabilitation opportunities had added to an already stretched prison system’s problems.
In the report, Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of the IMBs, highlighted the impact of new psychoactive substances on prison safety, with a rise in violence and self-harm.
Prison conditions in some areas were described as having “crumbling infrastructure and sometimes degrading conditions”. The over-use of segregation for prisoners with serious mental health concerns or risks of self-harm was also highlighted.
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.”
Commenting on the publication of the report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “This report makes very sobering reading for the new prisons minister, Robert Buckland. There can be no disputing the first hand, directly observed evidence of over 51,000 individual visits to prisons. The report describes a catalogue of failure to deliver even the most basic standards of care and a chronic waste of human and physical resources in our prison system.
“Independent Monitoring Boards are telling ministers that a vast amount of work remains to be done to reform our prisons. They deserve to be properly supported in that vital task, and properly listened to.”