Prisons: planning and policies - Justice Contents

4  Governance and accountability

119. Our announced terms of reference did not specifically refer to governance and accountability within the prison system, but as our inquiry progressed it became clear to us that there were aspects of these matters on which it would be necessary for us to comment. Policy changes at an operational level as well as at strategic level appear to have had an impact on performance and safety within prisons, and they have provoked questions about the right levels within the Ministry and the Prison Service at which responsibilities should be exercised, and the appropriate roles of governors and other staff. Strategic and operational changes have also had an impact on mechanisms for dealing with complaints by prisoners and for independent scrutiny of the performance of the prison system. We consider these matters in this Chapter.

Changes to operational policies

120. In addition to guiding broader structural reforms and efficiency savings the Secretary of State has instituted recent change to two operational policies—the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme and Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as day release—in order to improve their public credibility.


121. Early in his tenure of office, Mr Grayling explained to us his rationale for reviewing the prison regime and developing one that was "defensible in the eyes of the public":

    You have to make sure there are two things at the heart of the way a regime within prison works. The first is that it has to be defensible in the eyes of the public. If it seems to be way out of kilter, it will create frustration with the system, and that doesn't do anyone any favours. The other is a very practical one. We are dealing with people who come from very difficult circumstances outside prison, and it is often the case that what they experience in prison is a greater degree of comfort and security than they have experienced outside. That is not a good thing for us. It may be something we cannot totally solve, but I do not want people to look at prison and say, "I'm not worried about going back there."[263]

Mr Grayling's subsequent changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme—which came into effect from 1 November 2013—modified certain aspects of prisoner life, and changed the requirements which prisoners have to meet in order to acquire certain privileges. According to the Prison Service Instruction (PSI 30/2103), in order to earn privileges, prisoners would have to work towards their own rehabilitation, behave well and help others.[264] Prior to the introduction of the new scheme 2 per cent of prisoners were on a basic regime; 52 per cent were on standard and 45 per cent on enhanced. In November 2014, 4 per cent were on basic, 8 per cent were on entry, 52 per cent were on standard and 36 per cent on enhanced.[265]

122. Some of our witnesses were supportive of this new system, in particular the way it enabled prisoners to earn benefits related to sentence progression, rather than simply for good behaviour.[266] Among those witnesses who did not believe these changes were constructive, concerns related primarily to the general presumption "that items for prisoners will not be handed in or sent in by their friends or families unless there are exceptional circumstances"[267]; prisoners were permitted a single package when they first enter prison. This subsequently led to people being unable to send books to prisoners; the so-called 'book-ban'. We heard that this had resulted in some prisoners being unable to possess enough books in their cells to complete their educational courses, to receive pictures and cards from their families, and to get sufficient clothing and other supplies.[268]

123. Making privileges harder to achieve has also led to prisoners experiencing shorter visit times, reduced association and time out of cell, lower pay, fewer activities (hobbies, television) and reduced amounts of personal property (books, clothing and writing materials).[269] Stephen O'Connell, president of the Prison Governors' Association, said that governors felt that in some circumstances the scheme was "morally wrong", in particular on occasions when a person is put on a basic regime on sentence despite having been on remand for some time and earned a higher level of privileges.[270] Prisoners also felt it was unjust to be placed on basic regimes before they had been subject to adjudication, contributing to a situation where they felt they were being penalised twice.[271]

124. The importance of privileges to prisoners, and the nature of control in prison life, led to some to question whether a prescriptive standardised approach which restricted governors' discretion was constructive.[272] John Podmore asserted: "If I may be blunt, incentives and earned privileges were something that should be left to the Prison Service and not to Ministers".[273] Nick Hardwick explained that different approaches were required with different prisoners. He said:

    I think what you ought to be saying to governors is, "Look, what you need to do is have a sensible system that passes the public acceptability test and meets the needs of prisoners, but you are the professionals and we are going to let you do that in a proper way." We will inspect it to make sure it operates, but to try and design from the centre how it should work in minute detail is a mistake.[274]

Other witnesses gave practical examples of this. Joyce Moseley did not believe the revisions took proper account of neuro-scientific research on the maturation of young adults.[275] The impact of the 9pm 'lights out' policy on young people was another instance of a blanket policy which might be sensible to some, but detrimental to others.[276]

125. Our evidence suggests that problems with the scheme have subsided to an extent as it has become more established, and as a balance has been found between central prescription and sufficient delegation for governors to make decisions sensibly in individual cases.[277] Mr Selous did not comment on the matter of governor discretion but told us he believed the revised IEP scheme was right in principle and had settled down well.[278] Nevertheless, the so-called book ban aspect of the scheme was ruled unlawful by the High Court and concessions were subsequently made by the Ministry of Justice to relax the restrictions.[279]


126. Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) has long been used as an extremely effective tool to rehabilitate prisoners and promote resettlement. We heard several positive examples of its use. James Timpson, who employs prisoners on day release at Timpsons outlets, discussed the beneficial impact that such work had on the rehabilitation of prisoners, and we heard from a former prisoner called Douglas who had benefited from access to full-time education at a college local to his prison. Other witnesses wished to see more use of ROTL as a rehabilitative tool.[280] Nevertheless, following a small number of high profile incidents related to prisoners on ROTL the Government in March 2014 announced a review. In a written statement in March 2014,[281] Mr Grayling said: "[f]or ROTL to be granted, there will need to be a very clear benefit to how it will aid rehabilitation and increase the chances of an offender leading a crime-free life on release. There will also be a more thorough assessment of the risks before temporary release is authorised and a more consistent and robust response for prisoners who fail to comply with their licence."[282] He added that all prisoners allowed release on temporary licence would be tagged, regardless of the nature of their previous offences.[283]

127. The review resulted in greater restrictions on use of ROTL. The Prisoners' Advice Service warned this was an example of 'knee jerk reactive policy making' that could impede potential resettlement.[284] Prisoners released on temporary licence must comply with a number of conditions, including a date and time to return to prison. Levels of failure—a breach of any of these conditions—are extremely low, at 0.06%, and, of these, only 6% involve an arrestable offence (equivalent to five arrests per 100,000 releases).[285]

128. Other policies might also act as a disincentive to the use of ROTL. Deborah Russo of PAS suggested that the Prisoners' Earnings Act levy can inhibit the effective use of ROTL for work outside prison, and potentially reduce opportunities for rehabilitation, as prisoners now have to compensate victims using their earnings from the scheme.[286] The Secretary of State was conscious that that the restrictions should strike the right balance between legitimate public concern about a small number of incidents and not damaging a mechanism that was important to rehabilitation.[287]

129. Our evidence shows that the new restrictions to ROTL are already having a detrimental impact. The Prison Reform Trust has found that people in prison have reported increasing delays in obtaining access to open conditions and permission for temporary release, and mounting frustration at being denied opportunities to progress their sentences.[288] The number of temporary releases authorised since 2013 has fallen by nearly a quarter (23 per cent). People serving life and other indeterminate sentences have been particularly affected. Figures show that the number of individuals serving life sentences who are granted ROTL on at least one occasion has fallen by 40 per cent since 2013 while the number serving all forms of indeterminate sentence has fallen by 34 per cent. This compares to a fall of 29 per cent for all prisoners.

130. Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) is an effective tool in supporting rehabilitation and can lead to better outcomes than releasing prisoners without preparation from a recent experience of the world outside prison. We recognise that the Government has to ensure that it is operated in a way which recognises legitimate safety concerns and can maintain public trust. While the number of failures are very few, the consequences can be high-profile and tragic. Nevertheless, if as a result of the restrictions imposed considerably fewer prisoners receive ROTL opportunities, the chances of effective resettlement for them will be reduced, undermining the Government's efforts to institute a rehabilitation revolution. In addition, if there is any detrimental impact on Parole Board decisions there would be further upward pressure on the prison population. We recommend that the overall impact of these restrictions on the sustainability and effectiveness of ROTL—which should be based on the presumption that it will be available unless there are strong public safety grounds for refusal in a particular case—be reconsidered as a matter of urgency.

Roles and responsibilities of prison governors and prison officers

131. We have referred earlier in this Report to the extent that prison governors and officers are being placed under pressure through budgetary constraints. In this section we consider other ways in which the roles of both cadres of staff have been changing over recent years, and the potential implications for the management and operation of prisons, particularly in the public sector.


132. Benchmarking in public sector prisons has sought to standardise practice across various aspects of prison operations and management. This, together with the trend towards centrally outsourcing services, the provision of health and education within prisons becoming the responsibility of other Government Departments, and the introduction of more rigid operational policies, led some of our witnesses to suggest that governors' roles had diminished.[289] Some witnesses made similar observations in relation to directors of privately run prisons. For example, G4S found managing the interface between prison management and subcontractors to be both time consuming and demanding, and cautioned against further subcontracting.[290] Dr Geoffrey Penzer, Chair of the IMB at privately-run HMP Thameside, similarly believed that contracts should be formulated to give the director sufficient authority to ensure the necessary integration of all services.[291] Directors of most Sodexo prisons run their prisons in a way more akin to what governors in the public sector used to do, managing their own primary health care, substance misuse programmes, prison shops and education provision.[292]

133. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, the former Director of NOMS, and some private prison contractors were concerned that having too many separate contracts operating in prisons could fragment and therefore compromise the integration of the system.[293] Mr Wheatley, the initial architect of the specification, benchmarking and costings programme commented on the additional policy of outsourcing non-core custodial services:

    [Benchmarking] did not necessarily imply that you were going to offload other bits of the prison by a process of letting contracts. Indeed, as I left, I was very keen on integrating what we all did, rather than splitting it up so that education just did education and worried about how many exams people got, health only did health and worried about the number of times people went to hospital and how long they lived, and prison staff just did the hotel function and maintained security. In my view, that is not a good way of running a prison.[294]

134. One source of difficulty for the transition to benchmarked staffing levels has been the inability of governors to recruit directly to their prisons.[295] Private sector providers explained the benefits of being wholly responsible for the operation of their prisons, including for staffing, thereby maintaining more operational flexibility.[296] On the other hand, there was broad support for the notion of specialised services like healthcare being provided by the NHS, for example.[297] Some witnesses also concluded that the evolving nature of the role of governors had implications both for models of procurement and for models of leadership, with more emphasis required on influencing and relationship management skills, for example.[298]

135. When we asked Mr Selous for his views on how prison services might be best integrated he agreed that governors had a critical management role in overseeing partners who were providing health or education within prisons and ensuring that this dovetailed into the overall prison regime. On the other hand he still saw the key leadership role of governors as getting "out and about in the prison, going around talking to prison officers and talking to prisoners on a regular basis".[299] The Chief Inspector shared the view that the latter was an important element of the role, and believed it would be a mistake if partnership management overshadowed that.[300] The Ministry is currently reviewing professional training for governors.[301]


136. The prison governors we took evidence from were satisfied with their engagement with NOMS, including during the process of benchmarking and subsequent implementation.[302] Governors felt that they had been consulted adequately as part of shaping a range of policies, and were able to propose adaptations to their benchmark.[303] On the other hand, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons did not believe NOMS was sufficiently resourced to provide support to public sector prisons.[304]

137. Prison governors in public sector prisons and some private sector prisons are no longer responsible for the sum total of everything that happens within their prison walls. As well as effectively becoming contract managers for provision of services for which they used to be directly responsible, they are constrained in their operational decisions when dirigiste decisions are taken from the centre on such matters as the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, the 'lights out' policy and release on temporary licence. We conclude that relegating governors to an oversight and partnership management role with much reduced discretion undermines their control over the performance and safety of the establishment and their ability to govern their prisons using their professional judgment, as they are trained at public expense to do. We recommend that the National Offender Management Service review the cumulative effect of these changes on the role of prison governors, and report the matter to our successor Committee.

Contracting out non-core services

138. Part of NOMS' cost-reduction programme was the decision to put out to competition certain non-core services, such as those for prison maintenance and facilities management. There is a broader question of how governors and their staff will manage the potentially competing requirements of different providers operating within their prisons. There is some evidence to indicate that NOMS had not considered sufficiently the interplay between various providers in their consultation on prisons policies. For example, the Association of Colleges felt that learning and skills providers ought to have been consulted by NOMS on benchmarking plans.[305] The funding arrangements for learning and skills are such that providers' income is affected if prisoners are not allocated to, or able to attend programmes.[306] Community Rehabilitation Companies are also paid by results which could result in tensions between their needs and those of learning and skills providers in terms of access to prisoners, for which each will be reliant on the co-operation of prison officers.[307]

139. There is a risk that the proliferation of partner organisations providing services to prisons could distract prison management teams from their core role. This potential effect is all the more important when resources are such that reduced staffing levels are impinging on the safety of prisoners and staff for which Governors have ultimate responsibility.


140. As we noted in Chapter Three, the significance of the relationship between prison staff and prisoners was referred to frequently by our witnesses. Prison officers long ago ceased to be "turnkeys" and now play a range of functions. [308] New ways of working seek to put all prison officers in prisoner-facing roles, which help deliver NOMS' policy priorities.[309] Some feared, however, that, following benchmarking, the importance of staff-prisoner relationships might be overlooked, and the role of staff could regress in the direction of a less modern model.[310]

141. Phil Wheatley felt that the professional work of prison officers, and the fine judgements required of them, were not sufficiently well understood by the public and politicians.[311] This is a view our predecessor Committee expressed in its report on the Role of the Prison Officer.[312] Paula Harriott of User Voice suggested that one of the real barriers to rehabilitation and reform for people who were within the criminal justice system was that generally they did not ever meet anybody who was reformed and had come from their background; she wished to see more reformed ex-offenders within the Prison Service workforce.[313] The Zahid Mubarek Trust emphasised that because prison staff were not drawn from similar cultures and ethnicities to those of prisoners they frequently misunderstood them, leading to unnecessary conflict.[314]

142. Our witnesses repeatedly drew our attention to the importance of relationships between prisoners and staff in maintaining safe and effective regimes and changing prisoners' perspectives of themselves.[315] Paula Harriott, herself a former prisoner, said:

    The staff-prisoner relationship is critical to reframing a prisoner's self-identity. When you are sent to prison and are in receipt of punishment, you are judged and labelled by the community and society. You internalise that label and it can really marginalise you in terms of rehabilitation and reform. You can feel that you are out at the edge and there is no way back. A kind word, a challenging conversation—but one that is done with value and respect—is incredibly critical in reforming your self-identity.[316]

143. We saw some examples of this operating in practice on our domestic and overseas visits. One programme that was operating at HMP Belmarsh, the STAR drug education programme, was developed and run by officers and was valued by prisoners and officers alike as an opportunity for more informal interaction which then influenced relationships back on the wings. This programme was likely to cease to operate soon after our visit; it was not clear whether this was as a result of new ways of working or the new arrangements for resettlement provision. Nevertheless some witnesses did not believe that prison culture currently was conducive to prison officers operating as rehabilitators, even if they would like to.[317] Suhkvinder Buparai, the POA representative at HMP Belmarsh, questioned whether existing activities were focused sufficiently on prison officers' role in reforming prisoners. He said:

    All the time we are not giving prisoners any moral guidance, then we are just putting the bum on the seat, showing the Government that prisoners are attending activities as per the required schedule of activity. However, these prisoners then leave prison and it is a case of revolving doors and they are straight back in, because we have not tackled the moral issues.[318]

This contrasted with what we saw in Denmark where we visited Horserød open prison and Vridsløselille closed prison.[319] Regardless of category, embedded in Danish prison culture is the promotion of responsibility among prisoners and the principle of approximating regimes to normal life as much as possible. For example, prisoners are given a weekly budget to shop and cook for themselves. We were struck by the fact that self-catering was almost universal in Danish prisons, and appeared to be both cost-effective and trouble-free. This contrasted with the large institutional catering arrangements which dominate prison life in England and Wales. We recommend that NOMS examine the scope for extending self-catering by prisoners.

144. Our predecessor Committee proposed that the Ministry of Justice commission a wide-ranging review of prison officers' recruitment and training.[320] Prison officer training in Norway, for example, is a two year degree, one year being theoretical and one year practical.[321] In Denmark, it is three years, with two years of practical training after the first year of studying. Peter McParlin, National Chair of the Prison Officers' Association, stated at a Howard League conference that the Ministry had undertaken a review but had been unable to implement its findings.[322]

145. The main foundation of a safe prison is dynamic security, established through consistent personal contact between officers and prisoners, enabling staff to understand individual prisoners and therefore anticipate risky situations and prevent violence. Prison officers also have a pivotal role to play in prisoners' rehabilitation. Their involvement in sentencing, planning and resettlement, and enabling prisoners to take responsibility, should be enhanced. It would be counterproductive to reduce their role to one of basic oversight of safety and security. We are not convinced that the Ministry has considered sufficiently, or valued highly enough, the complicated and difficult nature of work undertaken by frontline prison staff under its benchmarking programme.


146. The Government wishes to see peer support being given greater prominence in through-the-gate resettlement provision under its Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. Our witnesses argued that prisoners themselves could play a much broader role in creating effective regimes.[323] We spoke to a number of former prisoners who explained to us that fellow prisoners were more likely to trust, and hence listen to and understand, the advice of people who had been through the system themselves.[324] Raymond, a former prisoner, told us:

    We need peer mentors to help the officers to police the place. Obviously the majority of the prison co-operation is from offenders—it's from prisoners. It is not through any policing; it's because they're of a certain mindset, and they're willing to engage and they're willing to conform to certain rules of the establishment. The peer mentors do help and assist officers with this, so they are very important.[325]

Adellah, another former prisoner, said:

    Peer mentors, experienced people like ourselves and organisations like User Voice are going to have a massive positive impact even on those who don't appear to want to change. It doesn't mean that they don't want to; it is just that nothing fresh has been given to them and no opportunities have been presented to them. [326]

147. In our inquiry we saw or heard of the value of mechanisms to involve prisoners themselves such as prison councils, listeners, induction mentors, reading mentors and prisoners supporting others to come off the basic level of the incentives scheme. However, we received some evidence to suggest that initiatives like these this might have become a lesser priority.[327] The Zahid Mubarek Trust had seen a reduction in race relations representatives, for example.[328] We also heard from a Toe-by-Toe (reading) mentor who had been unable to support prisoners on other wings due to staff shortages.[329] The former director of NOMS cautioned against disregarding the importance of such channels for prisoners to have a voice:

    …what prisoners think and say can very often be dismissed as, "Well, that's just prisoners." We should be listening very carefully to what prisoners say. I very much advocate user involvement and prisoner councils…If you want to find out what is going on in prison, ask a prisoner.[330]

148. Paula Harriott of User Voice argued that prison councils created a vehicle for prisoners to voice their concerns in a responsible manner to the director or the governor of the prison, cutting out the middle management.[331] Rod Clark of the Prisoners Education Trust wished to see prisoners take more control of their own learning, for example, by enabling more peer support when prisoners were not otherwise purposefully engaged, including through evening classes.[332] Dr Edgar believed opportunities for user involvement should be offered more widely to prisoners, having observed that a small number of prisoners tend to fulfil myriad roles.[333] For example, he suggested that prisoners should be engaged more directly as stakeholders in violence reduction, and should be consulted on preventive strategies.[334]

149. It is important that within new ways of working in prisons there is sufficient time to allow for productive interaction between staff and prisoners, which contributes significantly to improving safety and rehabilitative outcomes in prisons. Prisoners themselves have an important role to play in creating effective regimes. We recommend that NOMS encourage the establishment of prison councils and other initiatives which engage prisoners in meaningful dialogue with prison management about the impact of prison management and policies, and which provide a framework of support for prisoners who wish to help each other.

Prisoner complaints mechanisms

150. Complaints mechanisms are important tools to allow prisoners to communicate issues and problems they face in their everyday lives within the prison. Prisoners who already have significant anger management problems can become disruptive because a complaint, large or small, is not dealt with in a timely fashion. The Prison Service internal complaints process entails, in the first instance, talking to staff on the prison wing to see if they can sort out a matter informally or speaking to a member of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB); if the matter cannot be resolved informally, a formal complaint can be made using forms available on the wing; if the response does not resolve matters satisfactorily it is possible to appeal against it again using forms held on the wing.

151. We heard that prisoners have little faith in the internal complaints system to provide a fair response; they often saw replies as unresponsive, untimely and of poor quality.[335] Adellah, a former prisoner, said that prisoners had the feeling that complaints were not heard, applications were ignored, and the systems were not well understood.[336] Nigel Newcomen told us that often complaints were made to him about the poor quality of the complaints procedure itself.[337] Some, including Mr Newcomen himself, thought that the recent rise in the number of complaints could be linked to the increased complexity of complaints after the removal of areas of prison law other than those related to deprivation of liberty, i.e. parole decisions and sentence calculation, from the scope of legal aid in December 2013.[338] The Government proposes that alternative means of redress such as the prisoner complaints system should be the first port of call for issues removed from the scope of legal aid.

152. In an effort to improve efficiency NOMS had recently streamlined the internal complaints system from a three-stage to a two-stage process.[339] We heard mixed reviews of this. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman did not believe that the refinements had improved the process.[340] Prison governor Simon Cartwright reported that since the streamlining it had become more difficult to ensure that answers to complaints were completed in a timely and detailed manner. However, Jerry Petherick indicated that when used correctly the system allowed complaints to be dealt with more effectively.[341] Mr Cartwright stated that although initial policing of the new scheme was difficult, the overall system was functionally 'sound'.[342] Quality assurance mechanisms had also improved matters, as had the use of the in-cell kiosk system which allowed for timelier and more accessible responses.[343]

153. If difficulties experienced by prisoners are not addressed in a timely and effective manner this can compound the problem. Given that there are fewer opportunities for prisoners to raise matters directly with staff, it is important that the more formal prisoner complaints system functions effectively. This would be aided by the wider availability of in-cell technology.

Independent scrutiny

Independent Monitoring Boards

154. The Prison Act 1952 requires every prison to be monitored by an independent board appointed by the Secretary of State from members of the community in which the prison or centre is situated. The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) is specifically charged to: satisfy itself as to the humane and just treatment of those held in custody within its prison and the range and adequacy of the programmes preparing them for release; inform promptly the Secretary of State, or any official to whom he has delegated authority as it judges appropriate, any concern it has; and report annually to the Secretary of State on how well the prison has met the standards and requirements placed on it and what impact these have on those in its custody. To enable the Board to carry out these duties effectively its members have right of access to every prisoner and every part of the prison and also to the prison's records.

155. IMBs have a role in monitoring internal complaints. However, Paula Harriott suggested that prisoners have little faith in the wider scrutiny process of the prison system, including through IMBs.[344] The Chair of the IMB at HMP Thameside said that while the fairness of responses was consistently monitored, it was equally important that they are provided in a consistent manner: "an apparently just response to a complaint is not really just if it cannot be understood".[345]

156. Several Chairs of IMBs themselves believed that the MoJ did not have sufficient regard for concerns about prison conditions which IMBs had conveyed.[346] For example, Dr Penzer, Chair of the IMB at Thameside, said:

    Everyone I have met in NOMS and the MoJ, from the Minister downwards, says they value IMBs. I think our existence increases their sense of security because if things were dramatically wrong we would say so […] Although I believe that most IMBs play a useful role within the establishments where they are based, helping to ensure that staff do not slip into unfair or inhumane practices, I know of little evidence that IMB reports have a significant impact on NOMS or MoJ, or that changes are made in response to IMB judgements. Generally the responses to IMB reports go along the lines 'ABC is an important point and the reason things are as they are is XYZ'. Rarely is the response 'ABC is an important point that we did not know about and we are going to do PQR to put it right'.[347]

In a further submission, he questioned whether the role of IMBs was sufficiently clear. He observed:

    IMBs' proper focus on independent monitoring has expanded…to include elements of advising and recommending. As soon as we advise or recommend our independence is compromised (you cannot independently monitor the implementation of your own advice). We take an interest in processes (where our expertise is at best questionable) and inputs rather than concentrating on monitoring outcomes. We write annual reports to which NOMS and MoJ often respond inadequately. My impression is that although the reports may sometimes be found to be 'interesting', they are seldom felt to be 'useful'.[348]

157. Angela Levin, former Chair at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, resigned because she felt there was such a chasm between the official perspective and the truth. She said:

    When I wrote the IMB report that ended in June 2013 on behalf of the board, the key point we all wanted to make very strongly then—which was before the cuts—was that the prison was on a knife edge. I used that phrase and wrote about the violence, the self-harming and all the things we have already discussed. It was four months before I had any sort of reply. I then heard from the Prisons Minister, who in his letter explained to me how the prison worked, totally ignoring the point. I then sent another letter and was asked to go and see Michael Spurr, who is the head of the National Offender Management Service. I was treated like a naughty schoolgirl going to see the headmaster and was told, "You are completely wrong. You didn't see that. No, no that is not happening." I was not talking with my own voice—I was representing a board of people who were there a lot."[349]


158. One role of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) is to independently assess complaints which have gone through the internal process but have not been dealt with to prisoners' satisfaction. Prisoners had a positive impression of the effectiveness of the Ombudsman, but whether he had sufficient capacity to undertake this role satisfactorily was questioned by other witnesses.[350] Deborah Russo said "The Ombudsman has an incredible backlog, which renders the entire system unworkable. The quality of the decisions that are made is very poor. Furthermore, the system is slow and backward looking. It is not suited to deal with many of the complex and important issues that were previously covered by legal aid".[351] These claims were challenged by Andrew Selous and Michael Spurr, who sought to assure us that the Ombudsman had been given extra funding and resources to deal with the higher volume of complaints.[352] After we took evidence from Nigel Newcomen it became apparent that the much higher volume of complaints he signalled to us had subsided to some extent, resulting in an 18 per cent rise for the last three quarters for which figures are available (April to December 2014) compared to the equivalent period in the previous year.[353]


159. The post of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons was created in 1982 under the Criminal Justice Act of that year, consolidating under one person the prisons inspections function which dates back to 1815, when magistrates were first given responsibility for inspecting prisons. The Chief Inspector is a Crown appointment, made on the advice of the Justice Secretary, and in consultation with and followed by a pre-appointment hearing by the Justice Committee. The Inspectorate's remit is to ensure independent inspection of all prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales and to report to Ministers on the treatment and condition of detainees. The current Chief Inspector's 5-year term of appointment comes to an end in July 2015. We expect shortly to hold a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing with the Secretary of State's preferred candidate to be the next Chief Inspector.

160. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons does not dealt directly with complaints but provides independent scrutiny of prison performance, relying heavily on the perspective of those with lived experience of it. The Chief Inspector reports directly to the Secretary of State. When we asked him about his impressions of the degree of independence enjoyed by the Inspectorate he said:

    …personally, I do not think it is appropriate for the post to be sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, because some critical things, like the appointment of my successor, the setting of our budget and some other matters, are done by the body that has operational responsibility for the services that we inspect. Where there are conflicts and independence things, it is often about perception as much as about reality. Even if everybody behaves with complete propriety, which generally they do, it is certainly not seen as independent. We have a lot of visitors coming to see us from overseas. They are very interested in what we do and in our independent model. Then they ask where we get the money from and who appoints me, and they raise their eyebrows and say, "Oh, that sort of independence."

    There are practical problems for a relatively small organisation with people who work from home being part of a very large office-based bureaucracy. That does not work very well at a practical level. The other problem is that sometimes we get the worst of both worlds. There might be a temptation sometimes for people to interfere in things that they should not. Also, the normal governance processes that you would expect to apply to a body like mine, around accountability, having a board and those sorts of functions, do not exist. That is a potential weakness.[354]

161. The National Audit Office (NAO) has undertaken a comparative study of the five home affairs and justice inspectorates.[355] In relation to the conclusions drawn by Mr Hardwick, the NAO agreed that the inspectorates' independence can be perceived as limited, found varying degrees of influence exerted by sponsoring Departments, and concluded that existing arrangements risked perceived or actual conflicts of interest. They suggested that the role of the sponsoring Department should be clarified but did not recommend that inspectors report directly to Parliament as Mr Hardwick has proposed to us in the past.

162. Questions have arisen in the course of our inquiry about the role of Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), the capacity of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and the independence of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. The future role of Independent Monitoring Boards would benefit from further, more detailed, consideration by our successor Committee. We are also concerned at the backlog of complaints now faced by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, and the likely impact of the rise in self-inflicted deaths on his workload. The Ministry must discuss with him how resources can best be made available to manage this. We remain of the view that the independence of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons would be strengthened if he or she reported directly to Parliament.

263   Q7, HC 741-i Back

264   National Offender Management Service, Prison Service Instruction 20/2013 Back

265   PPP62 [Ministry of Justice]  Back

266   Q 203 [Mr Biggin] Back

267   Prison Service Instruction 20/2013, para 10.4 Back

268   Q 43 [Ms Russo]; Q79 [Ms Russo]; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust]; PPP60 [Howard League for Penal Reform] Back

269   Ibid; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

270   Q 128 [Mr O'Connell]. See also PPP18 [A4e] about difficulties of prisoners maintaining their innocence progressing with their sentence. Back

271   Q 244 [Ms Homan] Back

272   Q 129 [Mr O'Connell; Mr Hardwick; Mr Newcomen]; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

273   Q 79 Back

274   Q 129 [Mr Hardwick]  Back

275   Q 328 Back

276   Q 327 [Ms Hinnigan; Mr Jones; Ms Gibbs] Back

277   Q 129 [Mr Hardwick; Mr O'Connell]; Q 203 [Mr Hawkings; Mr Biggin] Back

278   Q 397 [Mr Selous]  Back

279   PPP60 [The Howard League For Penal Reform] Back

280   Q 155 [Mr Clark]; Qq 276-277 [Douglas; Raymond]; Qq 103-104 [Mr Neilson; Mr Edgar] Back

281   HC Deb 10 March 2010 col 1WS Back

282   HC Deb 10 March 2014 col 4WS. See also Prison Service Order 6300, amended August 2014 Back

283   Ibid.  Back

284   PPP37 [Prisoners Advice Service].  Back

285   PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust]; PPP64 [Prison Reform Trust supplementary].  Back

286   Q43; Q279 [Douglas]. The Prisoners' Earnings Act 1996 commenced on 26th September 2011. It enables prison governors to impose a levy of up to and including 40% on wages over £20 per week (after tax, national insurance, any court ordered payments and any child support payments) of prisoners who have been assessed as being of low risk of absconding or re-offending and allowed to work outside of prison on temporary licence, in order to prepare for their eventual release. Back

287   Q 21 Back

288   PPP64 [Prison Reform Trust supplementary]; see also Prison Reform Trust, Inside Out, February 2015. Back

289   Q 91 [Mr Podmore] Back

290   PPP45 [G4s] Back

291   PPP50 [Dr Penzer, Chair of IMB at HMP Thameside]; we heard at HMP Oakwood that some of the problems for which the prison had been criticised by the Inspectorate were not the responsibility of the Director as they related to education and training and healthcare provision. Back

292   Q 336 [Mr Conway] Back

293   Q 81 [Mr Wheatley]; Q 125 [Mr Hardwick] Q 336 [Mr Petherick; Mr Conway] Back

294   Q 81 [Mr Wheatley] Back

295   Q 335 [Mr Conway] Back

296   Q 118 [Mr Biggin] Back

297   Q 337  Back

298   Q 337; Q 186 [Mr Hawkings]; PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

299   Q 392 Back

300   Q 125 Back

301   Q 393 [Mr Spurr; Mr Selous] Back

302   Q 190 [Mr Hawkings]; Q171 Back

303   Q 202 [Mr Hawkings] Back

304   PPP24 [HMIP] Back

305   PPP19 [Association of Colleges] Back

306   PPP10 [Milton Keynes College] Back

307   PPP09 [Prisoners' Learning Alliance] Back

308   Q 185 [Mr Cartwright] Back

309   PPP41 [National Offenders Management Service] Back

310   PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

311   Q 95 Back

312   Op cit, para 48 Back

313   Q 39 Back

314   PPP44 [Zahid Mubarak Trust] Back

315   Q 30 [Ms Levin]; PPP23 [Women in Prison]; PPP50 [Dr Penzer]; Q 99 Mr Edgar; PPP34 [Prison Governors' Association]; Q 179 [Mr Cartwright] Back

316   Q 31 Back

317   Q 30 [Mr Robinson] Back

318   Q 230 Back

319   See Q 337 [Mr Conway] Back

320   Justice Committee, Older prisoners: follow-up, 29 October 2014, HC 659 Back

321   Q 95 [Mr Podmore]; Q 106 [Mr Neilsen] Back

322   Howard League conference, 19 November 2014 Back

323   Q 163 [Mr Clark]; Q 37 [Mr Robinson]; Q 22 [Ms Harriott]; PPP32 [User Voice]  Back

324   Qq 259, 300 [Daniel and Adellah]  Back

325   Q 261 Back

326   Q 300  Back

327   Q 56 [Ms Harriott]; Q259 [former prisoner Daniel] HMP Oakwood Basic Intervention Group; Q 300 [Daniel and Adellah]; Q 82 [Mr Wheatley]; Q 103 [Dr Edgar] Back

328   PPP44 [Zahid Mubarek Trust] Back

329   Q 37 [Mr Robinson] Back

330   Q 82 [Mr Wheatley] Back

331   Q 39 [Ms Harriott] Back

332   Qq 163,165 [Mr Clark] Back

333   Q 103 Back

334   PPP12 [Prison Reform Trust] Back

335   Q 55 [Ms Harriott]; Q291 [Adellah] Back

336   Qq 291-2  Back

337   Q 144  Back

338   Q 119 [Mr Newcomen; Q 94 [Mr Podmore]; Q 109 [Mr Neilsen]; Q 57 [Ms Russo] Back

339   PSO 2510 Back

340   Q 144 Back

341   Q 355 [Mr Petherick] Back

342   Q 205 Back

343   Q 205; Q 294 [Raymond]; Q 353; Q 383; Back

344   Q 55 Back

345   PPP51 [Dr Penzer]  Back

346   Q 241 [Mr Pinchin] Back

347   PPP50 [Dr Penzer] Back

348   PPP51 [Dr Penzer] Back

349   Q 58 Back

350   Q 295 [Raymond and Douglas] Back

351   Q 57  Back

352   Q 403  Back

353   See paragraph 73 above. Back

354   Q 138 Back

355   National Audit Office, Inspection: a comparative study, 13 February 2015 Back

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Prepared 18 March 2015