PRT comment: Inspectors review progress at HMP Brixton
New Independent Review of Progress report published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons shows that there is a serious problem with how ministers are held to account when a prison fails repeatedly.
When HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is particularly concerned following a poor inspection report on a particular prison, he can choose to return more quickly than he normally would. To make sure that there is change on the ground, the inspectorate goes back to the prison after about six months for what it calls an “independent review of progress”.
It’s news when a prison is found to be failing, and local management invariably has to provide a prompt and vigorous response. But it seems it’s not news when the Secretary of State is the one that doesn’t deliver.
That independent review has just been published in the case of HM Prison Brixton. As often happens, the review is pretty complimentary about the effort put in by the management team at the prison. That team is frequently led by a new Governor – changing the leadership locally is one of the easier things for the prison service to do quickly. That was true at Brixton, but what isn’t obvious from the published review is that the new Governor is now the ex-Governor, having left the prison service altogether since the inspectorate visited.
The review is not at all complimentary about what has happened at a senior management level above the prison, however. Prisons like Brixton are saddled with inappropriate buildings that are centuries old. It’s hard to change that, but the Chief Inspector specifically called for the prison service to reduce the number of people held at Brixton so that those unsuitable buildings at least only hold the number of people they were designed for so long ago. That hasn’t happened. The Chief Inspector called for the provision of specialist interventions for the men at Brixton held there because they have been convicted of sexual offences – that hasn’t happened either. And he called for a big increase in the use of release on temporary licence to allow low security prisoners to go out to work each day from a prison that has far too few opportunities inside the walls to keep them occupied. There’s no prize for guessing that that hasn’t happened.
What isn’t obvious from the published review is that the new Governor is now the ex-Governor, having left the prison service altogether since the inspectorate visited
So what now? It’s news when a prison is found to be failing, and local management invariably has to provide a prompt and vigorous response. But it seems it’s not news when the Secretary of State is the one that doesn’t deliver.
Prisons like Brixton are discharging people every day as their sentences end – we all have an interest in those people having been given the best possible help to turn their back on crime. It’s time the politicians are held to account when that doesn’t happen. “
This is an updated version of an article we published on 9 January. In that article we stated that the independent review of progress at Brixton had been prompted by an Urgent Notification. That was incorrect, and we apologise for our mistake.