WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 20 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Independent progress review of HMP Brixton finds ‘too many prisoners still living in unacceptable conditions’

Independent progress review of HMP Brixton finds ‘too many prisoners still living in unacceptable conditions’

Koestler Awards (No Lockdown in the Imagination)

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) has released an HMP Brixton progress review report that finds a ‘lack of necessary action’ following the recommendations from an unannounced inspection in March 2022 which labelled HMP Brixton as  a ‘prison in trouble’.

The follow-up ‘findings were mixed’, and progress was neither systematic nor consistent within areas. The progress report found that while good or reasonable progress had been made in eight areas highlighted in the original report, four had insufficient progress, and two had no meaningful progress.

Overcrowding remains an overarching problem, in which ‘no meaningful progress’ has been made. Since March, there has been no reduction in headcount, with most single cells still holding two inmates. Cells were described as ‘cramped, with no space for basic furniture required by two prisoners’. Whilst internal efforts at improving living standards were made, such as refurbishing communal areas, continued overcrowding inevitably prevented any felt improvement within cells.

Additionally, although general access to health services improved, the review also found that ‘no meaningful progress’ was made in safeguarding vulnerable ACCT-identified prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm. The report highlighted that care plans were often too simplistic or in some cases even left blank.

Similarly, in terms of resettlement, a ‘well-planned’ employment hub provided prisoners with thorough information, advice, and guidance for post-release planning. However, other factors essential for effective resettlement, such as education and training, remained problematically implemented. Overall, only a third of prisoners benefited from any education or work which led to a qualification or a recognised skill training.

Only one in ten prisoners were provided with educational places, despite over half of prisoners having English and mathematics skills below the level required for most jobs. Many prisoners were released without achieving the qualifications and skills necessary for employment.

Furthermore, although Brixton houses over 200 prisoners convicted of sexual offences, no accredited programmes necessary for safe resettlement were available, putting them at risk of reoffending.

A HMP Winchester progress review, released on the same day, echoed Brixton’s deficiencies in education and training. Like other prisons, there was a stark lack of access to purposeful activity. Many prisoners were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours per day. Despite this being criticised in their previous 2022 inspection as having a ‘detrimental impact on mental and physical well-being, the regime remained this way due to continuing staff shortages.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, highlighted that wider institutional factors play a major role in constraining overall progress in the prison system. In both reports, he expresses some faith in the internal action taken by governor-led teams, but criticised the failure by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to provide necessary support and assistance.