Government must be held to account over failing prisons

Written By: James Douglas
Published: February 16, 2018 Last modified: February 16, 2018

The justice select committee has warned that prison inspectors need more funding to hold the government and prison bosses to account when jails have “urgent and serious failings”.

The MPs pointed out that inspectors had made recommendations in 2015 to improve appalling conditions in Liverpool prison, but little was done to carry them out.

Chief inspector Peter Clarke told the committee that too many prisons failed to take inspection reports seriously and that amounted to an “abject failure” that “must stop”.

Key recommendations from the committee report included: additional funds for HMIP to hold prisons to account when they do not achieve recommendations; greater scrutiny of major contracts at prisons and penalties for providers who fail to meet their obligations; and for the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service to publish a plan to resolve persistent overcrowding (71 of 116 UK prisons are currently overcrowded).

An inspection in September 2017 found rats and cockroaches were rife at Liverpool Prison (pictured), with one area of the jail so dirty, infested and hazardous it could not be cleaned.

Some prisoners were kept for more than 22 hours a day in cells that should be condemned, said inspectors, with exposed electrical wiring and filthy, leaking lavatories.

A 2015 inspection led to 89 recommendations, but only 22 had been fully implemented two years later. There were also more than 2,000 outstanding maintenance jobs at the prison.

The Justice Committee said national, regional and local management had all failed in their oversight of the prison.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Ministers have been absolutely clear that conditions at HMP Liverpool were unacceptable and we will not stand for them. We want to be held accountable when failings persist, which is why Ministers introduced the Urgent Notification process – demanding the Secretary of State introduce tough measures to improve failing prisons.”

Head of the prison service Michael Spurr told the committee there was “a failure at local level to follow through on the recommendations [made by HMIP in 2015]”.

He added: “I accept that from an organisational perspective we did not have enough robust governance above establishment level to make sure that [the recommendations made in 2015] were being delivered properly.”