Liverpool Prison turnaround

Work with Offenders reviews the detail of a very welcome new prison inspection report which charts a dramatic improvement in conditions at HMP Liverpool.

The last official inspection of HMP Liverpool, published in January 2018, marked a low point in the prisons crisis. Living conditions were among the worst inspectors had ever seen; with hundreds of broken windows, filthy block lavatories, graffiti, damp, dirt, rodents and insects.

Chief Inspector Peter Clarke was particularly appalled to find a man with complex needs sitting in a cell with no furniture other than a bed. The windows of both the cell and the toilet recess were broken, the light fitting in his toilet was broken with wires exposed, the lavatory was filthy and appeared to be blocked, his sink was leaking and the cell was dark and damp. Worst of all, it appeared that this man had been held in these conditions for some weeks.

The inspection report published this week tells a very different story. The original report was so damning that the government was forced to take action. The House of Commons Justice Select Committee held an unprecedented evidence session devoted solely to exploring the issues raised. A new governor was appointed, the population was reduced by between 450 and 500 prisoners, an extensive programme of refurbishment was started and health care services changed to a different provider.

The new report, described officially as “largely positive” charts the prison’s journey from “abject failure” to an institution which now delivers “safe, decent and purposeful treatment and conditions”.

Mr Clarke’s overall verdict is very encouraging:

“The squalor and filth we saw in 2017 had gone, replaced by clean and decent living conditions for the vast majority of prisoners. It is important to understand that this had not been brought about simply as a result of the population being reduced and resources channelled towards the prison. That had of course helped, but the real change had been in the quality of leadership and teamwork within the prison and with other partners. There was now a culture of care that I simply could not see in 2017.”

Indeed, the Chief Inspector even came across the same patient he had found in the filthy cell on the previous inspection, still sadly in prison but this time: “The surroundings were bright and clean. He was still showing clear signs of illness but was alert and responsive – a complete change in the person I had met two years before.”

The inspectors were keen to stress that there remains plenty to do:

  • There were still concerns about the levels of violence.
  • There was still too many drugs entering the prison.
  • The amount of purposeful activity remained not sufficiently good, although more prisoners were spending more time out of their cells, too many were still locked up during the working day.

However, the improvement in rehabilitation and release planning was rated by inspectors as “a very real achievement”. A key indicator of this is the fact that the vast majority of prisoners were released to sustainable accommodation which the inspectors attributed to a new resettlement hub located in the visitors’ centre which brought together a range of resettlement organisations to provide support prisoners on the day of their release.

It would seem that the main lessons for the government are that if our prisons are provided with proper resources, are not expected to hold more prisoners than they are built for and are led by capable and committed professionals, the current failing system could be quickly turned around.

We must wait for the results of the promise comprehensive spending review to see whether the government is prepared to put the much needed investment in our prisons.