His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has released a 52-page report on the Isle of Man Prison, which highlights a wide range of shortcomings.
HMIP inspectors visited in March and assessed outcomes for prisoners based on the ‘four healthy prison tests’ model.
The Jurby institution was rated as being ‘reasonably good’ for respect, but ‘not sufficiently good’ for the tests of safety, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning.
Overall, however, the report stated that ‘the prison operated reasonably well on a daily basis’ and ‘the environment was clean and decent and violence was relatively rare’.
Prison governor Leroy Bonnick said there were ‘no surprises’ in the report and stressed that the Inspectorate was invited here voluntarily, because the prison management wanted to see how the prison fared.
HMIP last inspected the prison in 2011, and since then safety outcomes had worsened, but rehabilitation and release planning improved.
The number of reported violent incidents was ‘very low’, with two assaults on staff and three fights recorded in the last 12 months.
In HMIP’s survey, 10% of respondents said that they currently felt unsafe, and 31% that they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay.
In the past 12 months there were 52 incidents of force [use by staff] counted. It was described as ‘high, compared with the reported low levels of violence’.
Staff morale was identified as being low. Of those who responded to the survey, almost three-quarters said morale was low or very low, and only 18% said that the prison was supporting their well-being very well or quite well.
There were three examples of ‘notable positive practice’ highlighted.
First was the ‘careful support’ that ‘young people transferring to the prison from the secure training centre at 18 were given’.
In addition to this was the ‘compassionate end-of-life care’ seen by the inspectors from the prison and healthcare staff, and the fact that the senior physical education officer had taken a specialist training course for maintaining the gym equipment.
Relationships between prisoners and staff were described as ‘well-balanced and respectful’.
It added that whilst recruitment to fill staff vacancies had been successful, almost 40% of officers had less than two years’ experience.
On safety, the report said that while the prison had no obvious physical insecurities, ‘there was a poor understanding of risks and how to manage them, including those associated with the management of prisoners in their early days and for those at risk of suicide and self-harm’ – with the treatment of these prisoners deemed ‘inadequate’.
The policy of all prisoners being handcuffed while being transported to and from was described as potentially dangerous in the event of an accident.
Frequent stripsearching of some prisoners was found to be ‘unjustified and excessive’, and ‘certain items were banned for reasons not based on any sensible analysis of risk’.
For example, prisoners who worked in the internal prison gardens were strip-searched up to four times a day.
There were also some discrepancies highlighted when it came to the different treatment between male and female prisoners.
All new male prisoners were subject to 30-minute observations in cells, with constant video monitoring for the first 24 hours, considered ‘unnecessarily intrusive in most instances’.
Women were allowed more privacy and were only placed in a cell with video monitoring if justified.
Women were also able to spend more time unlocked during their early days, and able to wear their own clothes for the entirety of the induction process.
The regime of segregation on the male unit was deemed poor, with access to only 30 minutes in ‘small, cage-like exercise yards’ and two showers per week.
By contrast, the use of segregation on the women’s ‘was infrequent and more supportive in approach’.
Minister for Justice and Home Affairs Jane Poole-Wilson MHK said: ‘The prison and the department are working swiftly to address the concerns, and ensure that good practice is embedded across all areas.
‘The department has requested that HMIP return in 2024 to assess progress and has also sought a review by the Prisons Ombudsman in England and Wales into the recent deaths in custody which remain subject to the coronal process, in order to identify any further areas for improvement.
‘The report’s findings demonstrate there are evidential issues that are process related, but that the experience of prisoners – as demonstrated by the survey results, are mostly positive.
‘This report provides us with a clear direction of travel for improvements as well as confirming the benefit of changes underway and planned, to ensure we’re providing a safe and effective service.’
The government said that action had already been taken to implement some improvements, with other changes laid out in a published action plan mostly expected to be implemented by the end of the year.