Wednesday, 18 October 2017


There is a long-established tradition at the start of the Napo conference and AGM of standing in silent remembrance of lost colleagues. We were in Nottingham this year and I found the connection troublingly poignant:- 

Recent deaths at HMP Nottingham 'symptomatic of wider prison crisis'

Five newly arrived prisoners have died over a four-week period at Nottingham prison, where serious concerns have been raised about staffing levels in reception areas. Ten prisoners have died in two years, compared with four deaths in the previous 10 years. Campaigners say the deaths are symptomatic of a prison system in crisis. Four of the five inmates who died in September and October are believed to have taken their own lives. The death of the fifth prisoner is believed to be drug related.

Nottingham is a category B local prison, with a capacity of 1,060. It takes prisoners from courts in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In its annual report, published in July, the independent monitoring board (IMB) at Nottingham expressed concerns about the 30% increase in prisoners arriving at the prison. The board said it had been told the number of staff for the reception area would be raised because of the increase in new arrivals, but the resources were not allocated.

The report said staff were rushed, which created an increased risk to prisoners in the reception, first night and induction areas. Four of the five latest deaths occurred in the first night centre and induction wing. The IMB said it remained “concerned about the pressures on reception and the inherent risks to prisoners when vulnerable upon first entry to prison”.

Last year prison inspectors also raised concerns about new prisoners at Nottingham. In particular, they said first-night substance misuse work needed urgent attention. Inspectors also raised concerns about the lack of stability at the east Midland prison, noting there had been five governors in four years. Seven prisoners have died at Nottingham so far this year. There were three deaths in 2016.

Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, said the sudden and significant increase in deaths at Nottingham were deeply concerning and symptomatic of a prison system in crisis. She said prison inspection and monitoring bodies had raised concerns about the regimes and conditions at the prison and that these issues had been left to reach crisis point, with tragic consequences.

“The fact these deaths occurred within days of arrival at the prison when prisoners are known to be most vulnerable, raise concerns about the processes for identifying and managing risk,” she said. “The only way to halt the increasing and morally indefensible tide of prison deaths and violence is to dramatically reduce the prison population, invest in community alternatives and transform the nature and culture of prisons, so they become places of last resort, where rehabilitation is more than a rhetorical fantasy.”

A prison service spokesperson said transforming prisons into places of safety was its top priority and it was tackling the challenges head-on.

“HMP Nottingham is working closely with health colleagues to increase the support available to vulnerable prisoners and is increasing staffing levels which will boost safety and stability at the prison – an extra 40 prison officers have recently been recruited. The prison has put a number of measures in place to tackle the threat of drugs, and across the estate, we are also taking unprecedented action to stop the supply of drugs, including training over 300 specialist drug dogs and making it a criminal offence to possess psychoactive substances.”

Eric Allison


  1. Tragic, when I worked in a Local prison in late 1990s we were making some progress with First Night Centres but there were staff and resource shortages even then. Bad as it is for prisoners and their families the emotional toll on staff is horrendous.

  2. just started 10am Parliament Today - Justice Committee with Nick Hardwick - discussion on parole

  3. Drugs have always been a huge part of penal society, considered prevelent and endemic enough for the government to introduce mandatory drug testing in prisons in the mid 90s, at some considerable cost.
    There wasn't any particular issues with violence, unrest or deaths associated with drugs in prisons at that point.
    Instead of using mandatory drug testing as a means of collecting information that would devolop strategies and inform policy, it was used totally to impose punitive sanctions.
    Herbal cannabis being easy to detect was swapped for heroin,easier to mask, and exited the system far quicker. Heroin became more targeted, and and subutex (an opioid blocker) became the drug of choice, crushed and snorted the same effect as heroin was achieved and totally undetectable by drug testing.
    Tests were developed to identify subutex, and the choice of drug moved to legal highs such as spice as tests didn't exist to identify it.
    As long as drugs exist in society, they will also exist in prisons.
    It's NOT the drugs that's killing people in our prisons or causing the levels of unrest and violence that we see today.
    It's nieve understanding and the bad policies that comes from that understanding that's the real killer in UK prisons.


  4. I have just watched 90 min of discussion on net, 'parliamentlive-tv' of the Select Committee - subject - Justice Committee, work of Parole Board, with a lot of time spent discussing IPP, and backlog of pre-release parole Board meetings. Solution - taking 100 more members on Parole Board, and prisons struggling with high cases, and Probation working on having their reports ready in time. (no suggestion of more NPS staff)!

    Not much more mention of probation, mainly prison, although external PO's always played a crucial role in the parole report, with info that the prisons were unlikely to have. I recall that in the 'good old days', prison and probation worked together to assess risk, prison PO's relying on external information to help assess level of risk in the outside world, info from families, setting up accommodation (hostels, home), employment options, and licence conditions. Internal PO's would assist external PO's with info of progress and plans for release. This would have been ongoing throughout the sentence, not just pre-release.

    How far has it moved since then? How much time is made available to NPS staff to visit their cases throughout the sentence and produce timely reports? Or, like PSR's, have detailed quality parole reports become a thing of the past?

    1. Maybe as in the 'good old days' there's a role to be played by reconstruction of something akin to the LRC (local review committee) where a paper parole is considered prior to an oral hearing?
      Those who have not been granted release by paper application, could still retain the right to an oral hearing before the parole board.

    2. Blimey - now there's a good idea.....

    3. Increasingly wondering whether IPP's are a red herring, receiving a disproportionate amount of air time and consideration when they make up a fairly small proportion of those in prison.

  5. sorry off topic but i know you will like this:

    1. The Tory Transport Secretary got a taste of what its really like to be a commuter today when his policy launch descended into a PR nightmare straight from the Thick of It.

      Chris Grayling launched a new fleet of trains on the Great Western line and boarded the first service – the 6am from Bristol Temple Meeds to London Paddington – to mark the occasion.

      Speaking ahead of the journey, he promised the new trains will “give passengers the faster, more comfortable trains and the better journeys that they expect.” But things didn’t quite go to plan.

      First, the departure was delayed by 25 minutes and it then broke down 22 miles outside London, according to Independent travel writer Simon Calder, who was also on board.

      The service eventually arrived 40 minutes late, but only after causing significant rush-hour delays for other trains on the route. And somehow it got worse.

      Tory Wales Secretary Alun Cairns was hoping the launch of the new trains would help people forget about the Government’s decision to cancel rail electrification to Swansea. But the first new train due to depart from London for south Wales was cancelled.

      Passengers on new trains that did run not only had to put up with delays, but faults like a leaking air conditioning unit.