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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

How do we treat our most dangerous prisoners?

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“This is extreme custody and its management raises complex operational challenges and profound ethical issues.”

A focus on hope

Closed Supervision Centre System

Today’s (24 April 2018) prison inspectors’ report focuses on the Close supervision centre system which is the method by which the prison system manages its most dangerous prisoners. 

Over 50 of the most dangerous men in the prison system are held in the CSC system, all under prison rule 46. A further 20 (or so) men are managed centrally under the managing challenging behaviour strategy (MCBS), sometimes in special units or more normally in a mainstream location in a high security prison. The MCBS is used for men who do not meet the threshold for the CSC, but who nevertheless present with challenging behaviour in custody.

Men are selected because of the serious risk of harm they present to prisoners and staff, demonstrated by their exceptionally problematic custodial behaviour. Many have been convicted of serious further offences committed in prison. CSCs reflect arguably the most restrictive custodial conditions in the England and Wales prison system. Men are held in small specialist units (at Full Sutton (10 spaces) Manchester (4), Wakefield (12), Woodhill A Wing (10), Woodhill B Wing (8) and Whitemoor (10)) or in individually designated rule 46 cells to ensure the safety of others and themselves. 

Both the CSC and MCBS systems are run by a central team operating in the Prison Service’s high security and long-term
directorate. However, day-to-day management of the men is the responsibility of the host prison.

The report highlights that the CSC system is “extreme custody and its management raises complex operational challenges and profound ethical issues”.

Findings

The current report is a follow-up to a March 2015 inspection which found that CSCs were run on sound psychological principles with humanity and good care. Strategic management was reasonably good overall, but the role of the
central MCBS was unclear and inspectors were also concerned that there was no independent input to key decision-making. Inspectors found that the regimes and progression opportunities offered in units, and particularly in designated cells, needed to be improved. Despite the potential and real risk of serious assaults, inspectors reported that men were held safely and in generally decent conditions.

The main findings of the current report are set out below:

  • Strategic management was stronger than previously and the relationship between the central MCBS and CSCs was now clear. Care and management planning had been improved, and the tiered approach to target setting motivated men to demonstrate their progress. 
  • Key decision-making was structured, systematic and evidence-based. The collection of data had improved, but more analysis would have helped managers identify trends and patterns in outcomes. Units were psychologically informed, and all were on their way towards achieving Royal College of Psychiatry Enabling Environment accreditation. 
  • The focus on giving men hope and persevering even with those who were the most difficult to reach was impressive.
  • However, there was still no independent scrutiny of key decisions. This meant the systems lacked external assurances on the robustness and fairness of assessment, selection and deselection decisions, and CSC managers missed out on potentially helpful constructive criticism. 
  • There was concern about the treatment and conditions of men held in designated cells who generally experienced impoverished segregation-like regimes, limited care planning and a lack of progression opportunities often for months, and in a few cases, years.
  • Regimes had improved at most of the units, although staffing shortages hampered efforts, particularly at Woodhill. They also contributed to the inconsistent delivery of regular individual personal development (IPD) and group supervision sessions.
  • It was positive that far more men than previously had progressed out of the CSC and central MCBS systems, often to less restrictive special units and sometimes to mainstream prison wings. Transition arrangements for those moving between units remained good, and planning for the small number of men released each year from CSCs was also good.
  • Fewer men subject to the central MCBS were now in special units and most lived on mainstream prison wings. 
  • Support to help men maintain contact with children and families had improved, but the lack of privacy during visits remained a problem.
  • Staff-prisoner relationships remained a key strength. “It was impressive how staff could be subject to verbal and sometimes physical assault, yet retain a focus on men’s well-being and progression.”
  • The units were mostly clean and decent, but exercise yards needed improvement to offset the units’ claustrophobic environment. 
  • Excellent work had been undertaken to better understand why Muslim men were over-represented in the CSC system. 
  • Health care provision was better overall, but despite excellent links with high security special hospitals, men continued to wait too long for mental health hospital beds.

Chief Inspector Peter Clarke summarised his inspectors’ findings:

“Given the severity of CSC custody, we were impressed by staff’s focus on giving men hope, working with them as individuals, and their determination to help some men who were unamenable to interventions. Some significant issues still needed to be addressed, and the CSC system was under increasing strain from the rise in serious violence across the prison estate and the resulting number of referrals for assessment. Nevertheless, we commend the progress made to help men reduce their risks to others and to lead more purposeful and productive lives.”  

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