Keep up-to-date with drugs and crime

The latest research, policy, practice and opinion on our criminal justice and drug & alcohol treatment systems
A day in the life of an independent prison monitor
Alex Wilson guest posts on a day in the life of an independent prison monitor

Share This Post

This is a guest post by IMB prison monitor Alex Wilson.

A day in the life...

Although I have a full-time job as an area manager for a wholesale food company, I’m also on the independent monitoring board (IMB) at a women’s prison, HMP Foston Hall. That makes me one of a group of people in the local community who go behind prison walls, to monitor how prisoners are being treated and whether they are being given the support needed to change their lives. I am a firm believer that how we treat prisoners reflects the values we hold as a society. Furthermore, once released back into the community, their experience in prison will affect not just them, but all of us.

Alex Wilson

Our Board, like all IMBs, is composed of a diverse group of people with differing life and work experience: that’s what makes us strong. My visit starts when I show my ID at the prison gate and draw keys, giving me unrestricted access to all parts of the prison. A prison is like a small town: it has to provide everything that prisoners need, so the IMB has to monitor everything that happens there. My first stop before going onto the wings is to review what has been happening in the prison over the last 24 hours.


I then head out, starting my visit on the segregation unit, where the women with more complex needs are being held in solitary confinement. My role here is to understand why they have been segregated and check on how they are being treated by staff. Many will have mental health issues and need specialist help; some should be transferred to a secure hospital. 

I will then move onto the prison wings, to gain a sense of what life is like there and interact with both prisoners and staff. We are a visible presence which ensures that everyone is aware that life inside the prison is being monitored by someone from the community. People often ask me if I feel unsafe among people in prison, but I’ve always found prisoners easy to engage with; they understand we’re there to support them and our presence can be reassuring.

When talking to the women, I try to have meaningful conversations so that I can gain an understanding of their experiences. Many can be vulnerable, or at risk of suicide and self-harm, so it’s important that I check whether staff are engaging with them too. I also ensure that I speak to any women who are pregnant, to establish whether the care they are receiving is the same as they would expect to receive in the community.

Physical conditions

The physical conditions on the wings are also important. Are the showers mouldy? Do the washing machines work? Are the cells warm and dry enough? Through talking to both officers and prisoners, I am able to check whether what I am being told is consistent with what I see and hear. Other IMB members will also be checking on the education and training provision that helps the women gain skills and will potentially lead to employment on release, as well as the available healthcare support.

Finally, I return to the IMB office in the prison to record what I’ve learnt from staff, prisoners and my own observations. This is shared with all my colleagues on the Board and the prison Governor, who we meet every month at our Board meetings to discuss emerging themes we’ve picked up on. 

It is generally during my drive home that I find myself reflecting on everything I’ve seen and heard that day in a place that’s out of sight, but shouldn’t be out of mind. I am clear that being an IMB member is a privileged position which leaves me with a real sense of achievement.

If you want to make a difference to the lives of others apply now to join an IMB at a prison near you. Visit to find out more.

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

Share This Post

Related posts

The state of our prisons

IMB national report for 2019/20 finds prisons already ‘tightly stretched’ pre-Covid.

3 Responses

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord…
  2. I may have been very unlucky in my feelings with members of the IMB. Perhaps it was down to chance that the prisons I was sent to housed Board members who were, quite literally, useless.

    In no way are my comments intended as criticism of these men and women as they struggle to draw people’s awareness to a crumbling, Victorian system, because, as we all know, their hands, like many (probably most) other hands within the UK’s vast & pointless regularity systems, are bound behind their backs.

    Gone are the days when a member the Board of Visitors would send prisoners and prison staff scurrying for the safety of any locked room. Gone are the days when having teeth came second only to knowing how to use them. Teeth these days, if there are to be seen at all, are not unlike the plastic fanged ones sported by children at Halloween. They may look fierce…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prison posts are sponsored by Unilink



Excellence through innovation

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.


Get every blog post by email for free