IMB Report: 1 August 2019 to 31 July 2020

Summary

This has been an unprecedented and unique reporting year on which to comment. For two-thirds of the year, prison activity proceeded along relatively predictable lines and could be monitored accordingly. However, for the remaining third of the year, prison life changed dramatically and, in the circumstances, a report which comments on pre-lockdown may seem to verge on the irrelevant. However, in terms of Buckley Hall’s reporting year, it would be wrong to overlook what happened before the lockdown and to focus exclusively on events of the most recent months.

The seismic changes made to the prison regime, undoubtedly helped keep the prisoners at Buckley Hall safe. The vast majority of the prisoners accepted the need for the lockdown with stoicism and forbearance and, indeed, the prison has received a number of letters from prisoners’ partners, appreciative of the efforts being made to keep prisoners safe. Staff and managers should be applauded for their wholehearted effort to minimise the risk to the prisoners of the virus. Their success to date lies in the fact that, at the end of the reporting year, only two prisoners had tested positive for the virus, with no associated fatalities.

The now emerging frustrations of the prisoners at Buckley Hall are similar to those across the prison estate – namely, that the relaxation of the prison regime has been taking place at a much slower pace than is being seen in the community. In the opinion of some prisoners, the ‘ command mode’ management of lockdown produced a response which was too centralised and allowed insufficient initiative to Governors.

A significant change during the reporting year involved the departure of the Governor to HMP Manchester. Fortunately, his replacement is approachable, highly experienced and shares the values and priorities which helped Buckley Hall secure the excellent Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) inspection report, published in November 2019. In the judgement of Board members, the continuation in post of the Deputy Governor has helped maintain a valuable measure of continuity and reassurance for staff and prisoners alike. Communications between managers, staff and prisoners are judged to be full and open.

The unannounced HMIP inspection took place in July 2019. In terms of their ‘healthy prison tests ’, the inspection team awarded Buckley Hall level 4 (‘good’) for safety, level 4 for respect, level 4 for rehabilitation and release planning and level 2 (‘not sufficiently good’) for purposeful activity. The assessments for safety, respect and rehabilitation had improved since the previous inspection in 2016, while the assessment for purposeful activity had declined. In the report, the Chief Inspector stated: ‘Buckley Hall is a very good prison ’.

HMIP’s positive view of Buckley Hall was reinforced by the publication, during the reporting year, of a document entitled ‘Prison Advisor – A Guide to UK Prisons’, published by Stuart Miller Solicitors. Prisons were scored on an anonymous survey of current prisoners from the most recent report by HMIP and, based on the results, Buckley Hall was placed at number 4 in the top 10 prisons for prisoners in the country.

Given all the hard work, preparation and relief following the excellent HMIP report, any subsequent and temporary dip in performance perhaps comes as no great surprise, and two examples were a drop in the high standard of cleanliness around the prison and the highlighting of a number of failings in a security audit in March. The Board is confident that the governors have addressed the situation and are intent on maintaining the high standards achieved at the time of the inspection.

The Board wishes to place on record their sympathy to the large number of staff whose cars were vandalised during an incident in May 2020. Given the unique and complex problems facing staff at the time, the vandalism must have seemed particularly hurtful and unjustified. A heartening camaraderie among prison staff was illustrated by the ‘whip-round’ organised for them by officers from a neighbouring North West prison – HMP Hindley.

During lockdown, in the judgement of the Board, staff at Buckley Hall have coped with a stressful and tiring situation with creditable and steadfast commitment. Staff take pride in a willingness ‘to get on with it’, even in difficult or exacting circumstances.

The Board would like to express its gratitude to staff and managers for their willingness to cooperate with them, and for the positive and patient way they have responded to the questions and issues raised by Board members, particularly during their period of remote monitoring.

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