LIVERPOOL L9 7LH
Tel: 0151 522 2000. Fax: 0151 522 2121
Date of last inspection November 2017, published March 2018
Task of the establishment: A category B core male local prison holding sentenced and remanded adults and young adults.
Certified normal accommodation / Op.Cap Prisoners held at the time of inspection: 1,148 on 13 November 2017
Certified normal capacity: 794 Operational capacity: 1,164 Last inspection November 2017, published April 2018
Notable features from last inspection
• Altcourse is a local prison serving courts in the Northwest of England and North Wales.
• Introduced a smoking ban in September 2017.
• The prison held an unusually high number of men recalled to prison (16% in our survey).
• In our survey, 79% said they arrived at the prison with a problem, 51% reported a mental health issue and over a third said they had a disability.
• Effective measures had been introduced to create stability and levels of violence and self-harm were decreasing year on year.
• Relationships between staff and prisoners were good and sometimes excellent.
• Men were held in decent conditions and the overall living environment was relatively good.
• Men were unlocked for sufficient periods and had ample opportunity to use their time constructively.
• The prison had problems in the way force, the administration of medication and oversight of public protection were carried out.
Prison status and key providers
Private – managed by G4S Custodial and Detention Services
Physical health provider:
G4S Health Services UK Mental health provider: G4S Health Services UK and Primecare
Substance misuse provider:
G4S Health Services UK and G4S Custodial and Detention Services
Learning and skills provider:
Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company
GEOAmey Region North West
Opened in December 1997 as a category A prison, Altcourse was turned into a category B core local prison in June 2003. It subsequently expanded in 2007 when a further house block holding an additional 180 prisoners opened.
Short description of residential units
There were seven house blocks divided into individual units. Units held between 60 and 90 prisoners and were colour coded. The prison was divided by buildings containing support services, such as the health care centre, the sports centre, the education and chaplaincy departments and the segregation unit.
Reynoldstown Brown: first night centre and induction unit.
Reynoldstown Blue: a second induction unit for prisoners completing the final stages of their induction.
Furlong Red: first night centre for prisoners requiring substance detoxification or stabilisation.
Beechers Green: vulnerable prisoner unit housing a mixture of prisoners.
Melling Blue and Brown: vulnerable prisoner units for sex offenders.
Beechers Blue: Brook reintegration unit. A specialist unit for prisoners demoted to the basic regime, peer mentors and a small group of prisoners on the standard regime.
Foinavon Red: unit for prisoners on the enhanced regime.
Foinavon Blue: the family unit, linked with the visits group and the community engagement team, housing a mix of prisoners.
Canal Blue and Green, Valentines Green and Red and Foinavon Green: a mixture of prisoners.
Furlong Green: substance recovery unit.
Name of director and date in post Steve Williams – September 2016
Independent Monitoring Board chair Maureen Lewis
HMP Altcourse is a local prison in Liverpool run by G4S Custodial and Detention Services. At the time of this inspection it held 1,148 men, including around 100 young adults. At our last inspection in June 2014, we reported mixed prisoner outcomes after many years of very positive reports. Despite the challenging operational context, it was good to see at this inspection clear signs of improvement in many key areas.
The prison had, in recent years, faced similar challenges to other local prisons with increased levels of violence and self-harm, including a homicide and three self-inflicted deaths. Use of illegal drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS) (new drugs that are developed or chosen to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin or amphetamines and may have unpredictable and life-threatening effects) had been a significant factor in levels of disorder, poor behaviour, debt and bullying. While all these issues were still prevalent at Altcourse, violence and self-harm were decreasing year on year, and there was evidence that NPS use had also declined considerably. The prison had been particularly proactive in addressing these challenges, making good use of excellent data.
During the visit, I was able to join a group of prisoners in a workshop looking at the dangers associated with the drug Spice. The workshop was well facilitated by peer mentors and was an energetic and very positive initiative. Other good initiatives, such as the Brook unit, were being used to stabilise the behaviour of men involved in disorder. Security arrangements were strong and positive behaviour was being rewarded through the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) scheme. Risk assessments on arrival and general care for men at risk of self-harm were good. There were still some areas for improvement, particularly relating to assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm, the management of adult safeguarding arrangements and the use of force. Nevertheless, the overall progress in making the prison safer was encouraging.
There was an excellent staff culture and nearly all the interactions between staff and prisoners that we saw were positive. Despite some overcrowding in cells, the environment was generally good, and the prison benefited from a spacious and open site where prisoners could move around in the open air. Men were particularly positive about their ability to live decently, get access to basic amenities and resolve problems informally. They were negative, however, about the food. Equality and diversity work was reasonable, but managers needed to pay more attention to consulting with prisoners with protected characteristics.
The health care provision had been disrupted in recent months, and some aspects were not as consistently good as they should have been. This was particularly the case with prescribed medication, which was often delayed.
Purposeful activity was excellent for a local prison. Men had a good amount time out of their cells, and the regime was delivered consistently with very few curtailments. This was unusual in this type of prison and most welcome, demonstrating what can be achieved with full staffing and a commitment from leaders.
Learning, skills and work activity provision was good, and there was enough available for every prisoner to be offered something constructive to do. While attendance, punctuality and pay differentials needed attention, this remained a very strong area for the prison. It was therefore disappointing to see serious problems with offender management and aspects of public protection work.
There was a significant backlog in offender assessment system (OASys) documents that the National Probation Service was responsible for, all of which were for the riskiest men in the population. Prison offender supervisors also managed high-risk men, but did not receive sufficient support to do so confidently. Ongoing contact with many of these men was minimal, and processes for identifying and managing those subject to multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) were weak. In contrast, children and families work was very strong, and we were particularly impressed by the work in the family unit, Foinavon Blue.
Resettlement support for those being released was generally good.
SAFETY Early days support was generally good. Levels of violence were high but decreasing. Proactive work was being carried out to address poor behaviour which had started to decline. The adjudication process was well managed. Use of force was also declining, but we found some cases where deescalation had not been used effectively. The average time spent in segregation was generally not excessive, but the regime was limited. Security arrangements were proportionate, but problematic drug use was high. There were flaws in the way assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management documents for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm were completed, but men vulnerable to self-harm told us they were well cared for. Peer workers were used well to improve safety but required better management oversight. Adult safeguarding was underdeveloped. Outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against this healthy prison test. At the last inspection in 2014 we found that outcomes for prisoners in Altcourse were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test. We made 18 recommendations in the area of safety. At this inspection we found that 15 of the recommendations had been achieved, one had been partially achieved and two had not been achieved.
RESPECT There was an excellent staff culture. Staff-prisoner relationships were very good and underpinned much that was positive about the prison. Living conditions were generally good and men were able to live decently. The food was unpopular, but shop arrangements were appreciated. General consultation arrangements were good, and the applications and complaints processes were well managed. Equality and diversity work was reasonable overall, although consultation with some groups needed to be stronger. Health care was mixed – the provision of medication needed immediate attention, but most other care was appropriate and timely. Outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against this healthy prison test. At the last inspection in 2014 we found that outcomes for prisoners in Altcourse were reasonably good against this healthy prison test. We made 28 recommendations in the area of respect. At this inspection we found that 15 of the recommendations had been achieved, two had been partially achieved and 11 had not been achieved.
PURPOSEFUL ACTIVITY Time out of cell was much better than we usually see in local prisons and the regime ran reliably with virtually no curtailments. Ofsted rated education, skills and work activities as good overall. There were sufficient places to occupy all men and allocations were prompt. The range of activities was good and appropriate for the population, although not all men were fully occupied. Teaching and learning were generally good, and achievements were high. Attendance and punctuality needed to be improved. Outcomes for prisoners were good against this healthy prison test. At the last inspection in 2014 we found that outcomes for prisoners in Altcourse were good against this healthy prison test. We made nine recommendations in the area of purposeful activity. At this inspection we found that two of the recommendations had been achieved, five had been partially achieved and two had not been achieved
REHABILITATION & RELEASE PLANNING Support to help men maintain contact with their families was very good. There was a good focus on keeping up to date with offender assessment system (OASys) reports that were the responsibility of the prison, but there was a large backlog of reports produced by the National Probation Service in the community. Some other aspects of offender management work were seriously deficient, including the level of ongoing contact with men and multi-agency public protection arrangement (MAPPA) liaison work. There were gaps in the range of interventions offered and the prison needed a more strategic focus on meeting the needs of men they could not move to a training prison, including those of the many men convicted of sexual offences. Release planning and ‘through-the-gate’ support was generally good. Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test. At the last inspection in 2014 we found that outcomes for prisoners in Altcourse were reasonably good against this healthy prison test. We made 14 recommendations in the area of resettlement. At this inspection we found that four of the recommendations had been achieved, four had been partially achieved and six had not been achieved.arrangements.
INDEPENDENT MONITORING BOARD ANNUAL REPORT: IMB 2017/2018 Annual Report Summary November 2018
Are prisoners treated fairly? Overall prisoners are treated fairly within this establishment. The prison continues to work towards ensuring that safety, decency, and dignity are embedded throughout the establishment. However, the Board is concerned that VPs (vulnerable prisoners) are still unable to access the full range of purposeful activities or any offence focused interventions. Additionally, due to the shortage of dedicated VP places, a number of prisoners, not resident on VP units, have to be escorted around the prison for association and employment. Prisoners complain that they are frequently subjected to verbal abuse from other prisoners during these escorted movements.
Are prisoners treated humanely? The treatment of prisoners segregated in the Care and Separation Unit and held on Healthcare reflects a positive and humane attitude from staff at all levels. During this year a number of seriously ill prisoners have received palliative care delivered with compassion and professionalism. We do not consider that an eight week wait to see a GP is acceptable; neither do we consider the conditions in the VP waiting area within Healthcare to be humane. (Since the end of this reporting year both of these issues have been addressed partially)
Are prisoners prepared well for their release? Resettlement preparation is undertaken by several different departments; Offender Management Unit, Resettlement, Healthcare, Interventions and Shelter. However, the demarcation of roles and responsibilities is confusing. This has been further exacerbated by the introduction of the new HDC arrangements, and although prisoners are usually released on their eligibility date, prisoners find it difficult to understand which department is responsible for their release.
February 2019: Consideration was given last year to Altcourse being re-roled to a Category C prison, as part of the Prison Estate Transformation Programme. However in November 2018 the Ministry of Justice confirmed that although it has been considered the idea had eventually been discarded.