HMIP Inspection of Altcourse

The prison was given an inspection in summer 2014, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

“HMP Altcourse is a local prison for adults and young adults in Liverpool run by G4S Custodial and Detention Services. After a succession of positive inspections this is a more mixed report. The prison’s longstanding strengths of good relationships between staff and prisoners and high quality purposeful activity remain, but the prison is much less safe than at our last inspection.

The reception and early days experience was positive for most prisoners, although some first night accommodation was in a poor condition. Prisoners told us they felt safe, and during the inspection the prison seemed calm. However, under the surface levels of assaults against both prisoners and staff, bullying incidents and fights were high and rising sharply. There had been 38 serious assaults in just four months before the inspection. Gang issues and the availability of drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances (so-called ‘legal highs’ such as ‘Spice’ and ‘Black Mamba’), were a significant factor in much of the violence, and these had also been the cause of regular hospital admissions.

The prison’s response to this was inadequate at both strategic and operational levels. The prison had been slow to react to the increasing levels of violence which, to some extent, had become normalised. The security strategy did not make the necessary links between drugs, gangs and violence and little had been done to address the disproportionate number of young adults involved in violent incidents. Prisoners who had completed organised activities but who had not yet been locked up for the night complained to us of feeling bored; this had not been identified or addressed and created an obvious potential for trouble. At an operational level, there was little support for victims and a failure to take prompt, firm action against perpetrators. The lack of early action and an effective incentives and earned privileges scheme was likely to have been a contributory factor in the high use of formal discipline and force. We were not assured that the use of force was always proportionate and necessary. There was high use of segregation in poor conditions; significant numbers of those in segregation were seeking sanctuary from violence elsewhere in the prison.

The prison was overcrowded and many squalid cells designed for one or two held an additional prisoner. Many prisoners complained of shortages of basic equipment such as cutlery, cups and pillows. However, these shortcomings were offset by a good, spacious external environment in which prisoners spent much more time out of their cells than we usually see in prisons of this type.

Relationships between staff and prisoners were exceptionally good and there was an effective personal officer scheme. These relationships offered good care for prisoners at risk of suicide or selfharm, although more focus was required on the lessons arising from the three self-inflicted deaths that had occurred since our last inspection. Health care was good and improving further and complaints were generally handled well.

Despite the other challenges it faced, the prison had maintained very good levels of high quality activity. There was a strong emphasis on maintaining a good work ethic, prisoners achieved relevant qualifications, and there was some outstanding teaching. Behaviour here was much better managed than elsewhere in the prison. Very good use was made of peer mentors. However, some wing cleaners were not fully occupied and vulnerable prisoners did not have the same opportunities as the rest of the prison.

Good quality activities supported reasonable resettlement provision. However, provision was disjointed and needed to be more effectively focused on need. Too little was done to tackle the significant need to address domestic violence offences. Most practical resettlement needs, including family relationships, were well met. About 15% of the prisoners returned to Wales where they had a guarantee of accommodation, but a similar number from England left the prison without any accommodation arranged.

The urgent priority for Altcourse is to reduce the high levels of violence. The prison needs to ensure it does this without damaging its longstanding strengths of positive relationships between staff and prisoners and good purposeful activity, which are critical if prisoners are to leave Altcourse with decent opportunities in order to lead law-abiding lives in the community.  

Nick Hardwick                       October 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Altcourse

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:

  • HMP Altcourse, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Altcourse (9 – 20 June 2014)
  • HMP Altcourse, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Altcourse (15-17 October 2012)
  • HMP Altcourse, Full unannounced inspection of HMP Altcourse (15 – 22 January 2010)
  • HMP Altcourse, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Altcourse (17-19 September 2007)