HMIP Inspection of Liverpool

The prison was given an inspection in September 2017, 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 Liverpool is a local category B prison that serves the Merseyside area. At the time of the inspection it held 1,155 men. It can fairly be described as a traditional local jail with a very strong sense of local identity. This is immediately obvious to visitors, including inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons. The prison was last inspected in May 2015; on that occasion it was judged as ‘not sufficiently good’ in all four of our healthy prison tests.

At the 2015 inspection we made 89 recommendations. We found at this inspection that just 22 of those recommendations had been fully achieved, 14 partially achieved and 53 not achieved. Far from improving in the intervening period, the prison had deteriorated in the areas of respect and purposeful activity and these were judged as poor. The remaining two areas were judged still to be ‘not sufficiently good.’ However, the bare statistics of the failure to respond to previous inspection findings do not adequately describe the abject failure of HMP Liverpool to offer a safe, decent and purposeful environment. In this introduction I shall point to some of the major issues we identified during the inspection, but to understand the reality of conditions in the prison it is essential to study the detail of this report.

Violence of all kinds had increased since the last inspection. Over a third of prisoners told us they felt unsafe at the time of our inspection, and half said they had been victimised by staff. Although the recorded use of force had reduced, it was still high. Governance was poor and not sufficiently accountable. A contributory factor to the violence was highly likely to have been the prevalence of illicit drugs in the prison. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners told us it was easy or very easy to obtain drugs; their perception appeared to be fully justified. Of those prisoners tested for drugs, there was a very high positive testing rate of 37.5%. The drug supply reduction strategy was clearly not working.

The regime, in effect the timetable ruling the prisoners’ lives at Liverpool, was unacceptably poor and although increased staffing levels had helped to stabilise it, it had not improved. The outcome was that whereas in the past it had been unpredictably poor, it had now become predictably poor, leaving prisoners locked in their cells for long periods of time. During the inspection we found that half of the prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day.

Some of the most concerning findings were around the squalid living conditions endured by many prisoners. Many cells were not fit to be used and should have been decommissioned. Some had emergency call bells that were not working but were nevertheless still occupied, presenting an obvious danger to prisoners. There were hundreds of unrepaired broken windows, with jagged glass left in the frames. Many lavatories were filthy, blocked or leaking. There were infestations of cockroaches in some areas, broken furniture, graffiti, damp and dirt. In one extreme case, I found a prisoner who had complex mental health needs being held in a cell that had no furniture other than a bed. The windows of both the cell and the toilet recess were broken, the light fitting in his toilet was broken with wires exposed, the lavatory was filthy and appeared to be blocked, his sink was leaking and the cell was dark and damp. Extraordinarily, this man had apparently been held in this condition for some weeks. The inspectors had brought this prisoner’s circumstances to the attention of the prison, and it should not have needed my personal intervention for this man to be moved from such appalling conditions.

The prison was generally untidy and in many places there were piles of rubbish. During the course of the inspection, efforts were made to clear some of it, but there was simply too much. I saw piles of rubbish that had clearly been there for a long time, and in which inspectors reported seeing rats on a regular basis. I was told by a senior member of staff that it had not been cleared by prisoners employed as cleaning orderlies because it presented a health and safety risk. It was so bad that external contractors were to be brought in to deal with it. In other words, this part of the jail had become so dirty, infested and hazardous to health that it could not be cleaned.

It is hard to understand how the leadership of the prison could have allowed the situation to deteriorate to this extent. While much of what we found was clearly the responsibility of local prison managers, there had been a broader organisational failure. We saw clear evidence that local prison managers had sought help from regional and national management to improve conditions they knew to be unacceptable long before our arrival, but the resulting support was inadequate and had made little impact on outcomes for prisoners. There was a backlog of some 2,000 maintenance tasks and it was clear that facilities management at the prison was in a parlous state. The inspection team was highly experienced and could not recall having seen worse living conditions than those at HMP Liverpool.

We could see no credible plan to address these basic issues. On the contrary, the presence of inspectors seemed to provoke some piecemeal and superficial attempts at cleaning and the like, but the fear was that this would stop as soon as we left, which is clearly what happened after the last inspection.

There were also significant failings in the leadership and management of activities and in health care. The management of learning and skills had been unstable for some time and the speed of improvement had been slow. There were too few full-time activity places and managers could not ensure that prisoners attended sessions regularly and on time.

While primary health care had improved, staff shortages had a negative impact on all aspects of health services. Care for inpatients and the large number of prisoners with mental health problems was especially concerning. Inpatients had a very poor regime and were offered little therapeutic activity. The integrated mental health and substance misuse team did not have capacity to meet the needs of a complex population and we came across prisoners waiting several months for an appointment.

While there were some good staff-prisoner relationships and the key worker scheme was showing some real promise, only 55% of prisoners said that most staff treated them with respect. The piles of unanswered applications we found in a staff office reflected the dismissive approach that too many staff took towards prisoners.

Although there are several change projects underway at the prison, none of these will address the basic failings that were so painfully obvious at HMP Liverpool. I was particularly oncerned that there did not appear to be effective leadership or sufficiently rigorous external oversight to drive the prison forward in a meaningful way. This report makes it crystal clear that leaders at all levels, both within the prison and beyond, had presided over the failure to address the concerns raised at the last inspection.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
November 2017
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
Return to Liverpool

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

  • HMP Liverpool (1.30 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Liverpool (4–15 September 2017)
  • HMP Liverpool (PDF, 1.11 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Liverpool (11 – 22 May 2015)
  • HMP Liverpool, Unannounced inspection of HMP Liverpool (14–25 October 2013)
  • HMP Liverpool, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Liverpool (8 – 16 December 2011)
  • HMP Liverpool, Announced inspection of HMP Liverpool (7-11 September 2009)