HMIP Inspection of Altcourse

The prison was given an inspection in winter 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 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.

Overall, Altcourse was in some key areas bucking the trend when compared to other local prisons. While it still faced significant challenges around safety, the downward trend in violence and anti-social behaviour was highly creditable. This was in no small part due to the energetic and proactive approach taken by the prison. Levels of self-harm, while still high, were also decreasing and there had been a real focus on ensuring men with these vulnerabilities were identified and cared for. This had been supported by a positive staff culture, a good focus on decency, and an excellent regime that was being delivered consistently. Some areas requiring improvement remained, particularly where offender management and public protection were concerned. Nevertheless, the director and his team were providing strong leadership, enabling a highly positive staff culture and delivering good outcomes in many key areas. Overall, Altcourse showed that a local prison can provide fundamentally decent treatment and conditions for prisoners, despite facing many of the same challenges as the rest of the prison service. There was much here from which others could learn.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
January 2017
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 (613.21 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Altcourse (13–23 November 2017)
  • 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)