HMIP Inspection of Liverpool

The prison was given an inspection in August/September 2019, 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 category B local prison that serves the Merseyside area. For historical reasons it is known locally and indeed beyond as Walton prison, and i t is situated jus  t to the north of t he city centre. The prison has a very strong local identity, and newly arrived prisoners are greeted by large murals depicting scenes of the city and its  surroundings. It is, in every sense of the word, a local prison.

It was   last inspected in September 2017, at which time it held around 1,150 prisoners. That inspection found that conditions had deteriorated from a previous poor inspection in 2015. In 2015 our judgement had been that the treatment and conditions of prisoners was ‘not sufficiently good’ in all four of our healthy prison tests. By the time of the 2017 inspection, there had been no improvements, but on the contrary our judgements in respect and purposeful activity had declined to the lowest possible result, poor.

However, the grades themselves do not tell the full story of what we found in 2017. At that time I described the ‘abject failure of HMP Liverpool to offer a safe, decent and purposeful environment’ and concluded 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’. Following the 2015 inspection we had made 89 recommendations, 53 of which had not been achieved and 14 of which had been partially achieved.

Some of the specific issues that we reported in 2017 included the living conditions that were among the worst inspectors had ever seen. There were hundreds of broken windows, filthy blocked lavatories, graffiti, damp, dirt and infestations of rodents and insects. Violence had increased, drugs were readily available, the regime was poor and there were serious failings in health care and purposeful activity. We could see no credible plans to address any of these issues.

The inspection was  so troubling that I took the unusual step of writing to the Chief Executive of the Prison Service to express my concerns. (This inspection pre-dated the introduction of the Urgent Notification protocol in November 2017.) In January 2018 the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee held an unprecedented evidence session devoted solely to exploring the issues raised by the inspection. A new governor was appointed to the prison, the population was reduced by between 450 and 500 prisoners, an extensive programme of refurbishment was started and health care services changed to a different provider.

The impact of these and other measures has been dramatic. At this latest inspection we found that 49 out of 72 recommendations made in 2017 had been fully achieved, and a further four partially achieved. This is an exceptionally high achievement rate and is particularly creditable in light of the dire situation at the prison only two years before. I should make clear that the increase in grades in three of our healthy prison tests was   not a reward for implementing recommendations. It was   quite simply a reflection of what we found, which is set out in the summary and in the report itself. I shall not therefore recount them in detail in this introduction.

The finding that safety was still ‘not sufficiently good’ at Liverpool was not because there were no plans or actions being taken to address violence. It was simply that those plans had not yet   had the desired impact on the outcomes being experienced by prisoners. There were still too many drugs entering the prison, despite a comprehensive supply reduction strategy. The strategy clearly needed to be reviewed and refined. Although instances of violence had been subject to analysis, they were still too high. The measures implemented under CSIP ( challenge, support and intervention plans) had yet to move from a process to delivering clear outcomes, and did not address low-level poor behaviour. Levels of self-harm were also a continuing concern and, although there were some good plans, more analysis was needed if the recent signs of a decline in incidents was to be maintained.

The improvement from poor to good for respect represented a remarkable achievement since the last inspection. The squalor and filth we saw in 2017 had gone, replaced by clean and decent living conditions for the vast majority of prisoners. It is important to understand that this had not been brought about simply as a result of the population being reduced and resources channelled towards the prison. That had of course helped, but the real change had been in the quality of leadership and teamwork within the prison and with other partners. There was now a culture of care that I simply could not see in 2017. The following example illustrates this and is emblematic of the change that had taken place.

In 2017 I reported that: ‘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.

During this inspection I saw this same man. He was now living as an inpatient in the health care unit. His surroundings were bright and clean. He was still showing clear signs of illness but was alert and responsive –   a complete change from the person I had met two years before. He was now receiving proper care and treatment and not being neglected in a squalid, filthy cell.

The judgement for purposeful activity remained at not sufficiently good. While the time prisoners spent out of their cells had improved since the last inspection, too many were still locked up during the working day. There were not enough activity places and attendance rates were too low. There were some good plans to improve, but an injection of pace was needed to give real impetus to what leaders and managers knew needed to be done.

The improvement in rehabilitation and release planning was a very real achievement. There were some weaknesses in public protection arrangements and in risk management. However, the offender assessment system (OASys) was well managed, with no backlog, which is unusual in this type of prison and a solid achievement. The introduction of in-cell phones had made a huge difference to the ability of prisoners to maintain family contact, and the visitors’ centre had improved. We saw examples of good practice in the work done to prepare prisoners for release, and these are detailed in the report. It was also notable that, unlike at so many other establishments, the vast majority of prisoners were released to sustainable accommodation.

During a meeting with the governor and senior management team, I was asked to recognise the enormous amount of work that had been done since 2017, and I hope both the words of this report and the grades awarded by the inspection show that recognition. There was still a huge amount of work to do to implement, embed and refine the many plans that were in place. As we have seen in other establishments, improvements can prove to be fragile, and I very much hope this will not prove to be the case at Liverpool, with the necessary support continuing to be provided by HMPPS. Encouragingly, despite all that has been achieved, I saw no signs of complacency within the establishment. It was very clear to me that senior managers were operating as a cohesive team in support of enormously energetic and respected leadership, and not as a group of individuals focusing only on their functional responsibilities. I am sure this has been the key to their success so far and will need to be maintained into the future if the work of transforming HMP Liverpool is to be completed.

 Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                 August 2019  

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: