The Chair provided a verbal update in respect of the information received during the Member visit to HMP Holme House on 23 September 2016. The Chair explained that Members were warmly welcomed by the Executive Governor, the Governor and Custodial Manager. On behalf of all Members the Chair extended her thanks to HMP Holme House for the invitation and the visit.
The Panel was advised that on 1 April 2017 HMP Holme House would be downgraded to a Category C training prison. The prison population would change as a result but HMP Holme House would continue to house prisoners from the Durham / Cleveland area. The change in categorisation to a Category C meant that the majority of prisoners would be serving sentences of four years or more, although all prisoners would start their sentences at HMP Durham. As one of the six early adopter prisons named in the Prison Reform Bill 2016 HMP Holme House had appointed an Executive Governor whose primary role was to engage with the local community. Comparable statistics would be published for each prison on reoffending, employment rates on release, and violence and self-harm.
HMP Holme House would work with HMP Durham and the courts in Teesside, as well as HMP Kirklevington to ensure prisoners were 'job ready' on release. The Executive Governor had held a meeting with Involve (a national organisation dedicated to building citizen participation) that morning to discuss how prisoners could become an asset to the local community on release. The offenders in HMP Holme House were from the local community and needed the support of that community to be rehabilitated and reintegrated on release. The Executive Governor explained that over the next few years there would be a real drive to develop the relationship between HMP Holme House and the local community. Members were informed that HMP Holme Houses 25th Anniversary was scheduled for May 2017 and a number of plans were in place to mark the occasion.
Reference was made by Members to the issue of finances and it was queried whether support arrangements could be strengthened to ensure that on release ex-offenders had sufficient funds to sustain themselves for more than a few days. The Governor advised that the Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (TVCRC) had secured the contract for delivery of probation services locally and every individual who left prison, as of 1st April 2016, would receive supervision by either TVCRC or the National Probation Service (NPS). In addition there would be someone to meet ex-offenders on release as part of the 'Through the Gate Programme'. It was highlighted that 75 per cent of prisoners at HMP Holme House came from within a 60 mile radius of the prison.
A question was raised in respect of intergenerational crime being a societal issue and whether enough was being done in early years and schools to help people make the necessary changes. It was advised that the individual had to want to make change happen. When looking at what was happening with young people those at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system were often playing truant by their early teens. The Executive Governor made the point that agencies had to work together to ensure all young people stayed in education beyond the age of 16. Another issue to consider was what action the Council and its partners were taking to keep young people in Middlesbrough away from the drug culture? This was an issue that all agencies needed to work on. From the Governors perspective the prison service was always playing catch up - a high proportion of young men entering the prison system were still unable to read and write.
A Member of the panel made reference to deprivation and expressed the view that illiteracy and dyslexia were a real issue of concern for young men in deprived areas. Literacy courses provided in Ladgate ward had attracted young men aged seventeen to twenty and these young men were now fathers. It was also noted that study time in prison was limited with some prisoners spending 23 out of 24 hours locked in a cell.
Members were advised that at present HMP Holme House was working with the external education provider NOVUS. However, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had advised it would potentially be more beneficial for HMP Holme House to have a local education provider. The question was put to the Council as to whether it was aware of any highly respected education providers in the region, which in the Councils view could be considered for taking on the delivery of the prisons education programme. HMP Holme House was also seeking to appoint an Education Champion, an individual with significant experience in the education sector (possibly a recently retired Head Teacher) for a three month period. A review of the prisons curriculum needed to be undertaken in light of its change in categorisation and recommendations on HMP Holme Houses future education programme put forward.
A Member of the panel queried whether as a result of the Prison Reform Bill 2016 prisoners in HMP Holme House nearing the end of their sentence were able to work / attend a local college on day release. The view was expressed by a Member of the panel that individuals should not be released without having first secured job involvement. Reference was made to a young man who had spent time in HMP Kirklevington but during his time in prison had gained qualifications as a safety professional. On his release these skills were essential in achieving employment, as the employer focused on his qualifications instead of his prison record. These qualifications had been obtained on day release and the view was expressed that the last few months of a prisoners sentence should involve these types of arrangements.
It was advised that NOVUS, which was a large commercial organisation, had held for the national contract for delivery of prison education / training programmes in recent years. Prior to that Stockton College held the contract locally. Members queried whether Middlesbrough College was aware of the possibility for change and the potential opportunity this opening provided. It was also queried as to whether prisoners serving less than four years would be able, in the final year of their sentence, to go to college. It was felt that if this was the case significant progress could be made to effectively reduce reoffending rates locally. Reference was made to the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) responsibility for driving forward education / training skills across the Tees Valley, although it was acknowledged that the funding arrangements maybe different.
Members were informed that HMP Holme House had fantastic mental health and drug misuse therapeutic facilities, although in recent years the prison had witnessed a significant increase in the use of illegal highs. Given their previous legal status many had viewed their use as acceptable. However, the use of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in prisons had resulted in increased violence amongst prisoners and towards prison staff. The taking of these substances had resulted in permanent changes in peoples personalities and had effectively destabilised prisons. Many people continued to deny the problem existed but it remained a significant issue in prisons across the country. It was emphasised that prisoners need a stable and ordered environment, as well as help to address the issues that lie behind the use of NPS. Many prisoners had experienced sexual abuse in childhood and the use of drugs / opiates acted as a crutch for them while in prison.
The Governor expressed the view that the use of NPS was the biggest issue to hit prisons nationally in recent years alongside the use of drones to deliver these different synthetic compounds. The misuse of prescribed drugs and availability of drugs such as Zopiclone via mail order was another area of concern. It was emphasised that the need for stability in prison remains an absolute priority and HMP Holme House promotes a zero tolerance approach to NPS.
Reference was made to work undertaken in schools to discourage young people from entering the criminal justice system. The Executive Governor advised that HMP Holme House had previously undertaken some work with the charity 'Prison me no way'. However, the research indicated that the impact of this approach on reducing the likelihood of young people committing crimes was minimal. The programme was more effective in encouraging young people to consider working in the prison service as a possible career option. The Custodial Manager advised that prison never looks as hard as it was experienced. It was a boring existence to be locked in a cell day after day and one which cannot be conveyed through description. Only through experience can anyone understand how prison really feels. In comparison to the approach adopted in other European countries the UK imprisons more people than elsewhere in Europe and was towards the top end of the table.
In terms of HMP Holme Houses prison population there were approximately 200 sex offenders at present. The majority of these offenders tended to be older and were getting older as a result of historic prosecutions. Owing to the nature of their crimes many were very difficult to release. The prisons mainstream population was aged 22- 42. The Governor advised that in criminology there was a recognised point (age) when individuals would naturally begin to grow out of committing crimes. Once housing, employment and positive relationships with a partner were achieved men were generally kept on the straight and narrow. Inevitably there were those who suffered from mental health issues or choose crime / drugs as a lifestyle choice but for the vast majority of young men many had simply made bad choices.
Education was a key issue for the rehabilitation of prisoners and HMP Holme House had two floors of education provision. Self-Change and Healthy Relationship programmes were intensive courses that required real commitment from prisoners and certificates were awarded to those who successfully completed these courses. Another scheme operating within HMP Holme House was the 'Listener Scheme'. This was a voluntary scheme through which prisoners provided support to other prisoners particularly those experiencing suicidal thoughts.
The prisoners involved in the scheme derived huge benefits from it and were rewarded with the highest trusted status. Those involved also greeted new prisoners upon entry to HMP Holme House.
The Prison Service Industry successfully secured contracts for external work and HMP Holme House had been successful in securing a number of contracts. The prison workshop runs 4 ½ days a week and employs 16 men who were developing highly sought after skills valued in the outside world by employers. If an individual was staying in prison for four years or more there was a higher chance of successfully rehabilitating them. The bakery was another successful venture at the prison and currently produced 400 loaves a day. The laundry was equipped with fantastic facilities and the use of those facilities would be enhanced if additional private sector contracts were secured. In terms of pay the majority of prisoners received £18 per week and those who completed educational courses received £12 per week. Textiles were also produced at the prison and 2,500 boxer shorts were manufactured each week as part of an internal contract. HMP Holme House was fully equipped with industrial sewing machines and had achieved the ISO 9001 quality assurance mark. Upholstery work was also undertaken and approximately 900 out of 1200 prisoners were engaged in employment or education. Once HMP Holme House became a Category C prison the work/education programme should be fully occupied.
The Head of Reoffending and Rehabilitation advised Members that his total annual pay budget was in the region of £580,000 for 1200 prisoners and £2m annually for training and education. HMP Holme House would be in a much stronger position in the future, as the Prison Reform Bill 2016 provided reform prisons with greater control over the budget and the ability to offer prisoners incentives and privileges. The Executive Governors aim was to create hope and demonstrate to the prisoners that someone was taking an interest and trying to help them. The Executive Governor expressed the view that HMP Holme House was on a journey from good to great and in his opinion the prison could achieve even more. The skills the prisoners learnt in prison needed to be relevant to the local community and reflected the journey each individual was on.
It was advised that for some people in the community the change in category of HMP Holme House would be seen as a disadvantage, as remand prisoners from the Cleveland area would be sent to HMP Durham. Those receiving longer sentences would serve the majority of their sentence at HMP Holme House. It was acknowledged that it remains a real challenge to rehabilitate offenders in an area of high unemployment and to ensure that prisoners at the point of release were job ready. However, there were opportunities available. A meeting had been held with the Chief Executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) to discuss employee skills gaps in the region. HMP Holme House was keen to invest in the right industries and construction had been highlighted as an area for potential development. The Executive Governor also advised that a Commercial Director had recently been employed by HMP Holme House. It was felt that this appointment would make a significant difference and enable HMP Holme House to develop further the real pockets of excellence in the prison, which at present not enough prisoners were accessing.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That an invitation be extended to the Executive Governor and Governor of HMP Holme House to attend a future meeting of the scrutiny panel.
2. That the Executive Governor and Governor of HMP Holme House be contacted to establish as to whether the Prison Reform Bill 2016 would enable prisoners serving four years or more in a Category C training prison to attend college / work on day release in the final months of their sentence.
3. That the information gathered during the visit to HMP Holme House be included in an update report to the Overview and Scrutiny Board on the panels previous review topic of reoffending and rehabilitation.
4. That information on the average age of young men committing suicide in UK prisons in 2015 be obtained and included in the panels update report.
5. That a copy of the information leaflet entitled 'Local Help for Emergency Situations' be provided to all Members.