Liverpool prison – filthy and dangerous

Between 11 and 22 May 2015, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) conducted an unannounced inspection of HMP Liverpool,* which holds 1,191 male prisoners. The subsequent report, published on 20 October, revealed appalling and inhumane conditions with overcrowded, filthy cells and prisoners locked up for 23 hours a day; circumstances which had led to 11 deaths during the previous 14 months. Amy Stanley reports.

HMIP reports summarise the conditions and treatment of prisoners based on four tests of a ‘decent prison’: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. Overall, the 2015 report stated that outcomes in HMP Liverpool were ‘not sufficiently good’ across each of the criteria, which is management-speak for dreadful.

Safety: All prisoners within the report (including those arriving on transfer) were strip-searched as a matter of routine on reception, a completely degrading exercise. Adult safeguarding measures were underdeveloped and there was no prison-wide safeguarding policy in operation. This placed significant dangers on vulnerable prisoners, such as those who are at risk of self-harm or suicide. There had been 11 deaths in HMP Liverpool over the previous 14 months, three of which have been confirmed as suicides. A prison officer told the BBC he believed that at least one recent death was due to the legal high ‘spice’ which is readily available within the prison. Reporting on the death in September 2014 of an inmate from liver disease, the Prison Ombudsman criticised delays in referring him for further investigations, transporting him in handcuffs when he was already seriously ill and waiting ten days before notifying relatives he was in hospital.

Brutality is the norm: in one incident a prisoner was given no chance to comply with an instruction before prison officers wearing balaclavas laid into him. He was then left in a cell naked. Overall the report found that the incidence of prison staff using force against prisoners was nearly double that in similar prisons.

Respect: The prison environment was degrading. Many wings and outside areas were dirty. The exercise yards were strewn with discarded food, clothing, litter and bedding. Cockroaches were rife. Many cells designed for one prisoner held two and had insufficient or broken furniture, and many broken windows. There was no automated monitoring of cell call bell responses, demonstrating prison staff’s disregard for the safety of those nominally within its care.

Purposeful activity: Time unlocked was very poor and unpredictable. Many prisoners were held in their cells for most of the day, which is unhealthy for both physical and mental health. The prison regime was chaotic and often disrupted or delayed, and many staff and prisoners were unclear about the correct times for out-of-cell activity. The library environment was poor and access to the library inadequate.

Resettlement: Strategic management of reducing reoffending and resettlement had deteriorated since the last inspection in 2013. There was a backlog of 187 prison transfer applications, some dating back over a month, where no response had been sent. The report also highlighted how there was no reliable monitoring of the proportion of prisoners who were homeless on release.

Responding to the findings, Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons said that staff at HMP Liverpool ‘need to get a better grip on issues’ – a gross understatement. Despite the report’s damning evidence about the treatment of prisoners by staff, the usually vociferous Prison Officers Association has published no comment. The only adequate response would be to sack the governor, Pete Francis, and close the prison.

  • The prison is officially called HMP Liverpool; however prisoners and local residents frequently use its old name HMP Walton.

Eyewitnesss account

John Hall was one of the four Love Activists imprisoned for refusing to leave the occupied Bank of England building in Liverpool in May 2015 after a court ordered its repossession. All four received ten-week sentences on 19 September, and along with John Rice, John served five weeks in Liverpool Prison and was there at the time the report was published. He writes:

‘HMP Walton – Liverpool was my second time in an English prison and yet the difference between them was incredible. Walton is a filthy, dangerous and cockroach-filled place. My cell had a rust-coloured ceiling, holes burned through most cell windows, and there were cockroaches running around my cell. I was on G wing landing with four men in a cell. What I found most frightening was the amount of “spice” in there and the guards just ignored it. There is a button in the cell for emergencies and yet when it is pressed you can be waiting for hours for a guard to respond. A guy in a cell close to me cut the top of his ear off in a desperate attempt to get help for his spice addiction. There have been a few deaths from spice and I think the guards must hold some of the responsibility for this. Their total disregard for prisoners was in my view highly irresponsible. About three days before I was released the prison had decided that if you pressed the emergency button and it was not an emergency in the staff’s view it would be a chargeable offence. We were locked in the cell for 22-23 hours every day and there were no set times for association that I could see. We were let out according to the guards’ discretion or moods! There was a TV in my cell, but about 35 cells did not have a TV and we were warned by a guard to make sure we guarded our TV from other inmates. The food was OK, but not enough, I was always hungry by 8.30pm.’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016


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