Independent Monitoring Boards are members of the public who are given access to prisons and immigration detention centres so that they can observe how the facility is being run. Their remit is to verify that those who are being held are being treated in a humane and just manner. They write public annual reports addressed to ministers.
Volunteers board members ought be supported my a member of the institutions staff who acts as their clerk and by the national IMB secretariat. The quality of support received from the secretariat is often criticised by board members.
A new report template issued by the IMB national secretariat in 2008 discourages boards from including items addressed to the secretariat in their reports. It states : “Those matters which are the responsibility of the Secretariat should continue to be directed there for reply”. The word “continue” is misleading as in-fact reports prepared prior to the template typically included a section specifically for the attention of the secretariat or commenting on the secretariat’s performance.
I have personally applied, unsuccessfully, to become a member of the IMB at Oakington. My application was processed very slowly (details here). Oakington’s IMB is currently woefully undermanned with only six active members on a team which ought to be twelve strong. Many of these recruitment problems are due to the IMB secretariat. The below excerpts from IMB reports show there are widespread problems.
Excerpts from Reports
The Board would wish to make the Minister aware of the delays in the system on recruitment. We have 10 active (from 12) Board members (two on extended leave) from 18 approved places. Two applicants were interviewed in June 2008 and recommended for acceptance – we have been awaiting a decision for over eight months. Latterly, we have been informed whilst preparing this report that a very strong applicant has expressed her displeasure and withdrawn. The Board is trying not to overreact, but is extremely angered by the waste of time, effort and expense to try and achieve some stability in the Board, and only to be defeated by the procrastination of the system of recruitment. The Board is very dissatisfied with the lack of attention given to this area with the time taken by the system. We are not informed if it is security clearance checks, Secretariat administration delays or Ministerial decision process, therefore we express our frustration to all concerned. It imposes a heavy burden on the depleted Board members to maintain their responsibilities, and will be more so with an expansion of the prison by 23% in 2009
The interviews for the first two candidates were held on the 18th March 2008 and we have recommended them both, but unfortunately at the time of writing this report we have lost one of the two, due (in her words) of having to wait over five months for confirmation on whether she had been successful or not, we still have not heard from the IMB Secretariat on whether the other candidate has been successful for appointment. Recruitment of new members is always difficult and it is disappointing that we get little help or encouragement from our Secretariat.
Four applicants for membership of the Board were received from the Secretariat. They were interviewed and submitted for the Minister’s consideration. One was from an ethnic minority, another was female. One had references from Members of Parliament including a senior Cabinet Member. All were turned down by the then Minister. No reasons were given, but on raising the matter publicly at the Annual Conference, the Chair was informed that the Minister felt the age of the applicants, was such that it would make the average age of the Board too high. A further applicant was interviewed but not appointed by the Minister.
HMP & YOI Brinsford
For the National Council of IMB/IMB Secretariat a. What plans are there to address the excessive delays experienced in the appointments process? (3.4)
Since the end of the reporting year, 1 further new member was appointed. 3 further prospective members were interviewed, all of whose papers have been sent to the IMB Secretariat for submission to the Minister. (the Board still awaits a response from the Minister after 2 months).
The national diversity training arranged by the Secretariat was of very poor quality, and expensive in terms of money and members’ time. We are grateful for the efforts of our Clerk, but general administrative support for the Board remains woefully inadequate. The recruitment of new members, always slow and tedious, has been made more so and, again, we do not consider we receive from the BOV Secretariat the degree of support we need
There are now ten members of the Cardiff IMB, all of whom are able to undertake rota duties. On the advice of the IMB Secretariat, the optimal number should be at least fourteen. This number would give flexibility for individual members to specialise more fully in particular areas, in addition to their rota duties.
HMP Blantyre House
“The information supplied by the Secretariat was very erratic and the over-spend was not apparent until late in the financial year.”
HMP Latchmere House
The Board was deeply disappointed by the quality of support offered by the IMB Secretariat in the search for a new Chair, and has yet to receive any response to its written complaint to the Secretariat sent in November 2008
QUESTION TO THE SECRETARIAT 1. The process for determining and monitoring IMB expenditure budgets is farcical. This year, budget figures were received in September –five months after the start of the financial year; and for several years now, expenditure reports have been sent to Boards at infrequent intervals. Much of the information received has been incomplete and / or inaccurate. What steps is the Secretariat taking to enable realistic expenditure budgets to be prepared on time; and are there any plans to improve the monitoring of Boards’ expenditure?
We were fortunate that the extended appointment timescales did not deter prospective new members from taking up appointments where offered. We note the measures announced to reduce this period, but would urge IMB Secretariat to take further measures to streamline and shorten the recruitment/appointment process.
HMP –YOI Drake Hall
Both the volume of the Boards work and the environment in which it is conducted are different to those in place at the time when the majority of members joined the Board. For some members this new style is “not what we signed up for”. As a result of this, and following resignations for other personal reasons, the Board is now reduced to operating with only 8 members and therefore this gives a further increase in workload on its remaining members. Page 15 This situation is worsened by the long delays in proposed new members receiving security clearances. Three new proposed members were advised to the Secretariat at the beginning of July 2002. Four months later the proposals are still there with no news on when security clearances will be obtained, prior to them finally being sent for Ministerial approval.
Members have attended Secretariat training courses as appropriate during the year and all members attended the Diversity training in January; this latter was judged to be very disappointing
HMP/YOI Askham Grange
We are concerned at the length of the delay before a reply is forthcoming when the result of the interview, together with the recommendations, are sent to the Secretariat. It is possible that good potential members are lost because their worth is seen by other organisations who respond more quickly.
The Board welcomes the appointment of all new members. Occasionally members are recruited who fail to understand clearly the role of the Board within an Establishment. This situation arose with some members recruited in 2004. Regrettably the Secretariat failed to deal effectively with the issues and established members of the Board considered they were ill advised and lacking support from the Secretariat.
The Board at Askham Grange spent a great deal of time and effort in preparing a zero based budget for the current year. Detailed input from each member on number of visits, meetings attended etc. were drafted on spreadsheets together with training requirements and all other areas of predicted expenditure. The members then drew up a forecast of spending by category, by month for the coming year and this was presented with a fully explanatory covering letter. Sadly the response from secretariat has been to totally ignore the exercise.
This type of delay does not bode well for future candidates who are interested in joining the IMB.
HMP & YOI Onley
In 2005/6 there were 1256 Complaints (895 Adult; 361 YO). Recording by category was inadequate due to staff shortages in the Secretariat. For example, “Canteen”, which figured prominently in previous years, is presumably subsumed in the 522 “Others”
I am sorry that you did not receive a response to your report last year. Due to an administrative error in the 1MB Secretariat, your report was not received in the Briefing and Casework Unit, which is responsible for coordinating and drafting a reply on behalf of Ministers.