IMB at Durham reflects on the challenges and impacts of Coronavirus at HMP Durham

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The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Durham reflects on five months of normal monitoring of the prison and seven months of remote monitoring during a Covid-19 outbreak within the prison.

In its annual report for the period November 2019 to October 2020 the IMB reports particularly on the difficult and challenging time of managing on average 950 male prisoners under a strict lockdown regime.


Keith Young IMB Chair said “It has been difficult to draw comparisons with the previous year as the prison has had to adapt to the Covid -19 pandemic in ways that are unprecedented. The Board is satisfied through evidence gleaned that the implementation of new strategies and planning by the prison was carried out effectively under difficult circumstances”.

  • Safety in the prison is one of the key monitoring objectives of the Board and the new body scanner installed in July 2020 has played a major part in detecting secreted items being brought into the prison, however, it is of concern that there are cases of prisoners on licence recall testing positive bringing in illicit items.
  • The Safer Prison Team which is made up from a cross section of management, prisoner representation and staff diligently analyse data including violence, self harm, vulnerable prisoners and trouble hot spot areas. This team focuses on assessing risks and puts into place short and long term measures to minimize those risks.
  • Other significant safety measures in place include specific locations for those prisoners deemed vulnerable due to the nature of their offence and those with significant Mental or Physical health issues.
  • The number of assaults has declined over the last three years. The restricted Covid regime has accelerated the decline.
  • Deaths in Custody continue to be a concern to the Board with nine during the reporting year, which was three more than the comparative period (Nov 2018 to Oct 2019). Three of these deaths were of natural causes; however six were self-inflicted/ self-harm which was three more than the previous corresponding period. The Board are informed immediately of these deaths and observe the initial actions and formal reports are scrutinized.
  • Overcrowding in the prison with the majority of cells occupied by two prisoners continues to be a major concern, and this once again, has been brought to the Minister’s attention.
  • The prison’s kitchen has provided good service with an above average satisfactory level in food quality, evidence of this has been monitored through prisoners’ views.
  • A new Healthcare provider was operational from April 2020 and the Board has regularly monitored progress and has observed the improved team communication and integrated working. A survey by the Board revealed prisoners were satisfied with Healthcare provision with the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Team (DART) being highlighted.


  • Stricter lockdown measures had to be implemented which impacted on prisoner movement with most of the time spent in cells.
  • Reduced levels of prison staff through Covid-19 infections put greater pressure on all operational and logistical aspects.
  • Covid-19 has presented challenges to prisoners’ mental health and the associated support within the prison.
  • As HMP Durham is a Reception prison, it means the volume of admissions on a daily basis (on average 16 per day) presents challenges in particular bringing the virus into prison.
  • Family contact through social visits had to be suspended, however contact through video link and telephone was maintained.
  • The Board had to revert to remote monitoring by telephone with the prison supplying daily updates and regular reports.


  • IMB Chair Keith Young said “The Board has monitored the prison through a combination of remote communication by telephone, and when appropriate personal visits. It has carried out specific monitoring processes, upholding the National Monitoring Framework guidelines, thereby allowing the board to monitor the fair and humane treatment of those in custody.
  • Vice Chair, Therese Quincey said “All IMB Board members have Specific Areas of Interest which include safety, healthcare and education. Members accept responsibility to monitor diligently in order to provide evidence of how the prison is performing; this is measurable by factual data and most importantly by prisoner engagement”

IMB Key Objectives for 2021 (Therese Quincey)

The Board will resume at the earliest opportunity, a full monitoring process, unrestricted by Covid. We will impartially and independently monitor the impact of Covid, the change-management process, and whether prisoners and detainees are treated with fairness and humanity whilst in custody.

The Board will monitor the impact on prisoners as ‘normal’ regimes return and services resume to support mental health, education, work and prisoner engagement, focusing on appropriate provision, regardless of age or length of sentence remaining.

The Board will continue to monitor the outcomes of strategies and policies adopted, particularly in relation to moving prisoners through the justice system; moving immigration detainees to more appropriate detention centres and reducing overcrowding.

Prison Key Objectives for 2021 (Gov. P Husband)

To ensure that the establishment operates in a safe stable manner, building safe recovery from the impact and effects of Covid.

Continue to provide men with a safe, stable environment when they are first committed to custody, addressing all their immediate needs.

Further build on the foundations of safety and decency for all who live and work in HMP Durham, reducing the supply of, and demand for the use of illicit substances which are the fundamental driver as to why men are in custody.

Encourage men to participate in work and education, building relationships with them and empowering them to use the opportunity presented by custody to build hope for the future and have chances for change.

This article first appeared on IMB website

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