Michael Spurr accepts findings that HMP Nottingham is ‘unsafe’ and HMP Liverpool ‘appalling’
The head of the prison service has accepted the findings of two damning inspection reports on Liverpool and Nottingham prisons but blamed the failures on government cuts and the influx of drugs into jails.
Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, said there had been a “failure of leadership at all levels” after finding Nottingham prison was “fundamentally unsafe” and describing conditions at Liverpool as “appalling”.
Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the Prison and Probation Service since 2010, promised improvements at both jails.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he accepted the findings of the reports but said they should be seen in the context of underinvestment.
Asked if he had a grip of the problems, Spurr said: “We have been managing a service that has had to deal with significant pressures over those eight years.”
The prison service has suffered a real-terms budget cut of 40% since 2010, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Spurr claimed recent decisions to reverse some of those cuts would help improve conditions. “Now the government is investing £1.3bn to modernise the prison estate. It is also investing £100m to increase staffing resources. Some of those staff are in Nottingham and over time will make a difference. Additional staff are also in Liverpool and those staff are already beginning to make a difference,” he said.
“The investment that we hadn’t had for a number of years is now in place, and with that investment we will be able to make improvement across the prison service.”
Spurr said of conditions at Liverpool, where inspectors found rats, cockroaches, damp, and leaking toilets: “There have been failings at Liverpool and some of that is about leadership. I accept that we should have taken cells that weren’t fit for use out of use much earlier than we did.”
He linked the conditions to the government’s decision to scrap plans for a new prison in the city. “Liverpool for many years has not had the investment it needed in the residential accommodation. A new prison would have relieved pressure on Liverpool. The investment for that wasn’t available – it was scrapped in 2010.”
Spurr also claimed the prison service was “robustly managing” Amey, the company contracted to clean and maintain Liverpool prison.
The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, urged the government to reintroduce state-run maintenance contracts.
At Nottingham, the chief inspector found the prison was “dangerous”, with eight inmates killing themselves in the past two years. He also criticised the prison service for implementing just two out of 13 recommendations made in 2015.
Spurr said: “We have not been able to reduce violence at Nottingham to the extent we would have wanted. Nottingham along with other prisons has suffered from a significant influx of psychoactive drugs that have often been supplied to prisons by organised criminals and new ways of getting those drugs into prisons that were named in the inspection report. Getting on top of those issues has proved very challenging.”
He added: “The secretary of state for justice [David Gauke] has said he will look at this urgently. We will do exactly that.”
Sharon Whitford, the mother of Marc Maltby – the fifth inmate to die at Nottingham prison within a month last October – said her son had complained of “horrible” conditions at the prison before taking his own life.
She told Today: “It wasn’t safe. When they are sent to prison it’s for their own good, to keep them out of trouble and danger. That’s obviously not been done because my son is not coming home now.”
Clarke said: “Mrs Whitford’s compelling account sums up in a tragic way why it is that I made the significant step to issue the first of these so-called urgent notifications to the secretary of state demanding a public account as to what he is going to do to put right in Nottingham the failures which are so evident during our inspection last week.”
He added: “Unless people take our recommendations seriously things aren’t going to improve. There have been failures of leadership at all levels.”