Inside every prison, immigration removal centre and some short term holding facilities at airports, there is an Independent Monitoring Board. Their role is to monitor the day-to-day life in their local prison or removal centre to ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained. Each IMB is made up of men and women from all walks of life, appointed by government ministers, but given a truly independent status. IMB Members are unpaid and work an average of two to four days per month - this varies between establishments.
The role of an IMB member is about ensuring fairness and decency for all prisoners and detainees. IMB Members are essentially the eyes and ears of the Ministers, to monitor prisons, Immigration Removal Centres and Short Term Holding Facilities at ports and airports. There are approx. 135 IMB’s -made up of 1700 volunteer members- around the country.
Members can visit their establishment unannounced and have unrestricted access to their prison or immigration detention centre. They can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish to - out of sight and hearing of members of staff if necessary. A typical monitoring visit, for example, might include time spent in the kitchens, workshops, accommodation blocks, recreation areas, healthcare centre and chaplaincy.
Board Members also play an important role in dealing with problems inside the establishment. If a prisoner or detainee has an issue that he or she has been unable to resolve through the usual internal channels, they can submit a confidential request to see a member of the IMB, which they will then chase up through appropriate channels. Problems might include concerns over lost property, visits from family or friends, special religious or cultural requirements, or even serious allegations such as bullying.
If something serious happens at the establishment, for example, a riot or a death in custody, representatives of the board may be called in to attend and observe the way in which the situation is handled. IMB Members compile an Annual Report for Ministers about their establishment highlighting areas that might be cause for concern.
The IMB is looking to recruit some 300 volunteers countrywide over the coming months. Applicants do not need to have any special experience or qualifications as the IMB will provide all necessary training and support. Providing they are over 18 years of age and live within approximately 20 miles of the establishment they are applying to (unless another distance is specified in an advertisement), their background can be a student, working or retired. Applicants do need to be open minded, possess effective communication skills and have the ability to exercise sound, objective judgment. The IMB is seeking to recruit people of all ages and backgrounds and particularly want to target those of working age and those from BME backgrounds. While there is no minimum number of years that a member needs to commit to, there is a maximum length of 15 years. However, this role would perhaps not suit someone looking for a short-term placement or internship for a few months.
The end-to-end process from someone applying for a vacancy to successful candidate taking up post can take anything from 3-6 months. Before taking up post, candidates will undergo a security clearance process. On taking up appointment, all candidates undergo a 12 month probationary and mentoring period.
IMB Members, Chris Wood and Pam Blewett share their journeys through the organisation.
-Chris Wood, IMB Member, Prison Estate
Having moved away from full time employment earlier than I had perhaps anticipated I felt I wanted to make constructive use of my newly discovered free time.
Although I knew there was a large prison not too far away from me (HMP Gartree, Market Harborough, Leics) I had never really given much thought to what actually happened within the establishment. Not beyond vague thoughts of Dickensian grime offset by fond memories of Ronnie Barker in the 70s TV sitcom ‘Porridge’ and I had certainly never heard of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).
A short item in the local press explained the mission and purpose of the IMB as monitoring fairness and respect for those in custody and invited readers to find out more about the reality of delivering this scrutiny. It emphasised that no particular life skills or previous work experience was necessary and that the composition of a local monitoring board benefitted from the wide range of backgrounds represented by its constituent members.
It does take time and commitment to be able to be an effective board member, to understand the aims and processes involved in the management of a prisoner’s journey through a custodial sentence which combines retention in a safe and secure environment with purposeful activity aimed at reducing re-offending behaviours.
The learning process is one of close mentoring in the early stages by an experienced member, backed up by local training provided by the particular establishment to which an individual is attached, further supported by focussed sessions delivered by the national organisation, such as the 2 day foundation course.
As with most activities, the more you put in the more you get out. I have found IMB membership to be fascinating and engaging with a very real sense of being the ‘eyes and ears’ of the minister immensely worthwhile.
How we treat others is a reflection on our character as individuals and as a wider community. An article in a local paper about setting up an IMB in a new IRC reminded me that fairness and humane treatment must extend to people in custody or detention and not only to those we meet every day or are in the public eye- so I was drawn to apply as a volunteer.
-Pam Blewett, IMB Member, Immigration Estate
The environment and security in such an institution and the situationswe monitor can be challenging so I needed a bit of courage to start off as an IMB member. Even apparently routine visits can present events and circumstances I certainly would not come across in other areas of life so the experience can be fascinating. The media frequently report on issues regarding detention centres. Sometimes IMB will have monitored high profile cases and although confidentiality is kept of course, it is for me a real insight into what is actually happening.
It’s invaluable to meet monthly with other Board members but I also enjoy working flexibly and visiting alone using my own style of engagement with detainees, officers and Immigration staff. Personal contact and interaction are important in this role because a problem which may seem trivial has a much greater impact on a person confined and feeling isolated. Pursuing a resolution is satisfying of course but I believe talking things through and listening sits at the core of fairness and humane treatment.
Visit www.youtube.com and view the film ‘Joining the Independent Monitoring Board’ to hear current Members talking about their role.
So, how can you apply? Firstly, visit the Justice Jobs website and view the current list of vacancies. You will also be able to download an application pack. If your local establishment is not recruiting at this time, check the website at regular intervals as new vacancies are added each week. After the closing date, candidates will usually be invited for a tour of the establishment followed by an interview. Depending on the volume of applications received, the IMB may decide to paper sift applications before deciding which candidates to invite to tour and then interview.