Few people realise that inside every prison, immigration removal centre and some short term holding facilities at airports, there is an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) – a group of ordinary members of the public doing an extraordinary job. IMB members are independent and unpaid. They monitor the day-to-day life in their local prison or removal centre and ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained.
An important role
Being an IMB member is a very special and privileged role that takes up an average of 2-3 days per month. Members have unrestricted access to their local prison or immigration detention centre at any time and can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish to, out of sight and hearing of a 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, he or she can put in a confidential request to see a member of the IMB. Problems might include concerns over lost property, visits from family or friends, special religious or cultural requirements, or even serious allegations such as bullying.
In addition, 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.
Working as a team
Every Board meets regularly, usually once per month, and has an elected Chair and Vice Chair. Board members work together as a team to raise any matters of concern and to keep an independent eye on the establishment they monitor. Every year they produce an annual report, which is published to the local community.