WILFUL NEGLECT IS THE PRISON HEALTH CARE NORM
The is more than a modicum of irony in the announcement that the government are seeking to introduce penalties, including possible imprisonment, for medical staff that are found guilty of "wilful neglect". We say irony because for decades the worst medical care (sic) has been that avail able in British prisons. So much so that the panacea for all ills in prison, everything from the lowly toothache (and you try and get to see a prison dentist!) to a heart attack, is the humble paracetamol tablet. In fact, the only sector of medical provision that does appear to work is the daily handout of methadone scripts. Can't have withdrawal-craze addicts running rampage can we?
Prior to 2003, when the NHS began taking over the running of in-prison health provision, individual prison governors were responsible for the level and standard of health provision in their individual nicks and their medical staff consisted largely of those doctors and nurses who essentially were unemployable elsewhere, including many past retirement age or who had been dismissed from jobs within the NHS. And the levels and standards of care through out HM Prison Service were a widely acknowledged scandal. Hence the Home Office's decision in October 2002 that the Department of Health would take over funding of prison health services, with primary care trusts becoming responsible for health care commissioning and provision. Yet even that failed to bring in-house health provision up to the standard of the rest of the NHS.
Enter the Coalition government and their desire to cut government and, in particular, Ministry of Justice spending back to the bone. So, along with the wholesale privatisation of prisons themselves, the government decided to outsource public sector prison health care provision across the board under the auspices of a new supervising body, NHS England. They will now be responsible for commissioning and provision and, despite the government tasking them with improving prison heath provision, we can only surmise that the same appalling levels of neglect will now be provided out-of-house, and for even cheaper.
Prisoners are already amongst those with the lowest life expectancy within society - a 2010 report from the Prisons and Probation ombudsman found that the average age of male prisoners who had died from natural causes was 56 (versus 78 years for the wider population) and 47 for female prisoners (versus 81) - because of their sedentary lifestyle, poor food and health provision. Added to these are the Russian roulette of missed hospital appointments (because of a lack of staff to escort them or inadequate liaison with prison health staff); the perpetual inability to actually see a prison doctor; or when one actually sees one, getting fobbed off with the proverbial paracetamol or the equally common misdiagnosis.
Now, with these cutbacks in health provision (and pressure to reduce the costs, and therefore size and nutritional value, of prison meals) added to this lethal mix, it inevitably mean that even greater numbers of prisoners will end up dying prematurely, many pointlessly remaining chained to a hospital bed or prison screw in their last moments, or suffering unnecessarily debilitating consequences of the structural "wilful neglect" of the system. [19/11/13]
PREDICTING VIOLENCE IN PSYCHOPATHS IS 'NO MORE THAN CHANCE'
Here's an important story that we somehow missed from early this month:
Assessment tools used to predict how likely a psychopathic prisoner is to re-offend if freed from jail are "utterly useless" and parole boards might just as well flip a coin when deciding such risks, psychiatrists said on Tuesday.
Publishing a study that found risk score tools are only around 46 percent accurate on how likely psychopathic convicts are to kill, rape or assault again, they said probation officers and judges should set little or no store by such tests.
They warned that clinicians carrying out such classifications must be aware of their severe limitations, and make sure prisoners undergo comprehensive psychiatric diagnosis before any risks assessment is made.
"If you apply these (tests) to somebody who is a psychopath, they're utterly useless, you might as well toss a coin," said Jeremy Coid, director of the forensic psychiatry research unit at Queen Mary University of London who led the study.
"They will not predict accurately at all," he told reporters at a briefing in London about his findings.
Coid and other forensic psychiatrists say the findings - which also showed the tools perform only moderately well in prisoners with disorders like schizophrenia, depression, drug and alcohol dependence - could have major implications for risk assessment in criminal justice systems.
"There are increasing expectations of public protection from violent behavior, and psychiatrists can be seriously criticized if they make wrong decisions," he said.
Seena Fazel, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at Britain's University of Oxford, said the reliability of the tests' predictive ability was so low that it might be best not to use them at all - and warned that at the very least, their results should only be noted by parole boards, rather than acted upon.
"If you're going to use these instruments, be aware of their strengths and limitations," he told reporters.
The estimated prevalence of adult psychopathy in the general population is around 1 percent, but that rises to between 15 percent and 25 percent among men in prison.
PSYCHOPATHY CHECK LIST
Coid, whose study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, analyzed data from 1,396 male prisoners in England and Wales who were interviewed between six and 12 months before their release. All the men were serving sentences of two or more years for a sexual or violent offences.
The prisoners were assessed for personality disorders, symptoms of schizophrenia, depression and drug and alcohol dependence, as well as being measured for psychopathy on a reputable scale known as Hare Psychopathy Check List.
After their release, data on their re-offending rates was added to the study, and showed that among three different re-offending risk assessment tools used before their release, the accuracy among psychopaths was below 50 percent.
While the tools were more accurate in predictions for prisoners with no mental health disorders - at around 75 percent accuracy - they were only around 60 percent right when it came to prisoners diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression.
For prisoners with anti-social personality disorders the predictive value of the tests ranged from poor to little more than chance, with an average 53.2 percent predictive accuracy. And for the 70 prisoners rated as psychopathic, none of the tests was statistically better than chance.
Coid said the results suggest it is time to question the expectations put on psychiatrists and psychologists asked to forecast future behavior of offenders, and to consider what can happen to their reputations if predictions are wrong.
"The easy solution is to be highly restrictive on who is released, and be risk averse. However, even for serious offenders, most will be released at some stage and someone has to carry out a risk assessment," he said.
"We need to prioritize the development of new assessment tools for these hard-to-predict groups."
A (NON-UNIFORMED) PLEB'S THOUGHTS ON PLEBGATE
“It’s increasingly clear that a grave injustice has been done to Andrew Mitchell.” - Nick Herbert. No, Mr Herbert (by name...), a grave injustice is when you spend decades behind bars, loose your home, loose your friends and family, some of them dying whilst you are inside and are unable to attend their funerals, and all because you have been fitted up. Or being shot dead in the street because some trigger-happy cop has mistaken you white stick or the table leg you are carrying for a firearm. Or you've had the shit kicked out of you in the back of a police van because he didn't like the colour of you skin. Those are grave injustices.
What Mitchell has faced is merely a loss of face, and the loss of face was the thing that cause him to resign. It's not even as though he's out of work, even though he lost his job as chief whip. Just think of all those countless number of ex-prisoners who have come out of prison after service a sentence following some act of police perjury or planted evidence only to find that they are no unemployable. - further examples of real grave injustices.
Of course it is perfectly understandable that MPs want to gather around and protect one of their own (now that he has proved to have been stitched-up in this instance), but the rampant hypocrisy of their now turning on the so-called 'thin blue line', now that a few of them have been found out telling a few porkies, is more than a little amusing, especially as they were so quick to believe them over their friend and colleague in the first place. The words chicken, roost and kismet come to mind. [16/10/13]
It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the true state of the prison system in England and Wales that the very nicks that the prison privatisation lobby has been holding up as the ideal for their brave new world of a future 'marketised' prison estate are the very ones that come bottom of the latest ratings table.
The three prisons flagged-up in the latest Ministry of Justice Prison Annual Performance Ratings as being the worst performing jails in England and Wales are G4S-managed HMP Oakwood, Serco-run HMP Thameside and the state-run HMP Winchester. All are rated in the bottom category of prisons, whose overall performance is of serious concern.
The crumbling edifice of Winchester prison, with its violence and drugs problems, has long been near the top of anyone's list of nicks in need of closure, and was included in both the Tories 2009 pre-election list of planned Victorian prison closures as part of their cancelled expansion programme and in the latest pro-privatisation 'research' from Policy Exchange, a right-wing "independent, non-partisan educational charity" as the Guardian laughingly labels it. Nothing controversial there then, unlike the appearance of the two latest hi-tech, low-cost new state-of-the-art super-prisons sitting alongside it in the list of shame.
£150m HMP Oakwood, part of a cluster with HMP/YOI Brisnford [on 'Overall Performance of Concern', the second lowest rating, as were the privately-run HMPs Birmingham and Bronzefield] and a second Category C prison, the 690-place HMP Featherstone, has been a farce from the beginning. Firstly there were the remedial plans for landscaping that had to be introduced to shield nearby residents from the new prison's visitor centre that had been built a storey too high. Then once it opened, there were the never-ending sagas of the showers that turned themselves on in the middle of the night spewing scalding-hot water across the floors, an electrical system that short-circuited every time the lights were turned on plus the £7m superkitchens that initially failed to produce any food, with meals having to be brought in by outside contractors. Add to that the fact that G4S, who signed a 15-year contract worth £468.3m to build and run the 1,600-place prison, were accused of cherry-picking what they see to be the more compliant prisoners sent to them, rejecting of nearly 60% of prisoners sent to there in the months following its high-profile opening, and its chequered short history is only too obvious.
Then there £100m HMP Thameside, built and run by Serco on a 26½ year-contract worth £415m, with its high levels of violence and use of restraint, lack of resettlement and purposeful activity, with 60% of prisoners locked up during the working day, some spending 23 hours a day banged-up in their cells. Another of these new private prisons which has suffered 'teething problems is HMP/YOI Isis, next door to Thameside on the Belmarsh site, which had the farcical situation of the prison ending up on lockdown multiple times a day when its hi tech biometric roll call system, where electronic thumbprint recognition is used to control security doors, caused chaos as prisoners failed to submit their digits for inspection, leaving the security system jammed up for hours on end. All less than ideal adverts for privately run prison provision.
Now G4S have hit back with a PR barrage, the latest in a long line that they have had to launch following the Olympics security fiasco and, alongside Serco, the alleged mass fraud involved with their electronic tagging contracts. They have brought in from HMP Altcourse John McLaughlin as prison director, and he has pledged to force prisoners "to do a full 40 hours or miss out on wages" (even though there are only 400 work places), introduce a "zero-tolerance on drug abuse" and declare a "war on drugs", a problem highlighted in the Inspectorate's latest performance warning. However, he appears less 'gung-ho' when it comes to the other major problems that HMIP identified - the very poor lack of education and healthcare delivery for prisoners, where less than half of all prisoners have access to education and paramedics have had to regularly be called into to treat inmates.
They may be cheap to run, which is why ex-prison governor and Ministry of Justice official, Kevin Lockyer, has held Oakwood up as an example of how to run the prison system in England and Wales more 'efficiently', but they are certainly not a cheerful option for anyone spending time at Her Madge’s Pleasure in them. [16/10/13]
A THOUGHT OR TWO ON SUPERVISION
Clearly if 60% of all people who receive a prison sentence of 1 year or less go on to reoffend, then 40% do not. Why then should those who are doomed not to commit another crime (or at least not get caught for it as there is no accurate way to actually measure reoffending, unless one carries out 24 hour, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year monitoring - measuring reconviction is NOT the same thing) be subject to the indignity of 12 months supervision? And why should any private company be paid for doing so? [09/05/13]
PUTTING THEIR SHIRTS ON BANGLADESH 2
It seems that we might have been a little unfair in charging the SPS with coming up with the dubious 'innovation' of outsourcing their prison officer uniform shirts and blouses to the sort of Bangladeshi sweatshops that have been in the news recently via repeated factory fires and building collapses, the most recent of which has claimed, at the latest count, more than 900 lives in Dakar.
In fact, it now appears that the true authors of the cost-cutting notion of exploiting what Pope Francis has labeled "slave labour" are HM Prison Service, and all the SPS are doing is following their lead. More accurately, their uniforms coordinator, Derek Joyce, has plumped to award the contract to his old employers, the Prison Service south of the border, who, we are reliably told, already source some parts of their uniforms, including their shirts and blouses, from Bangladeshi sweat shops.
The SPS used to be so proud of the fact that they did things differently from their English colleagues, but one is left wondering what other 'innovations' are benign imported from down south, given the infusion of new HMPS blood in the past few years? [09/05/13]
SPS: PUTTING THEIR SHIRTS ON BANGLADESH
It has long been common knowledge that prison officers' uniforms have for years been made in China using prison labour, amongst other manufacturers. Originally British prisoners made these uniforms in British prisons, just as the same prisoners manufactured their own clothing. However, persistent complaints by the prison officers about the poor quality of these uniforms forced the Prison Service to outsource their production to China. Needless to say, the same prison officers' concerns and clothing quality complaints did not stretch as far as those they are paid to, and have a duty of care to, look after and prisoners' uniform manufacture remained in-house.
Now, none of this would have been topical except that news filtering out of Scottish Prison Service headquarters indicates that a new contract for prison officers' shirt and blouse procurement has been negotiated; one that is only a fifth of the current cost of production in China. And guess where the new manufacturers are located? Bangladesh, where the Rana Palace clothing factory disaster, the latest in a long line of Bangladeshi factory collapses and fires, has claimed more than 400 lives and left 2,500 injured.
With companies like Matalan and Primark, who have all taken advantage of the ludicrously cheap production costs prevalent in Bangladesh, now being shamed into paying out compensation to the disaster victims and their families, in addition to all the talk abroad about improving working conditions and worker safety in these factories, we ask: are the Scottish Prison Service considering renegotiating their nice new cost-cutting contract? And have they actually inspected the factory (or factories) that they are sourcing their shirts and blouses from? [01/05/13]
HANGING AND FLOGGING AND FLAGELLATION
According to the Daily Telegraph, Chris Grayling has claimed that the "Tories not just the party of 'hanging and flogging'". No, clearly they have added the pointless, and in many cases the downright dangerous, flagellation of prisoners to their 'true blue' contribution to Coalition policies. What exactly is it that he thinks he will achieve by singling new prisoners out and forcing them to wear prison uniform and be on the Basic IEP level for 2 weeks whilst they are assessed instead of the current policy of being placed initially on the Standard level? Other than some vicarious pleasure at making an 'example' of them to the rest of the prison's population. And where exactly are local prisons going to get all these extra uniforms from as the majority of their turnover is newly sentenced short-termers?
Does he really think that any of this will really provide further 'incentive' for better behaviour or is it all a sop to the Tory back benches? Yes, the idea of private prisons no longer being able to provide the carrot of Sky channels for their chosen few is definitely headline-grabbing, but in the end it will little real effect. What however will have an effect is the removal of the official Prison Service administered mass sedative, Television, from prison cells, as the POA have made clear in their warnings of possible increasing levels of violence as a direct consequence of 'Iron Man' Chris Grayling's new moves. Oh!, and watch out for a spike in self-harm and self-inflicted deaths in local prisons too.
But in the end it will be down to prison governors as to how much more of the IEP 'stick' that they want to administer as a result Grayling trying to nick their 'carrots'. After all, their first duty is the good order and discipline of their individual prisons and this new policy certainly appears to be a threat to both, even though it supposedly aimed at instilling the latter in prisoners at the individual level. [30/04/13]
KICKING PEOPLE WHEN THEY ARE DOWN
Bullying (adj.) deliberately hurtful behaviour, repeated over a period of time towards victims who are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves.
It appears that the Coalition's prisons rottweiler Chris Grayling is pursuing what appears to be his two favourite pastimes, attempting to give the prison population a good kicking (knowing, as all bullies do, that they are little able to fight back) whilst displaying his woeful ignorance of prison rules/the law. Apparently he wants to end "unnecessary* legal cases" which he claims could be dealt with by the prison service's own internal complaints system. Not satisfied with the punishing cuts to Legal Aid that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act has brought in, he wants to make Legal Aid budget pips squeak louder still.
Clearly Grayling has no grasp of what really takes place across the prison service internal complaints system, how difficult it is to actually brings a complaint (and we don't just mean filling out a Comp1 form here or a confidential complaint via a Comp2 form), let alone getting a fair hearing and decision and a further response via an internal Comp1A appeal. Even when that process is exhausted, prisoners must bring a complaint to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. All this can take months and months, and whilst it is true that prisoners do not have to pursue a complaint via this route, the idea that they can easily gain legal aid in order to take a case to court without first fully exhausting this route is fantasy.
The bottom line is that prisoners have already faced recently introduced cuts in their entitlement to an oral parole hearing and now Grayling appears to not only want to cut access to due process (and a less biased process i.e. one that is not already heavily stacked against them as is the case with the internal prison hearing process) via the courts, but to stop access to any form of paid legal assistance with parole hearings. All this whilst the poor prisoner, desperate to gain their freedom, will often have to prepare and present his case whilst the Crown is represented by a highly paid (and experienced) prison law barrister who is out to prevent his or her freedom.
NB: For those of you not in the know, unlike in American prison, libraries in English and Welsh prison are distinctly lacking in law books and the chances of a prisoner being able to adequately represent him or herself in court or at a parole hearing, unless they are able to find free legal assistance from, say, the Prisoners Advice Service, is negligible. [04/04/13]
*Unnecessary by whose criteria? Clearly not by the prisoners who have to leap through so many hoops in order to be able to bring any complaint to court.
Representing yourself in court [Bar Council advice link]
Grayling is an Inveterate Liar - Figures he Quotes are Simple Mendacity [Matthew Evans from the Prisoners Advice Service comment download]