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]
PRISONER NUMBER A6379CN: AN OLYMPIC PRISON DIARY
Mike Wells is a journalist, photographer and film maker, who was making a documentary about the controversy surrounding the giant basketball hall built by the Olympic Delivery Authority on protected recreation land in April last year when he was assaulted by a builder at the Olympic Park. He ended up getting arrested on a charge of common assault and imprisoned in Serco-run HMP Thameside pending his trial. He has just been acquitted and his Olympic prison diary which he kept can be read here. [07/02/13]
MIXED-UP VICTORIAN VALUES
The truth is out: Chris Grayling really does want to return England and Wales' prisons to the post-Victorian hell holes that they were in the 1980s. In an interview for (whose else could it be but) the Daily Mail, he supports the sending of children up chimneys (or would have done if central heating wasn't so rife in Britain) and prisons should be returned back to some nostalgic pre-Woolf anti-arcadia where there's no TV, prison uniforms are the norm and everyone had to take their turn on the treadmill.
What planet does this guy live on? Ask the average prison officer and doing away with TVs in prison is the last thing that they will want to happen. TV is the great inmate pacifier, the opium of the prison population if you will. It keeps cons occupied and is a lot cheaper than heroin. In fact, it is probably the most significant element introduced post-Woolf that has prevented mass insurrection across the prison system... and to withdraw it in order to play up to the tabloid prejudice that the vast majority of prisoners sit around all day watching endless Sky Sports coverage is as delusional as the view that this is the 'holiday camp' norm.
Exactly where is all the money going to come from to support these re-reforms? The reason so many prisons allow the wearing of a prisoner's own clothes is because they don't have to splash out on the purchasing of prison uniforms. Then there is the money spinner of in-cell TVs: £1 a week per prisoner per TV (some prisons have different rates for TVs in shared cells) to rent quickly covers the costs of the prison's costs in supplying [bulk discount purchase & replacement of old analogue sets, which had paid for themselves hundreds of times over] and its running costs (electricity and repairs/replacement) - a cash cow as well as pacifier that no governor will want removed.
Added to that all is this stupidity of removing 'pocket money' - exactly what does he mean by this? Prisoners earn money (if they can manage to get a prison job) in order to pay for all the basic essentials that the Prison Service once supplied as routine (admittedly most of it was of bog standard, if you'll excuse the pun, bottom-of-the-line quality), toilet paper, toothpaste, shaving soap, etc. Plus the only way that any prisoner can attain anything approaching a balanced health diet (as well as getting enough daily calories) is if they buy food from the prison canteen (shop) and prison meals have been cut back on so much that the quality and quantity is minimal. Plus, you never know exactly what the gloop served up to you actually is, whether it purports to be halal or not. The one bright side to his restricting access to the canteen is that it means that smuggled toothpaste and soap, rather than mobile phones and smack, is going to be the new top clandestine prison commodity, and this will certainly open up more business opportunities for diligent but under-paid screws.
Finally, we come to the question of exactly where does the Mail gets the notion that this "marks the biggest prison regime shake-up for 60 years"? What great 1950s reforms can they possibly be thinking of? End of flogging? Didn't take place until 1967. Abolition of the Borstal system? Wasn't formally abolished until 1982. Prisoners access to proper in-cell sanitation (many in Victorian prison cells where the in-cell sanitation had been removed in order to save on water costs!)? Recommended in the 1991 Woolf report but still not available across the whole prison system. Better visiting conditions? Telephones? Right to legally privileged and routinely uncensored mail? None of this was introduced in the '50s. And returning to Woolf, does Grayling really think that the conditions that precipitated the prisoners' rebellion at Strangeways in 1990 were over some breech in the 'holiday camp conditions' that he seems to think prevailed then? No, they happen precisely because of the sort of attitude to prisoners that he appears doomed to reinstitutionalise in the prison system. He is definitely storing up trouble himself and everyone else who has anything to do with prisons. [04/02/13]
For a further take on Chris Grayling's grandiose plans see: Ben's Prison Blog - Grayling's Riot Recipe.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF OPEN PRISON?
With the news that the authorities at the Category D HMP North Sea Camp will no longer allow day release for prisoners prior to their earliest release dates, it appears that the very reason for the existence of open prisons, namely to gradually reintegrate long term prisoners back into society, will be significantly undermined. This policy change will in some cases mean that prisoners will already have spent up to two years at North Sea Camp before they will be allowed either supervised visits into the local community, home visits or to work in the community, thereby negating the very role that Cat D was created to perform. It also means that the existing backlog of prisoners desperately waiting for transfer to open conditions will increase further as will the backlog of prisoners waiting for their parole to be granted as they will not be sufficient 'progressed' on their reintegration pathways to be passed fit for release. [24/01/13]
Just as the prisoners across England and Wales are starting to feel a little less like battery chickens as the prison population shows its first significant drop for twenty years, down nearly 3,000 since the beginning of 2012, Chris Grayling (who has been aptly described as an "attack dog with lemming tendencies") has announced that he is going to have everyone packed in as tight as ever by the end of March because he is closing down 7 nicks (HMP Bullwood Hall, Camp Hill - part of the Isle of Wight cluster, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston, Shepton Mallet and Shrewsbury), along with a couple of wings each at HMP Chelmsford and Hull, a loss of more than 2,600 places. This canard is tempered by the slightly more welcome news of the closure of the notoriously brutal Serco-run 400-bed Ashfield Young Offenders Institution, except that will become an adult male prison (no word as to whether it will remain in Serco's hands or not).
Along side these closures, Grayling has revealed that whilst he is axing these "expensive Victorian" prisons, he is not only commissioning four new houseblocks at HMP Parc in South Wales, Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, the Mount in Hertfordshire' and Thameside in London, totaling 1,260 new places in all, in line with the trend to increase the clustering of existing prisons, thereby cutting down on administration and staff costs in their running, but he is going to build a brand spanking new 'son of Titan' prison. This 2,000 place prison destined for either the London area, the North West or North Wales, strangely revisits a plan that the Tories themselves objected to (along with virtually everybody else) when Labour proposed (and subsequently rejected) their original 2,500 bed Titan prison scheme in 2008-09 and were forced to 'downsize' to a series of 5 1,500 bed mini-Titan (not all of which ended up being built). Nothing like a bit of consistency is there.
Of course, this is needed now that Grayling has signalled that prisoners will stay in prison for longer and "not be automatically released after serving half their sentence" as he bizarrely appears to believe currently happens. Plus he obviously needs a backstop for when the untried and untested wholesale rollout of the payment by results/wholesale privatisation of probation services fails, as it inevitably will.
One interesting sideline on this is Grayling's lukewarm embracing of Clarke's flagship working prisons notion. Firstly, whilst all the closures (except for the 595 bed Camp Hill) are of relatively small prisons, they contain some of the more profitable of Contract Service workshops and will inevitably lead to a loss of income to the appallingly named new company 131 Solutions, the new revamped for-profit arm of the Prison Service. Additionally, Bullwood Hall, Camp Hill, Gloucester and Kingston all have workshops or laundries that are important to the operation of the Prison Service, building cell furniture, security gates and grilles, etc. for internal consumption.
Secondly, it is odds on that, like the recently opened HMP Oakwood, the new son of Titan [possible alternative new names could include Atlas prison (son of Iapetus, one of the 12 Titans of Greek mythology), although I favour Hades prison, son of Cronus and Rhea] jail would inevitably be privately built and run, meaning that if it was decided that it was to become one of the floated new industrial prisons (like HMP Coldingley was planned as but singularly failed to be), then none of the profits from its captive labour force will flow into the Treasury's coffers. A bit of a dilemma there then. [11/01/13]
Let's get private companies [it can only be large well-funded private companies given the 'payment-by-results' structure, which means that charities and other smaller-scale providers will be further squeezed out of the 'market'] to employ and train-up newly released prisoners to mentor other newly released prisoners (500,000 plus short-terms according to Harry Fletcher). Genius. Gets round the problem of the near universal refusal of firms to employ ex-cons and pretty soon all ex-prisoners will be in work. Then pay the companies employing those ex-prisoners on the basis of which of their employees and their charges does and doesn't gets caught and returned to prison. [NB: Not the number of crimes committed but the number detected and successfully prosecuted.] Brilliant.
And who will be supplying the figures as to how successful these firms are at keeping their 'clients' out of chokey? No doubt it will be the very same firms that have been so successfully cooking the books on the efficaciousness of other government 'payment-by-results' schemes. But hang on a moment, aren't newly released prisoners already automatically signed up to one of these 'payment-by-results' schemes already, namely the Work Programme? What exactly isn't working with that scheme that another 'payment-by-results' business will cure? Doesn't seem like an example of the Coalition's much lauded 'joined up government'.* [21/11/12]
* There is an additional flaw with such a scheme: release on license, as an ex-prisoner considered for employment as a mentor must be offence and have finished all their license conditions for at least 2 years. Kind of narrows the potential recruitment pool.
BRAND NEW COMMUNITY PUNISHMENT
In the wake of the call by Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley for people carrying out community punishments to wear Guantanamo Bay-style "orange dayglo boiler suits" with the word 'offender' emblazoned on their backs rather than the current yellow 'community payback' vests, fellow Tory MP Dominic Raabid has suggested bringing back the branding of criminals. "We are going too soft on these criminals and we should be introducing an even more visible element of shame and real punishment in these new community penalties", Mr. Raabid is quoted as saying in the Commons yesterday. [14/11/12]
W(H)ITHER THE DISCHARGE GRANT?
Exactly what is the point of taking away the prison release grant Mr Cameron? Admittedly issuing £46 to a prisoner on release (plus travel warrant) it hardly seems worth the bother - though at 1995 prices, when it was first introduced, it was actually worth something (roughly £72 in today's money). Tell that to any con about to be shoved out the prison gates with nowhere to go and/or with the prospects of having to wait weeks if not months for their first dole cheque (because no one really believes prisoners stroll straight from the clink gates into a job). And this comes on top of the recent 40% Robin Hood tax on working Category D prisoners. Really, how is any self respecting rehabilitated ex-prisoner meant to stay on the straight and narrow when they leave imprisonment without 2 brass farthings to rub together? [22/10/12]