Friday, 21 November 2014

Of Mackerel and Dumplings

For a psychopathic bully like Chris Grayling, it must be very annoying not to be in control of people, situations and events. He must be extremely irked that the now infamous 'mackerel and dumplings' disobedience last October at HMP High Down was not in fact a case of prison mutiny, but rather a legitimate demonstration against his draconian, harsh and unfeeling austerity measures at the prison.

He likes to think he can control, intimidate, silence and ignore most of those opposed to him, but he cannot influence courts and twelve ordinary citizens convened as a jury at Blackfriars Crown Court delivered their verdict on his new harsh prison regime and found all eleven defendants not guilty. 

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Mr Burns

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Chris Grayling
                                                 
The Epsom Guardian has the story:-
Prisoners cleared by jury of staging 'mackerel mutiny' at High Down prison
Eleven men have been cleared by a jury of staging a mutiny at a prison after Government cuts sparked an uprising among inmates. The men, who were all imprisoned at High Down in Banstead last October, were accused of taking part in a prison mutiny and causing criminal damage over October 21 and 22 last year. They had claimed they were protesting Ministry of Justice cuts and denied trying to overthrow lawful authority at the prison by barricading themselves into a cell for seven-and-a-half hours.
Pyrotechnics were eventually used by prison staff to startle the inmates when specialist prison officers stormed the cell to restore order to the prison. The jury returned a not guilty verdict today at the end of a three-week trial at Blackfriars Crown Court. The court heard their demand note, which was passed under the door, read: "The reason for these capers is we are not getting enough food, exercise, showers or gym and we want to see the governor lively." They also said: "If we get mackerel and dumplings we will come out."
Andrew Jefferies QC, one of the barristers representing the men, said this afternoon: "By its verdicts, the jury must have accepted that the defendants may have been legitimately protesting rather than intending to overthrow the prison authority. "During the trial, the jury heard about the independent monitoring board report and the growing complaints within the prison, particularly since the implementation of the cuts in September 2013."
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This trial has highlighted the serious problems that can arise when overcrowded prisons are forced to implement major changes while struggling to overcome budget cuts. “As the governor of High Down said during the hearing, the government has ‘got it wrong’. Prisons are in meltdown. “It is unfortunate that so much money has been spent on this ultimately failed case when there are prisons across England and Wales crying out for more staff and resources.”
During the trial prison governor Ian Bickers took the stand and told the jury that the Government had admitted that it "got it wrong" after introducing reforms to the prison system. Mr Bickers said the prison had undergone "significant change" in the period leading up the uprising. The charge of mutiny is normally linked in popular imagination to the high seas but the charge can also be used in prisons and other correctional facilities.
It's interesting to see that former Tory prisons minister Crispin Blunt was quick to rub salt in the wound, but the MoJ spin doctors are strangely quiet. It's all in the Surrey Comet:-
Following the acquittal of 11 prisoners accused of mutiny, a former Tory prisons minister has attacked Chris Grayling’s prison policy and warned the verdicts could spark unrest in other jails. The men were cleared by a jury this morning of staging a mutiny at High Down in Banstead last October after Government cuts sparked an uprising among inmates.
Banstead’s MP, Crispin Blunt, who was the prisons minister until September 2012, said: "In the light of the evidence from the governor the acquittal is unsurprising. "This is reinforced by the reports of the Independent Monitoring Board. They reflect the consequences of prison policy under the current Justice Secretary. "I am surprised this prosecution was brought. The protest did not appear to cross the threshold of ‘mutiny’, which is an extremely serious offence.
"The failure to secure a conviction will make prisons, which are now very tautly staffed, at greater risk of disorder, with some prisoners possibly misled into thinking they have some right of protest. "They don’t and their interests will be best served by helping their prison regime help them make the best of their time in prison."
Earlier this year a damning report revealed a prison "pared to the bone and beyond" where staff cuts had sparked safety fears, undermined rehabilitation and left prisoners in their cells for long periods. The report, by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), described 2013 as "a dreadful year" and said many changes had produced an "unhappy prison".
Its findings mirrored complaints to this newspaper this year by worried ex-officers and relatives of prisoners - although the Ministry of Justice repeatedly denied the prison was in crisis. Concerned about what was going on Mr Blunt visited the prison himself in May. Afterwards he said: "The prison appeared to be settling down after a difficult period, to a new and more tightly staffed regime. I haven’t heard anything to contradict this."
Speaking about prison policy today, Mr Blunt said: "Previously the ambitious savings targets were being found by putting prisons out to competition. "This was parallelled by rhetoric around sentencing that was accompanied by a drop in offenders being sentenced to custody and a greater focus on rehabilitation and work in prison."Whilst every prison is different it was my experience after over 70 prison visits that the private sector prisons were overall significantly more efficiently run.
"As far as rehabilitation of offenders is concerned they generally had more imaginative regimes and a greater commitment to meeting my objectives of getting prisoners put to useful work inside prison. "This programme would have been expanded under Ken Clarke. "Instead Chris Grayling decided, at the behest of the Prison Officers Association and Public sector prison service management to find the savings from stopping the competition programme and just making staff cuts in the public sector prisons. "At the same time his message to the courts has been unambiguously robust and this has seen a rise in the number of offenders being sent to prison. This has exacerbated the problem."
The MOJ has been contacted for a response to the trial verdict and Mr Blunt's views but has yet to respond.
Nice as it is to see a bit of discord within the Tory ranks, Crispin Blunt is way off the mark about private prisons being 'more efficiently run' and it's probably as good a link as any to mention some recent stories about privatisation in general. Here is the Independent pointing out how bizarrely foreign governments are making money out of the British taxpayer:-  
Revealed: How the world gets rich from privatising British public services
Foreign governments are making hundreds of millions of pounds a year running British public services, according to an Independent investigation highlighting how privatisation is benefiting overseas – rather than UK – taxpayers.

Swathes of Britain’s energy, transport and utility networks are run by companies owned by other European governments – meaning foreign exchequers reap the dividends while UK customers struggle with increasing fares and bills. In the past two years alone, overseas taxpayers have taken dividends totalling nearly £1bn from companies which make their profits from UK households and passengers.
The figures unearthed by The Independent in corporate filings will fuel calls for the Government to rethink its privatisation agenda – and boost those who argue that the railways should be opened up to publicly owned UK operators, or even renationalised.

An analysis of companies’ financial filings for the last financial year shows that currently 20 national train lines are run or owned by foreign state-owned or controlled companies. Only last month, the ScotRail franchise was offloaded to the Netherlands’ state-owned Abellio.
Christian Wolmar, a rail industry analyst, said: “It is a completely daft situation where state-run companies in foreign countries can bid for our rail services but UK ones can’t. It is specifically banned by law for the likes of Transport for London, or Directly Operated Railways to bid for UK rail contracts.”
Of course it will be recalled that Probation Trusts were not able to bid for the contracts to run probation services in England and Wales, but the likes of French catering companies were, and here is an article on the thirdsector website warning members to tread very carefully indeed:-   
Probation scheme enters crucial negotiation period
The Ministry of Justice was keen to emphasise the voluntary sector's involvement in the consortia due to be awarded contracts potentially worth a total of £450m in the latest stage of its Transforming Rehabilitation programme.

The government trumpeted this as a ground-breaking success, with a headline on its press release announcing the bids that read "Voluntary sector at forefront of new fight against reoffending". However, fears were raised that the real winners were the private firms leading most of these consortia, and that the charities and voluntary groups involved would carry too much risk. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the National Coalition for Independent Action have condemned the privatisation of a previously public service. Others wondered if the MoJ had learnt any lessons from the travails of charities in the Work Programme.

Mike Pattinson, executive director of Crime Reduction Initiatives, a charity involved in two of the CRCs through a joint venture called the Reducing Reoffending Partnership, says CRI wanted to bid in its own right. He says scale would not have been a problem - "some of the health sector contracts we've run are bigger", he says - but felt a sole bid would have been unlikely to find favour with the ministry. The partnership CRI is involved in is led by the private firm Ingeus UK and includes the St Giles Trust. Pattinson will not reveal CRI's stake in the partnership, beyond saying it is small.
"There are some safeguards built in to the programme, which they have learnt from the Work Programme, such as the use of an industry standard partnerships agreement," he says. This includes a pledge by private firms not to pass on excessive risk to charities, but Pattinson says a full assessment of how charities stand cannot be made until final negotiations are complete.
A spokesman for Clinks, an umbrella for offenders' charities, says these negotiations are key. "It will be vital for organisations to have good legal advice when negotiating contractual terms, and to be sure they understand the contract they are signing," the spokesman says. "We cannot ignore the widespread disappointment that we haven't got a voluntary-sector preferred bidder. We will explore why this happened."
Finally, here is a piece in the Guardian that should serve to remind the preferred probation bidders what a risky business it is they are entering and why Capita decided to give it all a miss:-
Risky business: no wonder Capita wants to avoid public service contracts
Among the outsourcing firms, Capita has always been one to watch. The growth of the £3.8bn company, founded in the 1980s when the Thatcher government forced councils to contract services, has exemplified the modern public services industry. So when Capita’s chief executive, Andy Parker, says it is now turning its back on government work you know something is up. The markets were shocked and share prices fell.
It’s not the end of outsourcing for difficult customers – Capita has landed a big customer services contract for the struggling Co-op Bank. Better that, it seems, than taking on probation contracts being let by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, or doing work capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. Those are examples, the company said, of excessive risk. Either a government changes its mind, upsetting price and cost assumptions and jeopardising profit, or – as Atos and G4S have found – companies run a big risk with their wider reputation when there is political protest or the media start running headlines about service failure.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Simon Hughes and Hot Air

Simon Hughes and the Liberal Democrats really are intent on rubbing salt into the wound they've helped the Tories inflict on the Probation Service. The junior justice minister is quoted at length in the Daily Mail in a pathetic attempt to try and redeem some semblance of liberal credentials and put some blue water between themselves and the 'nasty' half of the coalition. 

It takes real political gall to come up with this crap right at the very time you are fully complicit in destroying the Probation Service that would be able to deliver these aspirations of lowering the prison population. Well it won't wash Mr Hughes. It won't wash with us, the electorate and certainly not the Daily Mail and it just makes you look even more mendacious than normal:-
Scrap jail sentences of under one year, says Lib Dem justice minister
Jail sentences of less than a year should be abolished unless there are exceptional circumstances, a Liberal Democrat justice minister declared last night. Simon Hughes said there should be a legal presumption that no one goes to jail for less than 12 months, with criminals given community or suspended sentences instead.
But figures show such a move would mean 60,000 fewer criminals going to prison every year, including thousands of violent thugs, burglars, sex attackers and robbers. Over time it would lead to the halving of the current prison population of nearly 85,000, leaving tens of thousands of repeat criminals on the streets instead of behind bars.
Campaigners against soft justice pointed out that most of those given short prison terms had already been ‘let off’ with several non-custodial sentences. Victims groups say short prison sentences are essential to give them some respite from those making their lives a misery. Mr Hughes set out his views in a speech to prison reform campaigners.

He boasted in his speech about how his party had tamed the Conservatives in government by reducing the use of remand – ensuring more offenders are free on bail ahead of their trial. He also said Lib Dems had abolished the use of indeterminate prison sentences which allowed the most dangerous criminals to be locked up indefinitely because of the threat they posed to the public. And he said the Lib Dems had blocked Tory plans to double the maximum prison sentence which could be handed down in a magistrates’ court.
Mr Hughes said: ‘I believe that it is time for a statutory presumption against custodial sentences of under 12 months. 'And, where a court decides that there is a justification for their use, they must have to set out the exceptional circumstances which warranted the sentence.’

‘Instead, we need alternative, more effective ways to punish those who break the law in the community.’ He added: ‘This is not about soft options.’ ‘Forcing someone to confront their behaviour – and, where appropriate, make amends to those directly affected by their offending – can be tougher than languishing in a prison cell for days on end.’
Mr Hughes also challenged the Tory doctrine that ‘prison works’, first set out by then Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard in 1993. Since then, the prison population has increased from about 44,000 in the early 1990s to some 85,000 now. Tories point out that in the same period crime levels in Britain have plummeted.
An analysis of official sentencing figures carried out by the Mail shows what offences were committed by those who were jailed for less than a year over a five year period from 2009 to 2013. In 2013, some 59,322 offenders were given a jail term of less than 12 months. Over the five years from 2009 to 2013 that included a total of 2610 robbers, 8244 thieves, 12,572 violent thugs and 9252 burglars. It also included 1129 sex offenders convicted of assaults – the vast majority on women. Some 6566 thugs caught with a knife would also have escaped jail, as would some stalkers, kidnappers, and drug traffickers.
A Conservative source said: ‘Going soft on crime isn’t the way to sort out re-offending. ‘Letting criminals get away with not going to prison seems to be the Lib Dems’ latest wheeze which we don’t for a moment think is what the vast majority of the public want to see.’
Peter Cuthbertson, director of the Centre for Crime Prevention think tank said: ‘It is incredibly rare for anyone to go to prison without first committing many, many serious offences. ‘Sending far fewer of these serious, repeat offenders to prison would be an extremely dangerous experiment with public safety.’ 
‘The evidence is very clear. Short prison sentences have high re-offending rates, but so do people on community sentences and suspended sentences. ‘So the only sensible way to cut short prison sentences is to give criminals longer sentences. It’s once a criminal is in prison for two years or longer that we really see re-offending drop - and the public is completely protected in the mean time.’
(Mendacious - lying, untruthful, dishonest, deceitful, false, dissembling, insincere, disingenuous, hypocritical, fraudulent, double-dealing, two-faced, Janus-faced, two-timing, duplicitous, perjured, perfidious; untrue, fictitious, falsified, fabricated, fallacious, invented, made up, hollow; economical with the truth, terminologically inexact; unveracious.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Omnishambles Update 79

Lets kick this off with news from the Daily Mail as to how the MoJ is doing on the court interpreter contract:-  
Court translator costs double in a year: Taxpayers' bill now more than £15million after service was outsourced in move branded as 'shambolic' by MPs
The cost to the taxpayer of hiring court interpreters has almost doubled to £15.5million in just one year, according to official figures. The bill for translators brought in to assist non-English speakers appearing at magistrates or Crown courts for criminal cases soared from £7.9million in 2012.  
The figures, uncovered in Freedom of Information responses from the Ministry of Justice, appear to show the rise occurred since services were outsourced to under-fire firm Capita Translation and Interpreting. They were revealed after the handling of court foreign language services to just one company was branded ‘shambolic’ by MPs amid concerns the change had caused trials to collapse or be delayed.
Farcical episodes that have emerged since privatisation include the case of a man who was charged with perverting the course of justice was instead accused of being a ‘pervert’. In a burglary case at Snaresbrook Crown Court in east London, a retrial was ordered when it emerged that the Romanian interpreter had muddled the words ‘beaten’ and ‘bitten’. And in Winchester, a murder trial was brought to a halt when the court interpreter confessed he was an unqualified stand-in for his wife, who was busy. Standards were allegedly so lax that a director of another translation company was able to sign up his cat Masha as a translator – who was then offered jobs.

MPs on the Commons’ Justice Select Committee were told that a ‘catastrophic’ shortage of interpreters had forced courts to rely on Google Translate, a comparatively crude and time-consuming online translation service. There are around 11,000 foreign nationals in UK prisons, around 13 per cent of the total prison population, with many needing interpreters at numerous court hearings and appeals.

Courts across England used to rely on local interpreters but in January 2012 the former Ministry of Justice controversially handed a monopoly on translating to a private firm, Applied Language Solutions, in an attempt to cut costs. The company was then bought by Capita TI amid a wave of criticism from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), which previously provided courts with language experts.

In the first 18 months of the contract there were 10,000 complaints about the interpreting services it provided. MPs were told the company had failed to send interpreters to a fifth of trials, sent people speaking the wrong language, or translators who are simply incompetent.

In July last year Lady Butler-Sloss, a retired judge, told the House of Lords there was a massive ‘disruption and delay to criminal trials as a result of serious inaccuracies of court interpreting’. Five months earlier, the Justice Committee said the privatisation had been ‘shambolic’ and led to cases collapsing and people unnecessarily being remanded in custody.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice confirmed it paid out £15.5million for ‘interpreting and translation services’ to the courts last year compared to £7.9million in 2012. But he said the FOI response had only identified payments to Capita TI. Because of blunders after the start of the contract, local interpreters were hired on an ad-hoc basis to fill in shortfalls and paid for their services.
The MoJ said the total payments to all interpreters in 2012 exceeded the bill for 2013, although the department said it could not provide documented figures to prove this. It stated, however, that the new system had seen ‘dramatic improvements’ and that ‘record numbers of booking are now begin made and fulfilled’. A MoJ source said: ‘During the first year of the contract a lot of things weren’t running brilliantly but since then the whole system has been sorted out.’
Despite cockups, privatisation carries on unabated as the MoJ announces new contracts for prison support services:-
Preferred bidders of prison services competition announced
The Ministry of Justice has today (18 November 2014) revealed the preferred bidders for the management of a range of works, maintenance and facilities management services across public sector prisons.
Amey and Carillion have been named as the desired providers following a competition process to provide: 
  • maintenance
  • works and building projects
  • management of prison stores
  • waste disposal and collection
  • energy and environmental management
  • cleaning
  • escorting of contractors and their vehicles
to public sector prisons across England and Wales.
Each company was selected as a preferred bidder for 2 separate geographical areas following a competition process that is set to save taxpayers around £115 million over a 5 year period.
The preferred bidders are: 
  • Lot 1 – Amey – North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humberside
  • Lot 2 – Amey - East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales
  • Lot 3 – Carillion - East of England, London
  • Lot 4 – Carillion - South West, South Central, Kent and Sussex
The competition was announced in June 2013 and formally launched in January 2014, as part of the government’s programme of work to drive down costs and improve outcomes across the prison estate without compromising public safety. The new providers are expected to start delivering services on 1 June 2015 following a period of mobilisation.
Whilst on the subject of contracts, it's worth reminding charities currently bidding for probation work that as much as the MoJ may giveth, they also take away. Victim Support have just discovered this harsh truth, having lost the court witness contract to the CAB, as reported here:-
£24 million grant to support witnesses at court
Citizens Advice has secured £24 million of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) funding to provide the court-based Witness Service, which offers practical and emotional support to ensure people give their best possible evidence during criminal trials.  
The money will be used to improve face to face support at more than 300 courts across England and Wales. This includes greeting witnesses, explaining court procedures, giving updates on the progress of the case, and providing emotional and practical support connected to giving evidence.
It will ensure better support for young, vulnerable and intimidated witnesses - including home visits before a trial and at remote video link locations - and consistency of support across the courts while providing value for the taxpayer. It will also inform witnesses of local victims’ services to make sure they are supported throughout the court process and into the future.
This is the first time government funding for the court-based Witness Service has been open to competition. This reflects the government’s commitment in its response to the ‘Getting it Right for Victims and Witnesses’ consultation that the service would be nationally and competitively commissioned.
Citizens Advice will take over the service from Victim Support, which provided help for almost 200,000 witnesses in 2013/14, on 1 April 2015.
While he was in Australia, David Cameron made a big thing about pushing more work in the direction of the tagging companies, as reported here in the Guardian:-
Tories plan sobriety bracelet punishment for alcohol-related crimes
People who are convicted of criminal damage or common assault committed under the influence of alcohol could be forced to wear a “sobriety bracelet” for four months, as an alternative to going to prison. David Cameron has announced that the Conservatives will give judges the power to use alcohol abstinence orders if the party is returned to government next year.
Instead of going to prison, offenders will then be forced to wear an electronic tag, which tests sweat for alcohol, for up to 120 days. The tag is fitted around the ankle and automatically samples the wearer’s perspiration every 30 minutes. Information is transmitted to a base station, where the data is downloaded and checked by officials. Offenders who fail to keep off alcohol could be hit with a fine or, ultimately, a custodial sentence.
US courts already use the bracelets. The actor Lindsay Lohan was famously ordered to wear one after missing a probation hearing following a conviction for drink-driving. The abstinence orders are already being trialled in London, Cheshire and Northamptonshire after being proposed by Cameron in 2012, but the Tories will pledge in their election manifesto to use them across England and Wales. The first one was handed out at Sutton magistrates court in August to an offender convicted of using abusive language and provoking unlawful violence. 
Speaking at the G20 summit in Australia, the prime minister said: “Alcohol-related crime causes misery for millions of people every year and costs our country billions of pounds. While overall crime has fallen under this government, we need to do more.”
Conservative sources said the Home Office envisaged up to 5,000 offenders a year would be ordered to wear the tags, at a cost to the taxpayer of £15m. They say that abstinence orders in America have reduced reoffending in some states by up to 14%. American courts have ordered the devices to be fitted to thousands of defendants released on bail and awaiting trial for alcohol-related offences, as well as people on probation and underage drinkers.
Judges in the UK would have the discretion to hand down orders for offences such as threatening behaviour, assault, criminal damage and drink-driving. Most offenders will be made to wear the bracelets for 60 to 90 days, with a maximum punishment of 120 days. 
The police, led by the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, have been pushing for the use of sobriety bracelets, saying it would help cut crime in the capital. The police commissioner said 80%-90% of night-time arrests by the Met were associated with excessive alcohol. “It is important for us to use technology and to use these preventative measures around two areas – one around alcohol and certainly around drugs because the two most aggravating factors around crime tend to be those areas,” Hogan-Howe said in December 2011.
According to a recent blog by Ian Lawrence, Napo's Professional Committee have been looking into the whole subject of Electronic Monitoring:-
Electronic Monitoring - Value for Money?
Our old friend Professor Mike Nellis copied Napo in to his recent correspondence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about EM and our Professional Committee has asked me to endorse the case that he makes for the PAC to seriously scrutinise the contract.
We have said that in our view, Professor Nellis’ description of the development of these contracts and his analysis of how they came to be signed is less than transparent (does that ring a bell?) and the statement in this year’s Major Projects Authority (MPA) report that the project would “support the development of a co-operative and constructive partnership approach to delivery through the engagement of key stakeholders across the criminal justice sector both in the project and following implementation of the contract(s).” has not been sustained in reality.
We have reminded the PAC of the previous contracts for EM, which have attracted so much attention from the Serious Fraud Office, amongst others. These were valued at somewhere in the region of £100-120million p.a. Mike says that this has been equivalent to more than 10% of the overall budget for Probation year on year, and is money that might have been better targeted towards funding the supervision of under-12 month prisoners on release.
As Professor Nellis has pointed out, we do not really know the value of the new contracts or their proposed scope. We have said that we would hope that these EM contracts will be cheaper than their predecessors, not least because those previous contracts were hugely overpriced. The statistics compiled by the learned Professor inform us that according to the Policy Exchange Unit report, the average ‘per day’ cost of a tag in the US was £1.25 compared to £13.14 in England and Wales at the time the report was prepared. On the other hand, the more sophisticated technology (GPS) is likely to be more expensive to operate and if numbers are greatly increased, (Ed: especially if ‘Through the Gate’ fails to deliver?) then so will the contract prices. Figures for ‘whole-life’ contract costs as given in the MPA report 2013/14 are anything from £529.2m to £912m. If these contracts are for six years, then the annual cost might be between £88m and £152m.
Napo’s Professional Committee believes that the unimaginative and indiscriminate use of EM curfews has been nothing short of scandalous. Indeed a very expensive one at that; and with little or no evidence to suggest that ‘stand-alone’ curfews (around 70% of those imposed) do anything at all to reduce re-offending rates.
Read Napo’s submission here. 
Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, the assertion that crime has fallen under his government comes just as it's revealed the police have been very naughty and simply not recorded an awful lot of offences in order to meet targets. Interestingly, the report is from HM Chief Inspector of Police Tom Winsor, no doubt doing Theresa May's bidding in kicking the police, again in the Guardian:- 
Police fail to record 800,000 crimes a year, including one in four sex offences
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says it is an indefensible failure by the police to properly record the equivalent of 19% of the total official police recorded crime rate, and including a third of all violent crime. The investigation into the integrity of police recorded crime figures says that the 26% under-recording of rapes and other sexual offences is a matter of “especially serious concern”, with inspectors finding 37 individual cases of rape that were not recorded as crimes.
The HMIC report, published on Tuesday, says that even when crimes are correctly recorded by the police, too many are removed or cancelled as recorded crimes for no good reason, including more than 200 rapes and 250 cases of violence against the person. It says that these decisions, called “no-criming”, to incorrectly dismiss rape victims have meant that offenders who should have been pursued by the police have not been brought to justice. The inspectors add that in 22% of these no-crime cases the rape victim was never told that a decision had been taken to drop their case.
Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said: “These are wholly unacceptable failings. Some forces have exemplary records in this respect, and others are very bad. It is particularly important that in cases as serious as rape, these shortcomings are put right as a matter of the greatest urgency. In some forces, action is already being taken.”
The report says that the police must record an incident as a crime when a victim reports circumstances that amount to an offence as defined by the law and there is no credible evidence to the contrary.
The rules say that a crime should still be recorded even if the victim declines to provide their personal details, or does not want to take the matter further, or even if the allegation cannot be proved. They add, however, that a crime does not need to be recorded if a victim does not confirm that a crime has taken place. For instance if someone other than the victim reports an apparent street robbery, but the police can’t find the victim, then a crime is not recorded but a record is still made of the incident.
The report rejects claims that the practice of under-recording is due to “fiddled figures” or dishonest manipulation, saying that although the staff survey and interviews with whistleblowers produced many such allegations, no one came forward with firm evidence. The inspectors say that a number of police forces accepted that “undue performance pressures had adversely affected crime recording in the past, and the culture of chasing targets as ends in themselves had distorted crime-recording decisions”.
It's worth mentioning another matter touched on in the recent blog by Ian Lawrence, and that is another wheeze by Chris Grayling to raise money from our clients:-
Criminal Courts Charges

More great work in progress by our eagle eyed practitioners. Under The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2014, currently still progressing through parliament is a whole raft of changes (28 in all) to various areas of criminal justice. One of the most invidious of these is the creation of a Criminal Courts Charge – meaning that people if convicted, will pay for their use of the criminal courts-i.e. for the cost of running and administering the courts.
This controversial proposal from the MoJ (aren’t they all?) is completely separate from and in addition to existing financial impositions such as: fines, compensation to victims, victim surcharge and prosecution costs, the latter often currently referred to as court costs- these will all continue to be ordered as decided by sentencers. Our current understanding is that the Criminal Courts Charge will be imposed in all cases where there is a conviction and regardless of whether a defendant receives a custodial sentence or not, it will always be paid last i.e. when all other financial impositions have been paid. A list of draft charge levels has been compiled as follows:
  • in the Magistrates Court the lowest charge will be £150 for a summary offence hearing guilty plea and the highest charge will be £1,000 for an either way trial
  • in the Crown Court the lowest charge will be £900 for an indictable only guilty plea charge and an either way or indictable only trial will be charged at £1,200.
In addition there will be interest accruing/charged at the rate of inflation if the Criminal Courts Charge remains unpaid.
The rationale (if you could even call it that) behind these charges is that it is considered to be time that the burden of cost of running the courts was taken away from the taxpayer. It is conceded briefly that even some taxpayers may themselves be defendants! The means test completed at the beginning of court proceedings will determine at what rate the charge is to be paid. Apparently there will be an incentive to keep out of further trouble as if there is no fresh conviction within two years of its imposition then there is the facility for it to be remitted.
It is mooted that the charge might in the long term reduce reoffending by providing a disincentive in itself. The initial work by Napo suggests that this idea is ludicrous in the extreme in that it suggests that not only might the reduction in income caused by the charge be something that an individual might weigh up prior to committing an offence, but also the fact that two years offence free allowing possible remittance of the charge would be a carrot to prevent and reduce reoffending. It is conceded however that increased debt could lead to other destabilising consequences such as family breakdown!!
Worse still the so called analysis and evidence for the introduction of this charge acknowledges that the enforcement of current criminal courts financial impositions is already struggling so it is envisaged that an external provider (guess who?) will be looked for “to deliver compliance and enforcement activity” No matter that the transition to and maintenance of such a service including enforcing the new Criminal Courts Charge will be in the region of “£20million per year” (in addition to costs of enforcement of existing financial impositions).
It seems that the emerging legislation will allow for people to be imprisoned for non-payment - “It is estimated that the potential increase in prison occupancy resulting from this sanction could lead to a cost of around £5million per annum in steady state (although the actual costs are dependent on capacity)”. So more people in prison and absolutely zero prospects of rehabilitation in such cases.
In a few years we could see clients also having to pay for private probation, as is the case already in the USA, together with charges for 'bed and breakfast' should they find themselves in default and in prison. The only trouble is, I seem to think it's not possible 'to get blood out of a stone'. But maybe the Tories are working on that one.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

MoJ and Dodgy Figures

Some reader reaction to the MoJ performance figures released yesterday, ahead of the Judicial Review process that gets underway this afternoon:-   

If the MoJ won't acknowledge the prisons crisis, they were never going to acknowledge the crisis caused by TR. No surprises here.

Doesn't he realise that releasing information 'proving' that staff are doing well despite TR just kicks the can down the road, and can be used as evidence of the chaos that ensues when all that CRC 'innovation' destroys any notion of a good service?

Hey, MoJ spinners, if you can release this data then surely you can give us the results of Testgates 1-4?

You are absolutely right, they could. However, it needs refining first and some details added as well as evidence losing. Do you honestly think we'd get it any other way? My clients have got nothing on MP's when it comes to underhand, mendacious, self-centred sociopathic behaviour. This Tory bunch are rotten to the core and yet every election manage to convince people they are not. Now what does that behaviour say about them?

Do you think they have took into consideration the massive increase in SFOs since June and they are mostly CRC clients? Told this by an ACE. Of course couldn't admit it is to do with the split but surely more than a coincidence!

Mmm hasn't the criteria changed a few times over recent years?

Yup. I think it was September 2014 strangely enough. The same time the figures were collated. I'm very surprised the MoJ have not made this clear!

Sect 18 GBH, despite being a 3 strikes, life sentence totting up offence, was removed from the SFO criteria. That's why numbers dipped.

Just a few observations - clear to see some NPS staff have voted with their feet and it's very reassuring to hear they will all be replaced with new recruits in the near future (gawd 'elp us)

Performance: nearly all of these things are linked to Key Performance Indicators and so I'm not surprised that programme completions; recall timeliness; terminations and employment at termination are all on target because I know my ACO would lynch us if we missed. But what is being missed at the expense of hitting these targets - they're that stats I'd be interested to see.

Also worth observing that all of those stats (with the exception of programme completions) are very poor indicators of how good or bad the work is. I could see a client precisely zero times, but as long as I got the recall in within 24 hours and then completed the bloody OASys at the right point in a two month period, that's two ticks for me.

Mr Selous doesn't know the half of it in reality. The majority of adjourned PSRs in my area are written by CRC POs on a sessional basis because there are not enough NPS POs. This is unsustainable. Adjournments for PSRs are five weeks, illegal at best. PSRs being typed the day before the hearing so no time for quality control, checking proposals etc. Subject of report doesn't turn up for interview or writer is sick on day of interview so case adjourned again for another five weeks. Ten weeks between plea and sentence. Hardly great for defendant or victim or standing of probation with the judiciary. This situation is the direct consequence of TR, nothing else.

What the MoJ data shows is a reduction in the number of front line staff, both PO and PSO grades. Nightmare for those left.

I get the impression that the status quo is being used to argue that the TR impact to date is negligible to vaguely positive, hence the JR is unnecessary. As many have already identified, the data produced is either irrelevant or inaccurate, i.e. it has been manipulated. Hopefully Mr Justice Ouseley will know the difference.

Had a quick glance at these figures and they are really of little relevance. It's noticeable that the tone of the language makes much of small upward trends and then glosses over opposite trends. The SFO figures prove nothing. In fact only year on year trends have any validity and even these need to be treated with caution given the variability of human nature blah blah blah. 

I have seen NOMS machinations up close and this smacks of the approach they adopt in similar situations especially JR's. Honest brokers simply outlining the facts in an objective manner. Although this belies the fact that a number of high level meetings will have identified this as a strategic defence for the JR and rushed to release a paper that is largely meaningless. Although it's purpose is really to sow a seed of doubt in the courts mind come the hearing. All rather tawdry, but then that was the overall impression I gained of NOMS. My advice would be to pursue a FOI request to find out what correspondence took place, and what meetings were held prior to the launch.

I think it's very significant that Selous has published the statement and Grayling doesn't get a mention! I know Selous has responsibility for probation, but I am left wondering where Graylings gone scurrying to? He's far too quiet, and I'm sure if all was as rosy as the statement suggests, Grayling would be out shouting from the rooftops. I'm curious.

The Probation Service has continued to do well DESPITE TR, rather than DUE to it. It's a testament to us rather than Grayling. However, hope and goodwill is running out and fast. I fear that the figures over the next 12 months are only going to be in decline across the board.

Russell Webster has this to say:- 
To be honest, the conclusions that can be drawn from this management information are limited:

Sickness rates are rising but overall staffing has increased too – although there are concerns about the rate at which staff are leaving the NPS.
The timeliness of court reports and order completion rates are relatively unchanged.
There has however been a drop in performance in submitting parole reports on time.
There have been major problems assessing new offenders and deciding which side of the new two-tier probation service should supervise them, although it appears that performance is improving rapidly.
This information cannot provide much insight about the quality of service being delivered under the new system. The best measure of this is, of course, reoffending rates but they will not be available until Autumn 2016.
Since this information has only been published for the purpose of the Judicial Review, we will need to wait and see what the judge and respective legal teams make of it.
Ian Lawrence says this on his latest blog:-
I am sure that it is just a coincidence that it has been published the day before legal proceedings commence, but it provides a commentary and tables of figures for a number of key operations undertaken by the NPS and CRC’s since the division of the service. You will draw your own conclusions about the picture that the report portrays, and as you would expect we are going through this forensically to see what there might be for us in terms of the JR, but my quick read through shows the following: 
A claim that SFO’s are down, in comparison to this time last year.
Long term sickness on the increase by an average of 2:0% (AWDL now 11.9% from 9.9%
Staff split just about 50/50 between NPS and CRC’s 
200 Leavers from NPS in the period of the report and 30 Joiners
Use of Oral and Fast PSR’s on the increase
PAROM1 reports within the agreed time limits show a fall in completion
Offenders in employment at termination of Orders or Licence continue upward trend as per last two years
Offenders in accommodation at termination of Orders or Licence shows 4% drop in NPS
Unpaid work orders show a decrease attributable to less use by sentencers
Fall in OBP completions 
Only 57% completion of RSR assessments taking account of data in October (50% at end of September)
82% achievement of case allocation - NPS to CRC’s by end of 2nd working day/ 65% by next working day/ 15% on same working day 
NOMS also say that ‘this management information release is one-off and ad-hoc, and is not representative of how future probation performance information will be published. Regular publications of probation data will be made, but not necessarily limited to, or covering all areas covered in this release.’ They add: ‘These data are presented at national level to examine performance across the probation system, with distinctions made between the NPS and CRCs where appropriate. Comparisons to historic information have also been made where appropriate. That’s all straightforward then.
Lets round off with this sent in yesterday:- 

You want dodgy? You want controversial? You know the tune. Posted in the context of & knowledge that many African born & based musicians & influential others have been excluded from the white euro-centric BandAid Project:

"It's Chris-mas time, and there's no need to be afraid

At Chris-mas time, we let in light and banish shade

And in our world of bidders we can make a load of cash

Spin the truth until it suits

At Bidding time

But say a prayer, pray for the other ones

At Bidding time, it's hard but while you're having fun

There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of lies and spin

Where competitors can beat you, if you're left out then you're not in

And the Grayling bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of gold

Well tonight we're cashing in, what about you?

No peace and joy this Christmas in The CRC

The only hope they'll have is not yet being sacked

Where they're doing what they're told

But all the CRC's will fold

No-one thought that JR's time was here

Here's to you

Raise a glass to everyone

And here's to us

And all the years to come

Let them know it's JR time after all

Heal the world, let them know it's JR time etc etc etc"

Monday, 17 November 2014

No Crisis With TR!

Here's that rabbit out of the hat in the form of a press release from the MoJ as official performance data shows there's no TR crisis after all! Odious Andrew Selous just can't stop himself taking the piss :-
Justice Minister Andrew Selous has praised hardworking probation staff for their dedication to maintaining public protection as the government introduces a radical new approach to rehabilitation, aimed at tackling stubbornly high reoffending rates.
This comes as performance data is released today showing that significant progress has been achieved following an initial transition period towards the new ways of working.
The government is introducing a much wider range of organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors to bring new ideas to turning round the lives of offenders. They will offer an unprecedented level of support to offenders on short sentences who currently get no statutory post-prison support and return to crime at an alarming rate. Nearly 60% reoffend within a year of release.
Twenty-one new regional Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have been created to focus on turning round the lives of medium and low risk offenders, while a new National Probation Service (NPS) is tasked with protecting the public from high-risk offenders.
The new structures went live on 1 June this year and the CRCs are remaining in the public sector until new providers take over in early 2015. This bedding-in period was built in to ensure a smooth handover to the new arrangements.
Andrew Selous, the minister responsible for probation and rehabilitation said:
"Our crucial reforms to probation are being rolled-out in a sensible way, with testing at every stage. 
The wide range of information we have published demonstrates how closely we are monitoring the system to ensure that performance levels are maintained.
This has been a challenging time for staff, but they should be extremely proud of the way they have kept up standards. I want to put on record my thanks to them."
The ‘preferred bidders’ who are set to lead the new fight against reoffending were announced last month, and the voluntary sector are set to be at the forefront of the new approach.
Almost all of the 21 CRC areas will be led by new partnerships and joint ventures between private sector firms and some of Britain’s biggest and most successful rehabilitation charities.
Providers will only be paid in full if they are successful at reducing reoffending, helping drive innovation and getting best value for taxpayers.

Omnishambles Update 78

Just wanted to say thinking of you all out there as we approach another week in the unfolding chaos we attempt to work in. I tell myself I got through Friday I might be able to get through tomorrow. Positive self talk and all of that but it is becoming increasingly harder to motivate myself and to be honest I am struggling with it all. To see my colleagues worn down to the point where they look ill. We no longer laugh - we barely talk - just how sad is this - morale is on the floor. I used to love my job - really I did - now I feel like a robot - linked in to the idiot box that sits on my desk. There you go - maybe - just maybe I can do tomorrow - let's see.

I don't know how I got through last week and have just been physically sick at the thought of this week and the workload that awaits me. I too loved my job but at the moment I would walk away without a backward glance if I had the opportunity. This is what they have brought us to and need to be held to account for it in some real way.

Getting ready, reluctantly, for my two hour commute into the office. As with above, it's not much fun once there and the increasing anxiety is evident as I get closer to arriving. After the wanton destruction perpetrated by Grayling & co, why am I doing this to myself? I suppose I'm waiting for the outcome of the JR. Fingers crossed Mr Ouseley isn't swayed by the Government's lies and spin so that the TR bullshit can be put on hold & looked at dispassionately by a level-headed person of reason.

Another week indeed and the nightmare omnishambles rumbles on. Lets kick this roundup off with some classic cobblers from the hapless junior justice minister Andrew Selous. Many thanks to the reader who wrote to their MP with concerns over TR and for forwarding the minister's reply to said MP:- 
Dear Stephen,
Thank you for your letter of 17 October, passing the concerns of you and your constituents about our reforms to the Probation Service.
Whilst I recognise that this has been a time of change for probation staff and I am grateful for their hard work in implementing these reforms,I see no grounds for halting these reforms. We are taking a staged, measured approach to implementation and are using all of the period up to the point that contracts are let to stabilise and embed the new structures. Furthermore we continue to engage with probation staff who have, and continue to be involved in the development. testing and delivery of these reforms at each stage. While some have concerns, it is also worth noting that many probation officers have been engaging positively with our reforms and see the positive opportunities these changes will bring for offenders and society as a whole.
Furthermore, it is inaccurate to state that transition has not been a success and that the NPS and CRC are struggling with the new system. Thorough, externally assured business and systems readiness testing was conducted to review key activities that had to be completed prior to transition to the new structures on 1 June. On the basis of evidence from the testing we remain satisfied that the business was ready to make the transition. Furthermore, the cutover period progressed well and we successfully completed the migration of staff, property and ICT to schedule. We worked with Probation Trusts to ensure that transition was managed in a way that enabled operational staff to continue to deliver on the ground in a safe and effective manner and are continuing to support staff as they work to embed the new structures.

With regard to your constituents' concerns about the competition, as you may be aware on 29 October, following a rigorous evaluation and moderation process, we announced he preferred bidders for each of the 21 Contract Package Areas. I would like to reassure you that there was strong competition in all regions, with over 80 bids received and an average of 4 bids for each area. Eight Preferred Bidders have been selected. In 20 of the 21 areas a mutual or VCSE is involved in the Tier 1 bid or as a strategic partner, and 7 of the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) will be run with the involvement of a probation staff mutual. All selected bidders have included VCSE organisations in their proposed supply chains and 75% of the 300 subcontractors named in the Preferred Bidders' bids are VCSE or mutual organisations. All bidders have experience working with offenders or across the Criminal Justice System.

As well as the lead provider bids, almost 1000 organisations have registered to play a part in the wider supply chain, including more than 700 listed as VCSE organisations. These organisations will bring a wide range of skills and experience which will help to improve rehabilitation provision. It is our assessment that these Preferred Bidders have the ability to run CRCs and contribute to building a probation system which combines the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors, and produces more effective and more efficient services for all - reforming offenders, delivering value for the taxpayer and protecting victims and communities.

With regard to your points about staff morale, we recognise that this is a very important issue and we have sought to engage probation staff in the reforms at every stage. Probation Trusts, as the employers of probation staff until 1 June, and subsequently the NPS and CRCs, have worked hard to ensure their workforce was effectively engaged and provided them with as much information and reassurance as possible throughout. The Ministry of Justice also worked closely with the probation staff to support them through the transition and is continuing to provide support to staff in both the NPS and CRCs. Probation staff are also routinely provided with professional supervision, combined with access to confidential counselling on request.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to probation staff for their hard work to implement these reforms and I enclose a copy of this letter for you to share with your constituents, should you wish to do so.
Yours ever, 
Andrew Selous.
As trailed by the MoJ, later today we will see what kind of rabbit they produce out of the proverbial hat:-
Pre-announcing intention to publish Management Information for Probation, 1 June – 30 September England & Wales

Background
Up until 31 May 2014, offenders in the community were managed by Probation Trusts. Under the new probation arrangements, active from 1 June 2014, offenders in the community are managed by the National Probation Service (NPS) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

This ad-hoc management information release presents the suite of management information used by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Ministry of Justice to monitor performance in probation during the transition period since the new probation arrangements became active on 1st June 2014.

What is being published, and why?
The management information is being released to support the Judicial Review of the changes to Probation under the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme. As such, this management information release is a one-off ad-hoc release, and is not representative of how future probation performance information will be published. Regular publications of probation data will be made, but not necessarily limited to, or covering all areas covered in this release.

The management information in this release covers a number of areas, namely:

1 – Background & Executive Summary 
2 – Public Protection 
3 – Staffing 
4 – Performance 
5 – Risk of Serious Recidivism (RSR) assessment and Case Allocation

These data are presented at national level to examine performance across the probation system, with distinctions made between the NPS and CRCs where appropriate. Comparisons to historic information have also been made where appropriate. This ad hoc management information release will be published on Monday 17 November 2014.
Contributors have been looking at Working Links:-

Did some googling about Working Links, seems they are fairly cosy with Policy Exchange. They commissioned a paper from them on electronic monitoring a couple of years ago. Friggin marvelous.

And of course Phil Andrews W Links Chief Exec, was recruited from Sedoxo last year.

Yup, and I forgot to mention one of Working Links private owners (Manpower) is said to be a funder to Iain Duncan Smiths' Centre for Social Justice.

Am I the only one beginning to think CRCs could be lined up to merge with some work programme functions? I can see them trying to have us administer benefit sanctions for breach in future.


I think that will be the case. And you will see social security claimants on the same groups as service users. Employed and criminal as one.

Nothing new under the sun. It wasn't so long ago that benefit sanctions as penalty for breaching community punishment was piloted in a couple of probation areas. Purple Sprouting Brocolli, Winking Loops, Interrail, Subutexo and all the other preferential Chums will have no qualms at linking up with anyone or anything if it means more dosh.

You think we work with people? Not a chance post-sale. CRCs will be working with packages of convenience, widgets, data packets, units of profit. Mental health, childcare, gender, ethnicity, religious denomination - Pah!! They're just aspects of inconvenience that will damage profit. Crims, the unemployed, the unloved & the unwanted, the unwell & the unlucky - they can't or won't make money themselves, so put 'em in a big box and find a way to monetise them.


A logical extension of what is heavily implied already in the public domain: benefit claimants are criminals and vice versa.

That report:-
Future of Corrections: Exploring the use of electronic monitoring.
A Policy Exchange report, sponsored by Working Links

GPS and tagging technology are advancing rapidly, and promise to bring further innovation and improvement to managing and monitoring offenders as they re-enter the community.

With such major opportunities to use technology to improve probation and rehabilitation services across the UK, Working Links recently supported Policy Exchange in conducting a review of the current system of tagging, and to identify how tagging and emerging technologies can be used more effectively to keep track of offenders and to help the Coalition achieve its goal of stabilising the prison population by 2015.
The Independent has an article by Charlie Gilmour who served four months in prison for violent disorder in 2011 following the student protests against austerity:-
Mr Grayling, how do you account for these prison suicides?
Not long ago I asked a governor from one of Britain's largest prisons what she thought of her boss, Chris Grayling, Justice minister since September 2012, under whom the prison system has experienced the most severe crisis for at least 25 years. She grimaced and shook her head. Sometimes silence says more than words. The way Grayling seems to go missing when the issue of prison suicide crops up speaks volumes about him. "There is," he insisted in an interview on the subject, "not a crisis in our prisons."

One might have expected him to make an appearance – or at least be quoted – on Friday's Today programme on Radio 4, in which Lord Harris, the Labour peer charged by the Government with investigating the reasons behind the 50 per cent rise in prison suicides since 2011-12, presented some of his preliminary findings. A fear of pre-empting that review's findings is surely not a good enough excuse.

Deborah Coles, the co-director of Inquest, a charity that helps those left bereft by deaths in custody, expressed frustration at Grayling's absence. "All these people charged with the inspection and monitoring of prisons are warning ministers that there is a crisis," she said, "ministers' indifference to this issue is really concerning … I'm surprised that he [Grayling] isn't here to address these issues."
Lord Harris clearly felt he should have been there, too. His initial findings – that too many people are being sent to prisons which lack the resources needed to facilitate effective rehabilitation – point the finger of blame pretty squarely at the coalition government. Its counterintuitive policies, which have cut the prison service to the bone then loaded it to breaking point, have brought us to this crisis. "But where was the minister to respond?" read a post, cattily re-tweeted by Lord Harris shortly after the programme aired.
The man, as they say in the legal profession – and incidentally, Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor in 440 years to have no background in law – has form. Back in late July, on the day his own department published damning figures showing that the rate of suicide in prisons had gone up by 69 per cent in a year, Grayling chose to deliver a speech on the pressing issue of party funding. This set off a much-publicised mud-slinging competition with Labour – which looked like a smokescreen.
Then, when Newsnight covered the scandal, the long-suffering chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, Michael Spurr, was grilled by Kirsty Wark instead – which is a bit like sending a litter-picker to be taken to task for the state of the country's landfills. For a man whose job, to a certain degree, involves holding people to account, Grayling himself seems to feel remarkably little obligation to face similar levels of scrutiny.

In August Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said it was "not credible" for the Government to deny a link between pressures on the prison system and the surge in the number of self-inflicted deaths, though that still seems to be its position. But evidently we'll have to carry on guessing how Grayling explains the rise in suicides. (Hardwick, incidentally, is reportedly unlikely to have his contract renewed next year.)
Perhaps the bashfulness is because Grayling has so much to answer for. Since the coalition government came to power, 18 prisons have been closed down, but the prison population continues to rise. In some of the worst cases, cells intended for one are being crammed with as many as three men – shut in together for as much as 23 hours a day.
According to reliable prison sources, conditions are so filthy that some inmates have resorted to greasing their bed legs in an attempt to stop cockroaches climbing on to them at night. The presence of rats is well documented, and anecdotal evidence suggests some prisoners have built special covers to stop rodents crawling out from the plumbing and infesting their cells.

Not that the rats would find much worth eating. At HMP New Hall, inmates found it so hard to choke down their dinner that they joked they were being fed the horsemeat products that supermarkets had been forced to take off the shelves. When the Ministry of Justice's Independent Monitoring Board investigated, it found the meat – "consisting mainly of fat and gristle" – to be "inedible".
Through petty rule changes, Grayling has made sure that prisoners have been deprived of their own choice of books, and that female prisoners can no longer be sent underwear. In scenes that call to mind Officer Healy's paranoid, homophobic rants about "lesbian conspiracies" in hit US prison drama Orange Is the New Black, he called for individuals in same sex relationships to be banned from sharing cells, while at the same time blocking an investigation by the Howard League for Penal Reform into sexual abuse inside prisons. It is little wonder that David Cameron is so reluctant to give prisoners the vote – and that suicides in prison are now running at an average of six a month.
Until Grayling is willing to take responsibility for his actions, the situation will only get worse. The tragic irony of the situation is that our prison system is infinitely more violent than the majority of people who end up inside it. Unlike Grayling, most prisoners are a hazard only to themselves. The ongoing suicide crisis is sad proof of both of these claims.
As Lord Harris observes, prison is massively over-used. The mental health problems and drug addictions that afflict so many inmates would be better dealt with by the social services, with prison itself saved for the most serious cases. Sadly, nobody will be sending Grayling to prison for his policies. But with more than 100 deaths on his watch in the past two years alone, perhaps in another, more just world, there's an over-crowded cell with his name on it.
The former CEO of the London Probation Service makes it clear what he feels about the current HM Chief Inspector of Probation in a letter to the Guardian:- 
Paul McDowell’s position as the chief inspector of probation is unsustainable (Grayling pledge over probation conflict of interest fears). His inspectorate is charged with assessing the performance of Sodexo in its new role of supervising thousands of offenders. He may send in inspectors other than himself to assess the performance of his wife’s company, but the final report on Sodexo is the chief inspector’s, just as when Nick Hardwick reports on a prison inspection. He cannot escape the charge of personal interest, whatever the outcome of a Sodexo inspection.
Grayling needs to be squeaky-clean at the outset of these fundamental changes in managing offenders; letting McDowell remain in post looks like an early own goal of his own making. 
John Harding
Winchester
Finally, it looks like Serco could be in more trouble:-
Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre contractor facing fresh allegations

THE government's spending watchdog is looking into claims over the way a private provider has run a detention centre. Allegations that contractor Serco 'inflated certain figures and failed to carry out mental health assessments' at Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre have been passed to the National Audit Office (NAO), it has been revealed. The government contractor has been running the facility near Clapham since 2007.
A spokesman for the NAO told BoS preliminary discussions with the claimants were underway but that the decision to launch a full investigation was 'a long way off'. He added: "As the parliamentary spending watchdog we receive lots of allegations all the time. We now have to work out whether there is any validity to the claims. We are a long way off that."
Last December, Serco had to repay the Ministry of Justice more than £68m after it was found to have charged the taxpayer for tagging non-
existent and dead offenders. Last month, this newspaper reported charity Women for Refugee Women's call for the closure of the centre - which holds around 400 detainees - following the inquest of Christine Case.
The 40-year-old Jamaican woman had been held at the 
centre for 10 days when she died of a sudden blockage to her lungs. Senior Coroner Tom Osborne concluded she died of natural causes. Alan Stannard, Serco's account director for Home Office work, told The Independent: "The NAO has not approached Serco about Yarl's Wood, but we would, as always, fully cooperate with any request from them. "Yarl's Wood is regularly subject to scrutiny by a variety of independent bodies, including the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and the Independent Monitoring Board."