The Comments made by the Nick Hardwick the Chief Inspector of Prisons and Frances Crook of The Howard League carry far more weight and authority (informed as they are by both staff, governors, prisoners, lawyers, sentencers, probation officers, medical staff and prison visitors etc) than an anonymous Prison Service spokesperson who clams that the prison service will “always have and we always will ensure there are enough staff to deliver safe and effective prison regimes”. Clearly in light of the compelling evidence now being presented this is not the case.
My members in London, who work in prisons, see what is happening at first hand and confirm that staff shortages, as the result of cutbacks in prisons, are causing a number of serious problems across the board and these have worsened dramatically since the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has pursued his policy of 'Transforming Rehabilitation'. The most damaging cuts and changes are based on his own populist instincts/personal views/gut feelings and are not at all about what we and others know about how to go about rehabilitating those in custody. Mr Grayling's policies have now destabilised key parts of the legal system, dismantled and disrupted the probation service, and simultaneously caused widespread problems throughout the prison system and beyond.
My members in London tell me a different story. They tell me that some prison wings are fast becoming virtual no go areas as prison staff can no longer guarantee their safety to carry out vital rehabilitation work. Indeed vital rehabilitation and preparation for resettlement work necessary for the safe release of prisoners is at risk of being delayed or hindered due to entirely avoidable changes, staff shortages, and cutbacks that all impact the way prisons run.
However, the consistent message that comes from the Ministry of Justice and NOMS is that 'there is no problem' and 'there is nothing to worry about'. We say here are in fact a number of serious problems that need to be addressed urgently and the Ministry of Justice should not insult the public by claiming that they have nothing to worry about.
The Justice Secretary needs to be called to account for the damning results of his poorly thought through policies that have done much to damage the both the effectiveness and reputation of our justice system and to create in its place a system of which we should now rightly feel ashamed as a supposedly modern and civilised nation. Please join our lobby of Parliament taking place on 3rd September.Pat Waterman
Chair NAPO Greater London Branch.
Readers of this blog say there's a crisis:-
"There is undoubtedly pressure on the system as a result of the higher population and staff vacancies "
Spurr, Grayling et al need to admit they have created that pressure by increasing the prison population with their policies and cutting staff to the bare minimum. They also need to face up to the reality of private prisons paying considerably lower wages, having less experienced staff and wanting to increase profitability through increased inmate:staff ratios. But they won't, of course, because they are never wrong. Spinning like a child's humming top they mutter and drivel and spout incomprehensible nonsense. I thought those who sat in the higher echelons were paid vast sums for their ability to shoulder responsibility. Sorry, my mistake.
It is always difficult for politicians to spin a row of corpses.
I wonder if this dire turn of events has any impact on sentencing decisions? If I were a judge/magistrate it would surely have to be a considering factor - if you read a pre-sentence report and the individual has personal issues it would sway me towards suspending any custodial element on humanitarian grounds.
I attended an Oral hearing at a London prison very recently and was escorted in and out by probation staff, no prison service officer at the hearing and did not see a prison officer on the wings...the prisoner and his rep and the hearing panel were also escorted by the probation officer, despite prisoner being v unhappy with the officer for what he perceived to be a negative report.
Meanwhile we have colleagues attending prisons to interview clients to be told that client is in bed and won't be disturbed, that the video link wasn't booked, that the prisoner refused to come down...all of which later turns out to be inaccurate...you can't blame the staff as they are so thin on the ground that locking people up for 23 hours a day and avoiding trouble by not moving them around is clearly the easiest way to cope with such low levels of staffing. As said above it's pretty hard to spin this all away. More selfishly I do wonder how much MOJ and NOMS money will be routed away from probation to cover up this nightmare.
Spurr writes that he has agreed to 700 extra staff 'above the benchmark numbers'....having earlier claimed that benchmarking is working! This is doublespeak, surely? The man needs to get a grip.
Do you think Grayling and Spurr have Munchausen? They seem to want to make things really bad and then get the public and staff on their side when they try and address the crap they created. Clever marketing and dangerous. Come the election they will be telling the public how they saved the prison service, and won't mention that they created the shambles. The public will not be any wiser especially with Probation as there has been no media attention. Great plan.
Computers only work half the day in the HMP Prison Service at the moment, we can't do our jobs. I'm going to start to write reports by hand and give them to management for typing; madness. I spend ALL my time on the computer I don't see people anymore, just RED.
This article confirms there's a crisis:-
Serco-Owned HMP Doncaster Locks Prisoners Up Without Water or Electricity for Two Days
By Tabatha Kinder | IB Times
HMP Doncaster is the latest prison to face heavy criticism from monitoring body, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), for locking up inmates in cells without electricity or running water for more than two days. The prison is privately run by Serco, which operates six adult prisons in the UK. HMIP found that levels of violence in the prison were four times higher than in any other prison and prisoners are routinely locked in cells for days at a time without basic human provisions.
"The prison was experiencing real drift and performance was in decline", said chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, in a report released by HMIP on Wednesday. "Some staff seemed overwhelmed by the challenges confronting them and needed more support. Some "extremely violent" incidents had been referred to the police and there had been a recent incident where a wing had been damaged by fire and vandalism", states the report.
It has been announced this week that Serco is experiencing a half-year loss of £7.3 million amid a major scandal in March when it was revealed that the outsourcing company had charged the UK government for tagging criminals who were either dead or already in jail.
Suicides in prisons jump 69% in a year
Today's report comes at the same time as troubling statistics have been released by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman detailing the huge rise in suicides and self-harm in British prisons. Bleak figures released by the Ministry of Justice also show a huge leap in the number of on-the-run inmates last year, and more deaths in custody than in any previous year. The number of suicides among prisoners has jumped 69% in just one year, the ombudsman said, but Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has responded by saying the statistics should be viewed within the context that "in Britain, we're seeing an increase in suicides in society as a whole". Grayling's comments have commanded a backlash from penal reform campaigners such as The Howard League, who have criticised his dismissal of the "growing crisis in Britain's jails".
The ombudsman's report also reveals that a fifth of 18 to 20-year-old prisoners examined had experienced bullying in the month before their death. In one case, an inmate with a history of mental health problems and suicide attempts discovered his girlfriend had ended their relationship on the same afternoon he was told a close relative had died. Despite this, the inmate's level of risk was not assessed and he was found hanging in his cell two days later.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, who is hosting Labour's Prisons Crisis Summit on Wednesday, will tell the gathering of prison governors, officers and charities:
"The Government pretends all is well in our jails. But there is a yawning leadership gap under David Cameron and Chris Grayling. Chris Grayling can't keep denying there's a prisons crisis when respected independent experts link the surge in suicides and violence to the Government's policies. The chaos can be seen by the surge in the number of times the riot squad has been called out, rises in assaults on prison staff, increases in suicides and the rise in the number of prisoners going on the run. Rather than prisons punishing and reforming offenders, under this Government they've become dangerous warehouses, putting public safety at risk."Owen Jones in the Guardian last week had this to say:-
Prison doesn’t work – as the Glen Parva shambles shows
Prison is where we dump – disproportionately – poor people suffering from mental distress. They are left in overcrowded cells, looked after by ever fewer prison officers, with a service that was poor to begin with and which is deteriorating in an era of austerity. There is little effort to reintegrate them into society. The news, then, that Glen Parva young offenders’ prison has descended into something out of The Lord of the Flies – as the Howard League for Penal Reform puts it – should frighten but certainly not shock us.
According to a report from HM Inspectorate for Prisons, reports of self-harm at Glen Parva have jumped from 274 to 316 in a year. Prisoners are being bullied, with other inmates demanding that they pay an official “rent” for their cells; those victimised are forced to hand over money and food. The number of assaults against other prisoners and staff has jumped by a quarter in a year. It is difficult to see how the 660 prisoners aged between 18 and 21 are going to walk out of those prison doors as reformed human beings with a future.
Glen Parva may look bleak, but it would be a mistake to treat it as an exception. Suicides in prisons have jumped by an astonishing 69% in the last year; and self-harm overall is 27% higher than when the coalition assumed power. Prisons are expected to impose budget cuts of up to a quarter, even as they have to deal with the highest incarceration rate in western Europe. Take Nottingham Prison, which holds 1,000 prisoners even though it is only supposed to accommodate about 700, leading prison officers to warn that assaults are soaring because of overcrowding and budget cuts.
Under the John Major and Tony Blair administrations, the number of young people aged between 10 and 17 who are locked up trebled. For those who think prison works, the figures offer a frightening rendezvous with reality: over 70% of under-18s reoffend within 12 months of being released. Prison isn’t helping them, and it isn’t helping keep people safe either.
Prisoners are, by and large, people who have been failed. According to the Prison Reform Trust, 62% of male and 52% of female prisoners have at least one personality disorder. How locking them all up deals with these underlying conditions – particularly when they are confronted with the conditions of institutions like Glen Parva – is an unanswered mystery. There is an undoubted race element, too. In 2010, black people were five times more likely to be incarcerated, and those figures are unlikely to have improved since then.
Our prison system tells us a lot about our society. The law exists to clamp down on the misdemeanours of the poor, but the far more socially destructive behaviour of the rich is tolerated. Financiers did not end up imprisoned for helping to plunge the world into economic disaster, and yet the director of public prosecutions was last year talking about imposing prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who commit benefit fraud.
Does that mean I’m advocating redressing the balance, imposing strict new laws that drag the well-heeled into overcrowded prison cells? In actual fact, I wouldn’t have imprisoned my Guardian colleague Chris Huhne, or even Andy Coulson either. Except for those who commit violent and particularly wicked crimes, we should not be locking up tens of thousands each year, whether they be a mentally distressed young black man, or a prosperous well-connected pillar of the establishment. But until we find another way, these prisons will continue to serve as overcrowded dens of misery, where human beings are left to fester, dumped out of sight until they reoffend all over again.Finally, Rob Allen feels things are so bad, only a Royal Commission will do:-
There is something deeply troubling about such tolerance of poor standards and the need for a fundamental and independent examination of the state of our prisons. While the Inspectorate does valuable work day in day out to document what is happening, its status is not strong enough to insist on change. The inconvenient truths it uncovers can, and have been ignored or swatted aside by Chris Grayling. At the very least, like OFSTED, it needs a strong Chair and greater powers.
But something more is needed. As we approach the twenty fifth anniversary of the Strangeways disturbances in 1990, we need a judge led investigation into the prison system, its standards, resources, staffing and monitoring arrangements. If the government will not set a Royal commission or something similar , Labour should do so. Lord Woolf may not himself feel like revisiting the field of his magisterial inquiry but something like his investigation is needed if we are to avoid the kind of disaster which prompted it.PS I notice this from Simon Israel at Channel 4 news :-
Today Labour held a prison summit. We were not allowed in. The Howard League for Penal Reform was among some prison charities which didn’t turn up. They are uncomfortable about providing the Government with room to accuse them of being the opposition’s poodles.
So you would think there would be a lot to talk about on our programme. But no one from the Ministry of Justice wants to. We have made repeated requests and the refusal seems at odds with Chris Grayling’s recently expressed desire to promote his department’s transparency.PPS And this from Frances Crook's blog:-
Today Labour held a ‘summit’ on the crisis in prisons and I was invited to attend. I decided in the end it was not appropriate as the Labour press office sent out a notice pre-empting the discussion by listing the policies the party had already decided on, many of which I think are wrong or trivial. Secondly, the event was branded as so partisan that I felt it was inappropriate for a charity to attend. I meet with Labour MPs, Conservative MPs, LibDems and Plaid, and peers from across the House and am pleased to discuss our research and ideas.