Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Prison in Crisis

1) Independent 31st July:-

Prisons have been hit by a tide of violence, with soaring levels of attacks, suicides and self-harm among offenders crammed into cells, an array of damning Ministry of Justice figures have disclosed. More inmates are absconding, fewer sex offenders completing treatment courses and nearly 20 per cent of jails in England and Wales are judged to be struggling to cope with the pressure on them.

Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, was warned the bleak picture proved the prison system was close to breaking point. Critics said jails had become “death traps” and claimed the crisis was an inevitable result of deep spending cuts during the austerity drive. The department said almost 14,500 assaults were recorded in the 12 months to the end of March, a rise of seven per cent, with even steeper increases in serious attacks and violence against prison staff. The disturbing trend emerged as it emerged that an officer had part of his ear bitten off this week by an inmate at Nottingham Prison.

The MoJ revealed the number of prison suicides reached a nine-year high, with 88 inmates killing themselves, compared with 52 during the previous 12 months. Rates of self-harm were up by seven per cent and are now more than a quarter higher than in 2010. The department’s performance tables show that overall standards at 28 of the 126 jails are judged to be “of concern”, more than twice as many as last year.

They include the three opened since the election – Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, and Isis and Thameside, both of which are in south London – as well as Bristol, Brixton and Leeds prisons. The performance of another jail, Brinsford young offenders institution in Staffordshire is rated as being of “serious concern”.

A total of 225 inmates escaped or absconded from jails last year, an increase of 21, including 137 who walked out of open prisons. Police announced that Wayne Whitley, who is serving a life sentence for a series of violent armed robberies, had disappeared from Kirkham open prison in Lancashire.

The jail population in England and Wales stands at 85,730, an increase of 1,678 in 12 months and a rise of 69 in the last week alone. The national crowding rate was 22.9 per cent in 2013/14, meaning nearly one in four prisoners is being held in a cell where the number of occupants exceeds its “uncrowded” capacity.

In a further blow for Mr Grayling’s pledge to boost rehabilitation, the statistics showed falls in the number of sex offenders completing courses designed to tackle their behaviour and the number of inmates finishing drug rehabilitation courses.

2) Independent yesterday 11th August:-

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s policy ‘responsible for prisoner suicides’

Overcrowding and staff shortages in England’s jails are now so bad that they are directly fuelling a rise in the number of prisoners killing themselves, the Chief Inspector of Prisons warns today. In an interview with The Independent, Nick Hardwick said it was “not credible” for the Government to deny a link between pressures on the prison system and a big increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths.

His intervention comes as the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, faces increasing criticism over his handling of the prison system, amid claims that jails have become “death traps” as a result of steep budget cuts.

Mr Hardwick said prisoner suicides were “not acceptable in a civilised country” and said that if ministers wanted the prison population to rise then they needed to provide the “resources to deal with that rise as well”.

His comments come ahead of a report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman that is due to be published tomorrow into self-inflicted deaths of 18 to 24-year-old prisoners following a spate of recent suicides. In the year to March 88 people took their own lives in English and Welsh prisons – a rise from 52 in the previous year. Since January this year 44 people have committed suicide in jail while the number of incidents of self-harm increased by more than 750 in a year to 23,478. Attacks against staff have also increased by 10 per cent.

Mr Hardwick revealed that in one prison he inspected there had been two self-inflicted deaths shortly before they visited and a further two afterwards despite his warning prison management that the institution was “unsafe”.

“There has certainly been deterioration over the last year. Prisons are less safe,” he said. “The reasons why any individual who is despairing tips over into a suicide are very diverse,” he said. “But if you put together the lack of staffing levels, the overcrowding, the lack of activity, then I don’t think it is credible to deny that those are contributory factors.”

His comments were backed by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, who said: “Government policy has led to people dying unnecessarily.”

But a Prison Service spokesperson claimed they “always have and we always will ensure there are enough staff to deliver safe and effective prison regimes”. “We have a high proportion of people with mental health issues in the prison population, and we are working very hard to understand the recent fluctuations in self-inflicted deaths. Reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths is a key priority.”

3) Channel 4 News last night:-

Our criminal justice system considers the most severe punishment a criminal can receive is that of imprisonment. Some criminals are dangerous, others are mentally ill, some have serious addiction problems, and others have just made a serious mistake. However, what links them all together is that they are in jail, a punishment which should take away their liberty and some of their comforts. But just how hard is it in jail?

Our whistleblower has told us that while there have always been drugs and violence in jails, it is now, in his experience, at unacceptable levels. All types of drugs, from cannabis, spice, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy - you name it, it's inside, it's available. This view seems to be backed up by confidential internal reports, compiled by the National Offender Management Service, that Channel 4 News has seen.

In the last 10 days the following drugs and illicit items have been recovered:

At HMP Guys Marsh a package was recovered from a sterile area inside the prison which contained four mobile phones, nine SIM cards and 11 packages containing the drug spice.
At HMP Altcourse two separate incidents resulted in the recovery from inside the prison of: 11 mobiles phones, 15 SIM cards, a large quantity of cannabis, eight needles, two syringes and 2.6g of skunk.

A prison officer, who we have called Andy (not his real name), who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, told us: "The staff are bringing contraband in. Every jail has a problem with it, would be foolish for anyone to say it wasn't a problem. Staff bring illicit items in."

He also told me: "All types of drugs, from cannabis, spice, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy - you name it, it's inside, it's available. Just depends on how much you want to pay for it. I've been told by prisoners that drugs are easier to get hold of in jail than on the street."

I have been told by the many officers that I have spoken with that security is a major issue - with cell searches almost non-existent and searching of staff and prisoners often no more than a simple pat-down. This is because of the serious lack of staff, high sickness levels, and low morale among staff.

Over the last five months we have heard of major disturbances at HMP Northumberland, and most recently at HMP Ranby in Nottinghamshire, but the true picture of violence inside our jails is much more worrying. In the last 10 days Channel 4 News has seen the internal reports of disturbances at HMP Dartmoor, where three prisoners armed with broken broom handles climbed over the railings, and at HMP Parc, where seven prisoners barricaded themselves into an area - and where minor injuries were reported.

Most shockingly, our investigation has revealed that a convicted murderer - who the judge described as committing a premeditated, brutal and savage attack on his wife - is driving prisoners from HMP North Sea Camp to and from appointments and work. Geoffrey Austin, 69, was convicted in November 1997 for the premeditated murder of his wife Sandra Austin, who he stabbed 17 times. He was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 14 years.

Austin is in denial, refusing to accept that he killed her, and even though he has served his minimum sentence, he has not been considered suitable for release by the Parole Board. Yet, shockingly, he is considered safe enough to drive the Prison Service minibus - unsupervised - with just him and multiple prisoners on board, taking them to various locations and dropping and picking them up.

One source within the Prison Service that we spoke to claims that the prisoners call the minibus the "Black Mamba" - the name given to a synthetic cannabinoids drug - because it is used to bring drugs back into the jail. And while HMP North Sea Camp is a category D "open prison", is it really acceptable for a brutal murderer - who is still serving his sentence and not yet deemed fit for release - to have sole control and responsibility for other prisoners?

When I asked Andy who runs jails, he said: "I'd like to say the staff, the officers do - and they do to a certain extent. But more and more prisoners haven't got any respect any more. I don't know if it's the gang culture that's outside the prison that they carry on inside the prison, but the respect has gone out of the window. They don't care any more. They seem to think it's a bit of a joke - it's like prison is not scary for youngsters any more."

In response, Justice Minister Andrew Selous said: 

"We take allegations by any whistleblower seriously but many of the allegations that Channel 4 News are making are simply not true... the level of positive drug tests in prisons have fallen sharply when compared to a decade ago. We do not tolerate violence of any kind in prison and any assault is treated extremely seriously. The level of violence in prisons is lower than it was a decade ago. Of course there are sometimes problems - but anyone caught will be dealt with severely and may be referred to the police for prosecution."

4) Internal memo from Michael Spurr:-

The last few weeks have been very difficult for the Prison Service with constant media focus and claims of ‘prisons in crisis'. I have not tried to underplay the difficulties we currently face – but we are not in 'crisis'.

We have fewer staff than we need – particularly in the South and we have had to take action and adapt regimes to respond to this. We have a more difficult younger adult population who are more prone to violence and we have had a worrying rise in both serious assaults and suicides. I am continuing to visit prisons regularly (Hindley today is my 22nd visit this year) to ensure that I do hear directly from staff what it’s like ‘on the ground’. Despite the difficulties what I find when I walk the landings are dedicated staff continuing to do a difficult job incredibly well.

There is undoubtedly pressure on the system as a result of the higher population and staff vacancies - but we are pulling together and managing the pressures effectively and professionally.

This week I met with trades unions to reinforce the priority we are giving to safety, security and decency; to reaffirm my commitment to partnership working; and to discuss the action we are taking to address the current issues. I was encouraged and heartened by those discussions.

Trades union colleagues confirmed their support for our strategy to secure the future of HM Prison Service in the public sector. Benchmarking is a necessary part of that strategy – and the evidence is that where we have the right numbers of staff in place Benchmarking is working well and delivering good quality regimes.

We have worked closely with our trades unions to develop the benchmarking approach and to address implementation issues and concerns. As a result:

• We have agreed to an additional 700 posts in prisons above the initial benchmark numbers – to ensure we are able to deliver safe and secure regimes
• We are in advanced discussions about further options to improve the operation of the core day, particularly in adult locals/category B and C prisons – including a review of the main shift arrangements - particularly at weekends
• We have issued Regime Management Plan guidance agreed with the POA to support prisons who are operating below target staffing levels and we are coordinating a national detached duty scheme to ensure that every prison can deliver a consistent safe and decent regime
• We are recruiting and training over 1,700 officers – to cover the 800 current vacancies in prisons and to meet natural turnover over the next 12 months. We also have campaigns in place to recruit over 300 new instructors to provide more activity places for prisoners across the estate.
In addition we are working together to improve our response to violence and we are receiving unequivocal support from the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling and from our new Prisons' Minister, Andrew Selous – who have personally championed the importance of prosecutions for staff assaults with the CPS.

Despite the current pressures our delivery record remains impressive – and that's a credit to the resilience professionalism and commitment of colleagues in all grades across the Service.

Thanks for all your hard work and support – it is appreciated. 

Michael Spurr
NOMS Chief Executive Officer

5) Michael Spurr also runs the Probation Service.


  1. It is always difficult for politicians to spin a row of corpses

  2. "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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Cameron and Clegg's and all the other polician's who have used crime for electoral purposes rather than first striving for the most effective CJS possible are having their chickens coming home to roost.

    Spurr's staff memo and priority seems good but the person who has sole management responsibility for prisons should not be encumbered with probation as well which should be a resource managed by a local democratic system with national support, guidance and oversight.

    That the appointment of the government minister responsible was almost an afterthought after the salaries had ben spent and that it has had little media attention is dreadful.

  6. 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

    1. I have responded to this elsewhere - I believe situation is beyond serious and potentially VERY dangerous: -

      https://www.facebook.com/Knowthedangeruk/posts/10152302812816527?reply_comment_id=10152302868006527&total_comments=1 (need to scroll down - I cannot arrange it to go straight to the comment I made there)

    2. Before I responded - I had read the latest from Sadiq Khan - who still (like Grayling) seems to be trying to score political points out of the danger.


    3. I also think that putting a complete prison community of soley sex offenders under the management of G4 (or indeed any private sector company driven by profit), is also of very serious concern.


    4. Violent incidents at Rye Hill prison have increased over the past year, a report has found.

      They include attacks between inmates and against staff, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said.

      The jail, on the Warwickshire-Northamptonshire border, is changing from a mainstream prison to house only sex offenders.

      The IMB said inmates talked of "low level unease", over disruption as a result of the transformation.

      Its report covered the period between April 2013 and March 2014 and highlighted several "strategic and operational changes" that took place at the G4S-run category B prison over the year, prompting "inevitable periods of instability".

      Major concerns have been over the "levels of violence and serious incidents which have remained higher than previous years and has included assaults on both staff and other prisoners", the IMB report said.

      However, it concluded that once the change to a sex offender-only jail population was complete, inmates were of a category "less likely to challenge via physical violence", and therefore it did not require an "action response" to the issues found.

      A G4S spokesperson said: "Whilst we are pleased that staff planned and executed a smooth transition [into a sex offender-only jail], we note the points in the report and will consider those that are applicable to the new prison."

      The Ministry of Justice has yet to comment.

  7. 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.

  8. Off topic, but an interesting read.


  9. This is a small extraction from the above article:

    "Still, this SIB offers evidence that getting good people working on the same project for a long period of time, with freedom to pick the best interventions, is an effective tactic. You’d hope this doesn’t come as too much of a shock, but it seems to have surprised some people".

    Bloody hell this is how the Probation Service worked when I started, before national Standards. We are professional we can do it all without politicians and without much of the management we have.

    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.


  10. Serco-Owned HMP Doncaster Locks Prisoners Up Without Water or Electricity for Two Days

    By Tabatha Kinder | IB Times – 1 hour 27 minutes agoHMP 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 yearToday'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."

  11. It is truly disturbing how much of a war zone our prison system has turned out to be. Instead of rehabbing our prisoners, we are essentially teaching them how to be better criminals. Will we ever learn? What we need is more education, job opportunities, and compassion for those caught up in the endless loop of prison life.