Chris Grayling under fire over claim Ministry of Justice ‘hid abuse and rape in jails’
Chris Grayling's Ministry of Justice blocked an investigation into the hidden problem of rape and sexual abuse in British prisons, it has emerged. The Howard League for Penal Reform today publishes a report claiming that as many as 1,650 prisoners may have been sexually abused while serving sentences - but says the work of its independent commission into the issue has been hampered by a lack of co-operation from Mr Grayling’s department. Researchers were barred from interviewing serving prisoners about the experiences of coercive sex - meaning they had to rely on testimony from convicts who had completed their sentences.
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League, said: “Prisons are meant to be safe places where the law is enforced, not places where people are under threat of sexual violence and rape. It is therefore particularly disappointing that the Ministry of Justice refused to allow the Commission to interview prisoners directly.”
Mr Grayling is facing growing questions about the deterioration of prison conditions under his watch. Prison governors have repeatedly warned that some jails becoming “death traps” as they struggle to accommodate an increasing population of more than 85,000 while implementing budget cuts of up to 24 per cent over the past three years. Recent figures showed that violence, suicide and self-harm among prisoners are on the rise.
According to today’s report from the Howard League’s Commission on Sex in Prison, data from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) show that at least one per cent of prisoners report being sexually abused in prison. The Howard League calculates that between 850 to 1,650 prisoners could sexual assaulted while serving sentences, with evidence suggesting that some victims will be assaulted more than once.Then there's this in the Guardian:-
Prisoner suicides: the dire cost of Tory tough-guy posturing on crime
Ken Clarke made genuine efforts to reduce prison numbers; professionals said at the time that it was the first time in years they’d had a justice secretary who understood the prison estate and what it needed. Clearly that was a PR disaster for the Conservatives, for whom “understanding” is a dirty word; Chris Grayling, his replacement, seems to take a kind of giddy delight in how little he comprehends of a business before “reforming” it.
As a direct result of his policies and tough-guy posturing, the number of prisoners increases every week. It even went up in August, which is unheard of because courts are on holiday. Suicides have gone up by 64%. Everybody knows what causes suicides in prison. Too many inmates have mental health problems and shouldn’t even be in prison in the first place. Had the sentencing magistrate been better trained, or simply more sensitive, they would have been handed a community sentence and stood a chance of getting the healthcare they needed (though, considering the underfunding of mental health services, not a very strong chance). However, that has long been the case. The recent change to explain this spike is overcrowding and understaffing. Wandsworth prison four years ago was a huge success story of modern jailcraft – it had a flagship education system, award-winning sex offender rehabilitation programmes and responsive, highly trained prison officers. In 2010 it had 427 officers; this June it had 260, to manage 1,634 prisoners. Four men have killed themselves since the beginning of the year. Frances Crook, from the Howard League charity, calculated by the Ministry of Justice’s own data that Grayling had cut staff by a third since he took over. The average local prison now has one officer for every 150 prisoners.
One appalling detail is that all deaths have shot up, even deaths from illness. Heart attacks that needn’t be fatal are, because there aren’t the staffing levels to get people to hospital in time. The NHS has contracts to deliver healthcare to inmates; these are impossible to fulfil, because no staff are available to get the prisoners to the hospital. Another consequence of this is highlighted in the Howard League’s report, out today, Coercive Sex in Prisons. Men who are raped in prison have nowhere to turn. They can’t call specialist services, because their only permitted phone calls are to pre-agreed numbers. Healthcare is probably the only avenue of support, and they are not able to access it. Instead, sexual abuse goes unreported. Victims have to carry on sharing a cell with their rapists. Tolerating the sexual abuse of prisoners is no different to tolerating the abuse of anyone else. It doesn’t do anything to help the rates of self-harm and suicide.But in the middle of all the TR omnishambles we suddenly hear this as reported in the Guardian. Is it a bit of 'window dressing' in readiness for the party conference season?
Chris Grayling plans network of mental health centres in prisons
Chris Grayling has ordered justice ministry officials to start work on developing a network of specialist mental health centres within prisons in England and Wales. The justice secretary says he wants to "really get to grips with the challenge of mental health in prisons" soon after next year's general election. "I want every prisoner who needs it to have access to the best possible treatment. I want mental health to be the priority for our system," he said in a speech on Monday to the Centre for Crime and Social Justice in London.
The Prison Reform Trust has said 15% of men and 25% of women in prison report symptoms indicative of psychosis, compared with a rate of 4% among the general public. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners are believed to have a personality disorder, and the suicide rate has been up to 15 times that in the general population.
Grayling said too many people with mental health problems were found in prisons in England and Wales. "Within most prisons you will find people suffering from acute mental health problems, often in isolation units, often needing round the clock supervision." He said there was already some excellent work going on with the NHS to develop better approaches to working with prisoners with personality disorders. "But I think it is time to provide a more specialist focus in dealing with mental health problems in our prison estate. So I have asked my officials to begin work on options to have specialist mental health centres within the prison estate.
"I have also agreed with the secretary of state for health that our two teams will work with NHS England to ensure that any prisoner who needs to can have mental health treatment equivalent to the best they would receive in the community." Grayling said a national system of liaison and diversion services was being built which would mean the mental health condition of an offender could be identified during the court process and a decision taken at that stage on where to detain him.
The justice secretary's pledge to make the mental health of prisoners a priority in the next parliament came as the chief inspectors of prisons and probation published a joint report warning that his rehabilitation reforms could be put at risk by fragmentation of the system. However effective Grayling's prison and probation reforms are, the report says, they will be undermined if offenders cannot access stable accommodation when they leave prison.
Family and friends remain vital to the successful rehabilitation of a prisoner on release, often providing a home, a job or access to education or training. The inspectors found that in a sample of 80 offenders released from prison, more than half returned home or moved in with family and friends, who also mainly arranged employment for the few who had a job to go to. Their sample survey showed that half did not have employment, training or education in place six months after their release and almost half had to move in that time.
The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said the findings supported the broad thrust of the government's reforms, which would lead to "through the gate" resettlement of prisoners being carried out by community rehabilitation companies. But the inspection report found there was a risk of fragmentation if work with families, providing accommodation and work or training were all provided by different organisations.
A new men's resettlement prison may not now open until next year as there are already enough prison places for inmates, according to the Government. Downview prison, next to High Down, in Sutton Lane, Banstead, closed as a women’s prison last October.
In May, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it would re-open as an adult male Category C resettlement prison by October. The MoJ submitted a planning application earlier this year to Reigate and Banstead Council to build a new education centre at Downview so prisoners can "use their time in custody constructively" and "learn new skills and gain qualifications before their release".
But when asked by the Epsom Guardian this week when Downview would be re-opening, a MoJ spokesman said: "We monitor prison population fluctuations and accommodation needs constantly.Currently we do not need to open Downview in October and expect to open it later in the year or early in the new year - contributing to our overall approach to drive down costs. All work at the prison remains on target to be delivered by the end of this year."
When asked to confirm that Downview will not be opening by October because there are not enough prisoners to be housed there, rather than there not being enough prison officers to be redeployed to Downview, the spokesman said: "We do not need to open Downview at this time as we have sufficient places."Finally, there's this:-
I'm seconded out to HMPS, just heard the implementation date for resettlement prisons (and therefore CRC involvement in through the gate processes) has slipped from October 2014 to January 2015. Doubt we'll see any MoJ press releases about this one. We found out via a letter from Population Management Unit to our OCA dept re: prisoner transfers back to their local Contract Package Area.