It's been ages since the last roundup. First off from the Guardian, the Prison Governors recently confirmed what we all know:-
Prison staff shortages approaching tipping point, says top governor
Jails across England and Wales are facing an unprecedented “toxic mix” of increasing prisoner numbers, chronic staff shortages and rising violence that is driving them towards instability, prison governors have warned. Eoin McLennan-Murray, the outgoing president of the Prison Governors’ Association, dismissed claims by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, that although jails faced pressures they did not amount to a crisis.
In his valedictory address on Tuesday, McLennan-Murray said that in his 36 years in the prison service he had never known a situation “as challenging, tough and difficult and as bad as it is now”, in the wake of a 30% reduction in prison staff numbers and much harsher rhetoric from ministers. “Prisons are moving towards and tending to instability. The only thing that will stop that is if we get staff back into our prisons and normalise our regimes. It seems to be there’s a race now on. That race is: can we get sufficient staff into our prisons before we reach tipping polnt?” McLennan-Murray said at the PGA annual conference. “I don’t know how we can reverse the situation. It is a worrying time.”
A series of damning reports by the chief inspector of prisons on individual jails have detailed a rise in violence among a record prison population of 85,000, a large proportion of whom spend most of their days locked up on restricted regimes with little to do. Despite repeated warnings by the chief inspector and penal reformers, Grayling has remained adamant that there is no crisis and that overcrowding remains below the levels under the last government.Talking of the chief inspector, it looks like Chris Grayling intends to rid himself of a troublesome incumbent who just brings him bad news. This from Eric Allison in the Guardian last week:-
Getting rid of the prisons inspector would just be shooting the messenger
A reliable source had told me Chris Grayling, the justice minister, wanted rid of Hardwick following a series of damning inspection reports on prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs), since he was appointed in 2010. Whereas predecessors had often been critical, unusually, every recent inspection by Hardwick was damning. My source indicated Hardwick wanted to serve a second term, as did his predecessor, Anne Owers. But a spokesperson for the MoJ says that Hardwick’s tenure expires next June and that “it is simply policy to readvertise the role at the end of the five-year appointment”: no decision has been made. But they did not readvertise Owers’ second contract. So I trust my source more than I do the MoJ, and my belief is that Grayling wants Hardwick out.
This is not the first time chief inspectors have fallen foul of ministers. The same fate befell Ramsbotham, who held the role from 1995-2001. In his case, the axe was wielded by Jack Straw, who had always spoken up for prison reform, until he became home secretary after the 1997 election. Rambotham’s term was for five years, extendable, by mutual agreement, to up to eight years. But, in the event, Straw telephoned the chief inspector in 2000 and told him an announcement would be made in parliament that day that Ramsbotham was retiring and his post advertised. Not a word about “mutual agreement”.
So the question is whether Grayling is following Straw’s suit and shooting the messenger. What could have Hardwick done to deserve dismissal? He has told the truth. Ramsbotham describes him as a “fearless reporter of the facts”. The prison system is in meltdown and Hardwick tells it as it is. That does not sit comfortably with this government which would have us believe the criminal justice system is doing just fine, thank you.The Parole Board recently voiced concerns as reported here, again in the Guardian:-
With our prisons bursting at the seams, it is shocking to hear Sir David Calvert-Smith, who chairs the Parole Board for England and Wales, say that prisoners are not being released as early as they should be. He lays the blame at the board's increased workload following a supreme court ruling last year which has led to a huge backlog in parole board hearings.
"The pressure brought upon us by the Osborn ruling, has meant, and will continue to mean for some months that the backlogs will grow. And that means more people staying in prison for longer than they would otherwise have done," says Calvert-Smith. "We have already increased our workload by 45% by working more smartly, running pilots in which instead of having three panel members we have two so we can hold more hearings."
In July, the board had 780 cases against the usual 400-500. "In due course, if the delays get any longer or a delay in a particular case gets longer we will have to pay damages," he says. "Even though it's not our fault, we owe them a hearing and we haven't given them one."
Ever since its inception under a Labour government in 1967 the decision-making process of the parole board has been a bit of a mystery to prisoners. A bigger mystery for today's prison population is when they might actually get a hearing. Before the supreme court ruling in October 2013, the majority of prisoners who wanted to challenge the lawfulness of their imprisonment had their case decided at paper hearings where a panel of one, two or three members sat and made their decision after reading a dossier of reports and representations. Oral hearings numbered around 5,000 a year. Now, prisoners have the right to a face-to-face oral hearing. As a result, the number has doubled, creating a huge backlog with hearings being delayed by six months or more. To cope with the mounting workload the government increased the board's budget by 10% to £12.6m.As we all await news as to who will be awarded contracts to run the CRCs for the next 10 years, this is an interesting observation from an insider to the process:-
The Transforming Rehabilitation programme has been ambitious, and has affected a huge amount of change within tight timescales. It is perhaps inevitable then that there have been shortfalls in planning and execution of the programme to date. Here’s just one indication of that; at a recent training event provided by the Cabinet Office on the new EU procurement rules (to be implemented this year... consultation out now!) the trainer noted that if a procurement team receives too many clarification questions it’s an indication that the procurement itself is flawed. By the time TR bids were being submitted, the log of clarification questions submitted by bidders to the MoJ procurement team ran to over 2,000!As the lawyers continue to do battle with Chris Grayling over legal aid cuts, and regroup following their recent legal challenge victory, I can't help feeling we could learn a lot from them:-
There is everything to play for. Only this time around we should have the full backing of the Law Society, the MOJ know we are serious in our commitment to upholding the law, and we have shown we are prepared to fight, with a campaign funded by thousands and the simple power of argument in a Court that recognises unfairness and illegality even if the Ministry of Justice cannot. Please join us in this fight. Join the LCCSA or CLSA today or just pledge to the fighting fund (contribute here). I know that both organisations will write to all members in the very near future with help on how to respond to the latest consultation. Spread the word. Stay informed. This isn't over yet.Finally, we learn from the Independent that apparently the Tories have 'only made three mistakes' and two of them are 'minor'. Bloody hell. Is history really going to record that destroying the world-class Probation Service was only a 'minor' mistake?
Government’s reorganisation of the NHS was its biggest 'mistake', say senior Tories
The Government’s reorganisation of the NHS was its biggest “mistake”, senior Conservatives have reportedly admitted. Labour has pledged to repeal the “toxic” 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which saw a major restructuring of how the NHS is funded. Some claim the bill was designed to pave the way for private firms to take over much of the running of the health service or even its privatisation. Experts said the reorganisation, which is estimated to have cost about £3bn, had caused “profound and intense” damage to the NHS with one saying former Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, would be facing disciplinary action if he had been a doctor.
A senior Cabinet minister told The Times newspaper: “We’ve made three mistakes that I regret, the first being restructuring the NHS. The rest are minor.”
One insider said the plans, which were drawn up by Mr Lansley, were “unintelligible gobbledygook” and an ally of Chancellor George Osborne said: “George kicks himself for not having spotted it and stopped it. He had the opportunity then and he didn’t take it.”
A former No 10 adviser also told The Times: “No one apart from Lansley had a clue what he was really embarking on, certainly not the Prime Minister. He [Lansley] kept saying his grand plans had the backing of the medical establishment and we trusted him. In retrospect it was a mistake.”