While we wait for news regarding a legal challenge to TR, we would do well to keep an eye on the growing crisis in prison, starting with the very sobering news as to how the situation is leading to a dramatic rise in the suicide rate, outlined here in the Guardian:-
Inmate suicide figures expose human toll of prison crisis
The human toll of the crisis gripping prisons in England and Wales is exposed with new figures obtained by the Guardian revealing that 125 prisoners have killed themselves in 20 months – an average of more than six a month.
For the first time the Guardian has identified the individuals behind the statistics that show suicide is at its highest rate in prisons for nine years, and there is no sign that the scale of the tragedy is being checked. The investigation, which examined all suicides between January 2013 and 28 August 2014, found four women and 121 men, aged between 18 and 74, killed themselves in the adult prison system. Since then and up to 2 October another nine men, aged between 21 and 46, killed themselves, bringing the total number of self-inflicted deaths since January 2013 to 134. Three people killed themselves on one day, 1 September 2014.
The Prison Service ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, described the deaths as “utterly unacceptable” in a modern age and said they reflected the “rising tide of despair” across the prison system. He said his recommendations to save future lives were being ignored. “There is no question the Prison Service is more challenged now than [it has been] in a generation,” Newcomen said. “My job is to draw lessons from these individual human tragedies and I don’t think that adequate heed has been taken of them.” He said the “appalling upsurge in suicides” meant there was a need to review the approach within prisons, including “more resources being applied”.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, has repeatedly claimed that there is no pattern to the rise in suicides in the last 20 months. But the Guardian has identified distinct themes in many of the deaths, after examining reports from inquests, speaking to family lawyers and relatives, and analysing the investigations by the Prison Service ombudsman.
These include: failures in the assessment of risk in the face of obvious warning signs, lack of training for prison staff, inadequate monitoring once risk was identified, and insufficient communication with families, particularly in the case of vulnerable young inmates. Many of those who took their own lives had mental health problems.The growing prison crisis is examined in detail from a former prisoner's perspective on the excellent blog by Alex Cavendish:-
Chris Grayling: Cooking Up a Prison Crisis
As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I refer in many posts to the ongoing crisis in our prisons. In my view this is attributable to three key factors: substantial budget reductions, serious overcrowding in many establishments and shortages of frontline staff. This sad state of affairs is, of course, denied by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). They prefer to use the weasel word ‘challenging’ and pretend that all is well in our nicks.The Guardian highlights the concern over whistleblowing as tension rises:-
Whichever way you choose to look at the problem, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny the facts. We have too many people in prison (many of them non-violent offenders or unconvicted people held on remand) and too few staff to manage them. This dangerous combination of factors is creating a highly toxic mix.
According to the latest report prepared by the Howard League for Penal Reform, using the MOJ’s own figures, the number of prison officers at public-sector prisons has been cut by 41 percent in under four years (see here).
These statistics reveal that there were just 14,170 officer grades at the end of June 2014, compared to more than 24,000 at the end of August 2010. According to the report, a total of 1,375 frontline staff posts went as a result of the closure of 15 public-sector prisons. However, if you are going to make a real humdinger of a prison crisis that will by talked about for years, then these are the sort of reductions that will be essential. Remember, crushing staff morale is absolutely essential in your prison crisis recipe.
When you have your overcrowded, highly volatile cons on one side and your demoralised, understaffed screws on the other, the next phase is to mix the two together and stir vigorously. A great way to get cons to kick off is to introduce a revised and politically-motivated Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system that even most prison governors reckon is unfair and undermines respect. Confiscating a con’s personal possessions that they have saved up for over many months or even years is a really great way to ratchet up the tensions.
Prison whistleblowers being threatened with dismissal
Whistleblowers in the Prison Service are being threatened with dismissal for raising serious concerns about their ability to keep inmates safe and their fears over soaring levels of violence. The attempts to silence staff have been condemned by a Conservative member of parliament, who was approached in confidence by a number of officers working at a prison in his constituency during the summer with details of how staffing shortages were causing concerns over safety.
The MP, Gavin Williamson, said the “arrogant, high-handed” attitude to those raising legitimate concerns risked creating another scandal in the public sector on the scale of the Mid Staffordshire affair in the NHS. After the MP was approached an officer was singled out by the prison service and has been served a disciplinary notice which could end with his dismissal. Williamson told the Guardian: “It’s a totally disgraceful situation and goes against everything that we want to be seeing within the public sector, where whistleblowing needs to be encouraged when the concerns of those working within the system are not being addressed internally.”
Officers are facing dismissal after raising concerns about the high levels of violence within prisons, their fears for their own safety and that of inmates, and predicting that short staffing will lead to more rioting. In HMP Lewes Kim Lennon is fighting for her job after raising her worries about the safety of her and her colleagues in the local newspaper in August. Allegations of a crackdown on whistleblowers follow an investigation by the Guardian which revealed that a distinct patterns of failings was contributing to more than six suicides of prisoners a month on average. Between January last year and 2 October this year, 134 inmates took their own lives – three on one day in September 2014.
The shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, has urged ministers to launch an urgent inquiry into the rising rate of suicides in prisons. “Time and again the chief inspector has warned that staff shortages and overcrowding are the underlying causes of violence and deaths. Yet ministers have their fingers in their ears, and carry on denying there’s a prisons crisis,” he said.
The allegations come ahead of the chief inspector of prisons’ annual report. The report, due out on Tuesday, will give a detailed examination of the state of prisons in England and Wales. Williamson said he was approached by prison officers from HMP Featherstone in his constituency of South Staffordshire who brought their concerns about the rising levels of violence, their anger that inmates were not being brought to justice for attacks against staff and how short staffing was affecting safety.