Friday, 30 January 2015

Grayling on the Ropes

Thank goodness for Channel 4 news! Last night's special highlighting the on-going crisis in our prisons was absolutely brilliant and it was pure magic to see the hapless Michael Spurr get a damned-good mauling having been thrown to the lions by Chris Grayling:- 

Prisoners on Instagram reveal security crisis behind bars

Highlighting a lack of security, UK prisoners are brazenly uploading pictures of drugs, cash and even a dangerous weapon on their illegal social media accounts, a Channel 4 News investigation finds. Channel 4 News has uncovered a cache of pictures and videos posted to password protected social media sites by prisoners. The images obtained reveal contraband, violence, a weapon, piles of cash and alleged drug dealing.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice revealed that serious assaults in prisons in England and Wales had reached a 10-year high. In the year to September 2014 there were 1,958 assaults including 431 against staff. In 2013 the number of mobile phones retrieved by prison staff was 7,451 - despite the fact that prisoners found with smart phones can have up to two years added to their sentence.

According figures from the Ministry of Justice, the number of drug seizures in prisons has significantly increased. In the year to the end of March 2011, there were 3,700 drug seizures - this had risen to nearly 4,500 in 2013-14. So why isn't more being done to tackle the problem? Union leaders blame the cuts.

Peter McFarlin, chairman of the prison officers association (POA), told Channel 4 News that security operations in UK prisons have become "impossible" due to lack of staff: "It's extremely disheartening for professional prison staff, but they need resources to be able to combat that sort of activity. Since 2010, 7,500 frontline operational prison staff have left the service, 3,500 in one calendar year to 2014 - that means that targeted searching is not taking place, basic searching is not taking place, intelligence-led operations are going to be impossible to perform within the prison as they were in the past."

While unions complain of a shortage of staff, Channel 4 News also heard that the wrong sort of staff were part of the problem. A recently released former prisoner who blogs about criminal justice under the alias Alex Cavendish, identified prison officers and staff as the main way that contraband was getting in: 

"prisons are awash with drugs both legal (legal highs) and illegal. The main way that they come into prisons is through staff. The amount that prisoners or visitors can smuggle in is minute compared to the amount that is available on the prison wing. Corrupt staff play a role in this, whether uniformed staff or civilian staff such as people in education or maintenance.”

Channel 4 News also accessed still images and video of prisoners with cash: a breach of rules that ban prisoners from retaining physical currency.

Former prisoner-turned-blogger Alex Cavendish told Channel 4 News he had witnessed vulnerable officers being targeted to supply contraband by prisoners who blackmailed them using personal data they had uncovered via the internet. When pressed on why he had never reported anything, he said prisoners who do are in a "vulnerable position".

In 2006 a leaked prison service report estimated up to 1,000 corrupt staff may be involved in smuggling. According to 2011 Ministry of Justice figures given to Channel 4 News, in the three preceeding years 92 prison staff had been dismissed, 78 convicted, and 167 staff who work for other agencies within the prison service had been excluded from such work.

Lock knife seen in a prison cell

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and even the MoJ spin-doctors will find it hard putting up a smokescreen in response to all the prisoner Instagram pics Channel 4 managed to unearth. No wonder Grayling decided not to show up. 

The situation in prisons is getting dire and Chris Grayling's position is rapidly becoming untenable as all his chickens come home to roost. To put the tin hat on things, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick could barely contain his glee and obviously delighted in rubbing salt into his bosses wounds by stating he intended to 'carry on telling it as it is whilst-ever he's still in post'. Of course we know that won't be for much longer, Grayling having already given him his marching orders for being rather too thorough an HMI.

As if this wasn't bad enough, there were times in the past when a story like this would lead to a Minister doing the honourable thing and resign:-

Data from death inquiries lost by Ministry of Justice

Discs containing information from three of the UK's most sensitive inquiries have gone missing after being put in the post. The material relates to inquiries into the role of the police in the deaths of three men, Mark Duggan, Azelle Rodney and Robert Hamill.

Officials realised the discs were missing three weeks ago and one member of staff has since been suspended. The government said it took the loss "extremely seriously".

Two of the investigations in question relate to fatal police shootings of crime suspects in London - an inquest into the death of Mark Duggan in 2011 and an inquiry into the death of Azelle Rodney in 2005.

The third is an inquest into the 1997 murder of Robert Hamill by loyalists in Portadown, Northern Ireland, which campaigners claim involved the collusion of police officers. In each inquiry there were witnesses, including police officers, who were given anonymity because of possible threats to their safety. Officials have not confirmed whether any of the missing documents included personal information relating to these witnesses.


  1. Gor Blimey - The work of probation is central to today's Thought for The Day on R4.

    Good blog JB.

    A.s.H - keep up the good work. Don't disappear feller.

  2. And of course you just send such sensetive (and classified) data in the post?? Royal mail- really?
    Have to ask, what sort of other stuff do the MoJ stick a stamp on and drop in a little red letter box.
    Not Graylings expense forms for sure!!

  3. Midlands probation will be sending documents through royal mail from next week

  4. You couldn't make this stuff up could you? What is happening in the MoJ and NOMS is a complete farce and gets worse with every news report.

  5. Its happening in individual offices as managers try and negotiate a total split with one hand whilst Senior Managers exhort the importance of working closely with NPS/CRC....meanwhile CEOs travel around telling us all that everything in the garden is the ORA comes in this weekend can we decide who is responsible for the lack of a coherent training package prior to this event other that the SOS who is the Chief architect of the whole thing

  6. I don't believe it30 January 2015 at 13:23

    Team briefing today stating that 100% of PSR's to be done in court.....given that courts are committed to the electronic revolution how do we now get info from CPS, Pre-cons or do other checks with other agencies-when this was asked the answer was.....we're not sure.....not sure!! ORA is now, not in a weeks view from the ground floor is that managers are fast retreating to their ivory towers and just 'expecting' things to happen.......memo to staff-make sure you protect yourself by getting dictacts in writing.....I've never seen things so chaotic and according to the C4 news last night prisons are now increasingly dangerous places to visit..perhaps NAPO should enter this debate.....

  7. Look in reality now is the time to try to get out of court teams, everything is instant with insufficient information and when the SFOs happen this is where the mistakes will be made. Also CRCs will start to fight back about NPS Imperialism and case allocation will be court officers fault....

  8. just to briefly go back to the first paragraph on Jim's blog, to lighten the tension for a minute or 2 - How brill was Krishnan Guru Murphy on Channel 4's interview with Michael Spurr! I almost felt sorry for the man!

    That is how interviews should be done, just like Jeremy's Paxman's interview with a certain other more derisive Michael, several years ago -' did you or didn't you threaten him?'. aah, those were the days.

    It's just a pity that the one sitting in the other chair wasn't the pathetic scaredy cat who turned down the interview with no excuse- now THAT would have been worth watching..

    1. I think I meant to say 'derisory'? Or will both words suit???


    1. “When I was taken down, they said, ‘Look, when you get to prison, you have to put your head down and walk forward.’ So that’s what I did. I was having a shock reaction. A lot of it I can’t remember, even though it was only three-and-a-half months ago.” Ayishah is demure, intensely distressed, in her early 50s and beginning a three-and-a-half-year sentence for money laundering at New Hall women’s prison in Wakefield. Previously, she was a GP.

      We are talking in one of the squat, single-room buildings that sit opposite one residential wing of New Hall. Ayishah is one of the people supported by an organisation called Muslim Women in Prison. Nicola, 33, is nearing the end of a three-and-a-half-year sentence for robbery and is part of the Together Women Project (TWP). She was in prison once before, but isn’t a classic recidivist – there was a decade between her two sentences. “The last time I was in prison,” she says, “none of these service were available. You were in jail, you were sent out; if you had nowhere to go, that was your problem.”

      Everybody knows that prisons are not as simple as sending people away and having them slip back seamlessly into society afterwards as if nothing has happened. Women’s prisons are particularly complicated, and this week the justice minister, Simon Hughes, acknowledged the problem when he announced the rollout of a scheme to keep women from ending up behind bars. The female prison population has shot up since 1995, more than doubling by 2010; there are now around 3,800 women inmates. Yet, in that group, Hughes said, “There are so many women who ought not to be in prison. About half ought not to be there at all.”

      But they are, and many who serve one sentence will go on to serve another. As everyone agrees, the prevention of reoffending is the key aim of the penal system. From that starting point, everything else will flow: all successful rehabilitation, all prevention of crime and all avoidance of creating more victims will come from the prison estate dealing imaginatively with what happens after inmates are discharged. The big untold story in all of this is how much is down to individuals: prison officers, psychologists and people from the third sector working inside and outside the prison walls. These people are often working way beyond their job descriptions, not to targets or directives, not to improve a measured outcome, but because that’s how they are.

    2. I'm filling up.

  10. err, where are probation in this report? Airbrushed from history me thinks....

    1. Probation never existed, its always been the third sector and private companies. Probation workers have become unperson. Double plus good.

    2. Ironic the everyone still calls it Probation though.

    3. That. Not the.

    4. I like that idea of 'the everyone' - a body of opinion, perhaps?

    5. You're right. Anyone knows it's the them!.