Saturday, 28 November 2015

Prison News

Yet again the posts of Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation are involved in controversy. This from the Guardian:-

Michael Gove rebuked for phoning prospective prison inspectors

The justice secretary, Michael Gove, has been censured for personally ringing up prospective candidates for the posts of chief inspectors of prisons and probation to encourage them to apply for the jobs. The Commons justice select committee says it was “unwise for the secretary of state to ring prospective candidates” when “there should be no perception that either chief inspector is beholden to the minister [responsible] … for those services”.

The strongly worded rebuke to Gove is coupled with concerns that the justice secretary’s preferred candidate for the £130,000-a-year job of chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, a former Scotland Yard head of counter-terrorism, has such “slender experience and knowledge” of the prison system that a handover period should be arranged with the current chief inspector, Nick Hardwick.

The MPs say Clarke, who has not been inside a prison for nine years, will “face a major challenge to bring himself swiftly up to speed in order to command widespread public confidence”. Gove rang prospective candidates out of the blue soon after the general election, before the two posts were advertised. Gove knew Clarke from his time as education secretary when he asked the retired senior police officer to investigate the Trojan Horse allegations of Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools.

He rang Glenys Stacey, the outgoing head of school exams watchdog Ofqual, to encourage her to apply for the post of chief inspector of probation. The row over the appointments follows the resignation last year of Paul McDowell as chief inspector of probation after it was disclosed that his wife runs a private probation company that won six of the 23 probation contracts in England and Wales.

The MPs on the Conservative-chaired committee said the latest episode demonstrated that the independence of the two watchdog roles should be enhanced by making them parliamentary rather than ministerial appointments.

The justice select committee report concludes: “They are posts whose occupants must arrive at independent and evidence-based judgments on the performance of the bodies required to deliver effective, lawful and humane custodial and probation services in the criminal justice system, and there should be no perception that either chief inspector is beholden to the minister with overall responsibility to parliament and the public for these services.”

The MPs also raise concerns that the three-year contracts for the two jobs may be too short to enable their holders to develop and exercise full authority, especially as neither preferred candidate has recent experience of prisons or probation. They say that if they were five-year contracts it would enable the chief inspectors to apply for extensions without worrying about challenging the incumbent justice secretary.


Meanwhile the current Inspector demonstrated why he didn't get his term extended by being quite blunt about things on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme:-

The outgoing chief inspector of prisons has said there is "no doubt" jails have deteriorated in the five years he has been in the role.

Nick Hardwick said they were "more dangerous" for staff and prisoners and "less effective" at preparing people for release so they do not reoffend. He also said he had seen prisoners who were "out of it" from taking legal highs. The Ministry of Justice said it was investing in and reforming prisons.

Mr Hardwick told the Victoria Derbyshire programme: "The deterioration isn't just bad for prisoners, it's bad for the communities into which they'll return because not enough has been done to stop them committing more crime."

Drugs 'surge'

He said the deterioration was due to a combination of issues and the reasons had changed during his time in the role. "You've got too many prisoners, not enough staff, the men who are there now are more likely to be there for more violent offences, serving longer [sentences].

"And particularly in the past year or two there's been a surge in the availability of drugs, particularly so-called legal highs and that then leads to bullying and debt, and that's created much worse conditions." He said there were lots of ways the drugs got into prisons, over walls, from prisoners, during visits, or through corrupt staff.

"I was in a prison the other day, and this was quite unusual, there were so many prisoners under the influence that the worst - and it is dangerous, it kills people - they were taking to the hospital, the health centre, but the guys who were less badly affected they were leaving other prisoners to mind and look after," he said. "I walked round and saw these guys who were obviously out of it."

'Finally listening'

Mr Hardwick said sometimes there were "simply not enough staff. Sometimes I will go on to a wing and want to talk to someone about it and you can't find a member of staff to talk to."

Earlier this month, Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced that Victorian prisons would be closed and replaced with nine new establishments in England and Wales by 2020. Chancellor George Osborne confirmed the closure of Holloway women's prison in London in the Spending Review on Wednesday. Mr Hardwick said he was encouraged that the government was "finally listening to what we are saying," but that they "had to deliver". 

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said prisons needed reform. It is only through more effective rehabilitation that we will reduce reoffending, cut crime and improve public safety. That is why we are investing in a modern prison estate, where governors are empowered to run prisons in the way they think best, and prisoners are given a chance to work or learn."


The news that HMP Holloway, the largest female prison in Europe, is to close is not greeted universally and the suspicion is that it's more about a property deal than improving things for female prisoners. This by Sara Hyde in the Independent:-

Closing Holloway Prison to make room for luxury flats isn't a triumph, George Osborne - it's just cruelly ironic

Those rat-infested, Victorian prisons. Dirty, expensive, violent. Osborne has just announced that he’s going to get rid of one of the most prominent old ones, the women’s prison at HMP Holloway, and we’re all supposed to give him a cheer. But wait – is this really cause for celebration?

I’ve worked in women’s prisons for seven years, so I find myself compelled to set the Chancellor straight on a few things. Firstly, there’s been a prison on-site at Holloway since the 1850s, it’s true, but the current one was opened in the 1980s. Not exactly Victorian, then. And it by no means has the worst conditions: HMP Holloway has a grading of 3 (1 terrible, 4 exceptional) from the MoJ and has almost 24 hours a week of purposeful activity for the women who reside there.

In fact, the last HMIP inspection of Holloway commented: “Despite the constraints of the physical environment and its size, most women, particularly the most vulnerable, were held safely and treated decently – although some significant shortcomings remained.”

The Inspectorate also noted the support for those who self-harmed or were otherwise vulnerable was better than in most prisons. At the time of the 2013 inspection, there had been no self-inflicted deaths since 2007: devastatingly, there has been one since. Its impact was felt throughout the prison, not least because it has become so unusual here due to the excellent staff, not the lack of people trying. These facts all point to a well-run, safe prison – more than can be said for some of the stories I’ve heard coming out of places like Pentonville and The Scrubs.

I find myself in a difficult position when faced with the closure of HMP Holloway. With all my heart I long for a justice system that plays a part in restoring and rehabilitating people and communities; a system that decides holding women, 80% of whom are incarcerated for non-violent crime, is a terrible idea and so, having funded robust community alternatives and small custodial units, embarks on a women’s prison closure plan.

So part of me does rejoice that Holloway is going to close and that rumours of serious reform are in the air. But there is significant infrastructure both inside and outside the walls of Holloway that cannot simply be transferred in a hot second to Surrey, where Bronzefield and Downview are located.

The significant advantage of Holloway is that women can be held close to their families and communities, with access to community agency support for when they leave. Holloway holds a lot of women from London, Kent and Essex. Try telling a mother from Colchester, who has already had her life blown apart by her daughter’s crime, that HMP Bronzefield has good transport links to London. It doesn’t – I’ve been there.

The other important thing about HMP Holloway is how incredibly visible it is to the rest of the public – which is one of its greatest advantages. Most of us never get inside the prison system, or inside the narratives of those who reside there. But at least these city prisons remind us that we aren’t actually ‘all in it together’, that the economic recovery isn’t felt by us all, and that inequality is still a pernicious force destroying our society.

We could rebuild smaller, modern prisons on these very sites – they’ve already done it once with Holloway, so we know it can be done. Anyone who thinks this ‘quick fix’ solution can work has clearly never experienced the hours I’ve spent with vulnerable women in homeless people’s units, trying to find somewhere for a person to sleep on the night that they come out of prison, only to eventually be left ringing round charities late into the evening when the stretched local authority refused to house survivors of domestic abuse or women work at risk of sexual exploitation.

Now, in a move that is cruelly ironic, the only home some people have known – prison – is due to be bulldozed and used as sites to build luxury flats that no-one on a normal salary, let alone benefits, will be able to afford. The central London location will no doubt make it exceptionally attractive to investors.

Closing prisons and reducing our use of criminogenic imprisonment by improving conditions are clearly a desirable aims. Using architecture and technology as a replacement for human interaction to save money is not, and does nothing to promote desistance from crime. Strong family relationships help people desist from crimes – how will these relationships be sustained with extra distance and extra cost?

However, there is a huge opportunity here to use alternatives to custody and to finally meet the policy recommendations set out in the 2007 Corston Report. Bring on the small custodial units that allow women to be held near their children, so that their kids suffer a tiny bit less.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. This may yet be good news. So let’s see what kind of prison Mr Gove builds next and if he actually executes the things he learnt in Texas. Quality of life for so many people depends on it.


Finally, the Business Insider website reported on the continuing battle with mobile phones in prison:-  

British prisons are going to make it harder for inmates to access the internet and make mobile calls

Britain's prisons are going to further enhance the mobile phone blocking technology they use in order to prevent criminals from accessing the internet and having unauthorised conversations. The new measures — announced by Chancellor George Osborne in the Autumn Statement yesterday and reported in The Financial Times — will be introduced by the Department of Justice and funded with the help of a new £1.3 billion pot of money that has been pledged to improve the nation's Prison Service.

Prisons across Britain currently allow inmates to use monitored landline phones but mobile phone use is limited and must be approved first. Earlier this year, the government issued a fact sheet on mobile phone use in prisons. It said mobile phones were being used "by serious organised criminals to import firearms and drugs, co-ordinate escapes and to arrange murder".

The government introduced a law in January that enables prison authorities to cut off signals to mobile phones used by prisoners. Specifically, the new powers allowed Prison Service employees to apply for a phone disconnection after they'd identified it. A number of UK prisons already have mobile phone blocking technology but the FT reports that there have been a number of cases where prisoners have been able to get round it.

The Ministry of Justice claims the new technology is better than before, adding that it will "stamp out the organisation of crime from within prisons, and stem the availability of drugs and other illicit substances." The £1.3 billion investment will also be used to build nine new prisons.

The money will also be used to roll out teleconferencing equipment to prisons so that prisoners don't need to travel to court for their probation hearings. George Osborne, the chancellor, said the measures would reduce prison running costs by £80 million.

"New investment will also fund video conference centres, allowing up to 90,000 cases to be heard from prison instead of court, and will deliver more safety improvements in prisons, including body scanners and mobile phone blocking technology," he added.


I thought it was worth publishing the fact sheet:-

Serious Crime Act 2015

Fact sheet: Unauthorised mobile phones in prison 


1. Unauthorised mobile phones in prisons have been used by serious organised criminals to import firearms and drugs, coordinate escapes and to arrange murder. In January 2015, a serving prisoner received a life sentence for using a mobile phone to import machine guns into the UK. In 2013, the use of a mobile phone was instrumental in the escape of two prisoners near Salford, who were subsequently recaptured and sentenced to over 20 years in prison. In 2009, a prisoner was sentenced to 18 years for organising the importation of a large quantity of cocaine using a mobile phone from his prison cell. And in 2006, a mobile in prison was used to organise the killing of a gang leader. 

2. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) uses a range of measures to prevent unauthorised phones getting into prisons, as well as measures to identify and seize phones in the possession of prisoners. In 2013/14, NOMS seized over 7,400 SIM cards and phones in prisons in England and Wales. All prisoners have access to approved fixed-line phones and are able to telephone the Samaritans free of charge. 

Current position 

3. Despite the success of measures to detect and seize phones in prison, mobile phone technology continues to advance and the size of handsets to decrease. This is making it easier for prisoners to conceal illicit phones and move them around the prison estate. Whilst it is a criminal offence to posses or use a mobile phone in prison without authorisation (section 40D of the Prison Act 1952), it is often not possible to attribute handsets and SIMs to specific individuals and prosecutions are rare. It is also a criminal offence to convey a mobile phone into a prison (section 40C of the Prison Act 1952). 

4. However, before the enactment of the Serious Crime Act there was no legal obligation on Mobile Network Operators to disconnect unauthorised phones in prisons. 

The new powers 

5. Section 80 of the Act will enable the Secretary of State (and the Scottish Ministers) to make regulations which will confer a power on the County Court (in Scotland, a Sheriff Court) to make an order to compel Mobile Network Operators to disconnect mobile phone handsets and SIM cards found by the court to be operating in prison without authorisation. This new power will allow NOMS and law enforcement agencies to disconnect mobile phones without the need to first take possession of and then attribute the handset or SIM to an individual. 

6. Before applying for a court order, NOMS will take robust steps to ascertain that the phones are being used without authorisation inside a prison. The court would need to be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the phone is in prison and being used without authorisation, before ordering its disconnection. When a phone is disconnected from the network, the user will be able to make calls to the emergency services, should that need arise. This is an important safeguard. 

7. In the unlikely event that someone’s phone is disconnected in error, that person will be able to request an expeditious reconnection of their service, if it can be shown that the phone is not in use in a prison, or not in use in a prison without authorisation. Reconnection of their service can commence without the need to return to court to vary the order. 

8. The details of the scheme, including provision conferring rights on affected persons to make representations and provision about appeals, will be set out in regulations which must be debated and approved by each House of Parliament (or, in Scotland, by the Scottish Parliament) before they can come into force. 

Home Office March 2015


  1. As ever, JB keeps us abreast of news from all quarters via the blog, proving it remains worthy of its millions of hits.

    When Osbourne annonced the current prison closure/sell off programme it occurred to cynical old me that the dominant criteria would be choosing sites most attractive to & lucrative for redevelopment as opposed to selecting prisons most in need of demolition. I think another post a few weeks ago quite rightly likened it to Thatcher closing the large mental health institutions ala "the bins" - and that's exactly what I see... Naked profiteering wrapped in pseudo-concern, ersatz empathy & yet another con trick. It was interesting watching Cameron's face during Osbourne's speech; he was fighting to contain his crowing schoolboy leer, almost salivating as Osbourne delivered a very cleverly constructed statement. Just as interesting was Grayling, who sat fiddling with his tie, looking lost & blank.

    The statement was not a u-turn nor a change of heart, it was a clever strategy from the Tory Boys. Anyone who thinks the Tories were "listening" is very much mistaken.

  2. Holloway prison to become luxury gated community. I suppose this is a rehabilitation revolution of sorts by Gove's estate agency.

    Nick Hardwick who has shown himself to be an authoritative, independent-minded and trenchant critic of prison conditions must be cast aside, like Ramsbottom was, in favour of preferred candidates who were speed dialed by Gove. If you are honest and effective and tell the truth to power, this leads to downfall.

  3. Anyone have any news on the Rendon front? He replacing Lawrence or what as that's what's coming out of my branch.

    1. You and your mate @14.28 are wasted comedic talents. This bogus news is coming from where the sun doesn't shine.

    2. Listen punk. It's true

  4. Yea I heard that up in Bench. Stranger things have happened.

  5. " Behind bars after threatening to kill probation officer "

    Read more:

    1. A 27-year-old man who made a threat to kill a West Yorkshire probation officer has been given an eight-year extended prison sentence.

      A judge told Paul Lonergan that it looked as if he had destroyed the female officer’s career because of the impact on her since he made the threat to a mental health nurse while he was in custody at Halifax police station earlier this month.

      Prosceutor Michael Greenhalgh told Bradford Crown Court that Lonergan had been released from a prison sentence, but during a consultation with a doctor he said was “having feelings about stabbing people”.

      A mental health nurse and police officers went to Lonergan’s address to carry out a “welfare check” and he again said he felt stabbing an unnamed female.

      After voluntarily going to the police station Lonergan told the nurse he wanted to kill a number of people because he would then be sent to prison for a long time. Mr Greenhalgh said Lonergan said he wanted to kill a male sex offender and the female probation officer who he blamed for putting him a bail hostel with sex offenders.

      Lonergan, who has previous convictions for offences including harassment, pleaded guilty to making the threat to kill the probation officer and Mr Greenhalgh read from her victim impact statement in which she described how news of the defendant’s threat had left her anxious and fearful of going out.

      The officer said she was not sure if she could continue her work with the probation service as a result.

      Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC told Lonergan that his threat had had a dreadful impact on the officer. “It looks as though you’ve destroyed that lady’s career,” the judge said. “She won’t be able to work for the probation service again so this is a very serious offence.”

      Lonergan, of Sefton Terrace, Halifax, was sentenced to four years in prison for the offence, but on his release he will also be subject to an extended licence period of four years.

      Judge Durham Hall also imposed an indefinite restraining order which bans Lonergan from having any contact with the probation officer in the future.

    2. Probation Officer28 November 2015 at 22:41

      This article should have had its own blog post. On one hand people probably do not realise the dangers we sometimes face, and my deepest sympathies go out to our colleague the victim. On the other hand I can't say I would have sought a prosecution if it were me. I don't know the case to comment but it seems the threat was via a third party, and many of us have had similar. The ones I've come across have neither amounted to anything nor "destroyed careers". The sentence does though suggest there are perhaps sinister factors about this case we do not know about and probably more than the one incident. Out of interest does anyone know if it was NPS or CRC and whether the agency has been supportive?

    3. The complaint against a known knife carrier and dependent drinker who turned up at my office threatening to do me in for writing a "biased" PSR a year previously was NFA'd by the police because he was homeless and they couldn't find him. It wasn't the first time he'd threatened staff and probably won't be the last. Good news this man's risk has been recognised and managed. If only there was more support from the wider CJS for probation staff.

  6. Sadly a prisoner has been stabbed and killed at HMP Dartmoor according to press reports today in local South West on-line papers. The victim was in the kitchen and stabbed by another prisoner. No reasons stated regarding the motivation for the assault. The victim is reported to have been serving the sentence for a serious violent assault.

    I am not linking this incident to the following, but I am aware of an increase in tension within the prison after the VP wing was abolished and all prisoners to mingle together. I understand the decision was linked to pressure with prisoner numbers and also trying to make Dartmoor a prison for those serving longer sentences.

    The prisoners were asked to sign something to say the agreed to shared space with each other - those who wouldn't were shipped out. Those VPs left are no doubt susceptible to bullying and harassment at best, and violence at worst.
    NOMs duty of care? Well, they signed to say they were OK with it, so probably job done!!!

    1. Oh no that's my local prison

  7. Probation Officer28 November 2015 at 22:15

    The Chief Inspector of Probation should be an ex probation officer, perhaps of senior level and without links to private enterprise. Anyway, as usual with the Tories it's 'jobs for the boys'.


    1. Other notable G4S employees:

      John Reid, Director, G4S Regional Management (UK & Ireland) Limited. John Reid, or Lord Reid of Cardowan, as he prefers to be known, joined G4S in 2009, having previously been Tony Blair's Home Secretary and Secretaries of State for Health and Defence. The £50,000 a year it is giving the New Labour hard man quickly paid off for G4S as it landed a multi-million pound, four-year contract to supply private security guards for around 200 Ministry of Defence and military sites across the UK just three months after it took him on. Since then he has been diligent in ensuring the hi-tech security used by his employers is a feature of parliamentary debates whenever possible.

      Tom Wheatley, Delivery Director for the Lincolnshire Police business transformation contract, G4S Policing Support Services. Wheatley joined G4S in September 2010 after 16 years moving his way up the Prison Service, becoming governor at HMP Nottingham from 2006-2008 and HMP Moorland from 2008-2010.

      Wheatley's father, Phil, was the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), and somewhat less keen on privately run prisons, saying security companies had “brought little innovation to the management of custody”. He added that the only gains from their involvement had come from “using fewer staff, paying lower wages, and providing less employment protection for staff.”

      Happily for G4S, Tom has pushed his father's foibles aside, and helped the company get the Lincolnshire police contract. His earnings aren’t disclosed but it’s a safe bet G4S will have overlooked its “low wages” policy for him.

      Sue Saunders, Director, Rye Hill prison. Another screw lured by the G4S lucre. Saunders worked for the prison service for 21 years, running Bullingdon, then Holloway, prisons. She helped Birmingham prison get ready for G4S last year and was involved in G4S’ successful bid to operate HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton.

      David Griffiths, Director of Probation and Community Services, G4S Care & Justice Services. Previously Deputy Director (justice policy) at the Ministry of Justice.


    1. Wonder how long b4 NPS stop 'buying' TSP from CRCs? Most POs could do the CBT work. I'll take the £3k

    2. Probation Officer29 November 2015 at 10:18

      Me too! I'll happily deliver it for £3k a pop.

    3. With that kind of entrepreneurial thinking I'm surprised you're not running a CRC already! But I'm sure you both realise that out of that £3k you'd have to pay for premises, materials, heating, lighting, reception staff, security, programmes administrators, and possibly some sort of licensing fee for using the material? Just saying...

    4. Well done 13.00 for schooling these ill informed idiots on here.

    5. To Anonymous29 November 2015 at 13:00 - I doubt that. Who do you think developed programmes in the first place? Wasn't NOMS, it was probation. Probation was delivering group work interventions before prison even knew about what rehabilitation was. Why can't NPS develop their own programmes. There is nothing new in concepts. All interventions are underpinned by the same guiding principles it's called cognitive behavioural therapy. The exercises may differ but overall they all are similar in methods. This would allow NPS to be more financially independent and save loads and loads of money. How does that sound. Shocking, unexpected. well what did you expect. It's called the free market. So for all those who were in favour of CRC. The futures not really purple any-more it's looking pretty bleak.

    6. Which bit do you doubt? The licensing fee? I'm not sure about that myself but anyone developing 'new' programmes does need to be wary of copyright issues. I know people who have fallen foul of this in recent years.

      Anyway, I think you misunderstand my point. That £3,000 needs to cover a whole lot of overheads, so it's not as simple as saying "give me the cash, I'll do it". I think the CRCs have made exactly the same mistake, assuming the rate card means they have a steady source of revenue when actually they are vulnerable to changes in sentencing practice and - like you say - the NPS deciding to go it alone. I reckon the profit margin on programmes for CRCs is actually pretty small.

      Personally I doubt NPS will try to develop their own version of TSP, at least in a group, because I don't think they have the volume of clients to justify it - but there might be potential for a DV programme.

      I'm not cheerleading for CRCs, whatever Anon 13:22 seems to think - far from it.

    7. Not convinced there are enough suitably qualified and experienced group workers left in the CRC's to work with the NPS clients.

    8. There are plenty in mine - albeit mostly PO grade and no-one seems to want POs delivering programmes.

    9. Probation Officer29 November 2015 at 19:09

      Actually it's not that difficult. You set yourself up as a private ltd company to deliver programmes, to be delivered in NPS premises. There are people already doing this, employing others on contract and sessional basis, and I'm sure this will now increase. Similar to how PSR writing agencies started, and agencies for probation training and assessment. In any case, it's unlikely accredited programmes will feature much in the post-E3 world.

  10. Surprised if there are any POs running groups in CRC, they're all squeezed out on my patch