Friday, 18 December 2015

How to Bury Bad News

Whilst the nation is engrossed in the annual orgy of buying prior to the Christmas festivities, the Mirror catalogues how the government quite cynically used the last day of the Parliamentary Session to release shed loads of bad or inconvenient news:-
Today was the day the Tories took out the trash. In an attempt to bury bad news the Government issued 424 announcements, including 36 ministerial statements. The Conservative spin chiefs deliberately unleashed the blizzard of information so that embarrassing news is hidden in the avalanche. A damning report on the bedroom tax, cuts to the police and the spiralling bill for special advisers were just some of news they tried to hide.
The article went on to pick out 9 examples, but didn't include this as covered in a press release from Inquest:- 

Government rejects Harris Review recommendations designed to support learning after self-inflicted deaths in prison

Today the government has published its response to the Harris Review into the self-inflicted deaths of 18-24 year olds in prison rejecting many of the expert panel’s key recommendations.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST and a member of the Harris Review panel said:

“This is a complacent response to a report that offered an opportunity to make a break from the lamentable failings of the past. It is dismissive of those families, prisoners and others who contributed to this evidence based review. It fails to respond to the grim reality of prison life for young prisoners and the systemic disconnect between policy and practice which is a feature of so many deaths in custody.

It rejects 33 of the 108 recommendations, and prevaricates on many others. It rejects the provision of non-means tested public funding for family legal representation after a death in custody. In 63 pages (as opposed to 283 in Harris), it fails to address the compelling issues around the lack of oversight, accountability and learning lessons from previous self-inflicted deaths, as well as the devastating impact on families. It does not respond to the systemic lack of co-ordination across state agencies, crucial to the understanding of deaths.

Our fear is that this response will not adequately prevent future deaths. It will not provide relief to the families of those who have already died in prison or to those families who will experience the avoidable death of a relative in the future.”


Notes to editors:

INQUEST contributed to the review by submitting both written evidence and our report Stolen Lives and Missed Opportunities (published with Barrow Cadbury Trust) based on our work with bereaved families. We also organised two family evidence sessions and the report of these ‘Listening’ days is published too.

Since publication of the Harris Review in July 2015 there have been 5 further self-inflicted deaths in this age group and one other that is awaiting classification

Source: INQUEST Casework and monitoring

Harris Review recommendations rejected
Of the 108 recommendations contained in the Harris Review, the MoJ has today responded, in ways such as ‘agree’, ‘agree in part’, ‘agree in principle’, claiming the recommendation was beyond its remit or ‘subject to wider reforms’. Thirty-three of Harris Review’s recommendations were simply rejected. Amongst the recommendations simply rejected were the following:

Prison Safety and Environment
All light fittings within cells should as standard be tested to ensure that they are not able to bear the weight of a young adult before any cell can be signed off as being fit for purpose as a safer cell.
Every prison should record and publish details of the time spent out of the cells for every prisoner; including time spent engaging in purposeful activity out of their cells. This information should be collated nationally for management information purposes and also to enable further analysis of outcomes.NOMS must accept that bullying wherever it occurs is a specific problem that requires specific, focussed responses. We recommend that NOMS must publish a specific Prison Service Instruction to cover the issue of bullying both from other prisoners and from staff and how custodial establishments can tackle and aim to reduce numbers of incidents. Bullying should not be subsumed into the policies that cover Violence Reduction.

A new specialist role must be created to work specifically with all young adults in custody.
Following each self-inflicted death in custody, the Minister for Prisons should personally phone the family of the prisoner who has died to express their condolences on behalf of the State and to promise that a full and thorough investigation will take place, and that any lessons from the death will be studied and acted upon to avoid similar deaths in the future. Each young adult (18-24 years) in custody must be assigned to a suitably qualified and experienced staff member who will act as their personal Custody and Rehabilitation Officer (CARO)

Staff and Training
From the evidence given to the panel from many sources, it is apparent that the current operational staffing levels in prisons are not adequate. Following the recruitment that NOMS is currently undertaking, Benchmarking levels should be reviewed immediately to allow for full compliance with Prison Service Instructions that concern the safety and well-being of prisoners and must include implementation of this report.

It is the collective responsibility of all relevant public agencies to ensure that no young adult who is identified as requiring detention and treatment/assessment in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 should be detained in police or prison custody. This should be a ‘Never Event’. When a court is considering passing any form of custodial sentence upon a young adult (18 to 24) then a full written pre-sentence report must be commissioned.

Prisons must improve their processes for receiving information direct from the families of prisoners, particularly young adults.

NHS England should commission prison mental health services in line with the recommendations of this report. The Secretary of State for Justice should introduce legislation to create a statutory duty of cooperation for the sharing of information with the Prison Service to be placed upon those organisations that have direct engagement with the Prison Service (including health, mental health services, police, etc.).

After a self-inflicted death
Following a death there should be a ’Duty of Candour’ upon NOMS and its staff both towards those organisations responsible for managing the post death processes (such as the PPO and the coroner) and the families and friends of the deceased young adult.
Families of the deceased should have a right to non-means tested public funding for legal representation at an inquest. The costs of legal representation for the families should be borne by NOMS.

On Governance, Inspection, Monitoring and Investigation
HMIP and the PPO should have a statutory duty in consultation with the NPM and the IAP present a public report annually to the MoJ on deaths in NOMS custody and the progress in addressing the underlying issues identified from previous deaths. MoJ should be under a statutory duty to publish a detailed thematic response each year to this report. This should be considered by the Justice Committee of the House of Commons. The Chief Coroner should be provided with sufficient resources to enable him to report on themes emerging from prevention of death reports involving deaths in custody. All inquest findings, PFD reports and responses that relate to deaths in custody should be centrally collated and available for public search (subject to any necessary redaction).


  1. And let us not forget the role of the Prison and Probation ombudsman. Far from providing the scrutiny and level of in intervention required to change the culture of may of our prisons,recommendations are often ignored particularly around the areas of health care provision, self harm prevention and emergency response.Not entirely expected as its public profile is somewhat muted. I wonder why ?

  2. In answer to question on previous blog about Paul McDowell - ex nacro etc - a twitter account in his name states, poignantly: "Enjoying running my own business in Devon. Once was Chief Inspector of Probation, CEO Nacro & Governor HMP Brixton. Still do consultancy".

  3. I work in the CRC somewhere in the North West.
    My Manager said Purple Futures are not making profit and it is not viable. The manager said I should consider a change of career or move over to NPS. The manager made clear his views and said he/she has already got an exit plan. Wonder what she/he means?

  4. Conclusion of Napo General Secretary's latest blog: -

    Napo totally opposed to Working Links job cuts

    "As you would expect a lot of work has been going on this week and further correspondence is in draft as I write this so I will report in more detail next week. Meanwhile, let me make it absolutely clear: Napo opposes the rationale as well as the size of these intended job cuts and given the steer that I received from local reps this week, I have no hesitation in saying that if members want the campaign to include industrial action we, and our sister union Unison, must respond accordingly."

  5. If I might slip this story in on a slow news day? The arms industry is at capacity according to a "buzzfeed" investigation:

    "At the heart of the high-stakes U.S. program to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight ISIS is a multimillion-dollar arms deal that the Pentagon farmed out to a tiny, little-known private company called Purple Shovel LLC... The U.S. violated its own policy and gave Purple Shovel approval to acquire millions of dollars’ worth of high-tech missiles for the rebels from Belarus, a dictatorship that is under sanctions by the European Union. Belarus, which has supplied weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and is accused of human rights violations, is normally off-limits to U.S. arms dealers. But the U.S. military and State Department agreed to make an exception, allowing 700 powerful anti-tank missiles to be purchased, with U.S. taxpayer funds, for the rebels... Purple Shovel’s big break came in December 2014, when it won two contracts totaling more than $50 million for the Syria program from the Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, which coordinates the activities of America’s most elite military units... New weapons are hard to procure, Bulgarian arms industry executives said, because due to the wars around the world, production for Russian-designed grenades and other weapons in Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries has reached capacity. The production lines are full."

    Unfortunately it seems that Purple Shovel were so eager to please that they procured $Millions of warehoused, out-of-date Eastern Bloc weapons dating back to 1984 which either didn't work or malfunctioned. Not much help against fundamentalist Extremists armed with state of the art US weaponry seized from fleeing armies in Iraq, Syria & Afghanistan.

    I didn't hear much about this ironic turn of events when Dave referred to his rebel hordes in Syria.

  6. Anyone else get the feeling lately that WW3 looming?