Sunday, 20 March 2016

Prison Musings

Seen on Facebook:-

A Message from Pat Waterman Chair of NAPO London
I was informed today that London CRC Director of Probation Helga Swidenbank is traveling to the US for an MTC Conference and then going to visit some prisons.
A Firm That Ran A “Horror” Jail In America Is Taking Over A British Youth Prison

A trouble-hit British young offender facility is to be taken over by a US company that ran a prison criticised by a federal judge as a “horror as should be unrealised anywhere in the civilised world”. In September last year, outsourcing giant G4S lost its contract to run Rainsbrook secure training centre for young offenders in Northamptonshire. The centre has a troubled history: In 2004, Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old boy, was restrained to death by guards at the centre.

In May last year at least six members of staff were dismissed after an official inspection found that young people were subjected to degrading treatment and racist comments. The inspection graded Rainsbrook “inadequate”, and only a few months later the Youth Justice Board announced that a new outsourcer, MTCNovo, would be taking over the site in May 2016.

MTCNovo describes itself on its website as “a new venture between the third, public and private sector, which has been established to provide rehabilitation and offender management services across London and Thames Valley”.

It is a partnership between MTC (Management and Training Corporation), a Utah-based firm that grosses more than $500 million in yearly revenue, and Novo, a consortium that includes charities, the private contractor Amey, and Rise, the mutual that emerged from the scrapping of London Community Rehabilitation Company.

In June last year, BuzzFeed News revealed that MTC had run a prison in Mississippi that was lambasted by a judge for disorder and assaults on inmates by guards.

In an order, Judge Carlton Reeves wrote:
The evidence before the Court paints a picture of a facility struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude which leads to perpetual danger to the inmates and staff. The dangers that inmates face are not simply limited to assaults by other inmates but also from the guards.
The judge ruled in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had asked the court to enforce a legal agreement requiring the state’s department of corrections and MTC to reduce violence, fix broken facilities, and improve staff training at the prison within five years.

This was far from the first controversy regarding MTC’s management of its prisons. In February 2015, thousands of prisoners in a prison in Texas rioted and had to be moved to other institutions over poor medical care among other issues. A month earlier, an inmate died following an assault in an Arizona State prison.

Only a few months before that, Christopher Epps, America’s longest-serving prison commissioner, was embroiled in a corruption scandal that involved him receiving bribes in return for private prison contracts to firms either owned by or linked to a state official named Cecil McCrory. One of these firms was MTC, which denied any knowledge of corruption.

A question has been asked in the House of Lords about the decision to award MTCNovo the contract and whether the company, “including its partners or significant subcontractors, has been found to have breached human rights or equality legislation in the last three years, either in the United Kingdom or abroad”. The justice minister Lord Faulks replied: “There were no findings of a breach in human rights or equality legislation.”

(Article from January 11th on the BuzzFeed website)


David A Raho of Napo London branch drew attention to this article in the Canadian Globe and Mail:- 

Jail sentences reduced for Ontario offenders who endured lockdowns

Ontario judges are knocking time off sentences for offenders who have endured persistent lockdowns in the province’s chronically understaffed detention system, the latest and strongest indictment of provincial jail conditions and a direct challenge to a federal law placing strict limits on sentencing credits.

At least five recent decisions have awarded sentence discounts based on the hundreds of labour-related lockdowns that have plagued Ontario jails over the last two years and left hundreds of prisoners confined to their cells for up to 24 hours a day with little opportunity for fresh air or showers.

The reductions represent a strong indictment of Ontario’s corrections system and a possible death knell for the Truth in Sentencing Act, once a cornerstone of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda.

“Judges are finding a workaround because the strict application of the Truth in Sentencing Act created a situation that’s just not fair,” said lawyer Ingrid Grant, who has represented the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Ontario as an intervenor in two Supreme Court of Canada cases challenging parts of the law.

For inmates at Ontario’s two-year-old super jail, the Toronto South Detention Centre, the lockdowns have been unrelenting. Between December, 2014, and November, 2015, staff imposed 162 full or partial labour-related lockdowns, according to government figures provided to The Globe and Mail.

“You have to remember that the vast majority of people there have not been sentenced. They are presumed innocent, and this is the way they are treated,” said criminal lawyer Peter Scully, who has represented scores of clients housed at Toronto South. “I’m astonished there hasn’t been a full-on revolt.”

One offender, Jeffrey Bedward, spent at least 225 days on lockdown over a 520-day stint at Toronto South, according to an affidavit filed at his sentencing last year. During lockdowns, he said, he was limited to 20 minutes a day outside his cell and permitted a shower once every three days. Visits from family and lawyers were cancelled. He had limited access to books, fresh laundry and fresh air.

In a decision released last month, Superior Court Justice Brian O’Marra sentenced Mr. Bedward to 36 months on six firearm-related charges and credited him 1.5 days for every day he spent in pre-sentence custody, the maximum permitted under the Truth in Sentencing Act. But there was more. The judge included an additional discount of three months to account for the “harsh conditions” he faced at Toronto South.

The approach is part of an emerging judicial trend. In a January sentencing decision for a man convicted of aggravated assault, Justice David Cole subtracted three months over and above limits set forth in the act “as an expression of community disapproval of the state’s continuing inability to provide safe and properly administered detention centres.”

Two other judges have issued similar decisions in Ontario. All cite a pair of 2014 Supreme Court decisions – Summers and Nasogaluak – in concluding that sentence reductions exceeding the standard 1.5:1 ratio are permissible where there is proof of “state misconduct.”

A glut of similar decisions is coming down the judicial pipeline, said Mr. Cole said, speaking as a professor of law specializing in sentencing at both the University of Toronto and York University. “Crowns do not seem to be objecting, once the evidence is before the courts,” he said, “and I must say that Ontario correctional officials have to date been pretty candid about conditions in their institutions.”

In a statement, provincial spokesman Brent Ross said every effort is made to maintain daily showers, visits, programming, laundry and book services during lockdowns. He added that the province is working to boost staff at its institutions. Twenty-six new officers will start at Toronto South this week as part of a graduation class of 139. “Transforming our correctional system is a priority for the ministry because we recognize that the status quo cannot continue,” he said.

Enacted in 2010, the Truth in Sentencing Act was a reaction to the perception that lenient judges were doling out excessive sentencing credit to offenders who spent time in pre-sentence custody. Since the 1970s, judges routinely granted double credit, lopping two or more days off a sentence for every day spent in pre-sentence custody. The credits were intended to reflect both the harsher conditions that generally exist in pre-sentence detention centres, as well as “dead time” – detention that doesn’t count toward parole or early release eligibility. As of Feb. 22, 2010, the Truth in Sentencing Act eliminated two-for-one and replaced it with one-for-one credit. It did, however, allow for 1.5 days of credit under exceptional circumstances.

But judges began to routinely grant 1.5 days’ credit for each day served. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that they had the discretion to do so.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to undertake a wholesale review of the sentencing legislation passed under the former Conservative government. “At this point, the government could just repeal this [law],” Ms. Grant said. “It’s wheezing and dying.”


All this prompted David to offer some thoughts on Facebook:- 

It wasn't so long ago that Canada was the country of choice for MoJ and NOMS fact finding tours. They bought programmes (some of which were originally inspired by the work of McGuire and Priestley and home grown probation programmes) but neglected to buy into the importance of independent evaluation by criminologists, psychologists, sociologists and other academics studying crime and the effectiveness of probation interventions.

The whole probation experiment in England and Wales was actually built on some pretty old metadata. The trick was to use this to counter the nothing works impasse that existed for some folks. That shouldn't have mattered much because the what works project should have been a dynamic slowly evolving system that should have allowed for change in the light of learning and experience rather than a static collection of cutdown programmes that were never to be messed with that we're subsumed into a bureaucratic quagmire that turned probation officers into data input clerks for management information systems - work they were never properly trained to do.

These systems are not designed to assist those working with offenders but rather designed to ensure that probation workers are assessing and recording in the prescribed way whether or not this is the most efficient or effective way of working. Innovative developments that are the mainstay of managerialist fantasies took probation workers on a journey far away from actual face to face work with offenders (the challenging bit) whose importance to those in power were now just reduced to an existence as data bodies floating within bigger data streams and as digitised offending entities rather than as living human beings who were members of society facing difficulties and structural problems as a result of government policy as much as anything else. This data is now a valuable commodity but there is no acknowledgement of the many thousands of hours that went into its production. Offenders are no longer human beings with the capacity to change but rather automatons processed and sorted into risk categories, labelled according to offence type and criminogenic factors then signed off. And we colluded with this because we were told of we didn't something really bad might happen ie Privatisation.

Meanwhile back in Canada no one found any evidence to indicate privatisation of probation would be a good move so perhaps more recently the MoJ and NMS have been looking a lot further south of the Canadian border for inspiration. Goodness knows what they might find on their travels in the Deep South.

So perhaps they missed a new Canadian innovation that knocks time off for those subjected to poor quality imprisonment. Imagine the countless years knocked off sentences in England and Wales. Just a thought.

David A Raho


The March edition of the Prison Service Journal number 224 has an interesting interview with Martin Narey from page 61. It's well worth reading in full, but I was particularly struck by his thoughts on 'gubernatorial autonomy' and the ideals behind the old Borstal concept:-

PA: You have made reference to talking to the new Secretary of State, and there has been a lot of media interest surrounding prisons lately, and the proposed reforms that will take place such as the increased emphasis on education and earned release, can you suggest what the future holds for prisons following your discussions?

MN: I was at Michael Gove’s first prisons speech on Friday and I thought it was the most encouraging Ministerial speech I have heard on prisons since Jack Straws’ maiden prison speech in 1998. I was thrilled to hear about the reemphasis on education and elated to hear the principle of prisoners earning their release. I must sound like a dinosaur, but as I explained to Michael Gove, my first job in the prison service after initial officer training was working in a borstal in the last year of borstals’ existence. The autonomy given to prison governors under the borstal regime was quite remarkable. If we had a boy or a young man (we took 15- 21 year olds in those days) he could serve a minimum of 6 months or a maximum of 2 years and the point at which he was released was determined entirely by the Governor and entirely on the basis on how the borstal trainee behaved and worked. So — this being a borstal in the North-east, if we had a young man who got himself a City and Guilds in building and made himself employable as a builder on release to Sunderland, he might be released after 26 weeks.

Someone who didn’t, and missed out on the opportunities, could stay in borstal for up to 2 years. What destroyed borstals, what led to their abolition, was, inevitably, overcrowding. Borstals were routinely directed to release all their offenders on or near the 26 week mark to make spaces and the philosophy of the regime was destroyed. But I think there are two things to learn from that history: first that the principle of earned release is a good one, and secondly that we might think once again about gubernatorial autonomy. While spending quite a bit of my time in the Department of Education in the last few years, I’ve watched with some interest as autonomy has been restored to head teachers. I know Michael Gove wants to see whether there’s a similar restoration of autonomy from which prison governors might benefit.

PA: It will be interesting to see how this will come to fruition within the current climate with the numbers we have, and all the outsourcing and partnership working within establishments. As with the borstals, if we were to offer an incentive, to maintain legitimacy we would need to be able to honour that.

MN: I am not suggesting any of this is easy, and I don’t think Michael Gove thinks any of this is easy. He is spending a lot of time visiting places, and I have taken him on one visit to a prison already. He has clearly got an immediately good relationship with Michael Spurr. I told Michael Gove on the day he was appointed that Michael was a fine man and an excellent person to lead the service.

PA: Looking at some of your accolades within the Prison Service including: changing the number one priority in the Prison Service from preventing escapes to preventing deaths; setting up safer custody and reception peer orderlies to help reduce the risk and famously stating: ‘a death is worse than an escape’ and that ‘it was shameful that we were more concerned about an escape rather than a death.’ With that in mind, what are your views of the current statistics surrounding self harm and suicide within prisons?

MN: Well first of all, before accepting any plaudits, I should volunteer that, I think, the peak number of self inflicted deaths in custody happened on my watch, not on Phil Wheatley’s and not on Michael Spurr’s. But it’s right that reducing deaths was a very real priority for me and why I wanted the same concentration on reducing deaths as my predecessor had on reducing escapes. I thought that our concentration on escapes, important as it was, meant that we were not addressing other things. I remember during my first speech as Director General in 1998 I talked about suicide, as I thought we were in danger of, perhaps not being dismissive about it, but accepting that a large number of self inflicted deaths were simply inevitable. 

I understood the reasons for that, the morbidity of the population had become more acute as more and more people with mental disorders were being admitted. I know that the time I was DG a fifth of all males and two-fifths of all females who came into prison had previously tried to take their own lives. Nevertheless, I felt we were in the position where there was a belief that we just could not do anything about those deaths. We could and we did. But again, that was in large part because I got access to new money and in a magnitude of which Michael Spurr could only dream. I went personally to the Treasury and talked to the lead officials in charge of public spending about suicides, I obtained the investment for what became known as the Safer Cells Programme. But, it was a long time before the tide was turned and the numbers of deaths began to drop.

PA: Thank you for all your interesting views. Obviously you have a long list of achievements, and you have been recognised with a Knighthood and now the Perrie Award, how does it feel?

MN: I was enormously touched by the Perrie Award. For ten years I’ve avoided involving myself in prison issues in the same way as I don’t get drawn into issues about Barnardo’s. That may change now, and I suspect I will be doing some part time work advising Michael Gove. 

So against that, ten years after I have left the service, to be told the Perrie Lectures wanted to give me an award, was very touching. The gift I was given is hanging on my study wall, and I love it. 

I never wanted to leave. I did not want to resign. But, at the time, I felt I had come to the end of the road, I had helped to devise a thing called NOMS, but the NOMS I had helped to devise required, three things: It required a cap on the prison population which I have talked about; it required greater competition in delivering both prison and probation services, and it required a transfer of authority from prison staff to probation staff in the managing offenders. Charles Clarke was never committed to those reforms he inherited from David Blunkett, was dismissive of population control and unwilling to take on the trades unions on competition. I knew it was time for me to go. But there has never been a week in the ten years that I have not missed prisons and offenders.

1 comment:

  1. I can appreciate that Pat Waterman and David Raho are actually quite far ahead of the game and indeed the crowd here in taking an interest both in the longer term interests of the new owners of probation (who see probation as part of their mainly prison based empires) and have a commercial interest in attacking the growing body of critical research evidence that is showing that prison is an increasingly disproportionate response as a sentencing solution but without more investment in and indeed piloting of smarter community sentencing alternatives that might include electronic monitoring probation day centres and some of the initiatives that have been successfully implemented by our friends in the rest of Europe and in the rest of the world then we are being badly served by Gove et al.