Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Observations Of a Prisoner

We don't often get contributions from the other side of the criminal justice system and unfortunately the following was caught in the spam filter the other day:- 

I am an offender who was part-way through a bulky prison sentence when Chris Grayling was let loose upon the CJS. The changes he made to the daily prison regime had a serious impact which seemed to happen overnight. The new ‘core day’ (described as “Our New Way” in all the relevant literature in the prison I was in at the time) essentially took staff away from prison wings. In larger wings, security was monitored via CCTV, and officers were rarely seen. Staff contact became dependent on the application system. Staff cutbacks led to more ‘lock down’ periods, when insufficient staffing levels led to certain activities which many inmates deem important to their routine (gym, library, even religious services occasionally) were curtailed. 

Everybody knows it’s failing, but I can attest to the slump in mood, amongst prisoners and staff alike, was immediate. I met some prison staff who are consummately professional, polite, respectful and approachable, and these people have my sympathy when having to work under these conditions – the officer who wrote the above post could well have been one of these people. I must however add that for each officer with this attitude, there was an officer who was the polar opposite. Not all acts of violence upon staff are unprovoked, and an act of violence against staff is usually returned tenfold in the segregation unit, but that’s another discussion entirely.

It’s a source of irritation to me how the media, when focusing on the very real crisis that the UK prison system finds itself in, pays the highest attention to the wrong detail. Had I not had the experience of prison to refer to I too would assume that these places were hotbeds of violent psychopaths running around high on spice, or whatever. Drugs, and violence, have always been present in UK prisons. Yet post-Grayling I’ve been in a prison where I couldn’t get toilet roll and was advised by staff to use a newspaper to wipe my arse on. In a local Victorian prison I wore the same trousers for six weeks because there wasn’t any spare kit or functioning laundry facility. 

Healthcare access is way below the standard people imagine it to be, HMP Healthcare would be worth an article in itself. OMU backlogs are a source of serious frustration to ISPs and determinate prisoners alike. The complaints system is utterly broken and Legal Aid has been removed. The IMB is well-meaning but toothless. The excellent Nick Hardwick was routinely ignored and summarily dismissed. The IEP system has been dismantled, completely removing any incentive for good behaviour and prisoner co-operation and compliance, the punitive Entry level is particularly pernicious and penalises those who are on remand, and therefore innocent in the eyes of the law. 

When Grayling pushed through all of these insane measures the media ignored the impact of removing Legal Aid to prisoners and instead focused entirely on the book ban, a policy which actually had zero material impact on most prisoners and staff but offended the liberal sensibilities of many writers-in-residence who were able to articulate an argument against it. In reality, the prison system as a whole was poisoned in 2012 and it’s taken a rising number of assaults on staff to draw public attention to the fact that prisons are not places of therapeutic growth, but are increasingly becoming hate factories. It isn’t just staff, or even inmates, who are being failed, but communities and therefore the wider society are not being served by a system that isn’t fit for purpose at present. 

So long as media headlines only speak of a rise in legal highs and statistics regarding assaults on staff, thus suggesting the only real problems within UK prisons are ones of good order and discipline, the prison system will continue to fail those within it, as it has been since 2012.


  1. Very true and well said!sadly the current government are more interested in pushing their political agenda than doing what is right!

  2. Well said and thanks to that former prisoner for writing, what was I presume originally a response to a Guardian article from a prison officer a few days ago, that Jim Brown republished here.

    I hope these observations get national media exposure and that other blogs republish, as I think Jim Brown has an exclusive, and not for the first time. Thanks to Jim for making it possible for this stuff to see the light of day.

    I take issue with one small point - which has major implications and is probably why we end up amidst blogs not the BBC etc.

    it is this phrase: -

    "Everybody knows it’s failing"

    I would rewrite that as - Everybody (with close understanding and experience of the English & Welsh Criminal Justice system) knows it’s failing. -

    Sadly most simply do not care, as long as they are not affected - maybe that is another reason why so much effort is going into demonising Jeremy Corbyn and his followers because there is a fear that if such as him get closer to power, there is a possibility of revealing many deep dark secrets at the heart of the UK which prevent our nation functioning to the benefit of all.

    I would remind folk of (for example) the Jeremy Thorpe affair - which has hardly had wide exposure since it was made public with a broadcast of details after his death - why do we still not have such secrets exposed to the same glare as such as the front page of today's Daily Mirror "Cliff's last goodbye to dying sister" etc. ad nauseam?

  3. I'm still puzzled as to why Cameron thought putting Grayling in charge of the MoJ was any kind of sensible move. The man is an idiot who has messed up every official post he's held to date. Chasing headlines is no way to run a judicial system and prison service b ut apparently that seems to be Grayling's modus operandi. Also still not sure why Michael Spurr is still in postr let alone getting a 10% payrise considering he's presided over the creation of the current mess in our prisons

    1. Grayling is a PR man like Cameron and Priti Patel, they can stay on focus when under the harshest attack from Journos and they have friends in the media who ask them soft questions

  4. Whilst Grayling was the justice minister solicitors went on strike. Lawyers went on strike. Probation officers went on strike.
    Now he's transport minister and Southern rail have gone on strike, and Eurostar have announced strike action over two weekends including bank holiday weekend.
    Recurring theme syndrome?

    1. Lets see how Fayling Grayling copes with a truly active & militant union as opposed to the relatively genteel resistance he's had to face thus far. His lunchtime warcry was pretty feeble; I'm now looking forward to the RMT kicking him to death - politically speaking, of course.

  5. Thanks for putting this up Jim, I did write it as a comment to yesterday’s post by the prison officer and you didn’t have to go the effort of retrieving it, so thanks for that.

    Unfortunately Grayling wasn’t as unpopular with the general public as he was with those of us who lived / worked in the CJS. When the Tories came to power in 2010 and Ken Clarke was in charge of the MoJ, his initial observations were that the UK was imprisoning far too many people at great expense, and set about dismantling the IPP and making loud noises about how too many people were needlessly remanded, or serving prison sentences as a result of a dearth of MH facilities in the community. This wasn’t very popular with the right-wing press, and Clarke was often fielding ignorant questions about how he planned to deal with dangerous offenders without the IPP. The necessary removal of the atrocious IPP system was seen in many circles as being a ‘soft’ move. Grayling’s attack-dog rhetoric about austere prisons has a tabloid appeal, and if a government ever needs to make swingeing cuts, the CJS is the place to do it – it’s an invisible cut, a system which isn’t noticed by wider society unless you are in the tiny minority who are caught up in it.

    I remember watching an episode of Question Time when I was in prison, and an exceptionally moronic audience member frothed about how prisoners were given a PlayStation, and if they smashed it up it would be replaced at taxpayer expense because of the emphasis on ‘human rights’ in prisons. Rather than shout this ignorant baloney down, the panel took turns to address this as a serious question, and each pontificated on how their law and order stance would be a strict one, and that such non-existent luxuries would be removed from serving prisoners under their watch. So long as the public remain happily ignorant about the realities of living and working within the prison system, and these myths are happily promoted by mainstream media, there will always be a place for dull-witted blusterers like Grayling in British politics.

  6. Well said 15:22. It's so sad and frustrating to hear (and indeed to observe at first hand as a TTG caseworker) the realities of prison life and the degrading conditions that both prisoners and staff endure in the drive to ever greater efficiency. Things will only get worse I fear as we continue to see imprisonment and the revolving door of constant recalls (whoever thought the ORA was a sensible piece of legislation!!!) as being the panacea for societies ills.

  7. Sodexo

    1. 300 sodexo passes suspended for airside staff due to a suspected scam & security risk. Seems its causing major distress to Virgin Airways customers flying 'upper class' because it's affected availability of some food choices in their 'Clubhouse'. Some dickwad with more money than sense has posted a comment elsewhere referring to the food 'crisis', ending it with: "you get a £10 voucher for hot food on top of what you are allowed to have in the clubhouse, problem is you have to queue with all the poor people in the main terminal which I avoid."

      #we're all in it together. #doncha just love the english way of life