Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Prison News 3

Following on from news that Michael Spurr has had a massive pay rise, lets take a look at how things are doing in a big chunk of his balliwick, namely prisons. Last week a whole load of prison statistics were released by the MoJ and as usual the Howard League did a great job in teasing out the main points, such as that the 8 exceptional establishments are all publicly run and the number in the lowest category has doubled:-

Now call me an old cynic, but I could write the press release on behalf of Serco who have the dubious honour of being responsible for one of the worst performing prisons, HMP Doncaster. Of course only a few years ago it was regarded as one of the 'jewels in the crown'. Anyway, that press release:- 

"That was then - a lot's improved - but there's more to do." 

Blimey. This from the Doncaster Free Press:-

Doncaster prison rated as one of the worst in the country

Performance at a Doncaster prison has been deemed to be of 'serious concern' by the Ministry of Justice, who gave the jail the worst possible rating in a report published today. HMP Doncaster was one of only six prisons across the country to be given the rating, in annual report looking at the performance of 121 jails across the country. This comes after the prison, run by private firm Serco, was branded inadequate by HM Inspectorate of Prison chiefs following their visit in October.

An official inspection report following the visit said levels of violence were higher than at other jails. It also stated that eleven inmates had died in the 18 months leading up to the inspection, including three who had taken their own lives. Hostage incidents had taken place, drugs were widely available and clean bedding was reportedly hard to find.

Julia Rogers, Serco’s Managing Director for Justice, said: 

"At HMP Doncaster, with considerable help from our customer we have been working hard over the past year to improve the prison. I am pleased to say that since March, when these ratings were given, the measures we have taken are having a real effect and as a result safety is improving and violence is gradually reducing. The measures we have taken include the appointment of a new Director and management team; achieving and maintaining full staffing levels over the last six months and providing improved training and support for our Officers and these have all contributed to reducing the levels of violence. We have also introduced a new ‘Social Responsibility Unit’ in June, to work with all offenders who display acts of violence and aggression towards other prisoners and staff. This Unit addresses the root causes of issues causing violence in Doncaster prison and we have seen marked reductions in violence.

However we know we have much more to do; we will continue to work hard to drive down violence in the prison and to support the victims of violence and support those prisoners in crisis. Doncaster has a history of having previously been an excellent prison and we are determined that it will be once more in the very near future.”

The other prisons also awarded the worst possible rating were: Bristol, Hewell, Isis, Liverpool and Wormwood Scrubs. The number of prisons awarded the rating has doubled since last year.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: 

“That more prisons have been awarded the worst-possible performance rating provides further indication of how the system is failing after years of rising numbers, chronic overcrowding and deep staff cuts. Once again, official figures spell out the urgent need for prison reform. Prisons are not only becoming more dangerous; they are becoming more dangerous more quickly."


Despite just announcing the fitting of a new hip, Frances Crook is still blogging. This is her latest with a plan for sorting out the IPP mess:-  

The manifest injustice of the IPP

The Chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, suggested this week that the people serving indeterminate sentences should be released once their tariff has expired unless it can be proved they continue to be a risk. This is a reversal of the current burden of proof that requires people to prove they are safe.

This is a sensible, level-headed and just reform. We cannot continue to incarcerate thousands of people because of something they might do. It is manifestly unfair and it is causing chaos inside prisons as people are caged for years past the date they expected to be released with no end in sight.

It is extremely hard to prove you are safe to be released when you are in prison. Compliance does not necessarily imply that people will adjust well in the community. Indeed, it could be argued that people who challenge the system may be more likely to face up the exigencies of life outside.

I am pleased that efforts are being made to remedy the manifest injustice of the IPP by easing people through prison more quickly. But, and this is a very big but, there is a ticking time bomb that has yet to be dealt with.

People sentenced to an IPP are recorded on the prison computer as having a 99-year sentence because they are subject to a life licence. When they are released they are on licence for life but they are able to request that the licence is lifted after ten years. So far, no one has done this.

People released from an IPP are being recalled to prison under these administrative powers. The figures published yesterday show that 410 IPPs have been recalled to prison in the last 12 months alone.

I met with David Blunkett last week. You will recall that he was the Secretary of State who introduced the IPP. He has publicly admitted that what happened was not what he intended and far too many people were caught in the net.

He has agreed to support a call from the Howard League to get rid of the life licence and to have instead a fixed period of supervision of two years, with the possibility of a further year if the Secretary of State deems it is required for public safety.

The iniquitous element of the IPP is the uncertainty. People are languishing in prison for years with no idea of when they may be released and this uncertainty is replicated when they are eventually released as they face the possibility of being recalled to prison at any time because they behaviour is deemed ‘risky’. This could mean a man going to the pub with friends when the original offence, committed maybe a decade ago when the he was in his twenties, involved alcohol.

When Parliament comes back in the autumn we will be working with David Blunkett and government to get this change.


This graphic admirably illustrates how IPP sentences affected prison numbers:-


The House of Commons Justice Committee is seeking evidence on prison reform by 30th September:-

Prison reform inquiry

Scope of the inquiry

On the assumption that, as indicated by the new Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, there will be no substantial change to the ambitious programme of reforms to prisons already announced—including the £1.3bn estate modernisation programme, the creation of reform prisons to give prison governors greater autonomy, and the implementation of Dame Sally Coates' education review—the Committee launches an inquiry on Prison Reform.

As details of the reforms are still emerging, we pose high-level questions in our inquiry's terms of reference. In doing so we wish to seek overall views initially which will be followed up in greater detail with a series of sub-inquiries following the publication of the White Paper expected in October 2016.


Meanwhile, here's a strong indication of how Ukip would deal with the issue of prison reform as suggested by one of their number standing for leader. This from the Shropshire Star:- 

Prisoners should pay £40,000 a year says Ukip MEP Bill Etheridge

A West Midlands MEP who hopes to succeed Nigel Farage as Ukip leader has announced a series of radical jail reforms – including charging prisoners £40,000-a-year during their sentences. 
Bill Etheridge says he wants to see “a return to the days” when prison focused first and foremost on punishment, and vowed to “rehabilitate without using significant financial resources”.

His measures include:

  • Removing all luxuries from jails, including all electronic devices
  • An automatic 10-year sentence increase for prisoners who attack prison officers
  • Locking prisoners in their cells for the first six months of sentences
  • Banning all visits over the same period
  • A £40,000 annual charge on prisoners to be levied until ‘their assets are depleted’
It comes after Mr Etheridge called for a referendum over bringing back the death penalty, a measure which he says he is in favour of. Mr Etheridge, who is also a Dudley councillor, said the measures would reduce re-offending and ‘ensure people do not want to return to a hostile environment’, as well as driving down the cost of prisons.

“There should be no requirement to provide miscreants with the sort of electronic gadgetry that the poorest in our society struggle to acquire,” added Mr Etheridge, who says he has never seen the inside of a prison. "Prisons should be there to provide shelter, toilet provision, food and access to reading materials for self-advancement. Anything more than these basic essentials is an unnecessary waste of tax payers’ money.We must drive down the cost of prisons and ensure that they are places that no one would wish to return to.”

The prison population in the UK is around 80,000, with the cost of imprisoning someone in excess of £40,000 a year. West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, said: “I would be more than happy to take Bill on a tour of one of the region’s prisons to inform him of how they actually operate. I’d also be happy to take him to meet some of the West Midlands employers who take on former offenders and turn them from tax burdens into tax contributors.”


Finally, not to do with prison reform, but it's good to see one of the candidates for Napo National Chair using YouTube as part of their campaign:-


  1. UKIP's proposal to charge inmates £40,000 per year until their assets are depleted is only marginally less bizarre than forcing poorer students who formally received maintenance grants towards their living expenses, to take out loans instead. UKIP has missed a trick here: they should have proposed that prisoners takes out loans for their board & keep and rehabilitation. Presumably if the rehabilitation fails through reoffending, the individual could then sue for breach of contract. In a poorly performing prison like Doncaster the plaintiff would be onto a winner. The obvious drawback is that unscrupulous types would study the prison league tables, and get themselves locked up just to win exemplary awards.

    Chas comes across as a decent candidate who knows what he's talking about. He is strong on national collective bargaining and his thoughts on proportionate salaries for trade union officials are radical.

    1. You r obviously a friend, the reality is he is an opinionated narcissist whose ego is feeding him. Who would create a video of themselves then put it out on social media unless they love themself. I'm afraid he is too self interested to have interest in the members.

    2. Its cheap and he's desperate!!

    3. 13.39 & 13.42 - the Dino rebuttal unit never sleeps.

    4. Never met Chas in my life. And if you really think that appearing on social media is narcissistic, then you must be from Mars. We have had moving pictures for over a century now on planet Earth.

    5. 15:59 what has this got do with Dino ?

    6. Just in terms of what kind of narcissist posts a video of them self on the internet...

      I do! Chas is my dad, I have a YouTube channel which is video blogs covering a range of political, trade union and social issues with a particular reference to health (as this is my area) It is much the same as having a written blog with the advantage that for some audiences it is a more engaging medium. Thousands of people, if not millions around the world, upload self created video content every single day. Using that medium to engage people in important issues and campaigns is not narcissistic. People like to make personal connections. Video featuring people is one way of doing that. I'm not a professional film maker, writer, director or editor so sometimes it feels a bit amateurish but it allows viewers to connect people with ideas which is vital if you're serious about building a campaigning trade union movement. It certainly beats posting your opinion somewhere under the cloak of anonymity. Just saying.

    7. "It certainly beats posting your opinion somewhere under the cloak of anonymity. Just saying."

      Thanks for that, but many would feel anonymity plays a vital role in getting to the truth as well. 3.8 million hits in 5 years is testament to something serious I would venture to suggest.

      But we must all do what we are good at and comfortable with and congratulations in getting your recent video into the Daily Mirror:-

      Doctor's open letter slams Sarah Vine's claim that husband Michael Gove couldn't get an X-ray


  2. May I take people back to the 26 July blog and the post which included the following observation viz-"would suggest the period leading to Trust status & subsequent culture of league tables (2006-2010) contributed to an escalation in the use of IPP sentences, e.g. Trusts not wanting SFOs to blemish their performance statistics. Risk averse managers would be encouraged to increase risk & highlight IPP options to the courts. As described earlier, Oasys made it easy to raise the stakes. Maybe someone has figures that could prove/disprove this theory?"

    The graph in today's blog supports this as 2006 - 2010 seems to be the period where the graph is at its steepest gradient. Crikey, who'd have thought it?

    1. From Report referred to in post below: "Of the 40 cases which had a risk of harm analysis, only half were judged to have given sufficient consideration to risk issues. Inspectors disagreed with the classification in 17 cases, judging it to be inflated in 16 (40% of cases)."

      Can we extrapolate this to expand the argument and say that IPP sentences were inflated by at least 40% due to the risk averse target-driven Trusts trying to avoid financial penalties?

      Years of unjust sentences. Well done Blair, Brown, Blunkett, Straw, NOMS & Trust Chiefs - aided & abetted by the Coalition.

    2. From memory: initial NOMS training was explicitly for PSR writers *not* to use the magic words 'significant risk of serious harm' in their reports. Appeal cases brought about a change to that situation meaning that although, that specific assessment was for the sentencer to make, PSRs needed to assist by including the author's own view on the matter.

  3. As we have known for a long, long time no politician or policy maker listens if they don't want to hear. A joint report by Owers & Bridges was published in 2008 based upon interviews with practitioners & prisoners in 2007:

    "Probation input
    1.4 Inspectors examined a sample of 48 cases of adult men, young adults and women sentenced to IPPs, to see whether pre-sentence reports (PSRs) properly addressed risk in order to assist the sentencing court. There had been little guidance to probation staff in carrying out this role. Inspectors found:
    • Of the 45 cases with pre-sentence reports, fewer than half were informed by a full and accurately completed assessment of current and previous offending behaviour.
    • Of those cases, 31 (over two-thirds) had at least one diverse need, such as mental health, substance misuse, ethnicity or learning difficulties. In only 14 cases did the report demonstrate an understanding of the relevance of the need to the offending or future risk.
    • Of the 40 cases which had a risk of harm analysis, only half were judged to have given sufficient consideration to risk issues. Inspectors disagreed with the classification in 17 cases, judging it to be inflated in 16 (40% of cases).
    • Overall, the quality of the risk of harm assessment was not sufficient to assist the courts adequately in deciding whether to impose an IPP sentence."

    Yet the graph shows the number of indeterminate prisoners continued to escalate at an alarming rate: "la-la-la, I'm not listening."

  4. Ukip's entire policy platform could largely be summarised as: "It was better in the '50s" and a pair of blinkers.

  5. Speaking of Serco, anyone else read this in Private Eye?

    Rubbish! Serco strikes again
    Privatised justice, Issue 1420
    HIGHLY confidential documents containing extensive personal details about troubled young offenders were chucked out by Serco, the outsourced justice giant, and sent to Private Eye by the person who found them in a dustbin.
    They came with a note saying they had been found in a bin on an industrial estate in Strood, Kent, which is home to a number of businesses, including the vehicle base for Serco’s Prisoner Escort and Custody Services (PECS) team. The anonymous finder, who said they did not work for Serco, claimed this was not the first time they had found such documents thrown away and that they had previously tried to raise the issue with Serco staff, but to no avail.

    Protect their identities
    The documents, mainly yellow carbon-copy sheets, included identifying information such as names and dates of birth, along with highly personal data about mental health and suicide risk, family relationships, the offences they were charged with and previous convictions. Due to the age of the offenders whose paperwork has been seen by the Eye, their court cases would have been subject to reporting restrictions to protect their identities. The bundles also contained data about the escort teams who had transferred the youngsters between court and Medway Secure Training Centre.

    After Private Eye contacted Serco to ask why documents which should either be stored safely or securely destroyed as confidential waste had been dumped so publicly, Julia Rogers, Serco’s managing director, justice, claimed that an initial investigation led the company to “believe that these documents have been stolen and illegally removed from our secure offices in Strood… Given the confidential nature of these documents we have immediately informed the police, the Information Commissioner’s Office and launched an internal investigation. We take data security extremely seriously and we will take all steps necessary to find the person responsible and prevent any reoccurrence.”

  6. There are no surprises for me on the prison performance table other than HMP Bullingdon achieving a 2. I have had no positive dealings with them at all. HMP Bristol is also a difficult establishment to have dealing with.

    I watched some of Chas' video but got bored and switched it off. It was in no way offensive but I found it awkward and completely uninspiring. It hasn't encouraged me to vote for him.

  7. Watched Chas's video. I'm not sure how he can say he is the only candidate to his knowledge to be in favour of National Collective Bargaining. No others have stated otherwise. I like to think that the NAPO will be led by its members, however it has been quite clear for some time that the top table don't always want to listen to its members via the NEC, and in fact during recent years have ignored the request of members to have more time for discussion over the TR process when it was needed in favour of having more speakers at AGM. Maybe that is why members stopped going.

    1. It would be good to know where the other candidates stand on national bargaining as its too big a subject to have nothing to say about it. Maybe this blog can ask the question of all the candidates and gather the responses?

    2. That is a very resonable suggestion, however all the candidates choose not to acknowledge the blog to varying degrees.