Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Prison News 4

This piece from the Guardian serves to highlight what happens when government ignores the warnings from people on the frontline:- 

We governors warned of the danger of more prison deaths, but no-one listened

The recent stabbing to death of Jamal Mahmoud, a prisoner at HMP Pentonville, shone a light into a dark world.

At our annual prison governors’ conference in Derby earlier this month, we took the unprecedented step of voting unanimously for an independent public inquiry into the extraordinary rise in violence and deaths in prisons since 2012, the year the Ministry of Justice cut budgets by 15.6%. This call was tragically prophetic because six days later, Mahmoud was killed.

Our condolences go to Mahmoud’s family and friends, but our thoughts are also with the staff involved. Most people do not appreciate how dedicated and professional most prison workers are, or what a devastating impact this incident will have on their morale.

For many prison governors involved in these types of incidents, it is the start of a long process of external scrutiny that will put them under intense, personal pressure over many months, if not years.

Should we have seen this coming? In short: yes.

In October 2015, I wrote that plans from the then justice secretary Michael Gove for rehabilitating prisoners through education was not a panacea while prisons continued to be starved of resources. Prisoners are not likely to focus on education if they are more concerned about being mugged on the way to the classroom.

This May, I wrote in response to Gove’s address to prison governors, where he stated just how terrible the figures for deaths in custody and violence are, (for example, there were 100 self-inflicted deaths in custody, up from 79 the year before) and said that only when prisons are places of calm stability would we be able to make the difference we need to. Our association would agree, but every key indicator tells us that prisons are anything but calm places and the future looks very bleak.

In July, Mahmoud was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for his part in hiding a loaded machine gun and ammunition in a garden in north London and was already serving a five-and-a-half year term for robbery.

If, as Gove stated, the principal purpose of prison is rehabilitation, Mahmoud was an example of someone we desperately needed to rehabilitate. But that cannot be achieved when violence and intimidation are a normal part of prison life.

In May, Gove called for prison governors to lead with “moral purpose not manuals and rulebooks”. While recognising the economic climate, we in the Prison Governors Association (PGA) urge the government to do the same. Investing in prisons will mean fewer victims of violence, as well as long-term economic savings.

Liz Truss, the current justice secretary, told the PGA that safety is at the top of her agenda and we believe her. However, this needs to be backed up with more than the £14m she promised earlier this month, which will only pay for 400 extra officers in just 10 prisons.

Eoin McLennan-Murray, a former president of the PGA, said in February 2014 that staff shortages and increasing numbers of incidents were creating a “perfect storm” that would destabilise prisons.

That storm has arrived. It’s about time the government listened to the concerns that prison governors have raised. Ministers cannot declare that governors should be empowered to lead our prisons but then fail to respond when they identify significant flaws. If there is still a reluctance to listen to the plethora of warnings governors are giving, then ministers must take notice of the hard statistics.

John Attard, National officer, Prison Governors Association


  1. So the Nasty Party continues to run amok in the UK. To date their favourite numbskull, bull-in-a-china-shop Grayling, has been unleashed upon the poor, the unemployed, the young, the sick, prisons, probation, lawyers & criminal justice in general - and now May has handed him Transport thereby triggering the systemic collapse of UK infrastructure.

  2. There is an expert being interviewed on the Today programme.He said "I feel in facts.....".Well that is a site sign that Chris will stop listening to what he has to say about current levels of air pollution.Dear Chris does not get swayed by fact...

    1. Apologies deal not feel and sure not site.Curses of smart phone

  3. Those of us working in the criminal justice system should coordinate a united response to this. Police should record crimes but refuse to arrest people for them. Magistrates and judges should refuse to impose custodial sentences. Probation officers should refuse to recall. Howard league should record the individual cases and their circumstances accross the disciplines. Keep that up for a few weeks and the ministry should be ready to provide the necessary funds.

  4. As an SPO working in prison I am constantly concerned for the safety of my staff in an environment where violence and spice are rife ,senior managers make no comment on the state of prisons as the OMU review starts to be implemented next year and more POs will be prison based . Need to ask Jim Barton his thoughts on this.

  5. 07:19

    "Those of us working in the criminal justice system should coordinate a united response to this."
    You are so right. The push for an inquiry into what's happening in our prisons should be rebranded and become an inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation and all parties involved in the criminal justice system could fly the same colour flag.
    I note that the new super prison in Wales 'Wrexham" is scheduled to open in February, and the staff that will work there have just had a "passing out ceremony". However, I question this governments prison building policy. Although physically new prisons can offer a better quality of basic facilities (accommodation, sanitary etc, I just fail to see the point of new prisons if they're filled with the same policies, ideologies, and working practices that represent the core and very significant problems that the old prisons are full of.
    Everything is neatly packaged under the label of TR and as such any inquiry should involve representation from all involved, prison, probation, youth services and indeed the Third and voluntary sectors.


    1. I seem to recall reading something about the staffing levels of the super prison - 2.500 prisoners, 250 staff? Happy to be corrected, but if I am right, with a tripartite rota, that leaves very few to do all the escorting etc and so rehabilitation, not high on the agenda there. Afterall, the prison numbers will remain at 2.500.

    2. There are some prisons at the moment that are also about to be recatorgrised from B cat to C cat. I can't remember which ones, but Holme House is definitely one.
      Cat Cs get less funding then B cats, and deemed to require less staff.
      Epic problem solving skills eh?

  6. Interesting that the once shunned Governor Eoin McClennan-Murray is now being cited as a visionary. Pity he was ignored & thrown to the wolves at the time. Maybe the PGA could have made a stand when Noms-MoJ were bullying & scapegoating Mr McClennan-Murray? Same old, same old; just like probation chiefs rolling on their backs to facilitate TR & privatisation for personal gain. If only they'd had the courage, moral fibre & backbone to make a stand, rather than greedily gobbling up the bullshit & filling their pockets. I'd like to think Grayling will now decide to build a runway or HS2 or a new motorway in THEIR back gardens.

  7. Pretty interesting article in today's Independent on the youth justice system. NOMS and the MOJ are both singled out for criticism,and for not thinking things out enough.

  8. Gove on R4 lunchtime - what an odious, nauseating worm. The image of his 'bromance' for Ed Balls completes the Hallowe'en picture.

  9. Increasing number of women dying in English & Welsh prisons was main feature in Channel 4 News tonight 26th October 2016.

  10. "Liz Truss, the current justice secretary, told the PGA that safety is at the top of her agenda" Really. Backawhile we used to play "MoJ Bingo" whenever the Justice Minister or his minions made press statements. I think we had proper score cards at one point. One of the stock phrases was "Public Protection is our high priority".

  11. I think this call is long overdue.


    1. I have written to the Borough Commander of Islington Police asking her to investigate whether corporate manslaughter played a role in the recent death at Pentonville Prison.

      The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide act was extended to cover custody in 2011.

      In a speech of 17 July 2015 the Secretary of State for Justice, who holds ultimate responsibility for the prison estate described HMP Pentonville as:

      ‘the most dramatic example of failure within the prison estate’

      In the same speech he said:

      ‘While individuals are in custody the state is responsible for every aspect of their welfare. ‘

      This is against the background of many independent reports from statutory bodies describing a very poor situation at Pentonville. The Independent Monitoring Board report, the Inspectors’ 2015 report and MOJ 2015 action plan for HMP Pentonville. These reports frequently mention severe problems with violence and describe Pentonville essentially as an unfit institution. The MOJ statistics on violence paint a similar picture. We have covered Pentonville issues many times on this site over the years.

      In my opinion the Secretary of State and the prison service may have failed in their duty of care towards prisoners at Pentonville, creating an environment in which it was possible to smuggle in a weapon and for someone to die as a result of their injuries caused by that weapon.

      The Secretary of State’s July 2015 speech will have been ‘cleared’ by many people in the prison and probation service hierarchy. And read by many more. The system from top to bottom knew of the severe problems at HMP Pentonville. Yet it appears that, by October 2016, despite the 2015 action plan insufficient effort had been expended to improve the situation to provide the most basic duty of care to inmates, preventing them from being killed by a smuggled weapon. Prima facie, this appears to be a gross breach of a duty of care.

      The prison system is deeply challenging and complex, but, If this death had occurred in a school, hotel or hospital that had received such warnings with such frank admissions by the person in charge who had then taken insufficient action to avoid a death the HSE and police would be mounting an investigation into corporate manslaughter. The much maligned Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was extended from 1 September 2011 to cover custody and prisons.

      Against this background, the local police, coroner and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (who has a statutory duty to investigate a prison death independently) should include corporate manslaughter in their work. When the political and parliamentary process fails to defend peoples rights, the courts should step in in the long tradition of english justice. Especially given that it is the courts that send people to prison and presume that they will be safe there.

      I have copied my letter to the St Pancras Coroner (Inner London North), the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Councillor Paul Convery and Emily Thornberry MP.

      William Perrin


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