Saturday, 26 November 2016

Prison Reform 2

There continues to be acres of newsprint and academic discussion of the prison crisis and need for reform, but in inverse proportion to that of the on-going crisis in probation, an essential element of any improvements. Sad, but a fact of life brought about by various factors that have been discussed at great length on this blog and remain available for those interested to find more about. 

It's not just the sheer amount of discourse, it's also the breadth of coverage. Here for example is a recent article in the Economist giving yet more weight to the argument for sentencing reform:- 

The parlous state of prisons in England and Wales has echoes of the past

The government has proposed every solution except the obvious: locking fewer people up.

Another day, another disturbance. On the evening of November 20th the prison service riot squad was summoned to deal with what the authorities called “an isolated incident” at HMP Moorland, near Doncaster. Cells were damaged and two inmates were injured in a fracas involving around 40 prisoners. To describe this as isolated is disingenuous. It is just the latest in a litany of troubles afflicting prisons in England and Wales.

The upheaval at Moorland came two weeks after over 200 prisoners had seized two wings at Bedford prison. Over the course of six hours they got out of their cells, broke into medicine stores and started fires. Officers were brought in from across the country to quell the unrest. In the same week two inmates escaped from Pentonville prison; one of them had been on remand for murder. Using diamond-tipped tools, they cut through their cell bars before scaling the perimeter wall. A prisoner was also stabbed to death in Pentonville last month.

Violence against both officers and other inmates is soaring. Even as the proportion of young men, those most prone to violence, has dropped (see chart), prisoners are hurting themselves and others more often and more viciously. Rates of self-harm are up by a quarter year-on-year. Serious assaults on other prisoners have risen by 28%. Attacks on staff have increased by 43%. In the year to September 2016, 107 prisoners killed themselves, almost twice as many as five years ago.

Two long-standing structural problems are largely to blame: understaffing and overcrowding. Between 2010 and 2015 the number of front-line officers was slashed (see chart). Realising the impact of these cuts, the government has been frantically trying to reverse course. Some 1,315 officers were hired in the year to this September. But so many are leaving that the total has in fact fallen by 154. On November 15th more than 10,000 prison officers stopped work, part of a “protest action” (stopped when it was judged an illegal strike). Meanwhile prisons are stuffed: by the government’s own standards, they hold 11% more people than they can decently accommodate.

That is mainly down to longer sentences. At 16.4 months the average is now more than four months longer than it was ten years ago. That partly reflects increasingly tough punishments for those already locked up. Since 2010 over 1m more days of imprisonment—equivalent to 3,000 years—have been imposed on inmates for breaking prison rules, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Britain has seen crises in its prisons before. In 1990 inmates rioted at Strangeways for 25 days. One was killed and scores more injured, along with almost 150 officers. In the subsequent inquiry Lord Woolf, a judge, identified overcrowding, overstretched and oppressive staff and grim conditions such as “slopping out” as contributory factors. Today the problem is that officers are too few and too inexperienced. Most cells now have toilets. But the similarities are still worrying.

More riots may erupt. Jason Warr, a criminologist at Lincoln University, worries that the murder of an officer is more likely. “And if you get one, in rapid succession you’ll get a couple of others,” he fears. His concerns do not seem so farfetched. Last June an officer was killed with a kick to the head while escorting a prisoner to a transport van. Earlier this month an inmate in the Isle of Wight tried to cut the throat of an officer with a razor. The mass riot at Strangeways was a “signal” event, says Mr Warr; it forced the Tory government of the day to acknowledge how badly it had neglected the prisons.

Similar woes do not seem to be having the same effect now. Reforms announced this month by Liz Truss, the justice secretary, fail to get to the root of the problem. They include more autonomy for governors, prison league tables and investment of £1.3bn ($1.6bn) to fix the crumbling prison estate. No-fly zones may be introduced to stop drones dropping off mobile phones and drugs. This week’s Autumn Statement confirmed that 2,500 more front-line officers will be hired by 2018.

No mention has been made of one obvious answer: to lock up fewer people. In the long term, that means shorter sentences for some crimes and greater use of measures such as community penalties, as recently suggested by the Lord Chief Justice. But such proposals will take years to take effect. Other options could bring numbers down more rapidly. Michael Gove, Ms Truss’s predecessor, suggested last month that at least 500 prisoners serving indefinite sentences for public protection could be released.

Executive release is another option, says David Wilson, a former governor who is now a criminologist at Birmingham City University. Those locked up for less than six months could be let out. As home secretary in 1910, Winston Churchill used this power to cut the prison population. Reducing pre-trial detention would help, says Mr Warr. The share of the prison population awaiting trial or sentencing in England and Wales is not high by international standards—11%, compared with 20% in America and 29% in France—but finding alternatives would relieve the overcrowding.

None of these options would be politically easy. The press has recently howled at pictures of inmates apparently living in luxury. But the government has accepted that prisons have big problems. The next step is fixing them.


The Howard League is launching a new campaign:-

The 3 Rs of Prison Reform

Our new campaign sets out some immediate and practical steps to get prison numbers down. 
Our overcrowded prisons are not law-abiding places. Prisons are rivers of crime. We are throwing more and more individuals into these raging rivers of violence, of drugs, of frustration and mental distress, and somehow magically thinking that this will make them better people.

It does not. The river doesn’t steer these people to safe shores but sweeps them away into deeper currents and further and further into crime. Ultimately that means more people will be released from prison and go on to reoffend. More members of the public will become victims of crime.

What we need is immediate action to stem the flow of people into prison and support so that prison staff can then focus on working positively with those who remain behind bars.

Overcrowding and why it matters

The prison population of England and Wales has doubled in twenty years and the system now holds many more prisoners than it was designed to hold. Overcrowding means around 20,000 prisoners are forced to share tiny cells in twos or threes. The prisoners will not know each other or what they have done. You can go to sleep one night with a cellmate in the other bunk and the next morning a complete stranger could be sleeping there.

Overcrowding means that prisoners are not placed in the prison most likely to help but instead where there is simply a bed that is available. Overcrowding means that prisoners do not have sufficient access to purposeful activity such as work or education, or to visit healthcare or receive visits. More and more prisoners spend up to 23 out of 24 hours a day lying on their bunks doing nothing. The sheer boredom itself feeds and breeds the problems of violence and of drug abuse behind bars.

Meanwhile, the manifest needs of most prisoners are not being met. Poor mental health, drug and alcohol addiction, poor literacy and numeracy: these and other issues are more likely to be made worse rather than better by a spell inside.

Dangerous prisons

Despite the best efforts of those working in the system, prisons are sinking under a tide of violence, of rampant drug abuse and increasing evidence of mental distress among prisoners. There were more alleged homicides in 2015 than in any other year on record. Assaults in prison have risen by 34% in the space of one year. Assaults on staff have risen by an even greater 43%.

It is not just violence against other people, however, but violence against the self. The rate of self-injury has more than doubled among male prisoners since 2010. The levels of suicide in prison are the highest since records began.

Across the board, things are not just getting worse but the rate of deterioration is getting worse. If what was happening every day in prisons was happening in schools or hospitals – even just one school or hospital – there would be a public outcry. The state of the prisons is now a national emergency.

What needs to be done: the 3 Rs

The government has announced plans to improve safety but unless it deals with overcrowding by reducing demand on the prisons then those plans will fail.

Bold sentencing reform to better match the use of prison to the resources available is required. There is no reason we cannot bring numbers down by a half and have a prison population of around 40,000 – the same size of prison population we saw in England and Wales when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

In the immediate future, however, we need to prevent more violence and more deaths. The Howard League will outline practical actions in three key areas, actions that can start to ease the pressure and set us on a journey to reduce prison numbers. We are campaigning for measures to address the 3 Rs:

Rules in prison
Release from prison
Recall to prison

Over the coming weeks we’ll be presenting more ideas for each of these areas and what you can do to help.


  1. Staff shortages, overcrowding, and psychoactive drugs are very serious issues in our prison system. Too many people are being sent to prison, and many don't really need to be there.
    But I think it's worth remembering that Grayling, as well as cutting staff numbers also introduced some other very stupid and unintelligent reforms that I think should be remembered.
    He stopped many prisoners from wearing their own clothes, which apart from causing resentment amongst prisoners, created a need for extra resources, more prison clothes needed, clothes that need washing, and staff time to supervise kit exchanges.
    "Its easier to get drugs then clothes" is a common theme in many reports and commentary on the prison crisis.
    Grayling also stopped prisoners families from sending gifts on birthdays and Christmas (commonly known as the book ban), causing more resentment, especially when you consider what things you were allowed to be sent anyway was very little.
    Grayling also restructured the incentive and earned privilege scheme, making it almost impossible to climb the ladder, removing the feeling of progress achievable for prisoners, making those that did manage to climb the ladder the focus of suspicion (must be a grass or something) because no-one else can manage it, and very importantly, removing the the ability of staff to use the threat of loss of privileges through the IEP system as a method of control, and leading to far more adjudications and days lost.
    Graylings staff cuts, prison closures with a growing population was stupid enough, but he didn't need to shake everything up like a wasps nest as well.


  2. If the government has any sense at all (and they don't) they should ask you to be a special advisor getafix, because you come up with ideas they could re- instigate with minimum fuss and expense which would make quite a lot of difference quite quickly. Low penalty for puff and high penalty for the harder drugs was your suggestion as well wasn't it.

  3. Grayling has a lot to answer for and should be held to account for his evident failings. Prisons and Probation are in a mess as the result of his actions and failure to listen to anyone who actually knew what they were talking about. Evidence now clearly shows 'those on the front line' were right. I don't have much confidence in Truss either, however I would have so much respect if she were to stand up and say "We (Grayling/Tories) got it wrong". Will never happen though as this Capitalist Government will 'spin' their next move to make it look like they are improving things rather then state We created this mess and we are going to get out. "We're in this together" b*llocks - if we were in it together and you are reading this Ms Truss, as professionals in an extremely depleted "business" which seems to be the word of the day these days (I joined a Public Service), we would hold more respect for you if you admitted this mess is the fault of the Conservatives in the first place. #Blood on your hands

  4. And the problem of racism: 10% of blacks in prison while 3% in the general population.

    1. This is racism. Referring to black pepole aa "bkacks". Terrible state of affairs. The blog now tolerates racism

    2. Did you just tick the box and miss the point to a certain extent 20.37? We all need to join together to beat the beast. Let's work together.

    3. 'Black' is not racist terminology. We are not all in this together, as the fate of minorities in the prison systems across the world amply demonstrates.

  5. Probation Officer26 November 2016 at 21:09

    ..... and they want to transfer probation officers to prisons!! Nobody in their right mind would accept being moved to a prison in this climate. Bloody dangerous places they are. I feel sorry for the 2500 poor souls allegedly about to be recruited as prison officers. They won't know what's hit them!

    1. This is part of the great deception....they know that there's a retention problem in prisons.... the trouble is lots of officers are tied up with 'bothersome' rehabilitation work therefore to aid retention shift all of those officers back onto the wings and fill their places with provbation officers-genuis...except the void will have to be filled with untrained (forgive me one days training per unit)PSO's who will now know the meaning of responsibility...prisons are dangerous places at the moment and as 21:09 suggests we must resist going in at all costs until things have quietened down again.

  6. Change the subject slightly it occurs to me that a number of ACOs over the years have disappeared from their operational roles and into NOMS to lend their expertise to that particular monster. Has anyone ever seen anything good coming out of NOMS? How about refusing to help them now ACOs? How about speaking against the terrible things that come out of NOMS and MOJ in a steady stream? How about speaking up for the service users and probation staff amongst those decision and policy makers who are clearly out of touch with the real world? Are you out of touch yourselves? Are you frightened? Do you not care? Or have you fought and lost? Would like to hear your experiences on this blog.

    1. My guess - the ACOs you're asking the question of won't make a sound, they'll carry on spending their ill-gotten gains in splendid retirement, or carry on working for the beast that is Noms. They certainly won't compromise their own comfortable situation by responding to your request.

    2. ACOs want a slice of the pie that they saw their ex Chiefs area is obsessed with being number 1 in the district, why would this be unless there was a pot of gold for someone at the end of that particular rainbow

  7. PSOs in our office are being insulted, harassed and working lives generally being made very difficult for them. There is a feeling of not being valued or wanted. Is this happening elsewhere?

  8. Can you be a bit more specific 6.38 as to the details? For example who is being insulted, harassed and by whom? If you are talking about bullying then is it being reported? My own impression is that bullying can come from any angle. I have seen spo's bully 'lower ranking'officers but I have also seen quite a few admin. Level get away with terrible bullying of 'higher ranking'pso and po grades. In fact I experienced this myself and it was never taken seriously but asking around I discovered that staff had left because of it. Power comes in many forms and not just the obvious. You woukd expect probation services to deal with these matters well but in my experience they don't. For example, does anyone know about or use the whistle blowing policy because we should all have one?

  9. I was wondering if anyone had any information on the state of things in NPS Programmes? I'm guessing it's different answers up and down the land? I would ask the few facilitators on FB what is/was going on there, but it seems that even years after my offending and attendance they are not capable of replying to friend requests and messages, they are not contracted to respond and aren't being paid to talk to me, so why would they want to bother?

    This blog has always lacked when covering information on Programmes, they are after all the jewel in the crown of modern Probation work. This blog is great if you want to hear bitching about NAPO, or talking about Prisons, majority of other things it's rather light on.

    So any information around about the state of programmes in NPS? Are the underskilled, voyueristic programmes staff still getting their jollies by psychologically abusing people into self actualisation?

    1. Part of me thinks that you may be subject to one of these Programmes and are posting simply to 'axe grind'.

    2. 08:51 - Seems like the advice offered on 12 Nov has fallen on stony ground.

    3. I searched the names of people I had contact with in the past and asked them to become Facebook friends, a fairly basic idea that is the foundation of that particular website. It's not like they were or are complete strangers, infact a few of them have previously been around my home on a number of occasions.

      How many PO's are social media friends with people whom are ex-offenders that they previously had contact with through their ex-profession?

      That's a good question.

      Of course I'm sure it's "company policy" that dictates whether you can be friends with somebody, not your own choice is it?

    4. Sounds like the basis for the collapse of 'friendsreunited', or the opening voiceover of a David Lynch movie (spoken by Dennis Hopper): "I searched the names of people I had contact with in the past".

  10. I know of crc programmes that cant get the referrals from court and hardly anyone is recommending from prison. Numbers are way down.

    1. That's because the CRC don't get paid for said programme unless it has been specified by the Court - so completing a programme as a RAR is actively discouraged in our area. I think the same applies to programmes when on licence.

  11. I've been trying to identify the role & place of "the Modernisation Fund" that provided the significant sum of public money handed over to the CRCs. It seems to be a mysterious concept. In 2005 there were references to a Union Modernisation Fund providing monies to trades unions, but that disappeared in 2010. The closest I seem to be is as follows:

    "Office for Civil Society (OCS)

    The Cabinet Office sits at the very centre of government and, alongside the Treasury, provides its 'head office’. The department has an overarching purpose of making government work better, but perhaps most importantly, it is where the Office for Civil Society (formerly the Office of the Third Sector) sits. The OCS aims to drive forward the government’s role in supporting the voluntary sector, and bring together sector related work across government.

    The OCS has now set up the Social Investment Business (SIB), launched in September 2009. Taking responsibilities from the Adventure Capital Fund and the former Futurebuilders England, the SIB is the largest social investor in the UK and manages the Futurebuilders Fund, The Social Enterprise Investment Fund, the Communitybuilders Programme and the loan element of the Modernisation Fund."

    No reference to a capital funding role, e.g. from where the lump sum for CRC owners must have come, estimated at £80-100M shared between the 21 CRCs to cover the costs of redundancy/severance/pension strain.

    At first glance it looks very much like Francis Maude handing Chris Grayling a big bag of taxpayer dosh to grease the wheels of privatisation.

    Anyone out there able to shed any light?

  12. Can't think what else this "gift" will achieve except conflict an resentment amongst prison staff.
    I think it's disgusting personally.


    1. Scores of prison officers who refused to join a mass walkout are being rewarded with £100 shopping vouchers funded by the taxpayer.
      Guards protecting some of Britain’s most dangerous criminals who stayed on duty while a union held a 24-hour walkout in a dispute over rising levels of violence behind bars will receive the vouchers as a ‘token of appreciation’.
      The rewards are due to be handed out to officers at Category A prisons Belmarsh, Whitemoor and Long Lartin, as well as HMP Portland, a young offenders institution.

      Last night, a leading union official claimed the practice of handing out shopping vouchers is even more widespread, meaning the taxpayer could be facing a bill worth thousands of pounds to fund the rewards.
      It is thought the officers will be receiving Love2shop vouchers which are redeemable in a host of popular stores, including Debenhams, Argos, House of Fraser and Toys R Us, as well as Pizza Express.
      The revelation comes after up to 10,000 prison officers were forced to return to work during a 24-hour walkout this month when the Government won a High Court bid to halt industrial action.
      The Prison Officers’ Association, which organised the action after talks broke down, claimed the Government was in breach of its contract by failing to provide a safe place of work.
      But the Ministry of Justice insisted the industrial action was not justified, with Justice Secretary Liz Truss calling it ‘unlawful’.

      Steve Gillan, POA general secretary, condemned the practice of handing out shopping vouchers, branding it a ‘bribe’.
      He said: ‘The taxpayer will be astonished that this sort of thing goes on. It’s a disgraceful use of taxpayers’ money.
      'Perhaps they should invest more money in overall pay rather than singling out individuals for bonuses.
      'To bribe staff in this way is morally repugnant.’
      Mr Gillan said he was aware that the policy was more widespread. He is demanding the National Offender Management Service, which runs Britain’s prisons, reveals how many vouchers and other financial incentives are being given out.
      The Mail on Sunday has seen a letter distributed to staff at Long Lartin, Worcestershire, who did not participate in industrial action, telling them they will receive ‘a small token of appreciation’.
      The letter, from the prison’s acting governor, Mark Allen, states: ‘I wish to thank you personally for supporting myself and Long Lartin… I appreciate that the decision you made to support Long Lartin would not have been an easy one.
      ‘Can you please pop into my office, week commencing 28th November as I have a small token of appreciation for you.’

      It is understood that about 60 prison officers at Long Lartin are in line to each receive vouchers, worth £6,000 in total.
      John Attard, National Officer of the Prison Governors Association, said: ‘Governors working in prisons very much are the squeezed middle.
      ‘They are under pressure from their staff to make prisons safer but they’re also under pressure from NOMS itself to do that with less resources and less control.
      ‘There is a mechanism to reward staff within the prison service rules and those would have been the mechanisms that each individual governor would have decided.’
      The MoJ failed to answer questions put to them about the total number of prison officers due to receive vouchers.
      A spokesman said: ‘The Prison Service has a long-standing reward and recognition policy for its hard-working staff. ‘All rewards are at a governor’s discretion.’

  13. There is a BLATENT breach of contract as the contractual incremental has still not been paid from Aptil 2016. the unions should be all over this but have failed members for several years, as this is not the first time it hasn't been. It is then offered as a pay increase. People, this is a CONTRACTUAL ENTITLEMENT. Please read your contract. Incremental progression should be paid AUTOMATICALLY on 1 April annually until maxima.

    If the unions are colluding with NOMS as they clearly are, then take action yourselves. Put in a grievance, then either sue via County Court for breach of contract or via Employment Trubunal for Unlawful Withholding Of Salary. It's about time we all started fighting for justice. The unions won't do it so do it fir yourselves. Show em that we will stand up for rights. You are paying a substantial amount of money to them on a monthly basis, what are they doing for you? Please do something, they are walking all over us and we are letting them. Time to fight back.