Monday, 13 February 2017

Prison Chaos

From the BBC website:-

Undercover Panorama report reveals prison chaos

Chaos in one of the biggest prisons in the country has been revealed in secret filming for the BBC. An undercover reporter spent two months at HMP Northumberland, which houses up to 1,348 male inmates, for Panorama. He discovered widespread drug use, a lack of control, door alarms that did not go off in one block and a hole in an internal security fence.

The Ministry of Justice said it would investigate the "extremely serious allegations" at the Acklington jail.

Prison officers also found balaclavas, blackout clothing and wire-cutting tools at the category C jail. It is believed inmates had been sneaking out to collect drugs or other contraband thrown over the perimeter fence. These discoveries were made in a block where inmates preparing to transfer to open prisons were not locked in their cells at night.

In one of the most disturbing episodes of the undercover investigation, footage shows a prison officer having convulsions on the floor after accidentally inhaling spice, a cheap and stronger synthetic alternative to cannabis, which is rife in the jail.

The undercover reporter, who was working as a custody officer, was told by some staff they did not feel able to confront prisoners because they were worried back-up support would take too long to arrive. During the secret filming, the reporter also recorded scenes including:
  • Prisoners incapacitated by drugs
  • Officers sometimes left on their own to manage large groups of inmates
  • Inmates threatening staff
The Panorama investigation comes days after the Ministry of Justice announced the replacement of the National Offender Management Service with a new prison and probation service aimed at cutting crime and reforming offenders. 

HMP Northumberland is run by Sodexo Justice Services. It was privatised in 2014, when the government was aiming to cut £500m from the prisons budget. To win the contract, Sodexo pledged to save the taxpayer £130m over 15 years. Two hundred jobs, including 96 prison officer posts, were cut. At the time of the deal, the Prison Officers Association warned it could result in "escapes and riots".

HMP Northumberland is a training prison that is meant to offer a range of education and training programmes to prepare inmates for release. The Panorama reporter witnessed some inmates colouring in pictures of the children's cartoon character Peppa Pig in an "employability skills" class provided by an outside contractor, Novus. It told Panorama it had investigated these concerns and sent a report to the government.

The Ministry of Justice told the BBC: "The justice secretary has been clear that levels of violence and self harm in our prisons are too high, which is why we are investing an extra £100m annually to boost the front line by 2,500 officers. "These are longstanding issues which will not be resolved in weeks or months but we are determined to make our prisons places of safety and reform."

A spokesman for Sodexo said: "We are proud of those staff at HMP Northumberland who do a professional job in such difficult circumstances. "Security and the safety of our prisoners and staff are our top priority, which is why we have made significant investments in these two areas over and above the contract requirements."

As part of the investigation, Panorama analysed what prisoners had been saying about safety in prisons across England and Wales. Panorama took HM Inspectorate of Prisons data on prisoners' perceptions and analysed it to reveal how fears have changed over the last decade.


  1. PAPS isn't going to change a thing with the infamously incompetent Michael Spurr still at the helm

  2. At last the truth about the unsafe envrioment for staff and prisoners is revealed. Napo members warned about this post split but were ignored. There have been so many violent incident against staff which have not been reported due to pressure from Sodexo.Chris Grayling should be facing charges here!

  3. Security and safety of our prisoners and staff are top priority. What about the key compromise when prisoners stole keys from a guard after assaulting him and Sodexo refused to change the locks because it was too expensive!!!

  4. the good news is that the scandal in prisons is being kept in the news. The bad news is the 'no news' that the government and parliament will not lift a finger to decisively tackle the situation. People can go to hell as far as they are concerned. What can you and I do about this in a probation work context? Refuse to recall licence breachers
    ? The vulnerable ones at least? The ones with the mental health problems? Is forcing people into a prison run in such a way that it has become dangerous for inmates and staff a human rights abuse? Should we go and chain ourselves to the railings of Downing Street?

  5. PAPS - is this what we have been reduced to? A tacky acronym parading as a means to "professionalise" the already professional Probation Service. We wanted a return to probation/social work training, more resources for rehabilitation and resettlement, more use of community sentences and to be able to provide real support for short and long term prisoners. Instead we have been privatised and attached to the prison service. To rub salt in the wound every time failing prisons are mentioned so will probation. Probation was never a failing service until TR and despite the constant blame on recalls we have nothing whatsoever do do with the prison crisis. Probation is very different from prisons and prison officers, which is now going to be very unclear because of PAPS making us share the blame. Probation doesn't sentence people, the Courts no longer want our Pre Sentence Reports and we have never had authority over prisoners, conditions, cell location, transfers, etc. Even the "offender managers" in prisons are somewhere between probation officers and prison officers, forced to align themselves with prison officer and punishment culture or leave. Liz Truss and the MoJ have shown the state of prisons is not a problem for the Tories and probation will be nothing more than a comfort blanket for prisoners on release. I think we can expect it to get worse.

    1. pap /

      plural noun: paps
      1. a woman's breast or nipple.


      Middle English: probably of Scandinavian origin, from a base imitative of the sound of sucking.

    2. So we're named after a Scandinavian tit... !

      Sounds about right!

  6. The video clip on the BBC article is a good advertisement for prison officer recruitment. I'd say they'll not get a single application.

    "In one of the most disturbing episodes of the undercover investigation, footage shows a prison officer having convulsions on the floor after accidentally inhaling spice, a cheap and stronger synthetic alternative".

    Define "accidentally inhaling"!!!!

  7. Her Majesty's PAPS? Can't see Liz Truss picking up her CBE with that one. "We are not amused".

  8. Nah - no CBE - too minor and provincial - she'll eventually decant to the unelected second chamber. Though with such a dominatrix sounding name I boggle at the chosen Baroness title she'll end up with. And remember - it's the Probation and Prisons Service, not Prisons and Probation.

  9. "Security and the safety of our prisoners and staff are our top priority, which is why we have made significant investments in these two areas over and above the contract requirements." Oh my, Sodexo going over and above what is expected - begs the question what was expected by the MoJ? Seemingly, if you believe Sodexo, worse than this.

  10. Thatcher divided the UK into have's & have-not's. Quite quickly the have-not's had had enough of not having so decided to take advantage of the Thatcherite comfort rag "entitlement"; but rather than stay with benefits they expanded it to include everything - houses, range rovers, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gold, celebrity. Since 1979 the UK has had the fastest growing alternative economy in the 'western world'. That is why the UK has been targetted as a destination of choice... Its a criminal's paradise. Whilst fatcat scumbags disguised as marketing/advertising businesses generate & foster demand for consumer goods the dodgy economy supplies its own version, whether its booze, clothing, fags, legal highs, cut-&-shut cars, antibiotics, dogs....

    There won't be any rehabilitation revolution because too much money is made in the dodgy economy. £200 per week gross shift work + £2000 tax free per week selling benzos, or weed, or fake booze. Why would you want to rehabilitate? Drink driving, tax evasion, drug use, false accounting, sexual offending - if its good enough for toffs & celebs & business leaders & MPs, its good enough for me. I'm entitled to be as superficial, venal & vile as they are if I so choose.

    Meantime Governments of every shape & colour (aided & abetted by the vested interests of the media) are cashing in on the dreadful fears that ministers generate and the false hopes they offer the public - at exorbitant cost to the public purse.

    Today's BBC story goes to the heart of establishment lies & deceit, but it won't change anything because no-one who has the necessary power & influence wants it to change. No-one will cough who is paying off who, where the shareholdings lie, who's covering who's back, etc.

    1. A tad overblown methinks.

  11. Who ever said Grayling is without media influence? This evening two news channels have reported the recent history of the prisons crisis, starting with Ken Clarke, moving on to Gove & then to Truss. Grayling has been airbrushed out of the equation, minimising reputational damage.

    But as we all know it was the numb bully Grayling who created this current unholy mess, running with Clarke's cuts to prison budgets (enforced by beancounter Osbourne's end-of-days austerity) but refusing to implement the accompanying changes to sentencing. At the same time Numpty Dumpty alienated the prisons, probation & legal professions and imposed TR, a rigged privatisation aka race-to-the-bottom which lined the pockets of many of his chums in both public & private sector.

  12. Prison works... if you're a key stakeholder & beneficiary of the cut-throat, cut-price world of global solutions. Fuck the staff, fuck the prisoners - just as long as those profits are piling up. Oh how those French caterers make me laugh.

    1. However much we'd like justice to prevail, the distasteful irony is that the injustice of this situation means whilst prison staff suffer ptsd & try to manage their feelings of guilt, and while prisoners suffer the travails of the pisspoor environment they're held in, the McDowells and others in the Sodexo famly won't choke on their vintage champagne or grand cru wines.