Thursday, 3 August 2017

Prison News 2

Here we have Rob Allen's take on the current situation:-

Fired Up about Prison Reform

It’s less than 18 months since David Cameron cast prison reform as “a great progressive cause in British politics”. His vision was for “the leadership team of a prison to be highly-motivated, to be entrepreneurial and to be fired up about their work”. The President of the Prison Governors Association is certainly fired up alright but less with enthusiasm than exasperation. I can’t recall such a broadside being delivered by a public servant to her bosses - nor one that is so (almost) wholly justified - as that which was delivered by Andrea Albutt today.

Cameron’s hubristic vision of a modern, more effective, truly 21st century prison system looks as far away as ever. The levels of violence, drug-taking and self-harm which he thought should shame us all in February 2016 have continued to soar.

So what’s gone wrong? Three things. First was the failure - wilful or otherwise - to see the severity of the impact which budget reductions would make on the stability of prisons. There was never really a “Golden Years pre austerity” as Andrea Albutt has put it. But all too often, “too great a degree of tolerance of poor standards and of risk” as Robert Francis QC said of Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. Such a tolerance was one of the reasons why numerous warning signs did not alert the health system to developing problems in Mid Staffs. The same is true of many prisons which were never truly stable enough to withstand the level of cutbacks, particularly when Ken Clarke’s efforts to reduce the population were shelved.

Second the government applied a formula approach to reform which ignored some of the distinctive challenges of prisons. Cameron promised to "bring the academies model that has revolutionised our schools to the prisons system". It was a mistake. An approach is needed that recognises that individual prisons cannot float free in the same way as schools and their customers have no choice over which establishment they attend. Given the risk averseness of government, whatever ministers may say, innovation is always likely to be closely controlled from the centre. The so called empowerment agenda has, says Andrea Albutt, yet to gain any traction, with governors now accounting both to their headquarters and the Ministry- the result of a ‘perverse’ severance of policy from operations which has so far added cost but little benefit.

Third there has been an optimism bias about the reform agenda. I’m not sure whether Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still in vogue, but it should have been obvious that without safety and security, loftier ambitions about rehabilitation have no chance of success, however flowery the rhetoric. Too many stakeholders have been taken for a ride. The National Audit Office for example, will presumably look back with some embarrassment on their 2013 assessment that "the strategy for the prison estate is the most coherent and comprehensive for many years, has quickly cut operating costs, and is a significant improvement in value for money on the approaches of the past". Their view that the Ministry of Justice make good use of forecasts of prisoner numbers and have good contingency plans is flatly contradicted by the PGA’s view that the recent rise in the population, unforeseen by the statisticians in MOJ, has left virtually no headroom in prison spaces.

So what to do? First to stabilise the population, create that headroom and make a dent on overcrowding, some kind of early release scheme should be introduced while longer term plans to reduce the population are put in place. There’s no shortage of ways of doing that -only a shortage of political courage to do so. The new Secretary of State for Justice needs to show that.

Second, some structural changes. Shifting responsibility for juveniles out of the MOJ and prisons into the education ministry; a Youth Justice Board for young adults, a new body to deliver alternative accommodation for elderly prisoners. Devolving financial responsibilities for prisons to local areas. They won’t produce quick fixes but could help take the pressure off an overburdened prison system in the medium to long term.

Finally, capable prison governors working in Whitehall should be returned to the front line and experienced staff who have left the service in the last five years lured back into it whatever it takes. Plans to recruit more and better qualified staff are promising but will take time the service has not got. Some of the capital resources intended to build new prisons should be converted to revenue to pay for staff .There is growing scepticism that the £1.3 billion secured from the Treasury for new prisons can be spent by 2020. Some of it should be used to repair the current arrangements rather than establishing new ones.

In less than three months, the largest annual gathering of international prison professionals takes place in London for a week of discussions about “Innovation in Rehabilitation: Building Better Futures”. Its focus is on improving outcomes for prisoners. But that won’t happen unless they are improved for prisons first.

Rob Allen


Meanwhile, the fallout from the Grenfell fire continues to have ramifications in a number of directions, such as here:- 

Peter Clarke
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
3rd August 2017. 

Dear Peter,
No doubt you will have seen the media coverage on the serious issue of failing fire safety in prisons today? I write to ask if you will in future take with you during your inspection of prisons specialist Guest Inspectors from all disciplines for which the Inspectorate does not have in-house experts - and especially one from the Crown Properties Fire Inspection Group (CPFIG) to inform you about fire safety in the prison you are inspecting? 

Currently you do not concern yourself with inspecting fire safety, and I fail to understand this irrational approach. But more seriously your current approach to prison inspections, and your failure to address fire safety, demonstrably results in reports that are completely misleading. Let me explain. 

Your approach is irrational because you do not concern yourself with 'fire safety' on the basis that fire safety is the responsibility of a separate statutory regulator - CPFIG. Yet you always inspect and report on 'healthcare' during your inspections, despite the fact that healthcare is the responsibility of another separate statutory regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC). This approach doesn't make any sense. 

You report on healthcare because you take along with you a Guest Inspector from the CQC; so why not take with you a Guest Inspector from CPFIG to report on fire safety? Both are critical issues of health and safety. More seriously, however, your current flawed approach to this results in reports that are misleading, and here is why. 

Between 20th February and 3rd March 2017 you inspected HMP Coldingley where you concluded in terms of 'Safety' that: "Outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against this healthy prison test." But that simply wasn't true. 

Three weeks after your Inspection, on 29th and 30th March 2017, CPFIG inspected Coldingley and they found that in terms of fire safety the place was so dangerous they served the prison with a Statutory NonCompliance Notice, giving them 28 days to correct the fire safety defects or they would issue a Crown Enforcement Notice.

CPFIG Inspection found failings, among other things, that included:
  • The procedure is not always followed for removing cigarette lighters and matches from prisoners in Segregation who appear to be at increased risk of self-harming through fire. 
  • Normal and/or emergency lighting doesn’t provide sufficient illumination to implement the Cell Fire Response plan including the removal of a prisoner from the cell. 
  • The measures to reduce the spread of fire and smoke were inadequate. 
  • There was insufficient evidence available to demonstrate the effectiveness of the smoke control arrangements for E wing after it was confirmed to have extraction only. 
  • The generic cell fire response plan was not suitable for the circumstances in which prisoners are not locked in their cells (night san). 
  • The training package delivered to staff does not provide sufficient practical instruction on the use of Inundation equipment. 
  • An insufficient number of prison staff members working in residential wings are in date with their training in RPE wearing. 
  • The number of trained prison response staff members available was not always sufficient to implement the cell fire response plan effectively. 
  • The fire safety measures were not always being tested and maintained in good condition and effective working order. 
How on earth could you describe this less than a month earlier as a 'safe' prison? Had you taken with you a Guest Inspector from CPFIG during your inspection the fire safety failures identified less than a month after you left would have been identified sooner, removing the risk to life that your flawed approach allowed to continue unchecked - and which you signed off as 'safe'. 

What we need is obvious: a joined up Prisons Inspectorate You are the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and 'Prisons' means what it says. Conducting an inspection of a 'Prison' is not like some a la carte menu, where you pick and choose what parts you want to inspect and those you choose to ignore - it is the 'prison' as a whole that should attract your full attention; as indeed it used to do. 

Lord Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons from 1995 to 2001, told me in a recent email communication that during his time as Chief Inspector: "We always took a Civil Engineer, who looked at Fire Safety, he once prevented HMP Canterbury from blowing up because he found that the boiler had been installed the wrong way round!" 

I do not mean to be rude, but you will be the first to admit that you have little experience of prisons, and certainly no operational experience of managing one. After 34 years as a police officer, and just over a year into your current job, it’s hardly surprising. 

Given that lack of operational prison experience it is vital that to discharge your obligations as Chief Inspector of Prisons properly you surround yourself with as many relevant experts as possible; and your lamentable failure to identify the serious fire safety defects at HMP Coldingley in March 2017 demonstrate beyond doubt that from this point on your inspection teams must include an expert on fire safety. 

Grenfell changed everything, and that means it has to change things inside HM Prisons Inspectorate too. With 2,580 fires in prisons during 2016, almost 50 blazes a week, having missed the glaringly obvious fire defects at Coldingley in March this year and after Grenfell, I hope to find that I am knocking at an open door. 

I look forward to your response. 
Kind regards 

Yours sincerely,
Mark Leech FRSA 
Editor: The Prisons Handbook.


  1. Can I also point out that in CGM Interswerve CRC that staff have been moved into " new premises " with the very basics of health a saftey of any at all ie no smoke detectors or fire alarms , only one exit in and out of some buildings , bars on windows with no keys - offenders able to access most areas due to lack of security - open plan receptions with direct access to interview rooms ( and possible others that they may have grudges against !! ) , interview rooms who's walls are paper thin ( who would want to disclose anything of a sensitive personal nature )- Who's checking these and signing them off ?? WE ask these questions but never seem to get answers or we get given choices " sound proof walls or better fire safety "

  2. Is there any employment law that could be turned to?

  3. Get your unions NAPO Unison to do some assessment on health and safety and also all policies that were in your trust still applies so grievances on mass to start and see what happens.

  4. Much appreciated - we only appear to have 1 Unison rep in CRC Manchester who unfortunately appears to be spending most of the time representing the poor buggers who are being disciplined for one reason or another - I will ask them again though and have a look myself - it really does feel like no one actually gives a shit as long as we're meeting targets - especially now they've had more bloody money thrown at them by the Gov - certainly doesn't appear to have gone towards anything to benefit staff and offenders !!!!

  5. Guess what? They don't care. Grayling didn't gve a shit, nor did Gove or Truss or Lidington. So why should Soduco or interwank or crapita etc? May doesn't give a shit. None of them can be arsed, all of them lie for a career. As has been said often enough, if that's your role model why behave differently yourself?

    Thatcher, Blair, Brown, Cameron, May - leaders of this country who simply couldn't tell the truth about anything. Ever. They lied about the Falklands conflict, WMD, the economy, pigs, & everything.

    A bit of H&S won't trouble the exempt elite. If you burn to death it'll be your fault. If you're stabbed by an angry visitor it'll be your fault. If a vulnerable individual is targetted because of an eavesdropped conversation - YOUR fault.

  6. Rob Allen brings up some great points but I can't see Giymah or Lidington even responding to them let alone acting on them. Both have been conspicuous by their ansence. In fact Giyman spends more time waffling on about microbeads in toiletries than he ever does commenting on prisons which is his actual job. The Maybot needs to also take some responsibility here as she appointed Lidington & kept Giymah in role despite being even more incompetent than Liz Truss.

    Will be interesting to see if Peter Clarke actually does anything concrete and positive in response to Mark Leech's letter. I suspect not though