Monday, 11 December 2017

Prison Crisis

Despite signs of complacency from the new Minister of Justice, it's quite obvious that there's absolutely no sign of the prison crisis improving any time soon, a situation confirmed by news of just how many times the 'Tornado' squads were used during the year. This from the Guardian:-

Elite prison squad deployed to jails 580 times last year

An elite group of specially trained prison officers had to be deployed to jails in England and Wales 580 times last year, figures show. Members of the national tactical response group (NTRG) were sent to incidents including a riot at HMP Birmingham, as well as hostage situations and “incidents at height”. The number of callouts to prisons has been increasing year-on-year, according to the figures, which were released by the Ministry of Justice after a freedom of information request by the Press Association.

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said the data showed the reality of prisons needing national support to maintain security and control after “year-on-year budget cuts”. Labour said the data underlined just how counterproductive Tory cuts to the prison service have been, leading to “an epidemic of violence” in jails. But the MoJ said a majority of the deployments were to non-violent incidents and were often precautionary.

In 2010, the NTRG were called to jails 118 times, while in 2014 there were 223 callouts, with the figure rising to more than 340 in 2015. The 40-member squad had already been deployed 110 times from January to April this year, according to the most recent figures available. Incidents included occasions of “concerted indiscipline”, barricade events and incidents at height, such as when a prisoner climbs on to a cell block’s anti-suicide netting or an internal roof.

During their busiest month in May 2016, the NTRG were sent out 67 times to 39 jails, dealing with inmate disorder, hostage events and incidents at height, among others. In the case of two jails – HMP Lindholme in Doncaster and HMP Nottingham – the specialists had to be called in nearly every month last year. Separately, figures showed so-called Tornado teams – separate to the NTRG – were deployed 19 times last year, compared with 15 occasions in 2015 and seven in 2010.

In the seven months to July this year, Tornado squads had been sent to 10 incidents. Of those, eight happened in the July, involving HMP Humber in Yorkshire, HMP Hewell in Worcestershire, HMP Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, HMP Erlestoke in Wiltshire, and HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire. The figures do not include more recent problems with disorder, including at the high-security HMP Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire where Tornado teams were confronted by dozens of prisoners in October.

Commenting on the figures, the POA said: 
“The POA are not shocked by the numbers of callouts as this demonstrates that prisons are in need of national support to maintain security and control. However, the figures can be distorted due to some callouts requiring nationally trained staff. The reality is that year-on-year budget cuts have reduced staff and as a result prisoners feel more in charge as organised crime continues to increase.”

Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, said: 
“These figures underline how counterproductive the Tories’ cuts to the prison service have been. Deployment of these costly riot squads has soared following the government’s decision to axe thousands of prison officers, which has created an epidemic of violence in our prisons. This dangerous situation is likely to go from bad to worse given that a quarter of the prisons that the MoJ itself rates as being of concern have experienced a further cut in prison officer numbers over the past year.”

An MoJ spokesman said: 
“We have specially trained teams that provide support to prisons on a range of incidents – from offenders climbing onto an internal roof to a large-scale disturbance. The majority of callouts are for non-violent incidents when the officers only attend as a precaution or when the situation was already resolved by prison staff.”


Clearly something has to be done about a worsening situation and Bob Neill, Chair of the Justice Select Committee is on the case. This from the Politics Home website:-

Our prison crisis cannot be swept under the carpet

During the course of the last Parliament there was arguably only one issue to escape the growing shadow of Brexit with the urgency and scale to compete, quite rightly, for Westminster’s attention: prisons.

Indeed, Parliament seemed awash with statements, urgent questions and debates concerned with the (very much ongoing) crisis across our prison estate. With this focus noticeably tapering off since the General Election, we run the risk of giving the impression that the situation has improved in recent months. The Justice Committee has been very clear – all evidence points firmly to the contrary.

In fact, as the Chief Inspector of Prisons noted in his annual report in July, the status quo has only deteriorated further. Of the 29 local prisons and training prisons inspected during the year, 21 were judged to be ‘poor’ or ‘not sufficiently good’ in the area of safety. Taken with the soaring levels of self-harm and suicides, the considerable increase in violence (with 6,844 assaults in 2016 on staff alone), and the continued failure to provide offenders with a meaningful education or support the treatment of acute mental health needs, this problem should certainly remain high on the government’s agenda.

That is precisely why the Justice Committee has tabled a debate this Thursday on prison reform and safety. We have conducted a considerable amount of work on this issue since 2015, and our report last year helped secure an immediate increase in funding for those prisons most in need.

The government’s subsequent Prison Safety and Reform White Paper set out a framework for addressing the immediate challenges, announcing a series of ambitious proposals to modernise the prison estate. It also crucially brought forward a number of very welcome legislative measures, including clarifying in law the primary purpose of custodial sentences – rehabilitation – and placing the role of the prisons ombudsman on a statutory basis.

It was disappointing to see these plans dropped from the previous Prisons and Courts Bill following the Queen’s Speech, and while I do not doubt the intentions of my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, I must be frank in saying that the government has kept alarmingly quiet on this matter ever since. We have sought to probe its priorities, including through an evidence session with the Secretary of State at the end of October, and in the absence of any meaningful progress, or even significant discussion, on this issue, will press again for answers during this debate of the whole House.

Our timing is no coincidence. We are shortly expecting an action plan on prison safety and reform, and specific strategies on employment and women are also in the pipeline. A timetable is now needed for these. We must also look again at the powers available to the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). As the latter aptly put it when giving evidence to the Committee last year, ‘it can be depressing how little traction we appear to have on occasions.’

It is simply not good enough that one-third of the prisons inspected over the past year have not implemented the recommendations handed down by these bodies, and recurring themes of failure should no longer be tolerated.

Efforts to tackle this problem, and properly monitor the work of the Ministry more broadly, are frustrated by a lack of data. As a case in point, despite its claims to be ‘data-driven’, the government has been unable to provide the Committee with a five-year breakdown of budgets for education, training and family services.

This crisis in our prisons is not going away, and it cannot, and should not, be swept under the carpet. I hope Members will join me and my Committee colleagues in holding the government to account and pushing for action on this most important of subjects.

Bob Neill


Also last week, I notice the Prison Reform Trust published a report by former MoJ insider Julian Le Vay that rather embarrassingly points out how the Department has got its figures wrong:- 

Former prison service finance chief: prison building plans “unaffordable”

Today, on the same day that MPs will debate the government’s prison reform and safety plans, the Prison Reform Trust has published a paper it has commissioned from a former Prison Service Finance Director, Julian Le Vay. The paper analyses the Ministry of Justice’s ambitions for prison building in the light of its current spending review settlement with HM Treasury. It concludes that the Ministry of Justice’s current plans are inadequately funded to the tune of £162m in 2018/19, rising to £463m in 2022/23.

In the spending review and autumn statement 2015, the government committed to build nine new prisons providing 'around' 10,000 new places. Five of these prisons would be built 'in this Parliament' i.e. by May 2020, the other four 'shortly after' that. These prisons were expected to replace existing old prisons which would be sold to provide 'over 3,000' homes.

However, revised prison population projections, published in August 2017, revealed that the population is expected to grow by around 1,600 above current levels by 2022. And the building programme has already slipped, so it is extremely doubtful any new prison can open by May 2020—let alone five. On current population projections, there is no prospect of any impact on overcrowding before 2022—indeed, unless the government abandons plans to close old prisons and instead keeps them all open as well as building new ones, emergency measures to create space are likely to be necessary as early as next year and throughout the period up to 2022.

Furthermore, the paper's projections assume there are no unforeseen events, such as fire, riot or loss of accommodation to other reasons of health and safety. However, those events have been a regular feature of the last three decades, and have become more rather than less frequent in the last three to four years. The analysis suggests there is no prospect of being able safely or decently to take any existing accommodation out of use before 2022.

Looking further ahead, the analysis concludes that, without a concerted effort by government to reduce the size of the prison population, a further prison building programme is likely to be required from 2026, and that no more than half of the capacity created by then will have resulted in the closure of older and unfit prisons

The paper notes that we have been building prisons continuously since 1980, with 31 opened since then—at a capital cost of £3.7bn, and with extra annual running costs of £1.5bn. This is enough to have built maybe 25,000 homes. And to be employing 50,000 more nurses or teachers. Yet new prisons have filled up and been overcrowded as quickly as we have built them. As long ago as 1991 government described an end to overcrowding as essential to running a decent prison service, but the proportion of prisoners sharing cells designed for one has not reduced.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“At a time when prison numbers have fallen in many developed countries, the UK has continued to throw taxpayers’ money at prison building. Yet our prisons remain chronically overcrowded, with disastrous consequences for safety and decency. After trying the same failed policy for nearly four decades, the time has surely come for a change. Reversing sentencing inflation would create the breathing space our system so desperately needs and plug at least this one hole in the public finances.”


It's my understanding that during the summer the MoJ became painfully aware that, such was the state of prison over-crowding, that they were dangerously close to having to resort to emergency measures such as the use of police cells. This situation was only averted by all staff with any experience of front-line probation practice being directed towards a trawl of the country in a desperate search for prisoners deemed suitable for executive release. Somewhat surprisingly, this news doesn't seem to have attracted much attention.    


  1. Christmas always shows a spike in the prison population. Shops are full of expensive products, and society is full of people who can't afford them. Austerity compounds that problem.
    There's also the issue with drugs and violence, much of it caused by those that feel the need to demonstrate how much they're enjoying the festivities by shoving copious amounts of white powder up their nose and getting drunk. It's often done by people that rarely drink for the rest of the year.
    This year there's also the issue of those subject to recall that are on licence that are likely to swell the prison population.
    I won't mention those that will intentionally get recalled to provide the Christmas drugs for those already locked up, or those that just see prison as a better alternative to sleeping on the streets.
    I think by March prison capacity will be reached, and then there's going to be a real shit storm in a teacup.
    If it's not already being done at the moment, I'd be prepared to begin trawling again.



    1. A mum-of-two who took drugs to help cope with her partner’s death last Christmas has been left overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. Churchgoers in Oldham have donated presents to those on probation for the past 20 years as an ultimate offer of redemption. Emma, from Oldham, is one woman who was overwhelmed at the kind gesture, which means her kids will now have gifts to open on December 25. She told the M.E.N she was convicted of child neglect after becoming addicted to amphetamine and alcohol.

      Her children were taken away from her and she was handed a 12-month community order in March this year. While on probation she has started to turn her life around and her children have been returned to her. Money is difficult for the mum in her early 20s - and thanks to the local church she can enjoy Christmas this year.

      For the past two decades, worshippers at the Shore Edge Methodist Church, in Buckstones Road, Shaw, have donated gifts to those on probation as an offer of redemption. Toys are collected by the Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company’s probation case managers Carl Duddridge and Hayley Stapleton, who then distribute them among offenders who are known to have children and be in need.

      Emma was overwhelmed by the church’s gifts, having been left short of money following her son’s birthday, which meant she no-longer qualified for income support, and because she doesn’t get her first Universal Credit payment until the New Year. Thanks to the church, her five and 10-year-old children will get gifts this year.

      She said: “I’ve been through the mill, I was messing my life up and wasn’t able to look after my children properly – but we were all grieving. “Drink gave me the confidence to get out of the house.” She is now on the road to recovery and can celebrate Christmas.

      Emma, whose surname we have kept private to protect her identity, added: “The church’s help has been a lifeline. Christmas is only 20 days away and I have no money. It means so much to me that the children will receive proper presents, and I want to thank the church for its generosity. “Universal Credit is a pain in the neck and it’s made it tougher for many like me at the worst time of the year.”

      Parishioner Val Ridley helps run the initiative at Shore Edge, with children donating toys as well as other items such as selection boxes and clothing. She said: “People in that situation need help and support from the community and that is what we are about. We aren’t angels, but we like to do our bit to help. “We encourage children to think about others in the borough during the festive period who might not be as lucky as they are, and to donate toys to them. It’s something we have done for more than 20 years and will continue to do.”

  3. Is the prison crisis really about the number of people held in custody, or can the real crisis to be found in who is being sent to prison.
    The following article raises that issue very well, and I'd urge people to read it.
    It raises uncomfortable questions, but perhaps questions that are not asked often enough.

    1. In December 2016, Lavinia Woodward stabbed her boyfriend in the lower leg with a bread knife. She had been drinking heavily and was upset her boyfriend was contacting her mother. Under normal circumstances, this would usually be enough for a custodial sentence in England. But the 24-year-old was a student at Oxford University and that seemed to color things differently. Judge Ian Pringle described Woodward as “an extraordinarily able young lady” and suspended her 10-month jail sentence because he believed prison would damage her dreams of becoming a doctor. She will also not be thrown out of her university, with her college suspending disciplinary hearings against her. (Not her first; she had been warned about taking cocaine in the past.) Unsurprisingly, the case sparked backlash across the country—there were also several complaints made against the judge—and the white, posh Woodward became the face of glaring inequality in Britain’s criminal justice system.

      Contrast that, for example, with a young black British student—with no criminal record—who was jailed for six months for stealing bottles of water during a night of the London riots in 2011. The stark differences between the two sentencing helps explain the demographic of the UK prison population. Black people make up just 3% of the UK general population, but 12% of the prison population. This is a reality for black Americans too, who are incarcerated five times more than white people.

      Woodward’s decision this week to appeal against her suspended sentence has brought the case to the forefront once more. There were more calls for her to serve time in prison. but as a barrister who wrote an anonymous op-ed pointed out, Woodward had mitigating factors. She had suffered domestic violence in a previous relationship, which led to drug misuse. After stabbing her boyfriend, Woodward had allegedly tried to stab herself before she was disarmed.

      The injustice isn’t that Woodward isn’t in jail. As the barrister succinctly explains, she is “a victim of domestic violence with severe mental health and substance misuse problems being given a chance to rebuild her life.” It’s that so many other young women like her across the world are denied that same chance because of their background, wealth, or power. This is all the more important in places like the US, where women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population.


  4. The situation is going to get worse. Benefits are being denied to thousands of vulnerable people and families. Offenders / ex offenders form a group with highly complex needs but these needs are not recognised. We should be fighting to get ex offenders recognised as a distinct vulerable group but the public would never accept that would they?. I can't see me doing this job for much longer. The TR crisis and on top of that lack of support and particularly housing is bad enough but now the spectre of service users on the street and pennyless. What will they do? Fall into the hands of drug dealers and sexual predators.Am seeing this already. I am really worried to be honest. Some of the service users I support to best of my ability have been doing so well in recovery but are now due to lose their benefits because they are classed as fit to work despite being nowhere near ready. I have friends who have had their benefits stopped or cut and know how hard they are finding this but they at least have family and friends. Some of our service users are estranged from family or family were abusive towards them. Where do they go?. Government policies and austerity are going to push people over the edge and push them further into debt, homelessness or towards crime as the only means of survival.


    2. The greatest sadness I feel as I read 20:00's post is that it shows the Tory policies are working just as they planned. In the dark shadow of the umbrella they call 'austerity' they have plotted, schemed & imposed the most diabolical changes:

      - forcing the vulnerable into unimaginable despair by removing their access to resources, money & support;
      - deconstructing employment into a gig economy with few, if any, workers' rights;
      - criminalising & imprisoning record numbers of our communities;
      - destabilising & dismantling professions which have historically been regarded as 'left of centre', e.g. teaching, social work, probation, etc etc etc.

      And in every case they & their immoral friends have managed to profit from the imposed policies, whether its massive university fees & £500,000 windfalls for ViceChancellors, Academy Schools, employment agencies or CRCs.

      The Perfect Storm is here. Trump & Brexit are magnificent distractions, both of which we are told were democratic choices, 'the will of the people', so we have no case to argue.

      May & co now know they can do pretty much what they want with impunity. They can give the DUP £1bn. They can sell the UK off to anyone they choose, in packages they put together - and there ain't a thing we can do about it. Leaving the EU is a far bigger & catastrophic event than we know about yet.

      If we're in a bad way now, there's SERIOUS shit on its way soon.

    3. One of the first things the Tories did in 2010 was to start to dismantle all avenues of resistance or challenge to their ideology.
      Judicial review, employment tribunals, legal aid, handicapping unions, any route to challenge was blocked. They would have burned books and literature that opposed their ideology too if they could have.
      Now the country belongs to the privateers, they're the landlords and we're the surfs.
      But things have never been better. Unemployment at an all time low. Poverty reduced to record levels. Education, health services, everything getting record investment and taxes have never been so low.
      And that's the worst thing of all. Telling everyone their lives are so much better than the reality. Just a blatant lie with no regard to whether we know different or not. But why should they be concerned, they've cut off all access to challenge.
      We need a revolutionary change for society, and it may take a revolution to make that happen.