Thursday, 25 January 2018

Governors Take On the MoJ

Following the government reshuffle and the obvious disappearance of a Minister for Probation, the MoJ may feel that further progress has been achieved in their long-term aim of completely erasing the term from the lexicon of criminal justice. They've never understood us and were always nervous and irritated by our proudly independent voice and notorious historic resistance to all attempts at imposing command and control.

I have heard it said that this blog continues to be regarded as a 'risk' by the MoJ, precisely because it steadfastly remains a bastion of non-conformity and resistance to their efforts at ridding themselves of such troublesome dissident voices. So imagine how upset and uncomfortable the mandarins must be at the emergence of a much reinvigorated Prison Governors Association under the inspiring leadership of Andrea Albutt. 

Of course there was a time when the Probation Service had a similar authoritative and respected voice, but we all know where that got us. Anyway, here she is telling it how it is in the Guardian and I dare the MoJ to try and silence her:-      

Andrea Albutt: ‘Carillion has left our prisons in a terrible state’

Andrea Albutt, the president of the Prison Governors Association, is angry. The former army nurse, who joined the prison service as a young hospital officer in 1990, announced last week that despair was “running through the veins” of her organisation. With the highest rates of self-harm, suicide, drug use and violence ever seen and the recent scathing prison inspection reports on HMPs Liverpool and Nottingham, the prison system has arguably reached the lowest point in its history.

The collapse of Carillion, the construction company responsible for prison maintenance contracts, has only added to its woes. “It’s a big deal,” says Albutt. “Governors have had to run prisons with not-fit-for-purpose contracts which failed to deliver the promised service. These contracts have failed in their entirety, leaving accommodation and maintenance in a far worse state than when governors owned their own works departments.

“We desperately need a reintroduction of the prison works department. I can then say to my works guys, ‘the seg’s [segregation unit] in a mess, needs work, B wing needs new windows’. I, as the governor, the boss, tell them – and then they crack on with it. With an external contract, governors are not empowered to do that. Too much senior management time has been spent trying to deal with these contracts instead of strategically managing prisons.”

Since taking over the £200m maintenance and cleaning contracts for the prison service, agreed by the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, in 2014, Carillion has been continually criticised by the Prisons Inspectorate and Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) for its failure to carry out contracted works. In its latest annual report, the Independent Monitoring Board for Dartmoor prison said that Carillion’s contract was “an ongoing source of frustration”, calling it cumbersome and expensive.

It is clear from talking to her that Albutt cares a great deal about our prisons. But, I say, why should decent, law-abiding citizens care? If prisoners are living in cells with no windows, infested with rats and cockroaches, many would say, so what? They shouldn’t have committed the crime. “We disempower people when they go to prison,” she says, “so we have to care for them. If we don’t do the best we can for them, what hope is there? You have to remember that prison could happen to anyone – a member of your family, a friend, a loved one. I know how I’d want anyone in my family treated, if, God forbid, it happened to them.

“It’s a well-coined phrase – but there but for the grace of God go any of us, really. None of us knows what might be waiting in life, and you have to remember that most people in prison will be released.” The main source of her frustration is the constant change at the top at the Ministry of Justice. This is where she gets particularly animated. “In seven and a half years, we have had six secretaries of state, which has left prison governors punch-drunk with change,” she says. “We have endured constant interference from ministers who have little or no knowledge of the complexities of prisons, and who leave our service in a disastrously worse state than they found it.

“So, we had David Lidington for six months and he didn’t do anything. It just feels like they do not care about our prisons. They chop and change secretaries of state without a thought. Ministers don’t know prisons, their special advisers don’t know prisons. They might visit them occasionally, but they haven’t a real clue about how to run one safely and effectively. Even civil servants busy writing policy – they also might have visited a prison, but they don’t know prison.”

Albutt certainly knows about prisons. She joined the prison service in the first place, she says, “just to pay the mortgage,” but it soon turned into her vocation. She spent seven years patrolling prison landings, including HMP Woodhill, a Category A prison holding some of the most dangerous prisoners in the country, before being promoted to management.

“As one of the first women into Brixton, I quickly saw that it was a brutal place – and I was just shocked at some of the things I saw,” she recalls. “As a nurse in the army I’d seen tragedy, but the violence of prison was something else.”

Initially her male colleagues were “terrible” she says. “I don’t know if they felt threatened by women entering their male environment, undermining their perceived macho culture.” In contrast, she says male prisoners were generally quite protective of her and her female colleagues. “I have to say, though, that there were times in that first six months when treatment by male colleagues was so bad, I thought about getting out. But I stuck it out and I’m glad I did. In that respect, it’s a different world in prison these days.”

What’s her advice to the new justice secretary, David Gauke? “The one positive thing is that the path we’re on now, started by Michael Gove and then carried on by Liz Truss, is helping us make, possibly – and I emphasise possibly – some inroads into the decline. I don’t know David Gauke at all; we had a brief conversation on the phone, but I just hope that he doesn’t decide to go down a completely different path.

We lost 7,000 staff and apparently we’re getting 2,500 back. But that still leaves us with 1,500 vacancies, so in fact we need closer to 4,000. I was talking to a colleague last week, and I think they are wondering in the MoJ why things aren’t improving. Well, if you had new officers who were experienced and confident you might get some improvement. But if you’ve got brand new officers going into a place like Liverpool, it’s going to take a while for them to get confident, to acclimatise and to make a difference,” she says. “A failing prison takes forever to turn around. To get back to where we were 10 years ago is going to take years. That’s something I’m determined to get through to ministers.”

She also wants a public inquiry into government policy in the prison service over the past decade. “It’s highly unlikely we’ll get one,” she admits. “We have the Grenfell inquiry and rightly so. But if you think of the number of people who have killed themselves in prison in recent years [2,022 since 1990], so many people have died in our care in prison. We need to look and find out why.”

Career: 2015-18: operational lead for HMPPS national project; 2012-15: governor, HMP Bristol; 2010-12: governor, HMP Eastwood Park; 2007-10: governor, HMP Swansea; 2004-07: governor, HMP Low Newton; 1990-2004: prison officer at HMPs Brixton, Woodhill, Grendon, Wakefield and Eastwood Park; 1984-1990: military nurse, Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps, serving in Germany, UK and Falkland Islands.



    1. Prison bosses have been slammed for “rewarding failure” after it was revealed the Governor who presided over abject failures at HMP Liverpool was handed a new “important” job in the service.

      Peter Francis was dramatically removed from his post last year after a snap inspection - which led to a damning report released last week.

      Bosses from the prison service faced a grilling from MPs as part of a Justice Committee session in Parliament today.

      And during the session, it was revealed that Mr Francis has been placed into another role within the prison service’s Directorate of Security, Order and Counter Terrorism.

      Committee member Alex Chalk MP accused Michael Spurr, the chief executive of HM Prisons and Probation Service, of “rewarding failure.”

      He said: “Mr Spurr, I wonder whether you felt guilty that the previous Governor didn’t get the support he needed. It seems an odd situation to me that things that clearly were the responsibility of the Governor - running a clean jail - manifestly didn’t happen in this case and yet he is taken out of it and given an important role within counter-terrorism in prisons. Was that just you feeling guilty about not supporting him? Or are you just rewarding failure?”

      Mr Spurr responded: “I am not rewarding anything, I have said very clearly that there were failures at a local level. I don’t think that if you take a Governor out of an establishment that can be seen as anything but a very serious thing to do to an individual. He has faced a good deal of press interest in what has happened to him.”

      He added: “There were performance failures at Liverpool and I think the Governor will have to address this. His individual performance is subject to a proper appraisal that will take place, I don’t want you to think that is not an issue - of course it is.”

      On the issue of his new role, he clarified: “I said that Mr Francis had moved onto a post in my directorate of security, order and counter-terrorism, not that he was doing counter terrorism.”

      Earlier in the session MPs had asked about the specific circumstances surrounding Mr Francis’ sudden departure.

      Responding, Mr Spurr said: “I changed the management team after the inspection. He hasn’t resigned and is still part of the prison service. He is working as part of my wider security, order and counter terrorism directorate. It was clear to me that the team couldn’t take things forward.”

      But he defended the former Governor, stating: “I do want to say though, that the Governor of Liverpool, Peter Francis is a good man who has delivered well in prisons. He is not a man with a track record of poor delivery but clearly his team was unable to manage the pressures at Liverpool sufficiently well.”

      The committee also heard more shocking revelations about what has gone on at Walton - a prison that inspectors described as the “worst they had ever seen.” Those in charge of facilities management said they were struggling just to keep on top of the basics inside Walton and said the levels of vandalism were 200 % higher than at any other facility.

      Last week new Governor Pia Sinha said conditions had been “unacceptable” but that improvements had already been made.

  2. "They've never understood us and were always nervous and irritated by our proudly independent voice and notorious historic resistance to all attempts at imposing command and control."

    I'm not sure that the Tories don't understand probation.
    I think it may be more that they view it almost as an extention of the welfare state. Extending support and assistance to the undeserving who don't pay for that support and assistance must stink of socialism and is offensive to their capitalist neolibral ideology. I have no doubt they'd wipe probation out completely if they could, and replace it with G4s truncheon wielding security guards, and charge those under their watch for the privilege.
    Because neanderthal neolibral ideology knows that the only way to solve social problems and enforce conformity is to not spare the rod.


  3. Carillion have left our prisons in a terrible state. It's reported that the need of essential repairs doubled under their watch.
    However Interserve are also in considerable trouble. They have many projects experiencing severe delays, all of which incur financial penalties.
    In a statement last week the Government said Interserve are not the next Carillion but today their shares have fallen another 10% and a warning of hard times to come.
    They might not be Carillion, but neither are they secure my any means.

    1. Shares in Mitie and Interserve slumped today as investors digested analyst advice to “stay selective” when investing in the support services sector. Mitie fell five per cent and Interserve almost 10 per cent.

      A near-200 page sector analysis published on Tuesday by Peel Hunt downgraded Mitie amid concerns the firm was on a “long, winding road” – eight months into a three-year transformation programme.

      Concerns linger with respect to Interserve, with some analysts warning it faces the threat of a painful debt for equity swap. Peel Hunt's Andrew Nussey, however, said there was potential to avoid such a circumstance.

      "The challenges facing the new management team are multidimensional and significant... but with near-term support from the banks, we believe that Interserve should be able to trade its way back to financial health," he said.

      Last week, the Cabinet Office reassured Interserve investors the company was not facing a similar position as Carillion.

      The sector share price slumps came as Kier halted a share slide of 16 per cent since last Tuesday. The boss of the building contractor said the government must “choose between two competing forces” when awarding building contracts.

      "Does it want them completed to a certain time frame, in which case they need to engage with the contracting fraternity quite quickly,” Kier chief executive Haydn Mursell told the BBC. "Or is it about value for money, in which case, maybe a re-procurement might occur."

      Kier, which together with French joint venture partner Eiffage has stepped in to cover the void left by Carillion on the HS2 rail project, believes the government will have to offer better terms to other companies doing the same on other contracts.

      "Carillion's contracts were loss-making, so it would be daft to step in and take them,” he said.

      Earlier today, two influential committees of MPs launched a joint inquiry into the collapse of Carillion. Top executives, past and present, will be hauled in front of the Work and Pensions and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees. Former chief executive Richard Howson and interim boss Keith Cochrane, chairman Phillip Green and three of Carillion’s finance chiefs will be grilled on 6 February.

  4. Has anyone else noticed that not a single part of the prisons crisis, NOT ONE THING, is the responsibility of Michael Spurr, CEO HMPPS?

    Reminds me of my dear, dead mother's account of her driving experiences after finally passing her test on her 19th attempt: "You know, its funny, but I've seen loads of accidents and yet I've never been involved in one."

    (I was a passenger just the once. Never again!)

  5. "the obvious disappearance of a Minister for Probation"..Oh God, first they stick their fingers in their ears, now they have just walked away. Bastards

    1. They haven't walked away - Spurr is dancing merrily on Probation's grave.

      If Spurr has to leave his job tomorrow, he can rest easy in the knowledge that he has single-handedly killed off the pinko arse-wipers, the soft liberal do-gooders & the middle-class spoon-feeders. All that's left is for Gauke to delete the second 'P' in the departmental moniker & its a wrap!

      Well done, Michael. I hope you're feeling smug & self-satisfied in your mean, bitter, negative little fascist fantasy-world.

      And please don't worry about me. I can sleep at night. I don't have to spend hours in the shower trying to scrub the bloodstains off my conscience, because I tried to make a POSITIVE difference. At least I did that.

  6. It has to be said that our so called leaders have made it easy for them thus far. Not a word, not a peep from those who are supposed to be at the helm.
    Chief police officers and chief fire officers have recently been in the news demanding greater resources, our CEO parasites are nowhere to be seen or heard!
    Speak, say something....say anything, prove you are not simply a hologram!