"I don't want to come across as misty-eyed about the new prison minister, but I thought Rory Stewart intends to be hands-on and ensure that where HMIP recommendations are made, they are implemented and identified individuals in the bureaucracy are held to account. It's early days but he doesn't spout the usual defensive bullshit."
"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."
"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!"Rather than just being dismayed, I think I'm getting increasingly angry. I'm angry that Michael Spurr is still at his post despite chaos reigning in pretty much every part of his empire. I'm angry that we don't have a Minister for Probation any more, despite there being a Prison AND Probation Service and I'm angry that nobody seems to be saying anything about it. It's a disgrace and I invite readers to draw conclusions regarding individuals and organisations who should be saying something.
Increasingly, the agenda seems to be just about what's happening in prison and what needs to be done about it, but we all know probation must be a part of trying to sort out the mess that Grayling created. It's to be hoped Rory Stewart appreciates this sooner rather than later. This in the Guardian:-
Prisons minister Rory Stewart: we need clean jails, not abstract policy
Rory Stewart, the new prisons minister, has vowed to “get back to basics” to ensure clean, safe jails after a damning official report on rat-infested HMP Liverpool said conditions were the “worst ever they could recall”.
Stewart, who has been in the job for two weeks, told the commons justice select committee on Tuesday that previous ministers had not felt it was their job to get involved in operational details, but “I disagree”. The former foreign office minister told MPs: “My instinct is we need to get back to basics. We need to absolutely insist that we are going to run clean, decent prisons. There have been too many very abstract conversations in the past two years about grand bits of prison policy.
“We are turning up and saying, ‘Why is this a filthy prison?’ and asking, ‘Why has it not been cleaned?’, and people want to talk about grand issues of sentencing policy or reoffending policy. Making prisoners feel they are in a safe environment without broken windows is really important.” He said that on a visit to Liverpool prison on Monday he saw that almost every window was broken on one wing. “There’s too much saying, ‘We’re going to deal with this by setting a new key performance indicator’ and ‘We’re going to deduct some money if you don’t reach your KPI’, rather than spending time on the ground and saying, ‘This is disgusting. Sort it out.’
“If I’m not able in the next 12 months to achieve some improvements in making these prisons basically clean with more fixed broken windows and fewer drugs, I’m not doing my job.” He was speaking during an unusual session of the committee. It focused solely on the inspection report on Liverpool prison, published last week, which revealed a filthy jail with rats, cockroaches, broken windows and piles of rubbish.
The head of the prison and probation service, Michael Spurr, admitted to MPs it was a “personal failing of mine” for not recognising the extent of the deterioration at Liverpool – despite the situation being pointed out in inspection reports in 2013 and 2015. Spurr said the escape of a man serving a 30-year sentence had focused attention on security at Liverpool, and that unanticipated population pressures and budget cuts last summer had seen governors simply “in coping mode” in jails across England and Wales.
“We took our eye off the ball very badly in terms of decency at Liverpool through that period. It coincides with a period where we’ve had to reduce costs substantially – a 24% reduction in our budget. It coincides with significant changes across the way we deliver services both in prisons and in probation with Transforming Rehabilitation,” he said, referring to the government’s programme for how offenders are managed in England and Wales from February 2015.
Spurr said that in Liverpool’s case, 50 cells deemed unfit had been brought back into use to cope with an unexpected surge in numbers last summer, shortly before the latest inspection: “That shouldn’t have happened. It happened in a context of … significant pressure on the service.” He revealed that the governor of Liverpool prison was moved two days after the inspection report and was now working on counter-terrorism in the prison system, reporting directly to him.
After the session, a criminal justice consultant, Rob Allen, said that two years after David Cameron had set out “a grandiose vision of a ‘modern, more effective, truly 21st century prison system’, the new prisons minister has told MPs he wants one without rats, cockroaches and garbage”.
Rob Allen has this to say to the new minister:-
Hercules or Sisyphus? The Task Facing New Prisons Minister Rory Stewart
There’s been reassurance from the Prisons Minister at the House of Commons Justice Committee. In struggling prisons, the most significant facilities management issues are checked up on in Whitehall every week. Although “heavily operational, it’s “all important to delivering a decent regime, and we are getting to that level of detail to make sure this works”.
This isn’t the back to basics approach announced on Wednesday by new minister Rory Stewart but the evidence given by his predecessor Sam Gyimah back in November 2016. Given that the squalid living conditions endured by many prisoners at HMP Liverpool - the subject of the latest hearing - somehow escaped Mr Gyimah’s detailed attentions, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether Mr Stewart will do any better. Reformers are born optimists so let’s hope so. Good for him for taking responsibility for sorting out the prison crisis and offering to be judged on the results.
More and more Inspection reports have revealed the scale of the challenge in creating the “modern, more effective, truly twenty-first century prison system” promised by David Cameron. The reality is that it will take a year to repair or replace the cell windows at Liverpool - and that’s if the Prison’s Action Plan is actually followed, unlike the one produced after a 2015 inspection.
Stewart is right to say that the recommendations made by inspectors should drive reform agendas in establishments. He could have added that Independent Monitoring Boards' and Ombudsman's findings deserve greater attention as well - the former in particular as they produce much more frequent reports. And he’s thinking about whether the Inspectorate itself should be bolstered so it can follow up on itself on the problems it identifies. But is he right about how to achieve change in prisons?
The local failures at Liverpool appear to cast doubt on the idea of giving Governors more and more autonomy but Stewart is fully signed up to the idea. At least twice he used military analogies in describing the prison service. Governors, like Colonels should be left to run their own show under the watchful gaze of Brigadiers who intervene when things go wrong. It’s not an altogether comfortable comparison. Prison staff are not soldiers fighting an enemy. There are plenty of other institutions - schools, colleges, hospitals, which can provide better models for much of what the prison service should be doing. There is always a risk that security, control and justice get out of kilter in a prison. The Committee heard that bosses were so concerned about security following an escape at Liverpool, they ignored mounting piles of rubbish, vermin infestations and degrading cell conditions.
Stewart was dismissive too of grand concerns about sentencing and other abstract policy questions which he thinks have distracted attention from the day to day problems in prisons. Here he is wrong. As the Council of Europe 's anti torture watchdog has reported following their 2016 visit to the UK, the implementation of the prison reform programme will be unattainable without concrete steps to significantly reduce the current prison population. The Government’s response, published this week? They do not propose to set arbitrary targets for reducing the prison population, but to achieve it via a combination of early intervention upstream and on reducing reoffending after release for those who are sentenced to immediate custody.
Disappointing though that may be, even these modest strategies require a genuine policy commitment from housing, healthcare, education, business and local government. Stewart‘s job is to negotiate that as well as fixing broken windows. Unless he and colleagues find some way to cut prison numbers his task will not be that of Hercules but of Sisyphus.