Thursday, 15 March 2018

A Question of the Right Questions

I suspect I wasn't the only one left unimpressed with David Gauke's performance last week in front of the Justice Select Committee. Obviously he can't be fully on top of his brief as yet, but to be honest, I wasn't that impressed by the quality of the questions put to him either and the seeming inability to persue things. Maybe the Committee could do with some help? I notice Rob Allen had a few suggestions:- 

Follow up Questions. What the Justice Committee should ask the Justice Secretary.

Having been greeted on arrival in office by the John Worboys row, new Justice Secretary David Gauke has since kept a low profile. He set out his thoughts on prisons at the RSA this morning, and whether by chance or design will be questioned tomorrow by the Justice Committee. While MPs will focus on his wider departmental responsibilities - the Parole review, court closures, miscarriages of justice and probation failings are likely to come up - Bob Neill and his colleagues have a chance to press Gauke on some of the prison proposals he announced today.

First they will want to know more about his plans to crack down on modern day Harry Grouts - the organised crime bosses who he thinks drive the drug trade inside and its catastrophic consequences. Gauke wants to rethink the categorisation of prisoners so that ring leaders can be “isolated” from their followers. Whether this means a fundamental review of the four tier security classification system or simply tweaks to the criteria for allocation to Category A high security prisons is not clear. Gauke wants categorisation decisions to give greater weight to behaviour in prison - but this would mark a substantial change in policy and practice which needs careful planning.

Second, Gauke wants to change the incentives and earned privileges scheme which Governors tell him isn’t working. This could involve unwinding Chris Grayling’s reforms to the scheme and strengthening carrots rather than lengthening sticks. In the best part of his speech Gauke talked of giving opportunities for prisoners to earn, through good behaviour, greater contact with families and release on temporary licence. Why not permanent release, MPs might ask. This was one of Michael Gove’s ideas which disappeared with him. Gauke indicated that it may be up to Governors rather than Whitehall to reshape the privileges and sanctions scheme. While this might serve to kick start the stalled governor autonomy project, it could bring risks of inconsistency and perceived unfairness on the part of prisoners.

Third, Gauke was clear that he wanted to see prisoner numbers fall but….only as an aspiration if re-offending falls. He talked about the importance of rehabilitation but as befits the views of a police officer’s son, this has to start by playing by the rules. Generally this is not something prisoners are very good at. Gauke offered no guarantee that his department’s spending cuts wont further impact on prison budgets.

Gauke claimed to have persuaded his Cabinet colleagues to join a new inter departmental committee addressing re-offending. While the Justice Committee will wish to probe its terms of reference, it might suggest that its first agenda item should be on finding ways of keeping people out of jail. Gauke's description of the prison system today certainly made a strong case for that.

Rob Allen


  1. The need for reform in both prisons and probation needs to go a lot further than proposed by either Gauke or Rob Allen. We need to fundamentally rethink and redesign our penal system so it is actually fit for purpose. There are a number of examples in other countries of systems that work well and we need to adopt a model more like those. Reform of probation would then flow from the redesigned prison service because if we didn't lock up so many people - only those for serious offences for example and used community sentences for minor offences and undertook more rehabilitation happened in prisons the role of probation would shift and change.

    1. The current IEP system is another Grayling cock up.
      There isn't really any questions to be asked, everyone knows where the faults are, it's just cheaper to talk about them then applying a fix.
      Too many mentally ill people are being sent to prison. It's expensive, but cheaper then the alternatives.
      Too many people are being released homeless, and increasingly without the necessary doucument or bank accounts to claim benefits.
      There's no support post release because because probation services can't do the things they used to be able to do pre privatisation, and the third sector are reluctant to intervene with those on licence.
      Personally I'm not a big fan of Users Voice, but maybe they have a place to play when questions are being asked by the justice committee.
      I think things will get a whole lot worse before they get better.


    2. And of course experience and professionalism has gone out the window with privatisation.

  2. Three people working at a jail have been arrested after allegedly having "inappropriate relationships" with prisoners. A prison officer, a nurse and another member of staff at HMP Dovegate are suspected of misconduct in a public office, according to Serco, the firm that operates the prison. One of the individuals under investigation – who is alleged to have had relationships with “one or more prisoners” – is also suspected of trafficking illicit items into the Category B jail, which is just outside Marchington on the East Staffordshire side of the River Dove.

    A healthcare assistant, who is also facing allegations of misconduct, was sacked when an internal investigation found she had “not followed procedures”, said Serco. The nurse and the healthcare assistant worked at Care UK, which is contracted by Serco to provide medical services at the prison. The prison officer and the other member of staff are employed by Serco, a private outsourcing company paid by taxpayers to run Dovegate, which has 850 inmates.

    John Hewitson, Serco contract director for HMP Dovegate, said: “We expect the highest standards of behaviour from prison officers and we will not tolerate inappropriate relationships or conveying contraband into the prison. We will not hesitate to inform the police if we suspect any such activity and, if appropriate, we will seek prosecution of any individuals involved.”

    A Care UK spokesman said in response: “We take all allegations of inappropriate relationships between staff and prisoners very seriously and always conduct a thorough internal review into the circumstances leading up to those allegations. Last year we reviewed two allegations of inappropriate relationships between staff and prisoners. In the first case, the prison service revoked security clearance and the person was dismissed from their position with us. In the second case, the prison service informed us about an [alleged] inappropriate relationship involving a staff member who had already resigned their position and left Care UK. As a part of our internal review, we referred that person to the Nursing and Midwifery Council and we understand they were also questioned by the police. However, we are unable to comment further due to it being investigated solely as a police matter.”

    The nurse whose security clearance was revoked was dismissed from Care UK in June but did not face police action. The other former Care UK worker was arrested in November. The two Serco staff members were arrested in January.

    A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: “On November 25, 2017, a 28-year-old woman from Newcastle-under-Lyme was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office. She was subsequently released under investigation and as the investigation is ongoing, there is no further update at this time.