RADICAL CHANGES TO YOUNG OFFENDERS REGIME
In the latest innovation by the Coalition's ground-breaking Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, Young Offenders Institutions are to introduce 'naughty corners' for recalcitrant young offenders, together with the possibility of their being sent to bed early without their supper. Mr Grayling said it was, "crucial that young people, most of whom have had chaotic and troubled lives, finally get the discipline so badly needed to help turn their lives around". However, ther plans to reintroduce a good spanking with the slipper have had to be shelved due to what the Ministry of Justice referred to as "those crazy European human rights laws". [28/06/14]
GRAYLING HAS MORE 'KNEE JERK' REACTIONS THAN A CENTIPEDE ON A HOTPLATE
May Mayhem? I have long believed that on a slow news day, the editor of the Sun looks around his newsroom then tells his hacks, "Go, find something to jerk Grayling's chain, he's always good for a sound bite". This view is borne out by the fact that Grayling has had more 'knee jerk' reactions to tabloid stories, than a centipede on a hotplate. Grayling's knee jerks are inevitably followed by some ill-conceived action plan to pacify tabloid "outrage".
And so it was in May with much ado about absconds from open prisons with absconders earning such headline grabbing names as "Skull Cracker, the Scarborough Slasher or pitifully, the man with the Dennis the Menace tattoo".
As always with tabloid stories, the number of absconds was presented as a new and growing problem, due to lax security. Poor risk assessments, Parole Board errors, cushy prisons etc. In other words the usual Sun drivel as absconding is at a record low. It is fascinating how the first casualty of a Sun headline is the truth, but the truth does not generate a knee jerk from Grayling or another punitive 'remedy'.
Consider this, in 2002/3 there were 1,300+ absconds from open prisons, in 2012/3 just 204. A dramatic rise in Sun-speak, yet prisoners still wonder why I call Sun readers, 'self-harmers'.
Predictably, due to the dramatic "rise" in absconder numbers, Grayling promised immediate action to curb the "growing menace" of absconders. Grayling's remedies include a previously announced policy of tagging prisoners on day release to be brought forward from October. The long established practice of "town leave" to assist prisoners to reintegrate into society will now end.
Release on Temporary License has long permitted prisoners to attend work or study centres, or return home for brief periods with around 500,000 licences issued each year, with a "failure" rate of less than 1 per cent. Indeed, in every year since 2000, Home Office figures show that 99-9% of releases on license ended with prisoners returning on time as required.
An all too common cause of a failure to return is a prisoner getting bad news from home. When in closed conditions there is nothing a prisoner can do other than telephone or write a letter. In an open prison you can walk out, and the temptation to do so is immense. Most 'absconds' are due to these domestic crises, and the police simply stroll round to the absconders home for arrest and return to jail. Once upon a time absconders would expect 28 days added to sentence or the same period spent in a block. Today, a return to closed conditions is almost inevitable.
One valid point made by the tabloids was the number of repeat absconders frequently due to poor risk assessments. Sir David Calvert-Smith, Chair of the Parole Board pontificated at length on BBC's Breakfast Time at how each offender was subject to a risk assessment. What was not explained is why repeat absconders were being placed back in open conditions to abscond again and again, three times for one mandatory lifer. No mention was made of whom these risk assessors are.
One curious additional event in May went almost unnoticed, on the 23rd May; the jail population had jumped to 84,305, an increase of 500 in a fortnight. It is doubtful that the plods solved an additional 500 crimes in a fortnight, or magistrates refused bail in 500 extra cases in the same period. Almost certainly, it was due to the furore generated by the media claims of an increasing number of absconds.
Whilst looking at population numbers, it is perhaps worth a comment on lifer numbers. Britain has more life sentenced prisoners than the rest of Europe put together, that's more lifers than 27 other countries combined. The figure stands at 12,798 inmates, 7,463 with a life sentence, 5,335 'enjoying' IPP.
Progression for longer term prisoners is virtually at a standstill, and yet another Grayling policy is curbing early release, clogging up the lower category prisons whilst simultaneously closing the smaller, older prisons, which also happen to be low category. Concurrently, Grayling wants cuts of £190 million in the prison budget.
At the beginning of June around 5,200 prisoners were-in open conditions. The net result of the May tabloid stories of absconders will be further punitive measures taken against those who didn't abscond, punishment of the innocent. It really is too much to expect Grayling to apply common sense policies to reduce repeat absconders all his policies are borrowed.
Grayling's much publicised book ban and less publicised library censorship are borrowed from 1930's Nazi Germany, although Germany also held public book burnings. Another policy from the same source is "make prisoners work", or Arbeit Macht Frei, the motto above the entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. In my view the difference between Grayling and (Karl) Adolf Eichmann is merely a matter of scale. Perhaps we should reconsider the spelling of Nasty Party?
A common sense approach to reduce risk of absconding would be to omit risk assessment reports from baby psychologists, the dreaded, utterly incompetent psycho-babes. Instead, risk assessments should be carried out by prison officers, staff who have actually met the person being risk assessed. Governors, usually completely craven when dealing with psycho-babe reports should show some spine for once and challenge obvious errors and recommendations.
Every prisoner can recount his or her own horror story about psycho-babe reports. I, like all prisoners can quote my own examples. "When Rose was in Italy" began one report in 2004 from Full Sutton, copied and pasted in 2005, 2006 & 2007. I have never been to Italy. "The only significant stressor [sic] Rose has suffered is the death of his father and daughter". That incredible gem is from Whitemoor. Neither my father nor daughter are dead, yet the same report from 2012 has been cut and pasted in 2013 and now 2014.
Relying so heavily on psycho-babes for risk assessments is reckless in the extreme. One lifer I know has progressed rapidly through the system due to his ability to tell psycho-babes exactly what they want to hear. That's fine; he's using the system, except this is one man I know is going to re-offend. His crime? A random murder combined with multiple attempted murders. My sole opinion? Not so, it is the opinion of all who know him, yet he has just been recommended for release based on psychology reports.
CLOSE SUPERVISION CENTRE PRISONERS IN LONG-TERM SEGREGATION
From the 1970s until the 1990s, a small group of British prisoners labelled as trouble-makers or subversives were subject to procedures officially described as the 'continuous assessment scheme' but known by prisoners as 'the ghost train', as they involved repeated moves between prisons. No actual assessment took place and the prisoners were always located in segregation units in isolation. All this was supposed to have come to an end in 1998, with the introduction of the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system and the allocation, under Prison Rule 46, of a small group of prisoners to specially designated CSC units; however, according to Kevan Thakrar, who has been a CSC prisoner since 2010 and is currently held in the segregation unit at HMP Whitemoor, the use of long-term segregation to contain this group of prisoners is making a come-back.
While the prison system in general is overcrowded, CSC facilities are actually under-occupied. The various CSC units around the country have a total capacity of 54 places, while the total number of prisoners currently allocated to the CSC system is approximately 45. The CSC unit at Full Sutton prison is built to hold ten prisoners and holds just three.
Kevan writes: 'Although CSC units clearly should be closed down on humanitarian grounds, locking prisoners up in segregation units permanently is worse. The figures show that all Rule 46 prisoners could be located in a CSC unit, which would enable some stability in terms of location; however I am one of at least 12 prisoners kept within a segregation unit on an unofficial punishment regime.'
'In 2006 Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP) was rightly critical of the long term use of punishment blocks for housing prisoners. Since the recent legal aid cuts the Prison Service arrogantly thinks it can no longer be challenged. An end to long term solitary confinement is the only real solution, but unless HMCIP decides to look again at the situation, and bodies such as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture are notified of the current conditions of CSC prisoners, the situation will only get worse.'
'CSC prisoners in segregation units do not have access to any of the safeguards in place for other segregated prisoners, such as a segregation review boards, so have no means to progress. Although these safeguards are themselves entirely inadequate the fact that they do not exist for CSC prisoners exemplifies the severity of the situation. Being kept for no reason on an indefinite unofficial punishment is never going to have a beneficial effect on the victim, so it leaves us with a question to which there are only sinister answers - what is the purpose of it?'
Source: Prisoners Fightback 238 April/May 2014
POOR MANAGEMENT OF PRISONERS' PROPERTY
As almost every prisoner who has ever undergone transfer between prisons known, some of even all of your property either goes missing or ends up being delivered to you in your new accommodation having sustained damage during the process. Given how difficult and prohibitively expensive it is to get any small luxury in prison nowadays since Chris Grayling stopped prisoners having items sent in, thereby allowing the Prison Service to totally monopolise the market on the inside, every little personal possession however small or inexpensive is carefully guarded and to have some ham-fisted screw accidentally (or even deliberately) loose or damage it is deeply frustrating for people who live in an environment designed to strictly limit ones privacy and individuality.
Here is an article from MOJUK on a new PPO report into prisoners' property.
Prisons need to manage prisoners' property better to avoid claims for compensation and the cost of investigating complaints, said Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). He added that if prisons paid greater attention to their responsibility for prisoners' property, this would avoid frustration for prisoners and the wasting of staff time on investigating complaints and arguing about compensation. Today he published a report (attached) on the lessons that can be learned about complaints received from prisoners about property.
While the PPO investigates some very serious complaints, including assaults and racism - as well as all deaths in custody - the most common subject of complaint is lost or damaged property. These complaints also have the highest uphold rates where the PPO finds in favour of the prisoner. Over the past ten years, property complaints made up between 14% and 18% of all eligible complaints received. This proportion increased to 21% in 2012-13. The report, Learning from PPO Investigations: Property complaints,reviews property complaints received by the PPO in the first six months of 2012-13.
The report highlights steps that prisons can take to improve:
- ensure paperwork is completed correctly to record prisoners' property so it can be reviewed if disputes arise;
- recognise that possessions even if low value can have great importance to prisoners and should be managed according to Prison Service instructions;
- follow Prison Service instructions about which religious items prisoners are allowed in their cells;
- be proportionate when destroying items;
- use photography more widely to better record which items prisoners hold and to reduce compensation claims.
- respond effectively to prisoners' complaints about lost or damaged property; and
- accept responsibility when processes have not been followed, and when a prisoner is transferred, the sending prison should ensure that property arrives intact and undamaged at the receiving prison.
Nigel Newcomen said: "Most property complaints concern small value items, but these can still mean a lot to prisoners with little. Unfortunately, too many of the issues involved could and should have been dealt with more quickly and efficiently by the prisons concerned. Instead, despite perfectly sound national policies and instructions, prisons too often refuse to accept their responsibilities when property has been lost or damaged. This leaves prisoners in limbo, creates unnecessary frustration and tension and leads to complaints, too many of which require independent adjudication. Using up scarce staff resources in this way, both in prison and then in my office, is not a good use of public money.
AMERICANISATION OF THE BRITISH CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
A recent Government announcement that it was considering introducing U.S. style prison sentences like a hundred years custody for the most serious offences is on one level a straightforward attempt to undermine a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling that life sentence prisoners should be given some hope that their sentences will be reviewed before they die, and on another level evidence that the Americanisation of the British criminal justice system continues to increase and deepen.
Apart from the probable introduction of prison sentences that are in effect a slow form of capital punishment, an American penology has characterised the treatment of British prisoners for quite some time in the form of the treatment model with its psychology-based programmes and courses designed and inspired by Canadian and U.S. ideologies regarding "offending behaviour", which is attributed not so much to social and environmental causes but more the individual pathology of the "offender". So the fact that the prison population is drawn disproportionately from the poorest and most disadvantaged group in society is of absolutely no significance and instead a crude behaviourist notion prevails that providing prisoners can be re-socialised into behaving in a "normal" way then "offending behaviour" can be exorcised from their thinking before they're released back into the same desperate economic and social circumstances.
Predictably, the" treatment model" with its programmes and courses has had absolutely no appreciable effect on recidivism rates.
As in American prisons, prison-hired psychologists in Britain have carved out a veritable industry for themselves in the prison system by subscribing to the belief that inequality, disadvantage and poverty have absolutely nothing to do with why most people end up in prison and instead everything to do with individual pathology in the form of inherent personality disorders and an inability to distinguish right from wrong. And again as in the U.S. prison psychologists in Britain have now become an integral part of the system of control and repression in prisons, legitimising it with a language and narrative of "treatment" and addressing prisoner's "needs and risks". So entrenched have psychologists now become in the prison system that, like their American counterparts, they often willingly assist in the use of the worst forms of repression against prisoners labelled the most "difficult" and "unmanageable".
American prison officials penchant for euphemisms to disguise the reality of it's worst practices and forms of punishment, such as "special management units" where in fact prisoners are clinically isolated and psychologically brutalised, is a tendency that finds expression in British prisons also now. "Close Supervision Units" and "Intensive Intervention Units", overseen and managed by both jail managers and psychologists, are also places where "difficult" prisoners are subjected to extreme punishment and a denial of basic human rights, often to the extent where many are driven to insanity.
The American "treatment model" of prisons probably finds it's most extreme expression in the U.K. Prison system in the from of the "Dangerous Personality Disorder Units" (DPDU) created and overseen by psychologists from the psychopath-spotter school of psychology that defines all "anti-social" behaviour on the part of the least powerful and wealthy as symptomatic of psychopathy. In the totalitarian world of prison either fighting the system or confronting the institutionalised abuse of power that prevails there is sufficient to have oneself labelled a "psychopath" by psychologists anchored mind, body and soul to the prison system. In the case of life sentence prisoners such psychologists now have the power to decide if they're sufficiently risk-free to be released.
It is not just within the prison system that the American influence is apparent, it's also recognizable in the radically changed role of probation officers and criminal justice system social workers from what was traditionally "client-centred" liberal occupations to a overtly "public protection" centred extension of the police and prison system. Now a closer equivalent of the American parole officer, probation officers and criminal justice system social workers in the U.K. now see their role as one of policing parolees or "offenders" on supervision orders and returning them to jail for the slightest technical breach of their licence conditions. The massive increase in the use of community supervision orders as a from of social control has created a veritable ghetto of marginalised people in poorer communities who exist constantly in the shadow of imprisonment and omnipotent power of their supervision officers. This mirrors what has been taking place in some U.S. states as the global economic crisis has virtually eradicated legitimate employment in poor communities and replaced it with an alternative economy of illegal drugs, resulting in the almost mass criminalisation of young working class men, especially those from poor Afro-American communities. In such U.S. states and deprived communities prisons now replace factories where the new underclass are increasingly concentrated and forced to work as cheap labour for multinational private security corporations that now own and operate a significant portion of the American prison system. This new prison industrial complex is laying roots in the U.K. too and it is from the poorest de-industrialised communities that it draws its sources of cheap labour and human commodities.
This U.S. cultural influence on the criminal justice system is far greater in the U.K. than anywhere else in Europe, which accounts for it having the largest prison population (93,849 behind bars @ 31/12/13) in Europe and the longest prison sentences. It is also forever vulnerable to the American style prison riot when despair and hopelessness overshadows prisoners lives completely and there is essentially nothing left to lose. As a model of either justice or retribution the American criminal justice system is riddled with corruption and failure, and yet Britain slavishly attempts to imitate it in its quest to achieve absolute social control at a time when the lives of the poor are being made increasingly unendurable and society continues to fracture and polarise.
John Bowden, HMP Shotts, February 2014
ONLINE PETITION: NO CHILDREN'S SUPER-PRISON
Branded a 'secure college', the government is planning to build one of the largest children's prisons in Europe. At a cost of £85 million, they plan to coop up 320 troubled young people on a single site. Children’s prisons are violent and dangerous environments which fail to turn lives around and threaten public safety.
Young people who end up in the criminal justice system have a whole host of complex needs, from backgrounds of abuse or neglect to poor educational attainment. All evidence shows these problems can be tackled through effective community sentences. They are never resolved behind the walls of a huge prison.
The very small number of children who truly require custody should be held in very small secure homes, focused on their complex welfare needs.
Instead of pursuing this wasteful and dangerous policy, the government must halt their plans, invest instead in alternatives to custody and reduce the number of children held behind bars.
Sign the petition.
THE MYTH OF REHABILITATION
Before Christmas the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman publicly criticised the prison system for failing to reform and rehabilitate repeat offenders.
The role of both government sponsored bodies is fairly questionable these days, when, for example, the existence of the barbaric "Close Supervision Centre" system raises nothing but a conspicuous silence from them, but are they so completely out of touch with the reality of how the prison system is being re-shaped by Chris Grayling and his neo-liberal agenda that they believe that "rehabilitation" actually exists even as a vague concept any more?
Even in it's heydays, first during the Victorian era when the concept of prisons as places of penance (penitentiary) and redemption fashioned regimes (often brutally), and the 1970s when a more politically fashionable idea of rehabilitation sort of influenced long-term regimes, the idea that "offenders" could be transformed in to "model citizens" by the experience of incarceration was a decidedly dubious one. And at a time when prisons and prisoners are increasingly seen as a source of financial profit and a sort of popularised retribution is characterising prison regimes the "rehabilitation revolution" has surely been put to bed permanently.
The truth is of course that as institutions prisons have always and inevitably been places of straight forward incarceration and punishment, damaging both to the prisoner and wider society is the way they create and perpetuate an alienated and marginalised criminal underclass.
It was always the liberal and supposedly enlightened middle class who held the strange belief that the hate factories that are prison could also be places where positive social values could be inculcated and the criminalised outsider somehow transformed in to an obedient citizen.
The total fallacy of that idea and belief is surely obvious by now, and yet it apparently prevails amongst "experts" like the prisons inspectorate and prisons ombudsman, who, incidentally, have yet to report on a prison regime remotely rehabilitative in nature. Both the prisons inspectorate and prisons ombudsman complain that the prison system is not positively improving it's inmates or doing anything to prevent re-offending, and yet in terms of it's own supposed agenda in monitoring and improving the treatment of prisoners both bodies have become as discredited as the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Maybe a true test of their commitment to rehabilitate prison regimes would be their readiness to publicly criticise Chris Grayling, although we sort of know that is never going to happen.
John Bowden, HMP Shots, January 2014
WILFUL NEGLECT IS THE PRISON HEALTH CARE NORM
The is more than a modicum of irony in the announcement that the government are seeking to introduce penalties, including possible imprisonment, for medical staff that are found guilty of "wilful neglect". We say irony because for decades the worst medical care (sic) has been that avail able in British prisons. So much so that the panacea for all ills in prison, everything from the lowly toothache (and you try and get to see a prison dentist!) to a heart attack, is the humble paracetamol tablet. In fact, the only sector of medical provision that does appear to work is the daily handout of methadone scripts. Can't have withdrawal-crazed addicts running rampage can we?
Prior to 2003, when the NHS began taking over the running of in-prison health provision, individual prison governors were responsible for the level and standard of health provision in their individual nicks and their medical staff consisted largely of those doctors and nurses who essentially were unemployable elsewhere, including many past retirement age or who had been dismissed from jobs within the NHS. And the levels and standards of care through out HM Prison Service were a widely acknowledged scandal. Hence the Home Office's decision in October 2002 that the Department of Health would take over funding of prison health services, with primary care trusts becoming responsible for health care commissioning and provision. Yet even that failed to bring in-house health provision up to the standard of the rest of the NHS.
Enter the Coalition government and their desire to cut government and, in particular, Ministry of Justice spending back to the bone. So, along with the wholesale privatisation of prisons themselves, the government decided to outsource public sector prison health care provision across the board under the auspices of a new supervising body, NHS England. They will now be responsible for commissioning and provision and, despite the government tasking them with improving prison heath provision, we can only surmise that the same appalling levels of neglect will now be provided out-of-house, and for even cheaper.
Prisoners are already amongst those with the lowest life expectancy within society - a 2010 report from the Prisons and Probation ombudsman found that the average age of male prisoners who had died from natural causes was 56 (versus 78 years for the wider population) and 47 for female prisoners (versus 81) - because of their sedentary lifestyle, poor food and health provision. Added to these are the Russian roulette of missed hospital appointments (because of a lack of staff to escort them or inadequate liaison with prison health staff); the perpetual inability to actually see a prison doctor; or when one actually sees one, getting fobbed off with the proverbial paracetamol or the equally common misdiagnosis.
Now, with these cutbacks in health provision (and pressure to reduce the costs, and therefore size and nutritional value, of prison meals) added to this lethal mix, it inevitably mean that even greater numbers of prisoners will end up dying prematurely, many pointlessly remaining chained to a hospital bed or prison screws in their last moments, or suffering unnecessarily debilitating consequences of the structural "wilful neglect" of a system designed to save money rather than lives. [19/11/13]
PREDICTING VIOLENCE IN PSYCHOPATHS IS 'NO MORE THAN CHANCE'
Here's an important story that we somehow missed from early this month:
Assessment tools used to predict how likely a psychopathic prisoner is to re-offend if freed from jail are "utterly useless" and parole boards might just as well flip a coin when deciding such risks, psychiatrists said on Tuesday.
Publishing a study that found risk score tools are only around 46 percent accurate on how likely psychopathic convicts are to kill, rape or assault again, they said probation officers and judges should set little or no store by such tests.
They warned that clinicians carrying out such classifications must be aware of their severe limitations, and make sure prisoners undergo comprehensive psychiatric diagnosis before any risks assessment is made.
"If you apply these (tests) to somebody who is a psychopath, they're utterly useless, you might as well toss a coin," said Jeremy Coid, director of the forensic psychiatry research unit at Queen Mary University of London who led the study.
"They will not predict accurately at all," he told reporters at a briefing in London about his findings.
Coid and other forensic psychiatrists say the findings - which also showed the tools perform only moderately well in prisoners with disorders like schizophrenia, depression, drug and alcohol dependence - could have major implications for risk assessment in criminal justice systems.
"There are increasing expectations of public protection from violent behaviour, and psychiatrists can be seriously criticized if they make wrong decisions," he said.
Seena Fazel, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at Britain's University of Oxford, said the reliability of the tests' predictive ability was so low that it might be best not to use them at all - and warned that at the very least, their results should only be noted by parole boards, rather than acted upon.
"If you're going to use these instruments, be aware of their strengths and limitations," he told reporters.
The estimated prevalence of adult psychopathy in the general population is around 1 percent, but that rises to between 15 percent and 25 percent among men in prison.
PSYCHOPATHY CHECK LIST
Coid, whose study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, analysed data from 1,396 male prisoners in England and Wales who were interviewed between six and 12 months before their release. All the men were serving sentences of two or more years for a sexual or violent offences.
The prisoners were assessed for personality disorders, symptoms of schizophrenia, depression and drug and alcohol dependence, as well as being measured for psychopathy on a reputable scale known as Hare Psychopathy Check List.
After their release, data on their re-offending rates was added to the study, and showed that among three different re-offending risk assessment tools used before their release, the accuracy among psychopaths was below 50 percent.
While the tools were more accurate in predictions for prisoners with no mental health disorders - at around 75 percent accuracy - they were only around 60 percent right when it came to prisoners diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression.
For prisoners with anti-social personality disorders the predictive value of the tests ranged from poor to little more than chance, with an average 53.2 percent predictive accuracy. And for the 70 prisoners rated as psychopathic, none of the tests was statistically better than chance.
Coid said the results suggest it is time to question the expectations put on psychiatrists and psychologists asked to forecast future behaviour of offenders, and to consider what can happen to their reputations if predictions are wrong.
"The easy solution is to be highly restrictive on who is released, and be risk averse. However, even for serious offenders, most will be released at some stage and someone has to carry out a risk assessment," he said.
"We need to prioritise the development of new assessment tools for these hard-to-predict groups."