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."
A (NON-UNIFORMED) PLEB'S THOUGHTS ON PLEBGATE
“It’s increasingly clear that a grave injustice has been done to Andrew Mitchell.” - Nick Herbert. No, Mr Herbert (by name...), a grave injustice is when you spend decades behind bars, loose your home, loose your friends and family, some of them dying whilst you are inside and are unable to attend their funerals, and all because you have been fitted up. Or being shot dead in the street because some trigger-happy cop has mistaken you white stick or the table leg you are carrying for a firearm. Or you've had the shit kicked out of you in the back of a police van because he didn't like the colour of you skin. Those are grave injustices.
What Mitchell has faced is merely a loss of face, and the loss of face was the thing that cause him to resign. It's not even as though he's out of work, even though he lost his job as chief whip. Just think of all those countless number of ex-prisoners who have come out of prison after service a sentence following some act of police perjury or planted evidence only to find that they are no unemployable. - further examples of real grave injustices.
Of course it is perfectly understandable that MPs want to gather around and protect one of their own (now that he has proved to have been stitched-up in this instance), but the rampant hypocrisy of their now turning on the so-called 'thin blue line', now that a few of them have been found out telling a few porkies, is more than a little amusing, especially as they were so quick to believe them over their friend and colleague in the first place. The words chicken, roost and kismet come to mind. [16/10/13]
It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the true state of the prison system in England and Wales that the very nicks that the prison privatisation lobby has been holding up as the ideal for their brave new world of a future 'marketised' prison estate are the very ones that come bottom of the latest ratings table.
The three prisons flagged-up in the latest Ministry of Justice Prison Annual Performance Ratings as being the worst performing jails in England and Wales are G4S-managed HMP Oakwood, Serco-run HMP Thameside and the state-run HMP Winchester. All are rated in the bottom category of prisons, whose overall performance is of serious concern.
The crumbling edifice of Winchester prison, with its violence and drugs problems, has long been near the top of anyone's list of nicks in need of closure, and was included in both the Tories 2009 pre-election list of planned Victorian prison closures as part of their cancelled expansion programme and in the latest pro-privatisation 'research' from Policy Exchange, a right-wing "independent, non-partisan educational charity" as the Guardian laughingly labels it. Nothing controversial there then, unlike the appearance of the two latest hi-tech, low-cost new state-of-the-art super-prisons sitting alongside it in the list of shame.
£150m HMP Oakwood, part of a cluster with HMP/YOI Brisnford [on 'Overall Performance of Concern', the second lowest rating, as were the privately-run HMPs Birmingham and Bronzefield] and a second Category C prison, the 690-place HMP Featherstone, has been a farce from the beginning. Firstly there were the remedial plans for landscaping that had to be introduced to shield nearby residents from the new prison's visitor centre that had been built a storey too high. Then once it opened, there were the never-ending sagas of the showers that turned themselves on in the middle of the night spewing scalding-hot water across the floors, an electrical system that short-circuited every time the lights were turned on plus the £7m superkitchens that initially failed to produce any food, with meals having to be brought in by outside contractors. Add to that the fact that G4S, who signed a 15-year contract worth £468.3m to build and run the 1,600-place prison, were accused of cherry-picking what they see to be the more compliant prisoners sent to them, rejecting of nearly 60% of prisoners sent to there in the months following its high-profile opening, and its chequered short history is only too obvious.
Then there £100m HMP Thameside, built and run by Serco on a 26½ year-contract worth £415m, with its high levels of violence and use of restraint, lack of resettlement and purposeful activity, with 60% of prisoners locked up during the working day, some spending 23 hours a day banged-up in their cells. Another of these new private prisons which has suffered 'teething problems is HMP/YOI Isis, next door to Thameside on the Belmarsh site, which had the farcical situation of the prison ending up on lockdown multiple times a day when its hi tech biometric roll call system, where electronic thumbprint recognition is used to control security doors, caused chaos as prisoners failed to submit their digits for inspection, leaving the security system jammed up for hours on end. All less than ideal adverts for privately run prison provision.
Now G4S have hit back with a PR barrage, the latest in a long line that they have had to launch following the Olympics security fiasco and, alongside Serco, the alleged mass fraud involved with their electronic tagging contracts. They have brought in from HMP Altcourse John McLaughlin as prison director, and he has pledged to force prisoners "to do a full 40 hours or miss out on wages" (even though there are only 400 work places), introduce a "zero-tolerance on drug abuse" and declare a "war on drugs", a problem highlighted in the Inspectorate's latest performance warning. However, he appears less 'gung-ho' when it comes to the other major problems that HMIP identified - the very poor lack of education and healthcare delivery for prisoners, where less than half of all prisoners have access to education and paramedics have had to regularly be called into to treat inmates.
They may be cheap to run, which is why ex-prison governor and Ministry of Justice official, Kevin Lockyer, has held Oakwood up as an example of how to run the prison system in England and Wales more 'efficiently', but they are certainly not a cheerful option for anyone spending time at Her Madge’s Pleasure in them. [16/10/13]
A THOUGHT OR TWO ON SUPERVISION
Clearly if 60% of all people who receive a prison sentence of 1 year or less go on to reoffend, then 40% do not. Why then should those who are doomed not to commit another crime (or at least not get caught for it as there is no accurate way to actually measure reoffending, unless one carries out 24 hour, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year monitoring - measuring reconviction is NOT the same thing) be subject to the indignity of 12 months supervision? And why should any private company be paid for doing so? [09/05/13]