THE GRAY(L)ING OF THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
With an odious rumble and a belch of smoke the Reshuffle teleport pod opens and out flops [to the sound of dark, ominous music] ... Chris Grayling, a sort of balding Grammar School Terminator. And one's first thoughts are: "Nooooooooo! Be afraid. Be very afraid."
As predicted, in the Cabinet (re)shuffle Etonian wideboy David Cameron has introduced a sop to his right wing in the guise of Grayling as Minister of Justice. Cue: the loud squealing of brakes as the MoJ juggernaut is slammed into reverse and the prison regime begins to rush headlong back towards... the 1950s? The 1800s? To stitching mailbags or the Treadmill? Who knows, but given his restated support for the Victorian-lite neo-Liberal workhouse reforms of Ken Clarke's 'Rehabilitation Revolution', we might expect a more fundamental back to (C19th) basics programme.
However, the reintroduction of the Silent and Separate Regimes are possibly beyond his reach because all the Victorian prisons originally designed to operate these systems are grossly overcrowded, with 2 or 3 prisoners to a cell designed to hold just one in "quiet contemplation of one's sins and allow the pursuance of hard work that might lead to penitence". Having said that, it might just be possible to ban all talking throughout prisons except in the privacy of the prisoner's cell, just as they have done with smoking (banned even in the open air) - it wouldn't be possible to ban it in cells given the three to a 3.5m x 1.8m (11ft x 6 ft) cell (plus an unscreened toilet), the constant drone of TVs and an increasingly disparate staff:prisoner ratio. And there's no money to build new capacity.
So, whilst Grayling is on the Right of the Party, he thankfully is not a fully paid-up member of the Tory Taliban, whose members like Philip Hollobone, Peter Bone and David Davies (the ex-policeman not the ex-Home Secretary) were constantly baying for Clarke's blood, his appointment was music to their ears and may well help stave off the rumoured stalking horse being prepared to help force a palace coup.
All in all, it looks like more of the same at the MoJ even if the outlook is a little more Gray. [09/09/12]
AKERS - MERELY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG
It can come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the day to day operations of Britain's prisons or anyone who reads a tabloid or regional newspaper that Ms Akers' 'revelations' that a number of prison officers have been receiving financial rewards for passing, by definition confidential, information onto the press.
What she disclosed in her latest evidence to the Leveson Inquiry is merely the tip of a very large iceberg. And the screws on a retainer to a national redtop (as the examples given in this case appear to be) are the rarity, where most purveyors of tittle tattle to the hacks of Grub Street range from the regular recipient of cash in a brown envelope in return for the odd bit of gossip or even the more substantial leaking of confidential information on the latest 'celebrity' criminal newly arrived at their nick to those that chance their arm when a juicy tidbit comes there way of the mortgage is due and they are finding it hard to scrape the payments together.
In fact, it would come as no surprise to anyone at CAPS if these are the very same sort of people who are the regular conduits of the majority of illicit items - mobile phones, drugs, tattooing equipment and even larger and more valuable items - that seem to mysteriously make their way into prisons around the country undetected despite the most stringent of security provisions meted out to prison visitors. [23/07/12]
COMPLEX STORY OF PENTONVILLE ESCAPEE JOHN MASSEY
The media is full of ‘escaped murderer John Massey’ this morning. The media and police will of course seek to sensationalise a prison escapee.
“Police are appealing for help in tracing a convicted murderer who has escaped from HMP Pentonville. He is considered potentially dangerous and should not be approached by the public if he is seen.”
If you know anything call Islington Police on 020 7421 0296, or people can inform Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Call 999 if Mr Massey pops up in your garden etc.
I keep a close eye on Pentonville media, even though the prison won’t talk to this local website (MOJ press office is stuck in the dark ages). Mr Massey’s name rang a bell and I recalled this on his unusual story from the Guardian which I quote fully in the spirit of ‘open journalism’. Clearly I don’t condone Massey’s actions in the 1970s but after 35 years in prison this treatment is startling. I’m with Lord Ramsbotham (see end):
In 1976, John Massey, now 63, was sentenced to life for murdering a club bouncer after a drunken row. He was released in June 2007.
Before he was freed, Massey had been preparing for release for 18 months in an open prison in Derbyshire. Granted home leave, he was let out for five days every month to be at home with his family in London and visit his father in hospital. “I got myself a terrific job – shop fitting,” he recalls. “For the first time in my life I was fully legal and it felt wonderful. All that changed when I got parole.”
His sister had offered a home with her in north London, but the probation service insisted he live in a bail hostel in Streatham, south London, some distance from his family in Camden. He describes the hostel as dirty and with more rules than the open prison he had just left.
Massey complied with all the rules for several months until his father’s imminent death forced him to choose between his family and his liberty. Although two doctors were prepared to verify that his father’s death was near, his pleas for an extension of his curfew were rejected. He stayed with his dad, Jack, who died four days later. Without waiting for the funeral, Massey turned himself in to the police and was immediately recalled to prison.
Two and a half years after that breach, Massey thought he was on the verge of freedom again. He had been decategorised and sent to another open jail, Ford, in West Sussex, seen as a stepping stone back to society. Then in May 2010, his awful history almost repeated itself. He received news that his sister, Carol, was gravely ill. Massey asked if he could be granted release on temporary licence but was told he could not be trusted. He then pleaded for an escorted visit to the hospital but was again rebuffed.
“We haven’t got the staff,” he recalls being told. “In desperation, I walked out and went straight to the hospital – ironically, the same one where my dad had died.” Massey did not leave Carol’s bedside until she died two weeks later.
This time he didn’t return to jail. He went to live with his 85-year-old mother in Camden and waited for the inevitable. Ten months later, it came: “I just waited for the knock on the door. When it came I was out back building a summer house extension. I wanted to do as much as possible for my mother before the police came.
The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, describes this as a very sad story, where common sense should have prevailed. “Of course, technically, Massey is in the wrong. But that’s no excuse for clogging up an expensive system with people from whom the public do not seem to need to be protected,” he says.” [28/06/12]
[Repost from 'Kings Cross Environment' blog.]
AMONGST THE HOOD(IE)S
Shock Horror! The Daily Mail manages to carry a reasonable (and even reasoned) series of articles on the plight of poor inner city black kids and the everyday pressures that drive them towards gang culture. Leaving aside the continued use of biased terminology by the paper's 'middle class mother', Harriet Sergeant, (or was it the fault of the paper's sub-editor?) it was good to perceive a obvious softening of her rigid attitudes towards this "gang of teenage thugs", even if she couched it in terms of becoming "like a proud mother, for ever talking about the gang and boring my friends". The 'career' pathway of the streets to young offenders institution and eventually onto "big man jail", all the time being treated with barely concealed contempt by the courts/job centre/social workers/etc., is accurately portrayed and the blatant hopelessness of the situation of the majority of this abandoned section of society (yes they are a part/product of OUR society however much most of us try to ignore the fact) is laid bare for all to see.
Just a pity that the paper had to spoil it all by putting in the series of pathetic posed picture, spicing up what for the editor must have been a rather dry and 'worthy' piece of copy, despite all the ghetto patois and ****ed-out swear words. Needless to say, the context (if not the content) passed the majority of the online readers by - after all, it's just not the sort of thing one expects to find in the Mail.
A Middle-Class Mother Among The Hoodies.
The Middle-Class Mother Who Befriended Teenage Thugs Dressed One Of Them In A Suit For An Encounter That Shocked Him To The Core.
The Only Place My Hoodie Friend Felt At Home? Prison.
The same comments about the tone of coverage of the excellent Channel 4 programme 'Lifers' could also be laid at the Mail's door, with it having picked on the comments of one of those, Luke Rudge, who appeared in the film, rather than the underlying theme: lifers are by and large ordinary people who have tended to do something out of the ordinary that had serious consequences, and not only to the victim and their family and friends. But then again, reasoned and balanced coverage of such a programme by any of the tabloids just doesn't sell papers. [26/06/12]
EUROPEAN PRISONERS' CHILDREN WEEK 1-8 JUNE
The European Network for Children with Imprisoned Parents (EUROCHIPS) have an e-petition 'Not my Crime, Still my Sentence' addressed to Roberta Angelilli MEP, head of the European Parliament’s Alliance for Children and member of the Intergroup on Family and Child’s Rights, as part of this year's European Prisoners' Children Week. Please take your time to sign it.
PRISON HUNGER STRIKE DEATH
Quietly, and in what amounts to a press blackout aided an abetted by the actions of the California Department of Corrections, a hunger strike has been taking place in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at Corcoran State Prison since the end of December last year. Now news is emerging that one of the hunger strikers appears to have died, whether as a direct result of his participation in the protests or not is so far unknown.
At the last count, courtesy of the less than forthcoming CDC(R), there were still 30 men taking part in the indefinite protest that, whilst being pursued in order to secure a somewhat different set of demands (such as the right to access the law library, adequate and timely medical care, the right to phone calls and radios, etc.), can be seen as a direct follow-on from the previous SHU protests. Given the difficulty of discovering the true causes of three deaths following the last Californian SHU hunger strike, it might be a long time (if ever) before the truth emerges surrounding the true cause of this death. [10/02/12]
MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS TO KNOW?
There is something that has angered many of those of us that have worked with prisoners over the years (not least because it is routinely trotted out by people who actually claim to be prisoners' advocates acting in their best interests), namely the notion that most people that end up in prison are 'mad, bad and dangerous' (to know, as the phrase goes). This is codified by the frequently quoted factoid that 70% of prisoners (or some similar figure) have two or more 'mental health' conditions. These of course include medical issues such as drug or alcohol dependence, problems that can also (conveniently in this case) be labeled with a mental health tag.
Now those wonderful people at fullfact.org, prompted by Andy Burnham's recent restatement of this claim, have examined the available evidence and show just how little evidence that there is to back up the claim. [02/02/12]
At least according to Ken Clarke, for that is exactly what his proposed reforms to the categories of people who will in future be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority when they themselves have been victims of crime. Anyone with a criminal conviction will now (and not just metaphorically) be branded as officially a second class citizen for life, something that many of us have long realised is the actualité.
This move is part of the Coalition's desperate plans to save additional money from the Ministry of Justice's budget on top of previously announced projected savings, many of which appear to have proved illusory. And, needless to say, it has proved popular amongst the tabloid/Tory press, giving them the opportunity to repeat the 'all prisoners are murders, rapists and paedophiles' trope.
However, it has also laid bare their patent hypocrisy as the other part of the same Clarke announcement was the extension of the Victim's Surcharge scheme, as the Torygraph put it, "to all criminals, including those jailed for the most serious offences such as murder and rape." But also to, shock horror, "fixed penalty notices meaning drivers will now also be targeted", as though drivers who break the law cannot or should not be classified as criminals. All this so that "speeding drivers", who "could see their fines soar by 60 per cent to £100", would "help fill a £50million funding gap for victims of crime", in the words of the Mail - or as the Sun more succinctly put it, 'Bash motorists to pay crime victims'.
So, it would appear that they think that some criminals are more undeserving than others. No surprise there then. [31/01/12]
TWITTER & BISTED...
...describes the Mirror's coverage of the aviary at HMP Albany and the fact that prisoners (shock, horror) in general can keep birds as pets. Never let it be said that a tabloid missed an opportunity for a bit of sensationalism whilst putting the boot into prisoners.
FALSELY CATEGORISING PRISONERS
Another facet of the ongoing guerilla war between prison officers, aided apparently by governors, and the government that is essaying massive cuts in the Prison Service budgets (alongside their programme of privatisation - see below) has been revealed in an article on the TheOpinionSite.org: the false categorising of prisoners to a higher risk level, thereby ensuring that they end up in much more expensive to run high or maximum security prisons. It's a simple equation: more higher category prisoners = the need for more staff. The incentive is obvious.
WINSON GREEN KEYS ARREST
It appears that what many of us suspected at the time that it occurred - the timing was far to much of a coincidence - might just be about to be confirmed. Namely that a disgruntled screw half-inched the master keys at HMP Birmingham because he was more than a little bit cheesed off that his beloved Winson Green had been privatised.
The mysterious disappearance of the master keys occurred within 3 weeks of the prison being officially handed over to mega security corporation G4S, who would have had to foot the bill to replace all the prison's locks at a cost running into the high hundreds of thousands of pounds. Now a prison officer has been arrested on suspicion of being the culprit, though the missing keys have yet to be found. [23/01/12]
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
As the POA continues its propaganda offensive against staff cuts in the guise of continued warnings about the potential for riots across the prison estate [surely a question of 'if they cry wolf often enough one is sure to come along eventually and prove their point'?], and prison officers staging a walkout at HMP Nottingham yesterday in protest against the numbers of assaults on their members, a Prison Service spokesperson came out with the following quote:
"The Prison Service and the Prison Officers' Association are jointly committed to a zero tolerance approach to assaults on staff, visitors and prisoners."
Who is kidding whom? [20/01/12]
A MODERN FIT-FOR-PURPOSE PRISON?
It is one of the few points of common ground between the last two governments to plan to provide a modern, fit-for-purpose prison estate (though it could be argued that the exact purposes envisaged by New Labour and the current Tory party are somewhat different despite the urge to do it all as cheaply as possible). It was the driving force behind the then government's Capacity and Competition Policy for Prisons and Probation and the plan for Titan prisons that was eventually abandoned when virtually no one except Jack Straw was found to be in favour of them and subsequently went for smaller mini-Titans like HMP Isis.
It is also the motor force behind the so-called 'Rehabilitation Revolution': "The Government will conduct a full review of sentencing and will introduce a "rehabilitation revolution", under which rehabilitation will be at the heart of a truly fit-for-purpose and cost-efficient prison system." [Crispen Blunt]
It has even been used as a reason for the closing of prisons: "The decision to close any prison is a difficult one but one that we have had to make. Closing outdated and expensive prisons is an important step in our strategy to provide a secure and modern, fit-for-purpose prison estate, while improving efficiency and value for the taxpayer." [Ken Clarke]
And now one of these new "secure and modern, fit-for-purpose" prisons has turned out to be slightly more secure and less fit-for-purpose that first envisaged. In the first inspection of the new HMP Isis carried out last year, the Inspectorate found that: "The prison was bedevilled by a biometric roll check system. For the system to work, 100% of prisoners, 100% of the time had to leave an electronic thumbprint when they went from one area of the prison to another and the system had to record this every time. If one thumb print failed to register, the roll check did not tally and all prisoner movement halted – sometimes for hours – until a manual check could be done. This happened once or twice a day on each day of the inspection with the result that education, training, work and other activities were severely disrupted."
The story looks like a tabloid editor's dream, and no doubt the tabloids will find some way of blaming prisoners, with the possibility of a puntastic headline or two (probably based around them being too lazy to get their thumbs out or something). That is if they can even be bothered to cover it at all. [19/01/12]