W(H)ITHER THE DISCHARGE GRANT?
Exactly what is the point of taking away the prison release grant Mr Cameron? Admittedly issuing £46 to a prisoner on release (plus travel warrant) it hardly seems worth the bother - though at 1995 prices, when it was first introduced, it was actually worth something (roughly £72 in today's money). Tell that to any con about to be shoved out the prison gates with nowhere to go and/or with the prospects of having to wait weeks if not months for their first dole cheque (because no one really believes prisoners stroll straight from the clink gates into a job). And this comes on top of the recent 40% Robin Hood tax on working Category D prisoners. Really, how is any self respecting rehabilitated ex-prisoner meant to stay on the straight and narrow when they leave imprisonment without 2 brass farthings to rub together? [22/10/12]
ITCHING TO GO HOME
A group of 90 male work-release (roughly equivalent to Category D) prisoners at York County Prison in Pennsylvania have just had a welcome bonus - 3 days home leave - all because the trailers in which they are housed whilst on work-release had become infested by bed bugs and were in need of fumigating.
CAMERON: TOUGH BUT INTELLIGENT?
He might have succeeded in sounding so on the former but he certainly does not on the latter.
Firstly, as previously argued, there is little new in what Cameron is saying - most of it has previously been aired by Grayling or May (the 'new punitive element' to community sentences and a maximum sentence of life for gun traffickers). And the rest is just plain dumb or, at best, mendacious.
Attempts at cutting the prisons' budget have already been thrown into chaos with the dumping of Clarke's 50% discount for early admissions of guilt and the extension of 2 strikes legislation to replace IPP sentences, whilst absolutely nothing is being done to clear the ever-increasing backlog of post-tariff IPP prisoners left in limbo with no access to so-called offender behaviour programmes (OBPs), which are in turn being cut back because of a lack of cash.
Then on top of all that, the long-flagged up progressive [as in 'on-going' rather than 'making progress to better conditions'] introduction of 'payment by results' into the prison system has always entailed financial consequences for failing to meet government-set targets on reducing reoffending (surely the Blairite 'target culture' has been roundly condemned by Cameron on numerous occasions?), supposedly encourage a leaner more competitive prisons 'market' where the best performers get larger budgets. So, the notion of fining directors of private prisons i.e. the companies operating the prisons who fail to meet these standards implies something of a 'double whammy': not only will 'failing' prisons loose out on potential future funding, it now appears that additional money is be taken away from them (it certainly wont come from the governor's own salary). Or is this just more governmental doublespeak?
One surefire consequence of all this is that Cameron's preferred future for the prison system, total privatisation except for the high security sector which would prove too expensive, if not downright dangerous, to hive off, will prove to be less of a dead-cert money spinner for the likes of G4S and Serco and the government may well have to change their tune if they want any increased privatisation of the prison estate. Shareholders come first after all and if these firms can find some other way of maximising their profit then there will be no reason for them to stay in prisons market.
Of course this is to ignore the basic stupidity of trying to pay prisons on a 'by results' basis. Too many prisoners are shuttled between prisons during sentence, something that is increasingly becoming the norm in a grossly overcrowded system where prisoners are constantly being shuffled around the country when ever a free place pops up. So how is it possible to delineate the contribution of each prison to the 'care and rehabilitation' any individual prisoner and ultimately their degree of responsibility for the prisoner staying on the straight and narrow post-release? The only thing that they can possibly do is make sure that everyone they release is monitored 24/7 and prevented from breaking the law (or even getting caught, which ever is the most cost-effective) by some external agency that they employ. Alternatively, the private prisons can always make sure they pre-select their in-take i.e. only take in the 'right' sort of prisoner, one less likely to reoffend, something that apparently is already becoming the norm.
Finally, let's put to bed once and for all this notion of prisoners laying around in their cells all day watching Sky Sports. The only prisoners with access to subscription TV are those in private prisons who are on Enhanced level IEPS i.e. the best behaved ones, who are usually working 40+ hours a week. And even those prisoners who are not in private sector nicks who are banged up 23 hours a day because there is no work available for them to do so as to break up the mind-numbing monotony of daily prison life, many of those are in prison where the electricity supply to cells is being cut off as a cost saving exercise, and they cannot even boil a kettle to make a good old cuppa.
Some of these politicians really need to get out a bit more and visit the odd prison before they begin pontificating on prison culture. And the only conclusion that we can draw from all this hot air is that this is merely a case of "when the going gets tough the politician gets ever more reactionary"? It's certainly not a case of "getting more intelligent." [21/10/12]
THE TALIBANISATION OF TORY JUSTICE POLICY
It's the conference season again and the Tories are on their high horses as the so-called Rehabilitation Revolution is given a right-wing makeover: in comes the right to bash a burglar (as long as it's done 'in the heat of the moment'), compulsory two strikes and you're out, a victim's 'pick a punishment scheme' and plans to make community punishments more punitive (!?). All this accompanied by much weeping and gnashing of teeth in the liberal media as they seek to blame it all on the fact that 2 non-lawyers (Grayling and May) now hold the reins of power in both Justice and the Home Office. Yet (their) darling Ken was doomed to walk the plank as the right w(h)in(g)e media and Tories ganged up on him and his reforms / window-dressed cuts despite his fingerprints already being on a number of these provisions.
So, where do we stand now following these announcements? Firstly, there appears to be a move towards policies that mimic the much derided judicial mindset of the Taliban, Sharia law or just plain Old Testament jurisprudence - an eye for an eye and public administration of justice. One just wonders if there are also plans to introduce flogging as an option in the victim's 'pick a punishment scheme' (administered by the victim themselves of course)?
Then there is the much derided 'two strikes' legislation (fully enacting Clause 117 of the recent Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) . All across America, the land of invention of this rebarbative concept, States are at long last seeking rolled back similar (three strikes) legislation, in large part because of the massive expense incurred by such statutes. Additionally, when non-mandatory two-strikes legislation was first introduced in to the UK (a Jack Straw 'innovation' - interesting that Labour were particularly silent on criminal justice matters at their recent conference) judges largely sought to avoid invoking it - hence the recent reenacting of it in a compulsory format, something that senior members of the legal profession spoke out loudly against when LAPSO first went before Parliament. Which all means that the loss in potential MoJ budget savings that the ditching of Clarke's 50% discount for early guilt pleas will be further exacerbated (along with overcrowding, prison unrest and POA industrial action) as the prison population soars and savings will need to be found elsewhere.
Lastly we have the apparent need for community sentences (which are de facto punishments) to be made more punitive. What on earth can Grayling be envisioning? Painting out graffiti or digging old lady's gardens whilst wearing a ball and chain around the ankle? Or maybe ditching the fluorescent 'Community Payback' bibs for the full old fashioned prison uniform? Maybe even reintroducing a period spent in the stocks as part of the sentence? Who knows what goes on in the fevered mind of the Tory Right? [09/10/12]
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]