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]
SLOPPING OUT NOT A BREACH OF HUMAN RIGHTS
In a judgment yesterday the High Court decided that the practice of slopping out, basically prisoners having to shit in a bucket, was not a breach of prisoners' human rights, contrary to a previous decision by the Court of Session in Scotland held that the conditions at HMP Barlinnie breached the pursuer’s rights under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
The then Tory government had claimed that slopping out had 'officially' ended in 1996 yet it continues to this day in some 10 prisons (approx. 2,000 cells, many double occupation) across England and Wales [in addition, cells in HMP Peterhead have glorified slopping out via in-cell chemical toilets which are emptied twice a week].
In another ECHR-related decision, the Court of Appeal has decided that a failure to provide a life sentence prisoner with a minimum of one hour in the open air each day did not constitute a breach of his ECHR Article 8 rights. [21/12/11]
SCOTTISH PRISON TEACHERS TO STRIKE
Lecturers at Carnegie College, which has recently won the contract to provide prisoner education in the east of Scotland, are planning to strike over the College's plans to reduce the numbers of qualified teachers on the new contract, replacing them with unqualified staff. Education Institute of Scotland General Secretary Ronnie Smith said, "Lecturers are staging this day of strike action in protest at cost-cutting plans by Carnegie College that would have a serious and detrimental impact on the quality of the Prison Education Service."
"Cutting the involvement of highly-qualified lecturers and replacing them with cheaper unqualified staff would reduce the standard of education that is delivered to prisoners, with serious implications for prisoners' programmes of rehabilitation. This is purely a cost-cutting move by the college, with financial savings being put ahead of the need to ensure an appropriate high-quality education service within Scotland's prisons." "...Carnegie College is now cutting back on costs and cutting corners on what they have pledged to provide." [08/12/11]
NEWS FROM THE STATES
Research commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Corrections has found evidence for something that we've always known, namely that the more contact prisoners have with their friends and family, the less likely it is that they will be alienated and be likely to end up back inside from having been sentenced for a further crime once released. Not that we are putting this research down, it just good to see that someone somewhere within the prisons system is looking towards some empirical evidence to back up their policies rather than pandering to the usual prejudice and widespread ignorance of the criminal justice industry.
In separate news, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent interpretation of a 1984 sentencing law, has declared that the only purposes of imprisonment (at least in the States, but we are certainly amongst those that see any claim to the contrary as largely PR fluff and self-delusion) are “retribution, deterrence and incapacitation, not rehabilitation”. The court decided that Congress had decided in 1984 that “rehabilitation … had failed” and that judges cannot send anyone to prison for the express purpose of reforming them although rehabilitation might be 'side effect' of their imprisonment. [07/12/11]
MUSLIMS NOW 70% OF FRENCH PRISON POPULATION
Muslims, who make up between 5-12% of the French population (estimates vary), now officially top the 70% mark in French prisons! And we thought that there was something wrong in English and Welsh prisons where MoJ statistics claim they make up 12% of the population (four times that of the general population compared to the 11% of prisoners that are black, 2.8 times the outside population).
[For more on this subject see this article on Racism in the Close Supervision Units.]
PELICAN BAY HUNGER STRIKE OFF BUT CONTINUES ELSEWHERE
On October 13, after nearly three weeks on hunger strike, Pelican Bay prisoners announced the suspension of their current protest following the publishing of a CDCR memo detailing a comprehensive review of every Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisoner in California whose SHU sentence is related to gang validation. The review will evaluate the prisoners’ gang validation under new criteria, "something the prisoners have been asking for and it is the first significant step we’ve seen from the CDCR to address the hunger strikers’ demands,” according to Carol Strickman, one of the hunger strike mediators.
Prisoners in other jails across California have decided to continue with their protests as they cover issues other than SHU-related gang affiliation, though prisoners in Calipatria State Prison have decided to temporarily end their hunger strike to regain strength and gain medical attention as the prison warden has been refusing hunger strikers any form of medical attention. All Californian prisoners and their supporters continue to ask the public to maintain the pressure on the CDCR to keep to current agreements and to negotiate in good faith, as well as halting any retaliation against protesting prisoners. [15/10/11]
PELICAN BAY HUNGER STRIKE II WEEK 3
The second round of the Californian Secure Housing Unit (SHU) hunger strike protests that resumed on September 26 is now well into its third week as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to ratchet up its attempts to break the resolve of the participants. At end of 1st week, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition claimed, based on information from the federal receiver’s office, that 12,000 prisoners had refused meals in 12 prisons across California, including Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Salinas Valley, Calipatria, San Quentin and Ironwood (CDCR has only admitted to a maximum of 4,250 prisoners participating at the start of the hunger strike, supposedly fewer than during the July leg of the protests). In addition, some 3,000 other Californian prisoners held in private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma were also refusing food in solidarity with the core hunger strike group.
Many of the participants are on a "rolling hunger strike", taking turns in refusing meals in order to maintain their protest and support those on the core indefinite hunger strike protest. However, numbers appear to have dropped with the intensified CDCR retaliation against participants. Added to that is the confusion inherent in the way CDCR recognises hunger strike participation, only considering an inmate to be on hunger strike when he or she has missed nine consecutive meals, and is apparently deliberately underestimating participation (see below).
The Department's attitude has hardened towards the protests since its initial stages and is now treating the hunger strike as an organised "mass disturbance", refusing to participate in any negotiations and is disciplining those who participate and moving prisoners who support the hunger strike from the general population into isolation. As a consequence hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay moved to Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg); participating prisoners are being denied family and legal visits until hunger strike ends and their mail is being censored and restricted; they are being punished with excessively harsh write-ups and guards are repeatedly raiding inmates' cells; CDCR is slowing the delivery or denying participants their medication, as a consequence an inmate suffered a heart attack and was hospitalised; even when medication is actually delivered, CDCR is falsifying hunger striker numbers by delivering it (along with the liquid needed to take it) on food trays and logging it as being a taken meal; they are being denied liquids and canteen items, including food, are being removed from prisoners' cells; and air conditioning in Ad-Seg cells on full in cold (10 oC) weather. CDCR has also expelled two attorneys chosen by the inmates to represent them on the mediation team, accusing them of trumped-up misconduct charges and breaches of security.
The Department is certainly turning up the heat on the protests but the prisoners remain solid and understand that CDCR is unlikely to give in to their demands in the short term. So, with a number of prisoners already refusing water as well as food, and with the health conditions of a number of core protesters deteriorating (many already with long-term medical problems), prisoners are calling on the media to make inquiries on prison protocol if and when they begin to die. [12/10/11]
A POINT OF VIEW: PRISONS DON'T WORK
An interesting 10 minute programme on Radio4 from Will Self on prisons and punishment. [Text] [iPlayer]
SHU HUNGER STRIKE RESUMPTION STATEMENT
Prisoners in the Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit (SHU) have confirmed that they will resume their indefinite hunger strike on 26 September and have released a statement outlining the reasons for their actions here.
PELICAN BAY HUNGER STRIKE TO RECOMMENCE 26 SEPT.
Prisoners in the Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit are to resume their indefinite hunger strike on 26 September that they had suspended at the end of July in order to carry out negotiations with Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCR) representatives.
Even before the temporary suspension was called CDCR disassembling had been a problem but the total lack of any genuine engagement with the protestors' 5 core demands has forced the prisoners' representatives to call for the recommencement of the hunger strike. Vaguely worded promises about “a step down program [that] will be operational by the end of this year or early next year” and the meagre concessions on prisoners privileges, together with the general deterioration in conditions (food, medication, harassment of prisoners, etc.) in the SHU have forced the prisoners into a corner.
Responses to the 5 core demands:
1. SHU still operating via indefinite deprivation of human rights;
2. CDCR has made clear that it plans to substantially expand on the use of “solitary confinement” via targeting all prisoners deemed “disruptive groups” (security threat groups) [defined as “two or more inmates who are collectively deemed to be a security threat” – e.g., all street gang affiliates, prisoners deemed political-revolutionary etc];
3. the medical care problems have not been resolved. SHU inmates suffering from chronic disease are denied adequate care due to deliberate indifference and efforts to coerce them to debrief;
4. food quality now worse than before strike;
5. limited concessions incl. sweat shirts impacts on ability of yearly allowances to buy 'canteen & package' items, decreasing the amount of food prisoners are able to buy to supplement the poor diets. [14/09/11]
THE HIGH COST OF PRISON VISITS
Arizona, the American state notorious for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's tent city and the proposal to use unpaid prison labour to build its own $50 million subscription-funded Mexican border fence, has introduced a $25 prison visitors fee. The one-off non-refundable levee is charged to adults wishing to visit prisoners in the state's 15 prisons and is ostensibly to cover background checks on the visitors. However money raised will also go towards the upkeep of the 10 state-run prisons (5 are privately-run) and opponents have filed a lawsuit seeking to have the fee declared an illegal tax.
PELICAN BAY SHU HUNGER STRIKE TO RESUME?
Following abortive discussions with CDCR officials which raised no substantive offers of changes to the SHU regimes, it now appears that Pelican Bay SHU prisoners will recommence their suspended indefinite hunger strike. In a letter to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, Mutope Duguma outlined the prisoners' determination to continue their protest despite the fact that many of them suffer from debilitating and often life-threatening illnesses. The protestors feel that the prison authorities will not take them seriously and refuse to "remain under this tortuous treatment" and are willing to provide "the body count that they seek or a bunch of hospitals filled up throughout the state."