On my desk today have landed two Reports, both from the Prisons Inspectorate, and both published today.
The first, on High Down prison is Surrey, speaks of an ‘Energetic Management’ that has really improved safety in the prison while the second, on HMYOI Feltham A (that part of the Young Offender Institution that holds a volatile mix of 15-17 year olds) reveals a prison where safety is in such total chaos the Chief Inspector has issued his sixth-ever Urgent Notification demanding action.
In a nutshell what is the problem with our prison system?
I will tell you what I think.
It is about competing views, and the priority which those who can make decisions attach to each.
On one side you have Joe Bloggs, the man on the Clapham Omnibus, Joe reads The Sun and, in the immortal words of Yes Prime Minister, Joe doesn’t care who runs the country as long as she has big tits.
Joe believes that punishment, hard work, austere conditions, and long sentences are the right response to crime – teach ’em a lesson they won’t forget.
Joe Bloggs can vote – so he is fluent in the language that politicians speak.
On the other side you have The Guardian reading (and often writing) academic experts; they point to the evidence and say – well, yes OK Joe, but we’ve tried all of that for 150 years and it doesn’t work.
Of course it doesn’t work – why should it?
Our prisons today are filled with people who come from high-crime inner-city housing estates, with their school exclusions, poor parenting, lack of opportunities, unemployment, gang, guns, drugs, alcohol and knife cultures.
It’s madness to think you can take someone out of that environment, put them in prison – where they are with people they have grown up with – and at the end of their sentence toss them back into exactly the same toxic environment you took them out of, and expect their time in prison to have changed anything.
It won’t – well rarely anyway and more by luck than design if it does.
In many ways in expecting our prisons to reform people we are asking the impossible – crime is a problem society must solve; prisons cannot do it in a vacuum.
Expecting our prisons to deliver reform by themselves is like the hamster on its wheel; utterly convinced that if they just keep going they’ll get there in the end.
And making prisons harder isn’t the answer either – it’s full of people who have spent a lifetime telling authority to f*!k off, they aren’t afraid of prison either as an institution or any one individual within it – many first went to prison holding their mother’s hand while visiting their father.
And then, in the middle of Joe and the academic experts, you have a bewildered population consisting of 83,000 prisoners, 40,000 staff, and a Prison and Probation Service that is completely disorientated by abrupt policy changes, savage budget cuts, reorganisations (we have had five of those in the last ten years) and constant changes of Justice Secretary – ironically as I write, given the election of Boris Johnson yesterday, we will today have our sixth Justice Secretary in as many years – Grayling, Gove, Truss, Lidington and Gauke.
This was all summed up neatly a century ago.
In 1922 George Bernard Shaw wrote the ‘Retribution Muddle’ in which he wrote:
“Now if you are to punish a man retributively, you must injure him. If you are to reform him, you must improve him. And men are not improved by injuries.” (English Prisons Under Local Government, 1922, Sydney & Beatrice Webb; preface page xiv)
Added to this we have the debate about public or private prisons, and privatised Probation too and the chaos caused by the so-called Through The Gate (and Right Back In Again) ideology.
On the other side of that Gate there is the rise to constantly breaking records of violence in prisons, drugs, suicides, self-harm and a Prisons Inspectorate that, as we have seen, has today issued its sixth Urgent Notification publicly demanding action.
So how do we sort out this mess?
How do we take politics out of it and put evidence in its place?
We need something we have never, ever, had: a Public Inquiry into our Prison System.
We have had many ad hoc private inquiries, Woolf, May, Mountbatten, Learmont, Woodcock – and half a dozen of others too whose Reports are languishing on a shelf somewhere in the Ministry of Justice library – I suspect they’re to be found in the ‘fiction’ section.
We have had a plethora of reports, on different subjects, but none that pulls it all together.
That is what we need.
We need a Public Inquiry that, based on evidence, can define the ‘Mission’: what it is that we want our prison system to deliver; in terms of punishment, retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and reducing reoffending.
And how we dovetail that with real support services for those that leave prison – and just as importantly, how we deliver support for those who need it, long before they ever go near a prison at all.
Once we have the evidence-based ‘Mission’ clear – then all we have to do is resource it to deliver exactly that.
The number of escapes has fallen
When compared with the previous year: the number of escapes in the year ending March 2019 went down by 4, to 9.
The number of absconds decreased, while the number of temporary release failures increased
In the year ending March 2019, there were 120 absconds – a decrease of 19 absconds compared with the previous 12-month period. There was a 55% increase in temporary release failures, 56 of which were failures to return. 69% of unlawfully at large prisoners returned to custody within 30 days, up from 65% in the 12 months to March 2018.
Percentage of prisoners in crowded conditions has fallen
In the year ending March 2019, 22.5% of prisoners were held in crowded conditions, lower than in the previous year. During the last ten years, crowding levels have fluctuated between 22.5% in the latest year and 25.5% in 2015.
90.5% of Foreign National Offenders referred in 10 working days
90.5% or 7,252 of the 8,009 total referrals of Foreign National Offenders made to the Home Office in the year ending March 2019, were made within the required 10 working days.
Slight decrease in the average number of prisoners working in custody
In the year ending March 2019, on average, around 12,100 prisoners and detainees were working in custody at any one time across public sector prisons, privately managed prisons and Immigration Removal Centres. They delivered around 17.1 million hours of work during the course of a year.
The amount raised through the PEA levy has increased
£1.6 million was raised from the imposition of the levy on prisoners’ earnings to be paid to Victim Support. On average, 572 prisoners per month were working out of the prison on licence and subject to the Prisoners’ Earnings Act levy and had average net earnings of £846 per month.
The percentage of positive drug tests decreased by 0.5 percentage points
Excluding psychoactive substances, 10.4% of random mandatory drug tests were positive in the 12 months to March 2019. Including the psychoactive substances, the rate was 17.7%.
Barricade/prevention of access incidents and incidents at height continue to rise
In the 12 months to March 2019, the number of barricade/prevention of access incidents went up by 24% when compared with the previous year. The number of incidents at height rose by 15% in the same time period.
Finds of drugs and SIM cards have increased, while finds of mobile phones has fallen
There were increases of 41%, 8% and 14% in finds incidents of drugs, mobile phones and SIM cards, respectively, between the year ending March 2018 and the year ending March 2019.
The number of prisoners with an enhanced IEP status increased, while those with a standard IEP status decreased
In the 12 months to March 2019, there were, on average 34,395 prisoners with an enhanced IEP status; an increase of 4% from the previous year. The average number of prisoners with a standard IEP status fell by 5% this year, compared with the 12 months ending March 2018. At the same time, there was a fall in the total prison population.
The number of women and babies received into Mother and Baby Units dropped
In the year ending March 2019, 60 women were received and 57 babies were received into MBUs; compared with 70 women and 60 babies in the previous reporting year.
The number of subjects actively monitored with an EM device decreased by 4%
At 31 March 2019, the total number of subjects actively monitored with an Electronic Monitoring (EM) device and open EM order was 10,772. There has been a general downward trend in the number of subjects actively monitored.
The number of BASS referrals increased by 2% in the last year
There were 4,522 referrals for Bail Accommodation and Support Services in in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 2% on the 4,436 made in the previous year. The rise is as a result of an increase in HDC referrals.
9.6% of HMPPS Staff who declared their race, were classified as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic
Of all HMPPS staff, public sector prison staff had the lowest BAME representation rates with 7.2% of staff who declared their race as BAME, compared with 15.3% of staff in the National Probation Service.
HMPPS staff lost an average of 9.3 working days to sickness absence
In 2018/19, YCS staff had the highest sickness absence rate at 12.5 Average Working Days Lost (AWDL), followed by NPS (10.5 AWDL), PSPs (9.3 AWDL). Absence rates are substantially lower in HMPPS HQ and area services overall compared with the operational parts of NOMS (5.0 AWDL).
New safer custody figures just published – when we thought three months ago that we might have reached the top of the suicide, violence, and self-harm trend, sadly we were wrong – they have all risen once again.
Self-harm incidents continue to rise, reaching new record high.
The number of individuals self harming increased Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 57,968 incidents in the 12 months to March 2019, up 24% from the previous 12 months. In the most recent quarter, self-harm incidents increased by 1% to 14,415 incidents.
The number of individuals self-harming increased by 6% in the 12 months to March 2019, to 12,539, and the number of self harm incidents per individual increased by 15% from 4.0 to 4.6.
Assaults continue to rise, reaching record highs
There was a record high of 34,425 assault incidents in the 12 months to March 2019, up 11% from the previous year. In the most recent quarter, assaults increased by 4% to 8,445 incidents.
Assaults on staff continue to rise, reaching record highs
There were 10,311 assaults on staff in the 12 months to March 2019, up 15% from the previous year, and a record high figure. In the latest quarter the number of assaults on staff increased by 4% to 2,525 incidents.
Of the 34,425 assault incidents, 3,949 (11%) were serious
In the 12 months to March 2019, there were 3,949 serious assault incidents, up 1% from the previous year. Serious prisoner-onprisoner assaults decreased by 2% to 3,017 in the 12 months to March 2019, whereas serious assaults on staff increased by 12% to 1,002.
Number of deaths decreased from the previous 12 month period – but the number of suicides has increased
In the 12 months to June 2019, there were 309 deaths in prison custody, a decrease from 311 deaths the previous year. Of these, 86 deaths were self-inflicted, up from 81 the previous year.
For many, Chris Grayling’s name was a byword for incompetence – and he left Government wedded to the unflattering moniker “Failing Grayling”.
His record for mistakes was long and notorious.
As transport secretary, his decision to award Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million to run services between Ramsgate and Ostend in Belgium – despite having no ships – attracted widespread criticism.
He faced a vote of no confidence – but survived – over Northern Rail’s chaotic timetable collapse which resulted in widespread disruption and thousands of furious passengers.
And the minister – born on April Fool’s Day – faced ire when he controversially ditched plans to make the railway network faster, greener and cleaner by electrifying lines.
His reputation for blunders was forged long before he stepped into the role of transport secretary in 2016, his reward for masterminding Theresa May’s leadership campaign.
As justice secretary before that, he introduced new fees for employment tribunals, banned people from sending books to prisoners, and brought forward court fees which the then chairman of the Bar Council warned could incentivise innocent people to plead guilty.
All of the moves were subsequently overturned.
He also triggered an angry campaign from musicians such as Johnny Marr, Dave Gilmour and Billy Bragg when he banned steel-string guitars from prisons.
Other failures included Mr Grayling’s decision to bring forward legal aid restrictions for domestic violence victims, cut legal aid for prisoners and set up a body which won a £6 million contract to train prison staff in Saudi Arabia.
Before entering government in 2010 as employment minister, Mr Grayling held a series of shadow cabinet positions and was also caught up in controversy then.
While in opposition he claimed parts of Britain were so blighted by crime they resembled the streets of Baltimore in cult TV show The Wire.
In 2010 he faced calls to quit when he said bed and breakfast guest houses run by Christians should be allowed to turn away gay couples because of their sexuality.
He told a meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies think tank that hotels should not be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals, but individuals should have the right to decide who stayed in their home.
But he was also seen as “the jackal” of the Tory Party, ruthlessly and persistently pursuing what he considered breaches of ethics and the collapse of standards.
Some believed his unrelenting campaign against David Blunkett’s alleged breaches of the ministerial code played at least some part in the then work and pensions secretary’s second resignation from the cabinet.
Until then, Mr Grayling was virtually unknown outside political circles, having entered Parliament only in 2001.
As a former quiet man of Westminster, he then began making ripples as the custodian of political morals.
Born in 1962, he grew up in Buckinghamshire but his parents moved to Cheshire when he was 19 and he has extensive family links in the North West.
He was educated at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe before going to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, to read history.
After university, Mr Grayling joined the BBC’s news training scheme and worked as a producer on BBC News and Channel 4’s Business Daily.
Later he moved to the business side of the media industry and worked for a number of small and medium-sized production businesses before going to international communications firm Burson-Marsteller, where he completed his time as European marketing director.
HMP High Down, a category B prison in Surrey holding about 1,200 prisoners, was found by inspectors to have made good or reasonable progress in some key areas of concern at its last full inspection, including safety and care for vulnerable prisoners.
However, it still struggled to address weaknesses in the provision of purposeful activity, including training and education.
Publishing an Independent Review of Progress (IRP), Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that at the inspection in May 2018 inspectors had found that “arrival and early days procedures were a significant concern. The prison was failing to support prisoners at the time when they were likely to be at their most vulnerable.
“The management of the segregation unit was poor and levels of violence in the prison had increased.” There were also significant weaknesses in public protection work. Purposeful activity was judged as ‘poor’, the lowest possible rating. In May 2018, High Down had been told its function would change and uncertainty about its future role was hindering the prison’s ability to plan and progress.
At the time of the IRP in June 2019, however, Mr Clarke said High Down “had finally decided to focus on the local prison population it held and was no longer allowing itself to be distracted by the prospect of a change in function”.
In the test for safety, the reception process was now far better organised. “We saw prisoners being screened thoroughly for vulnerabilities on arrival, and first night accommodation was generally well prepared.” Violence had continued to rise in line with other establishments, but a well-considered violence reduction strategy had now been implemented “and time would tell if it was fit for purpose.”
Attempts to understand and address the continuing disproportionate use of force against black and minority ethnic prisoners had been too slow, although a prisoner survey had recently been completed and was awaiting analysis. In the six months before the IRP 47% of use of force incidents involved black and minority ethnic men, who represented 35% of the population. The prison knew that disproportionate use of restraint was particularly an issue with black men aged 21–29 but had made little progress in addressing this problem.
Inspectors’ concerns in May 2018 about the arbitrary management of prisoners in the segregation unit had been addressed effectively and there was good progress against a 2018 recommendation about the need for drug- and alcohol-dependent prisoners to receive medication swiftly after arrival.
In rehabilitation and release planning, inspectors found more efficient and improving risk management planning before release, and better analysis of needs, although this work had also been affected by the uncertainty surrounding the role of the prison. Public protection monitoring had improved, though it was still not sufficiently rigorous.
However, purposeful activity remained a weakness and a concern for inspectors. While there had been reasonable progress in activity induction processes, in two of the three themes assessed under Ofsted’s methodology, the prison was judged to have made insufficient progress.
“Attendance and punctuality were still poor, the number of activity places had not increased and nearly half the population was unemployed,” Mr Clarke added.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“At this IRP, we found a focused and motivated management team, and staff who were keen to demonstrate that they were addressing the concerns raised at the inspection. Their efforts had resulted in reasonable or good scores in seven of the 12 recommendations and Ofsted themes, but there were considerable challenges ahead, not least in improving purposeful activity outcomes. Although the uncertainty about the prison’s future had yet to be fully resolved by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), we saw considerable local energy behind the challenge to turn progress into tangible outcomes.”
NEW APPROACH NEEDED AFTER ‘EXTRAORDINARY COLLAPSE IN SAFETY AND CARE’
SAYS CHIEF INSPECTOR
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has called on the Secretary of State for Justice to intervene urgently in Feltham A Young Offender Institution (YOI) after an inspection last week disclosed an “extraordinary” decline in safety, care and activity for the children held there.
Inspectors found very high levels of violence, between boys and against staff, high use of staff force, poor care, long periods of lock-up in cells and escalating self-harm.
Peter Clarke invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) process because of disturbing inspection findings at the unit holding boys aged under 18 in West London. The Secretary of State must respond within 28 days, in public, with action to improve conditions.
Feltham A had previously been subject to a full inspection in January 2019. The report on that inspection, published in early June 2019, warned of deterioration in safety and care after a period of drift. Mr Clarke also took the unusual step, based on intelligence from a number of sources about Feltham A, of announcing that the Inspectorate would return to the children’s unit in early July to inspect both Feltham A and Feltham B, the linked prison for 18–21-year-olds.
The Urgent Notification relates only to Feltham A which, Mr Clarke said, “has for many years been recognised as a challenging and complicated establishment.”
Mr Clarke added: “We found that in the six months since the last inspection there had been what can only be described as a collapse in performance and outcomes for the children being held in Feltham A… The speed of this decline has been extraordinary.”
In his UN letter to David Gauke, sent on 22 July, Mr Clarke set out his key findings:
40% of children said they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay at Feltham A
the number of violent incidents had risen by 45% since January 2019, though the number of children held had fallen
the number of assaults against staff, some of which were very serious, had risen by around 150% since January
levels of self-harm had tripled since the previous inspection and were 14 times higher than in January 2017
use of force by staff had risen to very high levels: 74% of children reported they had been physically restrained at Feltham A and there had been over 700 incidents in the last six months
fewer than one in five children felt cared for by staff, less than half felt most staff treated them with respect, and only 45% reported there was a member of staff they could turn to for help
frontline staff were working in an extremely challenging environment and were frequently victims of antisocial behaviour and violence
a third of children said they were out of their cells for fewer than two hours during the week; at the weekend this figure rose to nearly three- quarters
resources were being wasted as health care staff, education facilities and resettlement intervention services stood idle waiting for children to arrive
many children were being released from Feltham A without stable accommodation, without education, training or employment being in place, and without support from family or friends.
Mr Clarke wrote to Mr Gauke: “I do not for one moment underestimate the challenges facing the leaders and staff at HMYOI Feltham A. During recent months they have often faced violence, some of it very serious. The atmosphere feels tense, and I could sense that many staff were anxious. Some were clearly frustrated about the situation in which they found themselves. They wanted to do their best for the children in their care.
“The overriding issue behind the extraordinary decline in performance over the past 18 months is the approach to dealing with violence and managing the behaviour of children. Of course, there is a need to keep children safe from each other, and for staff themselves to be safe in their workplace. However, the response at Feltham A, for many years, has been to focus too heavily on containing the problems rather than addressing them. As a result, ‘keep apart’ policies – developed so that children from rival gangs, or who for other reasons are likely to be violent to each other, are kept separate – have come to dominate.
“This has led to a collapse of any reasonable regime, has prevented many children from getting to education or training, delayed their access to health care, isolated them from meaningful human interaction and frustrated them to the point where violence and self-harm have become the means to express themselves or gain attention.
“There clearly needs to be a new approach which looks fundamentally to change behaviour and goes beyond merely trying to contain violence through ever more restrictive security and separation.”
Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook, the definitive 1,600-page annual guide to prisons in England and Wales – the new 21st annual edition of which is published on 1st August 2019 – said the report was “shocking”.
Mr Leech said: “This is a shocking report where an increasing number of children in this establishment, unable to cope, have flipped into self-destruct.
“Levels of self-harm have tripled since the previous inspection – and they are now 14 times higher than they were in January 2017.
“Today we will have a new Justice Secretary after the resignation of David Gauke following Boris Johnson’s election as Prime Minister – to them I say: ‘welcome to the real world of prisons’ – and please deal with this urgently as the Notification requires.”
HMYOI Wetherby – a young offender institution (YOI) in Yorkshire, including the specialist Keppel unit for the most challenging children – continued to be a well-led establishment, inspectors found.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that in 2018 inspectors had “found an institution that was progressing well, and was achieving reasonably good or better outcomes in nearly all the healthy prison tests we assessed.”
The inspection in March 2019 was equally good. Indeed, Mr Clarke said, “safety had improved on the Wetherby side of the institution to the extent that all eight of our assessments (four each for Wetherby and Keppel) were now at least reasonably good or better.
“Keppel in particular should be commended for the good outcomes it was achieving for some very vulnerable and challenging children.”
Levels of self-harm were comparable with other YOIs but higher on Keppel and reflected the vulnerabilities of the children on the unit. The care children in self-harm crisis received was generally well integrated and very good, though there was too-frequent use of strip clothing with seemingly insufficient justification.
The amount of violence in Wetherby had fallen slightly and was now lower than comparable prisons, with some good robust initiatives to hopefully reduce it further.
“There were also several schemes in place to incentivise young people but they were undermined by too great an emphasis on punishment over reward.” Use of force by staff remained high, Mr Clarke added, “and although it was now better supervised, in our view there needed to be greater evidence of de-escalation and a further reduction in last-resort, pain-inducing techniques.”
Relationships between staff and young people remained a real strength of the institution. Staff expressed pride in their work and knew the children well. Children also spoke positively about the influence of the Governor. Inspectors identified as good practice the issuing of a free MP3 player with a recording of the induction so new arrivals could learn about the establishment in their own time.
Time out of cell had improved since 2018 and PE provision was very good. The delivery of learning and skills was well led, and priority had been given to maintaining high levels of attendance. Across both sites there was enough activity for all. Ofsted inspectors judged the overall effectiveness of learning and skills to be ‘good’.
Both Wetherby and Keppel had up-to-date strategies to reduce reoffending and resettlement needs were supported by some good casework. Public protection measures were effective.
Mr Clarke said:
“Overall Wetherby continues to be a well-led institution, run by a confident staff group delivering useful outcomes for children. We observed considerable initiative and energy and a very evident commitment to ongoing improvement. We have made a small number of recommendations which we hope will assist this process.”
Helga Swidenback, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Executive Director of the Youth Custody Service, said:
“It is extremely encouraging that Wetherby and Keppel have improved on safety and significantly reduced violence given they are managing a very vulnerable and challenging group of young people. I’d like to reiterate the comments made by the Chief Inspector and thank the governor and his team for their commendable work which has had such a positive influence on these children’s lives.”
Separating Extremist Prisoners: A process study of separation centres in England and Wales
from a staff perspective
This report presents findings of a process study of the set up and early implementation of two Separation Centres (SCs) within the high security prison estate in England and Wales.
The centres allow greater separation and specialist management of influential extremists who wield the greatest influence over other prisoners. The process study used qualitative methods to obtain staff and stakeholder views of how the centres had been set up and were operating and whether there were any early indicators that the centres were achieving their intended outcome of containing the risk of ‘radicalisation’ and reducing risk in the main prison population.
Five fieldwork visits were carried out to the centres at different time points in their implementation and a total of 92 interviews with staff members involved in the development and/or delivery of SCs or key stakeholders were conducted. In addition, 36 interviews were carried out with staff at establishments from where the men had been removed to explore any impact of their removal. Detailed field notes were taken that were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.
There were a number of limitations to the study and these should be noted when interpreting findings. As with all qualitative research, the views of those interviewed were subjective and may not be representative of all staff at the establishments and all key stakeholders. However, as sample sizes were large and drawn from a range of staff and stakeholder disciplines, a wide range of viewpoints were gathered. The SCs had only been established and running for a relatively short period of time during fieldwork and this should be considered when interpreting findings, especially perceived impact. Finally, it is important to note that the men who had been separated declined to engage in interviews or surveys for the study, so the researchers were unable to obtain their views on the centres.
Respondents reported that two well-run centres had been successfully set up, despite some early teething problems.
The key successes of the implementation included the recruitment and retention of highly competent, motivated and experienced officers and multi-disciplinary teams to work on the centres; a comprehensive regime; structured and effective communication systems and the development of a system for monitoring progression. It was widely viewed, by those interviewed, that the centres had successfully separated some of the most influential extremist offenders from the mainstream prison population.
There was some suggestion that this had helped to reduce disruption at their previous locations, although it is challenging to empirically measure the direct impact of removing these individuals.
The lack of engagement by the men, especially in rehabilitation and disengagement interventions, was identified as a significant challenge in the running of the centres.
Areas for improvement and lessons learned were also identified from the staff interviews; some of which have now been addressed by the centres.
These included the need for a review and refinement of the referral process (including examination of lower than expected numbers of referrals); greater support for Imams working on the centres; the importance of a standard and consistent regime to be delivered across all centres; a clearer progression and/or deselection route identified (including where an individual does not engage); consideration of the possible long term impact of separation on mental health.
Consideration should also be given to those who are separated, including the separation of gang affiliated offenders and those supporting other causes, such as Extreme Right Wing.
This qualitative study provides insight from staff and stakeholders into the set up and early implementation of SCs. Further work would need to be considered to assess delivery once sufficient time has passed to allow sustainable practices to embed into the operation of the centres.
HMP & YOI Askham Grange, a women’s open prison near York, has been awarded the highest grading of ‘good’ in all four HM Inspectorate of Prisons healthy prison tests for the second inspection running.
Peter Clarke said it was particularly pleasing in April 2019 to see that the leadership and staff had not simply relied upon what inspectors found last time (in 2014), nor just continued along the same path.
“On the contrary, there had been new initiatives and innovations in many areas. The ethos of rehabilitation and resettlement that dominated the establishment seemed to be stronger than ever, and the extraordinarily strong nature of the relationships between staff and prisoners was clear to see. There can be no doubt whatsoever that this played a huge part in achieving the goals of building women’s confidence and self-esteem en route to eventual release.”
Very few prisoners said they had felt unsafe, there was hardly any violence, and levels of self-harm were very low. “This was a welcome finding when the levels of self-harm elsewhere in the women’s estate are so troubling. Those prisoners who did need support received it appropriately.” Drugs and alcohol were not easily available.
The prison was clean, the living conditions were good and the grounds were extensive. Acorn House, a stand-alone building in the prison grounds, enabled prisoners to look after their children for overnight stays. The onsite mother and baby unit, complete with well-equipped nursery, was an excellent facility. Mr Clarke added: “It was clear that both mothers and babies thrived in the environment.”
Prisoners were never locked in their rooms and had free access to most of the site throughout the day. There was a wide range of recreational and social activities and Ofsted inspectors judged the provision of learning and skills to be outstanding.
In terms of helping prisoners to progress, the links to voluntary organisations and employers were a key strength. Inspectors raised one significant public protection concern, relating to weaknesses in assessments of whether prisoners posed a continuing risk to children.
Overall, however, Mr Clarke said, “it would be wrong to detract from the overall excellence of the prison.” He sounded two notes of caution for the future:
“In the weeks following the inspection, the acting governor and deputy governor were both due to leave, and as we have seen elsewhere, maintaining consistency in leadership energy and ethos can be vital to maintaining good performance. The second issue is potentially more worrying, and it is that Askham Grange has been under threat of closure for some six years. This uncertainty needs to be resolved as soon as possible. This is one of the best performing prisons in the country. The prisoners clearly benefit enormously from what it can provide. It would be good to think that in the future Askham Grange might remain as an example of what can be achieved, and not fade away into a memory of what was once an exceptional establishment.”
Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:
“This is an outstanding report and I am delighted that prison staff continued to build on the success of the last inspection. HMP Askham Grange is an example of an excellent open prison focused on the needs of the women in their custody. I am particularly pleased that inspectors noted prisoners have access to an impressive range of job opportunities and over half of the women released on temporary licence are doing so to go into paid employment, setting them up for life once they have been released.”
This is a brutally honest account of life on the other side of the prison gate – it comes from a senior manager, working in a prison today where the majority of prisoners are serving long term sentences; this person has been in the Prison Service for over 20 years, and I have known them personally for more than a decade.
Here is what he, or she, thinks of life on the landings, and of the Prison Officers Association too.
Be prepared for a brutally honest account.
I have four new officers on First improvement warnings for sickness, they are all still in their Probationary period and with work-related stress being the main factor.
One of them has childhood mental health issues, he actually has his own mental health team, and he can’t cope.
Another has bouts of anxiety and depression.
A third has just had a wobble and doesn’t look like he will survive.
And a fourth who is always crying.
We may be getting bums on seats, unfortunately they’re not the right bums.
My staff go sick at the drop of a hat.
Instructors are told to get them through whatever…..
Our biggest issue outside of self-harm and violence is staff related issues with NEW staff.. in my opinion less than 10% of staff are good, sadly the rest are in it just for a job.
We need to bring back Boards, where potential staff are interviewed on their suitability – let me say, many are NOT suitable and we spend too much time dealing with staff issues.
I’m pretty fortunate, my reputation gives me a degree of flexibility in terms of how I have managed my staff, they respect me, because I don’t sugar coat issues, I don’t blow smoke up their asses either.
I tell them every day what I expect, I give them SMART objectives, they get them done.
To be fair, when I’m not the Orderly Officer, I’m on my wing, I have an open-door policy and both staff and residents are continually in and out. I am everything that I disliked about my PO/CM when I was an officer.
The residents like it, I tend to sort out more issues, my staff like it because I take the pressure off them and I will stand on the landings and talk with the lads and in some cases the girls too, but unfortunately experience is very rare.
In time they will get experience, but sadly we don’t have that time.
You can’t blame the Governors; they’re doing a job with one arm and leg tied behind their backs.
All is clearly not well inside our prisons.
Getting more staff on the landings is vital – but nowhere near as important as getting the right staff on the landings and the evidence of this senior manager is that this is simply not happening.
In April 2017 when the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was subject to yet another reorganisation and morphed into what is today HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), one of the consequences was that it lost control of prison officer recruitment – which was passed to the Ministry of Justice.
I have never understood the logic behind it and the consequences of it are that we are today clearly locked in a desperate scramble to get the number of officers on the landings back to where they should be; but this cannot simply be a numerical issue.
It has to be the right people, selected for the right reasons, capable of doing an extremely difficult job in the right way – HMPPS today has the task of training Prison Officers, surely they should be the ones who select those people in the first place?
A part of the problem is the Prison Officers Association, and it is true to say I have been a critic of this organisation for many years. Prior to the opening of the first private prison in 1992, POA entrenched industrial practices developed over decades meant that prison governors where held in an industrial headlock by the POA – forbidden from introducing any changes unless the local branch of the POA first agreed; the tail was wagging the dog.
If the local branch of the POA disagreed with a reform a prison governor wanted to introduce they entered what was called a Failure To Agree process, a series of negotiations that could go on for years, and often did.
Prior to 1992 prisons were run for the benefit of prison staff, not for prisoners or the public who paid for them. Many prisoners were locked up 23 hours a day, in appalling Dickensian conditions where many were subject to abuse and violence from prison officers.
Many officers were racist, openly displaying National Front lapel badges.
Some prisons at this time – 1990 – had their own social clubs, usually just outside the main prison gate, which served alcohol at lunchtime with the result some staff went back on duty in the afternoon having been drinking and creating a danger to themselves, their judgment and everyone else – and there was little the Governor could do about it.
If you are interested in what our prisons were really like just a couple of years before the first private prison opened in the UK watch this documentary.
When privatisation came along in 1992 finally those in charge in private prisons were freed from the industrial POA headlock. The union representing private sector prison officers signed no strike agreements, where their industrial issues were settled by discussing things like adults around a table.
It incensed the POA who staged walk outs and took strike action – in effect they cut their own throats.
Prison officers were then banned from striking under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Under Section 127 of the Act it is an offence for any prison officer to take, continue to take, or be induced by others to take, any industrial action or to commit a breach of discipline.
Following the election of a Labour Government in 1997 this law was temporarily replaced in 2000 by a voluntary agreement between the government and the POA, which ruled out strike action as a way of solving disputes – but the POA failed to keep to their word.
After a “protest meeting” in 2006, the government responded by re-enacting the 1994 Act and legally banned strikes again at the High Court.
The High Court clarified in 2017 the effect of section 127, which the court said meant that POA members cannot withhold their “services as a prison officer”, or take any action that would be “likely to put at risk the safety of any person”.
This included withdrawal from what were voluntary services – like the provision of first aid and the taking of assessments to determine whether prisoners are at risk of suicide or self-harm – in addition to their contractual obligations; POA industrial action of any kind had been neutered – and it only had itself to blame.
The POA is a union locked in industrial practices that are 40 years out of date, they behave in many respects like the British Leyland Shop Stewards of the 1970s, believing, wrongly, that they are in some way a layer of prison management – which they are not and must never be.
The mentality of the POA is to criticise everything that the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS does, to see nothing good in any kind of reform for prisons, and many POA officials have all the negotiating skills of a brick wall.
Technically the POA represent the vast majority of prison staff – but in practice the only reason prison officers join the POA is for the legal cover it provides them with in cases of injury or disciplinary conduct hearings.
When it comes to the POA membership having faith in elected POA officials, the union’s pathetic election results speak for themselves.
The results of the most recent POA Election of Union Officials in 2017 makes the point starkly.
In June 2017 the POA sent out 25,529 ballot papers to its Members to Elect a National Chairman and NEC officials – less than 10 percent of these ballot papers were even returned; 2,225 to be exact or just 8.7% – and of those, almost 200 ballot papers were spoilt – an effective way for even the 8.7% of POA Members who voted making the point they believed in none of those who were standing for office.
Mark Fairhurst was elected as National Chairman by just four percent (4%) of POA Members – FOUR PER CENT.
Put another way, Ninety Six percent (96%) of POA Members eligible to vote did NOT vote for him – yet he is their National Chairman – paid for by you and me, the taxpayer, who funds his salary as a Prison Officer despite the fact that half the time he doesn’t work as one at all.
I believe in trade unions, I fully support what they do, the vital functions they discharge and their right to represent their members – what I object to is that in the case of the POA it is the taxpayer who pays 100% of the salaries of POA union officials – yet gives them 50% time off from being the prison officers they are paid to be.
If they work half the time for their members, then it is their members who, deriving the benefits of their union work, that should pay half their salary.
The public deserves value for its money, and it simply isn’t getting it when we pay people to do a full time job but who only work half the time.
The POA are the first to claim that the chaos in our prison system has been caused by the loss of 7,000 experienced frontline prison officers, who were given generous voluntary redundancy packages – known as VEDS – in 2013/14.
What they are less keen to admit to is that it was themselves who did not object to the loss of these officers at the time – they did not ask their Members to vote on VEDS, they sought no mandate from them as to whether they should support or oppose these brutal staff cuts, quietly they went along with it – and the chaos we have today is the result.
At this time the only way of making the required expenditure cuts, now that reducing the prison population was off the political agenda, was by reducing both the numbers of prison staff, at all levels – and also their cost. The POA did not, as might have been expected, oppose this; lured by a promise that market-testing prisons would be abandoned and that generous early retirement terms would be offered to existing staff.
When I asked Mark Fairhurst, the POA National Chairman, in September 2018, why the POA had not opposed these disastrous staffing cuts, given the chaos that had resulted and which they surely must have seen coming a mile off he admitted the POA had whimpishly caved in, sacrificing the safety of their members on their altar of anti-privatisation.
“We had no choice” he wrote. “There was a gun to our heads.
“Accept it or go through wholesale market testing leading to a majority of private prisons.”
So there we have it – the POA were prepared to risk absolute chaos in our prisons, where prison staff (their members) would be massively outnumbered, subject to increasing levels of assaults and all because the POA did not want to compete with private prisons.
And its not only their agreement to staff cuts that the POA seek to conceal, it is when their members are convicted in criminal courts of corruption that they remain tight-lipped too.
The POA refuses to issue any press statement condemning any prison officer convicted of corruption – whether it is bringing in drugs, mobile phones or knives, engaging in illicit sexual affairs with prisoners, stealing prisoners’ property, or forging documents that conceal the truth about deaths in custody – and there have been convictions of prison officers for each of these things – they say nothing.
On the other hand, when staff are assaulted by prisoners who are then rightly convicted and punished by the courts – the POA screams from the rooftops.
I don’t blame them for that, I condemn assaults on prison staff publicly too – but all I ask for is some degree of balance; you can’t condemn a prisoner for assaulting an officer on one hand, and yet say nothing at all when five prison officers are jailed for physical assaults on prisoners.
But that is what they do.
And it isn’t just that they are silent when prison officers are convicted of attacking prisoners either – the POA remain silent and complicit when prison officers attack other prison officers too.
The recent shameful case of Prison Officer Ben Plaistow, who suffered a year long series of homophobic assaults and humiliation by fellow prison officers and who recently won a damning case before an Employment Tribunal – he too has been totally ignored by the POA.
The vast majority of prison officers are decent, professional, hard-working honest people, doing a job I personally would not do for a £100K a year.
They each deserve the public’s support, they all deserve the public’s appreciation, but most importantly they all deserve professional industrial representation by a trade union that believes in decency and respect for everyone.
They deserve a trade union that isn’t constantly banging the table issuing demands, holding out the prospect of unrest by taking prisoners hostage with threats of illegal strike action in order to force industrial concessions.
They deserve a trade union that recognises those tactics achieve nothing at all for anyone; least of all their increasingly demoralised membership whose refusal to vote for union officials in their tens of thousands, should ring POA alarm bells like nothing else ever could.