Prison Officers: The Mental Impact of Physical Assaults

Prison officers picketing at under-fire prison HMP Bedford on Friday have told of the violence they have lived through.

A damning report from the prisons watchdog found a “complete breakdown” in order at the facility and the highest rates of assaults on staff in the country.

Richard Gilbert, an officer there for 14 years, described suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after being repeatedly kicked in the head by inmates.

The beating came in July 2016, he said, when he challenged a prisoner he suspected of possessing an illegal Sim card.

“I got pushed from behind, fell to the floor and a group started kicking me in the head,” he said.

He was left with concussion and remains on restricted duties, but the more persistent impact has been to his mental health.

“I’ve got PTSD and depression at the moment and I’m heavily medicated for that, and they’re looking to get me out of the service because I struggle to work with prisoners now.”

The timing of the attack was a significant one, he said, with that year seeing a freefall in safety due to staffing cuts and a rise in the use of new psychoactive substances.

At 42, the father-of-three faces a medical inefficiency dismissal and a struggle to find a new career.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ben Blunt, a 20-year-old who works in operational support.

During his 13 months in the role, he says he has been attacked up to seven times – a rate of once every seven weeks.

Mr Blunt, who lacks the self-defence training of a fully-qualified officer, told how he was seized by an inmate during one attack and was unable to raise the alarm.

“He grabbed my hands through the bars, pulled me towards him and started spitting and scratching at my hands,” he said.

“I was stuck, I couldn’t pull my alarm because the radio was on my side. It was an awful experience and shouldn’t happen.

“I’ve thought about becoming an officer many times but every time I get assaulted I just get pushed back.”

Both men said their attackers have never been brought to justice for those offences.

Brian Cooper, their branch chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA), detailed further serious assaults, including a pool cue attack and one colleague who permanently lost the full-use of an eye because of a fractured eye socket.

“We’ve got the highest rate of assault of any prison in the country and the management are just not dealing with it,” he said.

HMP BIRMINGHAM: BANG TO WRITES

“The first priority of any prison should be to keep those who are held or work there safe, in this regard HMP Birmingham had completely failed.”

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Two weeks ago when the Gate at Birmingham Prison banged shut behind Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, he must have thought as he walked away to write his Report: ‘how on earth could it have got to this?’

How indeed?

Behind him he left a prison he’d found in “an appalling state” with high violence, widespread bullying, squalid living conditions and poor control by fearful staff, who suffered an arson attack on their supposedly secure car park during the inspection.

Birmingham is only the second jail ever to be assessed by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) as poor, its lowest assessment, across all key aspects of prison life.

How did we get here?

Until a year or so ago the problem with our prison system had just two basic roots – and to a large extent it still does.

The first is a public who demand ever longer sentences and harsher prison conditions, despite a wealth of evidence that neither reduces crime and serves only to land them with a £15bn a year bill for reoffending.

The second has been the failure of politicians on all sides to rise to the challenge, to stand up to the public and argue for what they know the evidence shows is in everyone’s best interest: reducing reoffending is brought about through engagement, decency, respect, humane conditions and support – all things far too many of our prisons cannot deliver.

Politicians need to educate the public that treating prisoners humanely is not being soft on crime – humane treatment of prisoners has nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with investing prisoners (whatever they’ve done) with the rights of a human being – and that is always a test that we must pass, not them.

Eighteen months (and three Justice Secretary’s) ago, Liz Truss sought to bring common sense to the law and order debate with a change of direction, the White Paper she published on Prison Reform would have gone a long way towards making real progress, but it was not to be.

Theresa May then went for her infamous walk and the White Paper, much like her parliamentary majority, was tossed in the trash.

But while all that makes for fine theory, it is the dreadful translation of that recipe for chaos into practice that has brought the prison system to its knees.

The minefield that is our prison system today goes back to 2013 when Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling  slashed front line prison officer numbers by 7000 (and cut budgets by over £900m) when he introduced VEDS – Voluntary Early Departure Scheme; in effect – redundancy.

And this at a time when prisoner numbers were rapidly increasing too.

When I first learnt of the scale of the frontline cuts Grayling was going to make I fully expected the Prison Officers Association (POA) to mount large scale protests across the prison estate to fight them – but not a bit of it.

There was not even a whimper from the POA – and the reason?

The VEDS package (coupled with the promise by Grayling to end prison privatisation) was so generous that it ‘bought off’ any objection to the staff cuts from the POA – indeed not only were the POA complicit in the staff cuts, but the evidence shows their own bid to run the prison actually involved 150 LESS staff than the winning G4S bid offered – something the POA seem today to have quietly forgotten.

And VEDS really was generous too – Grayling blew more than £50million in just one year sacking staff at Britain’s overcrowded jails; in 2013 the Prison Service spent £56.5million on severance payments – ten times the amount spent in 2012.

Its not rocket science – you can’t run a modern, safe, humane, reforming prison system with a handful of staff and on tuppence ha’penny.

And, its got nothing to do with Birmingham being a private prison – that’s a red herring.

The moral argument is no one should earn a profit from imprisonment – well tell that to the 25,000 prison officers when they collect their ‘profit’ each month.

I’m a pragmatist – I don’t care whose name is over the prison gate, I’m more concerned with what happens to real people who live and work on the other side of it.

The truth is there are good and bad public and private prisons – and don’t forget until we had private prisons in 1992 our prison system was in an even worse state than it is today.

With private prisons came integral sanitation – instead of a bucket prisoners were required to urinate and defecate in and ‘slop out’ – also with private prisons came access to telephones, reduction in mail censorship, evening family visits, drug and alcohol detox, offending behaviour courses and until 1992 time out of cell was 11 hours a week – with the opening of the first private prison that became 11 hours a day.

We have had private prisons for almost 30 years and generally they have worked quite well – the difference now is that the government austerity spending cuts have driven down private sector contracts to such low levels that they are simply unsustainable – we see that with Birmingham (not to mention Liverpool, Nottingham and Exeter) and we saw it too with Prison Service facilities management company Carillion.

There is one thing however about the privatised Birmingham prison that is different to other failing public sector jails – public prisons don’t have a wicket keeper.

When private prisons were introduced Parliament insisted that behind every private prison Governor must sit a ‘Controller’, an experienced public sector prison governor, there to monitor how the contract to run the prison was being delivered – and where they believe the Governor was at risk of losing control, to ‘step in’ and take over.

There were four, full-time, Controllers at HMP Birmingham, Peter Clarke suggested they were all ‘asleep at the wheel’ and that’s impossible to disagree with given that none of them appeared to notice that security, order, safety and control at the prison had been lost.

What is the solution?

Recent speeches by Justice Secretary David Gauke, and his Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, show they have clearly recognised the dire state the prison system is in, and there has been a raft of welcome policy initiatives to address identified problems.

We have seen a commitment to end rough sleeping, a package to steer the vulnerable away from custody, a drive to address the problems at the ten most challenging prisons, and a £9m ‘blitz’ on drugs in prison too.

These are welcome and useful – but they are also piecemeal, disjointed and there is no overall clarity of ‘mission’ that pulls them all together – you won’t reduce reoffending by sticking plasters over prison problems and ignoring the much bigger picture.

What we need now is a Public Inquiry, not just into the debacle that is Birmingham, but the prison system as a whole – defining not only how we get out of this mess but drafting the course of prisons and probation development well into the 2030’s.

We need to clearly define the ‘mission’ of our prison system.

What, exactly, do we as a society want our prison system to deliver in terms of punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, reducing reoffending and victim care?

Once we have the mission clear, then we just need to pay for its delivery.

At present we are on our EIGHTH Justice Secretary since 2010, and the Prison Service itself in that time has been reorganised four times too – from Prison Service to Correctional Services, to NOMS and now to HMPPS.

Our Prison Service is disorientated by changes of organisation, leadership and the disarray caused by abrupt policy and funding changes that inevitably flow from a change at the top.

It has to stop.

Birmingham prison needs to be the point where a halt is called, where emotion is taken out of the law and order debate, and the future of our prison and probation services are handed over to an impartial public inquiry where evidence and not rhetoric shows what works best for everyone.

Prison assault on ex-soldier was ‘terrorist attack’

2paraThe Times has reported that a former paratrooper on remand in prison has been severely beaten by a gang in a “terrorist attack”, it was alleged yesterday.

Eight men assaulted Craig Jones in his cell at Hewell prison, West Midlands. One of the gang members is alleged to be a Muslim serving ten years for causing the death of a soldier by dangerous driving in 2014.

Jones, formerly of 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, had only recently arrived at the jail and was targeted because of his military service, a source said. “I was told he had a fractured eye socket, they sliced up his face and beat him to within an inch of his life. It was a major incident,” the source added.

Jones was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, where soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated. He is expected to be returned to prison shortly.

A Prison Service spokesman confirmed that an incident had taken place and said that a police and prison investigation had been started.

“A prisoner at HMP Hewell was taken to hospital following an incident on Saturday, January 9,” the spokesman said. “The circumstances are being investigated by both the police and the prison, and we will take action against anyone found to have been involved.”

The Muslim inmate was jailed in October. He had already been banned from driving when he sped through a red light at almost 70mph and ploughed into the back of a car being driven by the soldier, killing him instantly.

He ignored the carnage at the scene and ran off, but four witnesses wrestled him to the ground. The victim had served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and received full military honours at his funeral.

Nick Hardwick, the outgoing chief inspector of prisons, expressed concern last month about the threat posed by Muslim gangs in jails, including fears that they may be radicalising vulnerable inmates.

He said prison officers should not be deterred from tracking gang-related activity if the members of the gangs were Muslims.

One prison governor said that the growing influence of Muslim gangs was a major issue for the jail system. The governor said that many prisoners were so fearful of Muslims that they formed alliances with them for protection.

Others, however, say that some inmates were attracted to joining Muslim gangs because they were seen as the latest powerful group in Britain’s jails.

Prison sources said that the attack on Jones was not being investigated as a racist incident, but was thought to be linked to a dispute over tobacco.

Hewell prison holds 1,266 remand and sentenced prisoners. A prison inspection report in 2014 found significant levels of violence, including some serious attacks. The previous year there was an attempted murder. The report said prisoner-on-prisoner assaults were high and that they were often linked to debt, which arose because of delays in new inmates receiving orders of tobacco from the jail’s shop.

Inmate dies after prison assault

HMP Rochester
HMP Rochester

A prisoner who was allegedly punched by another inmate at HMP Rochester has died.

Fraser Stent, 28, died in hospital a week after the alleged incident at HMP Rochester, a Prison Service spokeswoman said.

Kent Police were called to the jail on October 12 and a 23-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assault and bailed until February.

He has since been returned to prison, police said.

A force spokeswoman said inquiries were continuing to establish the circumstances surrounding the man’s death.

The Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Following an incident at HMP Rochester, Fraser Stent was pronounced dead at an outside hospital on Sunday October 19.

“Officers from Kent Police have been informed and are investigating.

“As with all deaths in custody, there will be an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.”

Jail Staff Criticised Over Prisoner Killing

Gary Douch
Gary Douch
Former Irish prisoner Gary Douch had consumed “a considerable amount of alcohol” in a cell in Mountjoy jail just before being beaten to death by a prisoner who was displaying psychosis, a report has found.

The two men should never have been placed in the same cell together, the Commission of Investigation into the 2006 killing has concluded.

The report by Grainne McMorrow SC has also found that the dead man, his killer Stephen Egan and five other men they were sharing a basement cell with when the murder occurred were all being accommodated in a manner that breached their human rights.

She also found no spot checks had been carried out on the cell on the night Mr Douch was killed, with his lifeless body not having been discovered until the cell was opened the following morning.

Overcrowding at the jail had “completely undermined” the prison staff’s ability to facilitate Gary Douch’s request to be housed away from the main prison population because he feared for his safety.

It found Egan was a violent, mentally ill and troublesome prisoner who was transferred from Cloverhill Prison to Mountjoy Prisoner in exchange for another inmate just two days before he killed Mr Douch.

That exchange was “sweetened” by Cloverhill having agreed to take a group of prisoners from Mountjoy to ease overcrowding there.

However, the staff in Mountjoy who agreed to take in Egan were unaware the authorities at Mountjoy had refused to take him in when he had been released from the Central Mental Hospital just two weeks earlier.

Despite being a violent prisoner and having just previously been acutely psychotic when taken from the prison system to the Central Mental Hospital, there was no medical consultation around his transfer between the two jails.

His medical files did not travel with him and nor did his medication, meaning he was not in receipt of his medication in the days leading up to the murder in the early hours of August 1st, 2006.

When he began to verbally display the same signs of psychosis and hallucinations in Mountjoy as he had had done in the Central Mental Hospital, this apparently went unrecognised and meant he was locked in a communal cell, where he murdered Mr Douch.

“In particular, Mr Egan displayed the same delusional preoccupations with “the Beast” and “rapes” as well as other symptoms of psychosis in holding cell 2 on the 31st July/1st August that he had displayed previously when unwell,” the commission notes.

It also concludes that attacks which Egan was involved in within the prison service – such as setting fire to a padded cell and trying to strangle a prison officer during a transfer – were never fully investigated with a view to shaping better treatment for him.

The report also reveals that the prison service was so keen to continually transfer the troublesome, violent and mentally ill Egan that no one group of staff or facility ever took ownership of his care.

The commission also concludes that, given the seriousness of his mental health issues, Egan should never have been transferred from the Central Mental Hospital on July 14th, 2006, back into the prison system, just nine days after admission to the hospital.

It says the transfer to Cloverhill occurred despite the Central Mental Hospital knowing that once Egan was back in the prison system, it would lose any influence over his care.

After just two weeks in Cloverhill he was transferred to Mountjoy, and within 72 hours he had killed Mr Douch in a basement holding cell.

Staff at Cloverhill are excoriated in the new report for having sought to offload Egan from their care because he was so difficult, and for placing him in the overcrowded environment of Mountjoy that they knew was not well placed to care for him.

“The management at Cloverhill Prison exhibited what this commission regards as a reckless disregard for the health and safety of Stephen Egan in transferring him to Mountjoy Prison without any consultation with his doctors or with the psychiatric in-reach service,” the report states.

It continues: “In selecting Stephen Egan for transfer, Cloverhill also exhibited a reckless disregard for the health and safety of staff and prisoners at Mountjoy Prison, which they knew was under severe pressure from overcrowding.

“He was wholly unsuitable for transfer, given that he was a prisoner with known violent history, still under psychiatric care and on anti-psychotic medication, recently discharged from the Central Mental Hospital.

“The transfer also involved moving Stephen Egan from the safety of a high observation single cell on Cloverhill’s D2 wing to Mountjoy, when they knew, or could reasonably be expected to have known, that he would not be accommodated in anything approximating the facilities available in D2.”

HMP and YOI Ashfield – high levels of violence and use of force by staff

nickhardwick

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons,Nick Hardwick, above, in a report on Ashield Young Offender Institution published today says:

In January 2013, the Justice Secretary announced plans to close HMYOI Ashfield and re-role it as an adult prison. The inspectorate had plans to conduct an unannounced inspection of the establishment in February 2013. We decided to proceed with the inspection to ensure that the young people who continued to be held there were held safely and decently during the transition, and that plans in place to ensure their move to another establishment or release were well managed.
We focused the inspection on areas of greatest concern and produced this truncated report more quickly than usual so it could be of use before the establishment closed. Because we did not look at every area of the establishment, we have not graded it against each healthy prison test, as is our normal practice. As usual, we gave immediate, detailed feedback to the establishment and Youth Justice Board (YJB) at the end of the inspection.
At the time of the inspection, the establishment was just one-third full and held 123 young people, most of whom were aged 16 or 17. This compared with a population of 332 at the time of our last inspection, and an average of 237 in 2012. Ashfield had an operational capacity of 360.
Our concerns about safety appeared to have been justified. Despite the reduction in numbers held, there had been a sharp increase in self-harm incidents since the closure announcement. The number of formal disciplinary proceedings or adjudications was high, and fights and assaults accounted for two-thirds of the charges laid. The highest number of adjudications per 100 of the population was in January 2013. Levels of violence were high. There were 351 fights and 377 assaults in 2012 and staff told us there had been an increase in the overall number of violent incidents since the closure announcement. In the 12 months to January 2013, there had been 43 serious fights, of which 37 had resulted in serious injury and six in minor injury. Five staff had been assaulted in the same period. Use of force by staff was also high in 2012 and two boys had suffered broken bones following staff use of force.
As at other young offender institutions (YOIs), young people were routinely strip-searched when they entered or left reception. Of 3,773 such searches over the last 12 months, just one had resulted in a find.
Despite the levels of violence, young people did not tell us they did not feel safe. We were also pleased that the segregation unit had been closed since our last inspection, and there were some good systems to address the particularly poor behaviour of some young people.
The environment was reasonable, although needing some attention. Young people could have telephones in their cells, which was a good initiative. Relationships between staff and the young people were good. We were impressed by the way in which staff put their own anxieties about the change aside and did not let this affect their dealings with the young people. Health care was good.
Young people had good access to education and training. However, with the rundown of the establishment it was increasingly difficult to motivate the young people and there was a concern that provision for those transferring elsewhere would not be effectively linked to the work they had done at Ashfield.
During the course of the inspection, we were particularly concerned about resettlement and transition planning. There was a lack of effective joint strategic planning between the YJB and Ashfield. Poor communication between the interested parties was causing widespread confusion. Young people were becoming increasingly agitated because they did not understand what was happening. Some services would be discontinued before all young people had left Ashfield. Overall, we were not confident that the best interests of the young person were always considered.
We have reported our concern about high levels of violence at a number of recent inspections of YOIs holding children and young people. At Ashfield too, young people’s safety was compromised because they were exposed to unacceptable levels of violence – and there is some evidence the situation has deteriorated since the closure decision was announced. Planning for the closure itself was not effectively coordinated between the YJB and Ashfield, and the needs of individual young people were not carefully considered. The anxiety and uncertainty this created may well have contributed to the tension at the establishment. It certainly means that young people are not being adequately prepared for transfer or release. The establishment and the YJB will need to work effectively together, not just to improve the situation but also to ensure it does not deteriorate further.

Ashfield – high levels of violence and use of force by staff

Ashfield Children

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a report to be published at midnight, says that in his final inspection of HMYOI Ashfield before it is re-roled from a juvenile institution to a category C adult male prison for sex offenders, he found there were high levels of violence, self-harm, along with high levels of force by staff in which two prisoners suffered broken bones.

Check back after midnight for full details of this shocking report.

Muslim prisoners ‘injured’ after refusing to join Muslim prison gang

fullsutton

An increasing number of Muslim inmates complain they are being intimidated to join the Muslim Brotherhood, a prison gang, and some have received injuries following a refusal to do so.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said he was aware of an ‘increasing number of complaints’ from Muslim prisoners in the High Security prison estate who claim to have been intimidated to join the prison-based ‘Muslim Brotherhood’.

Mr Leech said: “Radicalisation of Muslims in the High Security Estate is nothing new and the existence of the Muslim Brotherhood is equally well-known, what I find disturbing is that I have seen an increasing number of Muslim inmates and their families complaining that their loved ones are being intimidated into joining this group and some have received injuries, perhaps unconnected with their refusal, after persistently declining to join.

“One firm of personal injury solicitors I am in touch with confirm they act for a Muslim inmate seriously injured in Full Sutton prison after he continually refused to join the Full Sutton Muslim Brotherhood – unusually and perhaps of significance is the fact that prison staff at HMP Full Sutton have given evidence supporting his case.

“Prison gangs like the Muslim Brotherhood can feed on fear and perpetrate a belief that there is safety in numbers – we should not forget that the Prison Inspection report published in April 2013 on Full Sutton said:

We had two main areas of concern. First, the perceptions of black and minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim prisoners about many aspects of their treatment and conditions were much more negative than for white and non-Muslim prisoners. For example, significantly fewer told us staff treated them with respect and significantly more said they felt unsafe.

“Treating all prisoners with respect and equality is the challenge for the management of Full Sutton, a Maximum Security prison which in so many other respects has shown itself well able to rise to difficult challenges and overcome them – and on this important one it must not be allowed to fail.”