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.

Birmingham Prison – A Troubled History

HMP Birmingham, one of the country’s largest jails, has seen soaring drug-fuelled violence and serious disorder in recent years.

In December 2016, while run by G4S, the category B prison was rocked by the worst outbreak of rioting at an English jail in more than two decades.

Inmates caused widespread damage after seizing control of four wings and releasing 500 prisoners from their cells during the disturbance – which lasted for more than 12 hours.

Riot squads had to be deployed to the prison after reports of prisoners setting fire to stairwells and destroying paper records.

One man, believed to be in his 20s, was taken to hospital with a facial injury as well as cuts and bruises, but no prison staff were injured.

Some 240 prisoners were moved out of the prison as a result.

Seven men were later convicted of prison mutiny for their role in the rioting.

The city centre jail, formerly known as Winson Green, can hold up to 1,450 inmates and was taken over by G4S in 2011.

A June 2017 inspection found it had been gripped by drug-fuelled violence, with many inmates feeling “unsafe” behind bars.

The first official report since the riot concluded there was too much fighting on wings, often triggered by easy access to “problematic” new psychoactive substances.

Half of the prisoners surveyed also told inspectors it was “easy to get drugs”, with one in seven reporting they were getting hooked on drugs while in the jail.

The inspection also found the use of mobile phones and drones to arrange and deliver contraband, such as the highly addictive Spice, over the Victorian jail’s high walls was also “a significant threat”.

Three months later staff were involved in another stand-off with inmates following a disturbance.

A number of prisoners refused to return to their cells at the end of an evening.

Specially trained prison staff resolved the incident, which lasted almost seven hours, with no injuries to staff or prisoners.

The prison made headlines again earlier this month after nine cars were torched during an arson attack on the staff car park.

Two masked men used an angle grinder to cut their way into the parking compound before dousing vehicles in flammable liquid.

Further damage was prevented after the men, one of whom was armed with a handgun, were confronted by two prison staff.

The incident came as an unannounced inspection of the prison was carried out.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons later wrote to the Justice Secretary to raise the “significant concerns” about the state of HMP Birmingham.

Peter Clarke took the step of issuing an urgent notification to David Gauke about the jail, warning it had “slipped into crisis” following a “dramatic deterioration” in the last 18 months.

On Monday it was announced HMP Birmingham was being taken back under Government control.

Birmingham Prison: A Prisons Where “Violence is rife and staff are fearful” Says Ex-inmate

Violence is rife, staff are even more fearful than prisoners, and drug use is routine inside HMP Birmingham, according to an inmate who was released on Monday.

Other prisoners being freed after completing their sentences claimed mobile phones were changing hands inside the jail for around £150.

One inmate, waiting for a relative to pick him up after being released from a six-week sentence, said: “It’s fair to say most of the prisoners are terrified in there but the screws are even more terrified than the prisoners.

“I’m surprised it has taken so long for the inspectors to do something – there are drugs everywhere. The place is a joke.”

Another man, in his 20s, told reporters: “I’ve just spent six weeks in there and the conditions are pretty shit, to be honest – from what I have seen there are a lot of drugs.

“Drugs have taken over the prison and G4S have just let it happen. The prisoners were in control and it doesn’t feel safe.

“There were a lot of people on my wing that just stayed behind the door because they were scared to come out.”

A third inmate being freed from the jail’s main gate said he believed prisoners had gained more influence since a 15-hour riot in 2016 during which a bunch of keys were taken from a warder and used to unlock cells.

“I’ve been inside for five-and-a-half years and I think the prisoners run it, to be honest – and that’s the best way in my opinion.”

Some of the men being released also claimed that trainers were often stolen, leaving more vulnerable inmates wearing flip-flops on wings where even the smallest argument could trigger serious violence.

None of the men would give their names.

The shocking bullying of an IMB Member who simply told the truth

 

Faith Spear - the straight-talking Chair of Hollesley Bay Prison
Faith Spear – the straight-talking Chair of Hollesley Bay Prison

30/4/2016 update http://politics.co.uk/blogs/2016/04/29/targeting-the-whistleblower-prison-critic-fights-for-her-job

It was a powerfully honest article that many members of Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) wanted to write (and which many have since applauded) but it has resulted in the shocking revelation of how bullying at one IMB is the price some can pay for their honesty.

Faith Spear is the highly regarded Chair of the IMB at HMP & YOI Hollesley Bay, an independent statutory watchdog appointed by the Secretary of State with wide-ranging powers of independence to monitor what goes on inside our prisons.

Instead of looking in to the prison however Faith took the brave step of looking at the national system of monitoring our prisons by writing “Whistle Blower Without A Whistle” a powerful expose of the IMB system itself.

It was welcomed by many, and an education to many more, but her own Board responded by shocking bullying and tried to pull off a coup d*etat which will fail as Faith is standing firm.

The article she wrote – which you can read above was a private, personal, informed, and educated view of a national monitoring system that everyone agrees needs radical reform. In it she named no one, she breached no rules, disclosed no security procedures, and there has never been any complaint about her capacity to discharge the duties of Chair – on the contrary she has been described officially in her IMB reviews as “keen, professional, team minded, results focused and enthusiastic…”

Read the shocking details of her treatment here

Oakwood Prison: High levels of violence and bullying

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There are still high levels of bullying at the country’s largest prison, near Wolverhampton, and the use of force is almost double that of similar institutions, a report has found.

Inspectors said the G4S-run HMP Oakwood, which received a damning report two years ago, also has a high number of self-harm incidents.

But HM Inspectorate of Prisons said there have since been “significant improvements” at the prison, which opened in 2012, with the overall level of violence falling and a much “calmer” environment.

In 2013 the category C prison which houses more than 1,500 men was the scene of rooftop protests, while last year there were claims of a “cover up” after trouble broke out on one wing and took nine hours to be resolved.

The findings of the latest inspection, which took place in December, are being published on Wednesday and show general improvements, some of which are attributed to staff becoming more experienced leading to improved relationships between the prisoners and those who work there.

While health services have also improved inspectors said they had been affected by staff shortages.

The report also found that although support for those with substance abuse issues is “very good”, the high levels of bullying are often related to the availability of legal highs and associated debt.

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said the prison’s difficulties could provide lessons for the future as other establishments are opened.

“There is more to do but the determined way the director and staff have made improvements following significant criticism should be acknowledged,” he said.

“However, the difficulties Oakwood and other new prisons experienced immediately after opening resulted in unacceptable risks and very poor outcomes for the prisoners held at that time. There are plans to open a number of large establishments in the coming years.

“I recommend that ministers undertake and publish a review of the difficulties Oakwood and other new prisons experienced after they opened, and ensure that lessons learned are factored into plans for the opening of other new establishments.”

Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said: “I am pleased that the chief inspector has highlighted the significant improvements that have taken place at Oakwood.

“There are challenges involved in opening any new prison and the lessons learnt are always carefully assessed to improve any future processes.

“The director and his staff deserve real credit for their work to establish a safe and decent regime through a strong commitment to reducing violence, supporting vulnerable prisoners and providing better work, training and resettlement opportunities.

“There is still more work to do and the recommendations from this inspection will be used to build on the recent improvements.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “After its first few turbulent years, it’s good to hear that HMP Oakwood has turned the corner at last and is now a safer, more settled establishment.

“Before government races to open more giant jails at rock bottom rates, there are important lessons to learn about the harm done by filling prison places too rapidly, taking on so many inexperienced staff and failing to provide a constructive regime.”

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “It is welcome news that conditions have improved slightly at Oakwood since the last dreadful inspection took place, but there is still a long way to go until it is up to the standard taxpayers expect of a state of the art prison.

“David Cameron’s Government rushed to award the contract for running this prison to G4S and then pressed the jail into service before it and its prison officers were ready to cope with inmates. This led to many prisoners being released without being rehabilitated properly.

“Given the Government’s plans to push ahead with a super prison in Wrexham, it’s absolutely crucial that the same mistakes aren’t repeated and public safety is not put at risk.”

Jerry Petherick, managing director of G4S custodial and detention services, said: “opening any prison is a complex process and our experience shows that it takes time to develop the experience of staff, fully embed the prison regime and establish links with local partner agencies.

“Today’s report recognises that the hard work of our team at HMP Oakwood is paying off with inspectors finding that the prison has ‘turned the corner’ and expressing confidence in our plans for the future.

“I am particularly encouraged that inspectors acknowledge the innovative programmes we have introduced to work with prisoners to help them confront their negative behaviour and improve safety.

“There is still work to do but we are confident that our investment in technology, infrastructure and training for prison custody officers will continue to strengthen our performance.

“We are committed to working with the Ministry of Justice, local agencies and partners from across the criminal justice system so that the prisoners at Oakwood are better equipped to turn away from crime when they leave.”

HMP HAVERIGG – Some progress but safety needs to improve

haverigg

There was a real prospect of improvement at HMP Haverigg but it still had some way to go, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the training prison in west Cumbria.

HMP Haverigg is perhaps the prison service’s most isolated prison. It had weathered the uncertainties of budget cuts, prison closures and new policies better than most prisons. It had maintained its performance, there was a real sense of momentum and realistic plans were in place to tackle some long-term weaknesses. Nevertheless, outcomes for prisoners were still not good enough in some crucial areas.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most prisoners said they felt safe, significantly more than at the last inspection and more than at comparable prisons;
  • support for men at risk of suicide or self-harm was consistently good;
  • staff-prisoner relationships were generally very good and mitigated some of the weaknesses in the prison;
  • health care had improved;
  • most prisoners were out of their cells for a decent amount of time during the day;
  • there was a wide range of work, training and education opportunities on offer which were linked to employment prospects in the areas to which most prisoners would return;
  • the ‘smokery’ produced and sold smoked food and provided a very realistic working environment; and
  • practical resettlement services, such as helping prisoners to find accommodation or a job on release, were generally good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • a minority of prisoners were subject to gang and debt-related bullying;
  • staff supervision was made difficult by the layout of the prison, with many prisoners accommodated in ‘billets’ or huts, poor external lighting and limited CCTV coverage;
  • not all incidents of violence were identified or investigated and support for victims was poor;
  • the use of segregation had increased, the use of force was high and some incidents were poorly dealt with;
  • the prison needed to improve its equality and diversity work and had little idea of the identity and needs of prisoners with protected characteristics;
  • there were too few work, training and education places available and allocation processes were inefficient; and
  • almost one-third of the population had an out of date or no OASys assessment.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Prisoners who kept their heads down, made the most of the opportunities on offer and whose needs were typical of the prison’s population as a whole would probably do reasonably well at Haverigg. However, those who needed more support or whose needs differed from the majority might have a less positive experience – sometimes to an unacceptable degree. Progress is being made and a positive, experienced staff group have created the foundations for further progress, but some processes need to be significantly improved and managers need to give close attention to ensuring that poor practice is challenged and improved.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has highlighted the progress being made at Haverigg during a period of real change.

“The wide range of work, training and education is helping to rehabilitate and resettle offenders and the Governor and his staff deserve real credit for the continued improvement.

“They will now use the recommendations in the report as part of their ongoing plans for the future.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 29 May 2014: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Bellfield payout: “completely justified”

Levi Belfield

The £4,500 payout to the serial killer who murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler after being assaulted in prison has been described as completely justified by a prisons expert.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it is “hugely disappointed” by the judge’s decision to award compensation to Levi Bellfield.

Bellfield was attacked by a fellow prisoner with a makeshift weapon in 2009 at Wakefield Prison before he went on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Milly.

He is believed to have suffered minor injuries but launched legal action claiming that prison staff should have protected him, the Daily Mirror reported.

Lawyers on behalf of the MoJ fought against his case for three years but they were forced to admit full liability at Durham County Court on Wednesday, the newspaper added.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are hugely disappointed that Levi Bellfield was awarded £4,500 by a judge following an assault by a prisoner in 2009 at HMP Wakefield.”

Labour MP Ian Austin, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told the Daily Mirror : “This is a complete and utter disgrace. Every right-thinking person will agree this is distasteful and wrong.”

Former nightclub bouncer Bellfield is serving a double whole-life term having been convicted of the murder of Walton-on-Thames schoolgirl Milly while already serving a whole-life term for the murders of Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Milly was snatched from the street on her way home in March 2002.

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners, said the payout was completely justified.

Mr Leech said: “Morally of course it’s outrageous that someone like Bellfield should receive compensation for being attacked in prison – but we do not have courts of morals in this country, we have courts of law.

“A fundamental principle of our law is that if you have a legal duty to keep someone safe – as the Prison Service does in respect of prisoners entrusted by the courts to its care – and you fail in that legal duty in a way that causes foreseeable injury to another person then compensation is not only appropriate but also completely justified.

“Just because someone like Bellfield has been a culprit of crime in the past, doesn’t mean he cannot become a victim of crime in the future.

“The solution is not to criticise the compensation but criticise the Ministry of Justice for savage budget cuts which have seen the staffing in our prisons not simply cut to the bone, but driven someway beyond it.”

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.”

GUYS MARSH INMATES DEMAND END TO GANG VIOLENCE

A group of inmates at a Dorset prison have signed a petition demanding action is taken to stop violence and attacks by fellow prisoners.

The petition signed by inmates at Guys Marsh in Shaftesbury was sent to solicitor Rhonda Hesling, secretary of the Prison Injury Lawyers Association.

She said they claim two wings at the jail are “out of control” and they are “frightened there will be a death”.

The Prison Service said it did not tolerate violence or intimidation.

The document was signed by more than a dozen prisoners and had been smuggled out of the site, Ms Hesling said.

She said it read: “There is no CCTV here at Guys Marsh, staff are never patrolling or around, we could be killed or injured on the wings.

“There is a high level of assaults here by prison gangs who roam without challenge and bullying makes everyone feel unsafe, please help us.”

‘Out of control’

Ms Hesling, also a senior partner with Hesling Henriques solicitors, said the petition was passed to her by a prisoner who had contacted her after being seriously assaulted inside the prison.

She said two wings in particular were “running out of control” and “there’s an absence of prison officers”.

“It’s clearly not something that is just one prisoner’s view,” she said.

“It would seem there’s a systematic failure in the managing of these wings, which is resulting in robbery by other prisoners upon perhaps those who are more weakened and vulnerable.

“There’s an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, and a real fear of physical violence.

“The weak and vulnerable are being beaten up and they are being bullied.”

The Prison Service said in a statement: “Violence or intimidation in prisons is not tolerated in any form and we take the responsibility of keeping staff, prisoners and visitors safe extremely seriously.

“That’s why we have a violence management system in place to deal with incidents quickly and robustly with serious incidents referred to the police immediately.”

Ms Hesling said the Prison Injury Lawyers Association was investigating the claims and was speaking to all parties involved.