HMP MAIDSTONE – Violent incidents and Use of Force increase and the growing drugs problem must be addressed

Inspectors found that the number of violent incidents and the use of force by staff had increased since the previous inspection but levels were lower than in most similar category C prisons.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “In terms of behaviour management, it was good to see what we have recorded as good practice in the use of incentives and earned privileges.”

However, Mr Clarke added: “I would sound a note of caution about the…impact of illicit drugs. The prison, unlike so many others, had not been destabilised by an influx of drugs, but there were some worrying signs.” The positive test rate in random tests of prisoners had risen and now stood at 14.5%.

“This was too high to be taken lightly. Shortly after this inspection some 15 parcels containing contraband, including drugs, were thrown over the wall into the prison in the space of a single night. Despite the clear indications that drugs were a growing problem, the response to intelligence was poor, with backlogs and suspicion searches not being carried out in a timely fashion or at all. There was clearly a need to refocus on the strategy for reducing the supply of illicit drugs, and there is certainly no room at all for complacency.”

Inspectors found generally good relationships between staff and prisoners “and a higher than usual proportion of prisoners told us they were treated with respect by staff.”  However, much of the residential accommodation was old, shabby and in need of refurbishment and the sports hall had been condemned and closed.

One of the most serious concerns was the decline in terms of the purposeful activity available to prisoners. Mr Clarke said: “For those in employment the amount of time out of cell was perfectly adequate, but there were only sufficient activity places for around three-quarters of the population.

“Far too much of the work that was available was mundane and menial, and I was surprised to see large numbers of prisoners in workshops playing games rather than being engaged in work.”

In contrast, rehabilitation and release planning had improved since the last inspection, though Mr Clarke added: “Those prisoners who were destined to be held in detention under immigration powers at the conclusion of their sentence should have been told that this was going to happen sooner rather than later, and certainly not left until very close to the time when they anticipated that they would be released.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“The prison was completely aware of the distinct needs of their population, although more needed to be done to understand the more negative perceptions of their treatment and conditions held by prisoners with protected characteristics. The establishment also needed support in terms of investment to get the fabric of the buildings back to an acceptable standard and facilities such as the sports hall restored.

A copy of the full report, published on 19 February 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Maidstone prison was originally built in 1819. The prison underwent a re-role in 2013 and is now a designated foreign national prison.

The unannounced inspection took place between 8 and 19 October 2018.

Gauke: Prison isn’t working for thousands of criminals and sets out the case for scrapping short jail sentences.

Prison is not working for thousands of criminals, the Justice Secretary has declared, as he set out the case for scrapping short jail sentences.

David Gauke called for a more “imaginative” approach to crime and punishment, with greater focus on rehabilitation in the community.

He said there is a “very strong case” to abolish sentences of six months or less altogether, with some “closely defined exceptions”, such as for violent and sexual crimes.

Short custodial terms would be replaced by “robust” community orders under Mr Gauke’s blueprint.

His comments provide the clearest indication yet of the Government’s intention to move away from the Tory mantra of “prison works”.

In a speech in central London, the cabinet minister set out his vision for “smart justice”.

He said: “I think now is the time for us as a society, as a country, to start a fresh conversation, a national debate about what justice, including punishment, should look like for our modern times.

“I know that there will be some who argue that the only problem with our criminal justice system is that it isn’t tough enough, that the answer to short sentences is longer sentences, that the best way of stopping recently released prisoners from re-offending is not to release them.

“And that the endless ratchet effect of higher sentences is giving the public what it wants.

“But I believe that those in positions of responsibility have a duty to show leadership.”

The Tories’ approach to sentencing has been analysed against the “prison works” doctrine since former home secretary Michael Howard used the phrase 25 years ago.

Mr Gauke cited figures showing that, in the last five years, just over a quarter of a million custodial sentences have been given to offenders for six months or less, while more than 300,000 sentences were for 12 months or less.

But, he said, nearly two thirds of those handed the punishments go on to commit a further crime within a year of being released.

Shoplifting is the most common crime attracting sentences of under six months, with around 11,500 such cases a year.

Mr Gauke said: “For the offenders completing these short sentences whose lives are destabilised, and for society which incurs a heavy financial and social cost, prison simply isn’t working.

“That’s why there is a very strong case to abolish sentences of six months or less altogether, with some closely defined exceptions, and put in their place, a robust community order regime.”

He said all options were being explored to bring about the shift, including legislation.

While the case for reform is seen as strongest in relation to sentences of six months or less, ministers will also look at the impact of a “presumption” against sentences of a year or less in Scotland.

The number of offenders given community sentences has fallen in recent years, prompting suggestions that judges and magistrates lack confidence in them following concerns over probation arrangements.

The Government has already taken a number of steps to improve the management of convicts away from prison.

At the weekend, Mr Gauke announced the roll-out of GPS tagging technology to allow 24/7 monitoring of thousands of offenders in the community.

New arrangements to loosen some of the barriers to releasing some prisoners on temporary licence are also being trialled.

Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Wera Hobouse welcomed Mr Gauke’s remarks on short sentences but accused the Government of “saying one thing and doing another”.

“Even as he makes that admission, his Tory colleagues at the Home Office are busy introducing more short prison sentences in their Offensive Weapons Bill,” she said.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The justice secretary is establishing a reputation as a thoughtful, balanced policy thinker, driven by evidence not preconception.”

Damning Report as Working Links CRC Goes Into Administration

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, has welcomed government action to ensure the continued operation of three private probation companies whose parent company, Working Links, has announced it is going into administration.

The need for an urgent government response, in the interests of protecting the public, is underlined by a deeply troubling report released today by Dame Glenys, following an inspection of one of the Working Links CRCs – Dorset, Devon and Cornwall (DDC).

As soon as the results of the DDC inspection in November 2018 were apparent, Dame Glenys advised the government that intervention was necessary, the first time she has recommended this course of action. It is the first CRC in HMI Probation’s 2018-19 inspection schedule to be rated as ‘Inadequate’, the lowest rating.

Inspectors found staff were under-recording the number of riskier cases because of commercial pressures. They were also completing individuals’ sentence plans to meet performance targets, without actually meeting the offender.

In the report, Dame Glenys said these were “immutable lines” which had been crossed. She said: “The professional ethos of probation has buckled under the strain of the commercial pressures put upon it here, and it must be restored urgently.”

Today, Dame Glenys welcomed the government’s “swift action” in moving to ensure the three CRCs under the wider Working Links banner are protected and can continue to safeguard the public. Working Links has three CRCs, in Wales and the south west. The government has agreed that Seetec, owners of Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, will take over the three Working Links CRCs.

Dame Glenys said: “This should be a turning point. Ministers recently took the decision to terminate all 21 CRC contracts early, next year. The Secretary of State is now considering what comes next. Our CRC inspection evidence shows a variable picture but it is one in which the provision of services in most cases is wanting, often significantly so.

“We find probation services delivered by the National Probation Service, for higher risk individuals, to be good, overall. It is not easy to change the model for delivery by CRCs of a complex service for over 154,000 medium and lower-risk offenders every year. But the future model must preserve the ethos of probation, and respect and nurture the probation profession itself. The alternative is made clear in the thoroughly dispiriting Dorset, Devon and Cornwall CRC report.”

That report records CRC staff telling inspectors they believed the way Working Links was operating was “contrary to the core values and purpose of probation”, with no direction or any strategy for improvement.

Staff, inspectors concluded, “are trapped in a spiral of decline. The imperative to meet task-related contractual performance targets and so avoid service credits (financial penalties) dominates working life”.

Dame Glenys was particularly troubled by two aspects:

  • All cases in Working Links CRCs are assigned a blue, red, amber or green rating, based on their level of risk of harm and/or of reoffending. This rating determines the resources which will be allocated to them. Cases rated as ‘red’ require the most frequent contact and more interventions. The report noted: “Practitioners told us they refrained from case-appropriate assessments in some instances to limit the numbers of ‘red cases’ that have to be seen every week. This is an immutable line crossed. It seriously compromises the CRC’s understanding of the caseload and the resources required to manage the work safely and effectively. What is more, it compromises probation itself in those cases.”
  • A key element of CRC work is to involve the individuals in planning the progress of their sentences from the courts. While there was sufficient engagement with individuals in most Cornwall cases, it was insufficient in the majority of those in Devon and Dorset. Too frequently, inspectors found, there was no plan at all. The report noted: “This is exemplified in one case by the inspector’s observation that “the plan was completed to meet a target, so was done before the responsible officer met the service user, with the service user having been turned away from his induction appointment because the CRC had not yet allocated the case.” The report noted that this, too, was an immutable line crossed.

Dame Glenys said: “The Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall CRC is not delivering probation services to anywhere near the standards we and the public expect.”

Inspectors found good Through the Gate services for people leaving prison. These services are outsourced in a well-contracted and properly-resourced scheme. But, Dame Glenys said: “Most other work is of poor quality, and simply not enough meaningful work is being done. Instead, effort is focused disproportionately on reducing the risk of any further contractual (financial) penalty. For some professional staff, workloads are unconscionable.”

Some officers had on average of between 80-100 cases, with some caseloads reaching 168 – an unmanageable workload. CRC staff had been cut by one-third since 2015 and one manager described the pressure as “mind-blowing”. Courts had very little confidence in the CRC.

Staff felt they had little support and had not been consulted in a staff survey since 2015. The report noted: “There were many concerns about the personal safety of staff in operational offices.”

The Inspectorate has previously expressed concerns about work in the Gloucestershire area (part of the Working Links’ Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire CRC), where inspectors found that work to protect the public and reduce reoffending work was poor. HMI Probation will next week start inspecting the Working Links’ Wales CRC.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:

 “We were aware of Working Links’ financial situation and have taken action to ensure continuity of probation services.

“That means probation officers will continue to be supported, offenders will be supervised, and the public will be protected.

“The Chief Inspector’s report on these CRCs lays bare their unacceptably poor performance and we will work closely with the new provider to urgently raise standards.”

MOJ add:

 We have agreed with Seetec, the parent company of Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, that this CRC will take over service delivery in the South West and Wales. This change has been made via a variation to Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC’s existing contract.

  • The future proposals for probation services outlined more bespoke arrangements in Wales; as such, we are working with Seetec and HMPPS Wales to arrange an earlier transition of Wales Offender Management Services into HMPPS.

 

Further background:

 We have been aware of Working Links’ and the CRC’s financial situation for a period of time and have taken action to ensure vital probation services are maintained, offender supervision continues and the public are protected.

    • A dedicated team of experts has been working tirelessly to deliver our contingency plans and we have agreed to transfer staff and services to Kent Surrey and Sussex CRC, which is owned by Seetec, a high performing CRC provider.
    • We are confident that with their expertise and a proven track-record of delivering good probation services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, Seetec can deliver and improve services.
    • Probation services in the thee areas, Devon, Dorset & Cornwall Bristol; Gloucestershire Somerset & Wiltshire and Wales remain fully operational and will continue to operate as normal.
    • Our priority is to minimise disruption to staff and service users, while protecting the public and ensuring that probation services continue to be delivered.
    • We keep a close eye on the financial health of providers, including Working Links and were approached by them in October 2018 to have initial, discussions regarding the future viability of the business.
    • Following this, it became clear that Working Links would not be able to fulfil its full contractual obligations so we then began to enact our well-rehearsed contingency plans.
    • The agreed transfer will take place via a variation of the existing contract with Kent, Surrey and Sussex’s CRC contract. We are transferring staff and services to Kent Surrey and Sussex CRC.
    • Kent Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company was judged in 2017 by national inspectors to be one of three probation companies deemed to be “performing well”.
    • Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC continue to perform well against their contractual obligations.

Notes

The report is available at https://www.prisons.org.uk/ddccrc.pdf

 

Justin Russell announced as candidate for next Chief Inspector of Probation

The Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon. David Gauke MP, confirmed today that his candidate to be the next Chief Inspector of Probation is Justin Russell – currently Director General responsible for No Deal EU exit planning at the Ministry of Justice.

Justin has been selected following a rigorous assessment process conducted in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. A panel of four, including two external interviewers, assessed all the candidates and put forward to the Secretary of State those who passed the high bar for consideration for this role.

The Secretary of State has invited the Justice Select Committee to hold a pre-appointment hearing. Pre-appointment scrutiny is an important part of the appointment process for some of the most significant public appointments made by Ministers. It is designed to provide an added level of scrutiny to the appointment process.

Pre-appointment hearings are held in public and allow a Select Committee to take evidence before a candidate is appointed. Ministers consider the Committee’s views before deciding whether to proceed with the appointment.

The current Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, has agreed to continue in the post until 31 May, when, subject to the pre-appointment hearing, Justin Russell is expected to take over the role.  He will resign from the Ministry of Justice and from the Civil Service before taking up post.

HM Inspectorate of Probation

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation leads HM Inspectorate of Probation, which is the independent source of fair comment for ministers and the public on the effectiveness of the work of probation and youth offending services.HM Inspectorate of Probation produces and publishes reports on individual probation service areas as well as on thematic topics such as the way probation works with sex offenders, or the role and effectiveness of Approved Premises. The Chief Inspector also publishes an annual report. More information on HM Inspectorate of Probation can be found here: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation

Biography

Justin Russell has spent over thirty years working on a wide range of criminal justice issues as a researcher, policy maker and major programme leader and has a long-standing interest and involvement in probation and youth justice policy. This has included working as a Policy Special Adviser to Home Secretaries John Reid and Jack Straw and in the No10 Policy Unit, as well as heading up the Home Office’s Violent Crime Unit from 2008 to 2012, where he led the production of the 2009 and 2011 Violence Against Women and Girls strategies and the Tackling Knives and Ending Gang and Youth Violence Programmes. Until recently, he was Director General for Justice Analysis and Offender Policy at the Ministry of Justice where he led the prison, probation and youth justice reform programmes. He has also worked for the Audit Commission and Mental Health Foundation and was a non-executive Director of Turning Point from 2005 to 2011.

Notes

Pre-appointment hearings involve select committees taking evidence from the preferred candidate for certain public appointments before they are confirmed. Following the public hearings, committees usually publish a report setting out their views on the candidate’s suitability for the post.

Pre-appointment hearings are non-binding but Ministers will consider the committee’s views before deciding whether to proceed with an appointment.

All appointments are made on merit.

HMP Durham: Must Address Violence, Drugs and Deaths says Inspectors

HMP Durham, a heavily overcrowded prison, was found by inspectors to have significant problems with drugs and violence and worryingly high levels of self-harm and self-inflicted and drug-related deaths.

Durham became a reception prison in 2017. Around 70% of the 900 men in the jail were either on remand or subject to recall and over 70% had been in Durham for less than three months. On average, 118 new prisoners arrived each week. Significant numbers of prisoners said they arrived at the jail feeling depressed or suicidal. Self-harm was very high.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Our overriding concern was around the lack of safety. Since the last inspection in October 2016, there had been seven self-inflicted deaths, and it was disappointing to see that the response to recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (which investigates deaths) had not been addressed with sufficient vigour or urgency.

“There had also been a further five deaths in the space of eight months where it was suspected that illicit drugs might have played a role.” Drugs were readily available in the jail and nearly two-thirds of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs; 30% said they had acquired a drug habit since coming into the prison. “These were very high figures”, Mr Clarke said, though the prison had developed a strategy to address the drugs problem.

The leadership, Mr Clarke added, was “immensely frustrated by the fact that they had no modern technology available to them to help them in their efforts to stem the flow of drugs into the prison. We were told that they had been promised some modern scanning equipment but that it had been diverted to another prison.” The scale of the drugs problem and related violence meant that technological support was urgently needed.

Since the last inspection at Durham in 2016, violence had doubled and the use of force by staff had increased threefold, though some of the increase in force may have been due to new staff who were not yet confident in using de-escalation techniques. Governance of the use of force had improved.

Mr Clarke added: “There were some very early signs that the level of violence was beginning to decline, but it was too early to be demonstrable as a sustainable trend.”

Alongside these concerns, inspectors noted “many positive things happening at the prison.” These included the introduction of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks on the wings for prisoners to make applications, which had “undoubtedly been beneficial”. The disruption caused by prisoners needing to be taken to court had been reduced by the extensive use of video links.

A new and more predictable daily regime had recently been introduced, increasing access for men to amenities such as showers and laundry on the wings. “For a prison of this type, the time out of cell enjoyed by prisoners was reasonable and it was quite apparent that, despite its age, the prison was basically clean and decent,” Mr Clarke said. It was also good that the leadership saw new staff as an opportunity to make improvements, not an inexperienced liability.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There was no doubt that there was an extent to which HMP Durham was still going through the process of defining, refining and responding to its role as a reception prison. The very large throughput of prisoners gave rise to the risk that taking them through the necessary processes could predominate over identifying individual needs and ensuring favourable outcomes. However, the prison was aware of this risk. The most pressing needs are to get to grips with the violence of all kinds, make the prison safer and reduce the flow of drugs. Only then will the benefits flow from the many creditable initiatives that are being implemented.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said:

“Apart from security, safety must be the primary function of any prison but the number of deaths at Durham, and particularly the failure to implement the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman designed to reduce deaths in custody, is deeply worrying.

“Only yesterday I wrote an open Letter about this issue to the Ombudsman, and this report reinforces the point that prisons must have the resources to implement PPO recommendations otherwise what is the use of them in the first place?”

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We are determined to install full airport-style security with the right dogs, technology, scanners and search teams to detect drugs.

“We will install the technology in Durham and we will be rolling it out across our local prisons. Tackling drugs is vital for reducing violence.”

Deaths in Custody: The Noose Around The Ombudsman’s Neck

pdf version

open letter from Mark Leech The Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, to The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

 

Dear Sue,

Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation.

Did you bother reading each of those words – or notice I had inserted a number in one of them?

Actually, I didn’t, but you went back anyway and read them again; right?

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happens to the ‘Recommendations’ you make in your Fatal Incident Reports into deaths in custody; people don’t go back and read them again.

When you set out your ‘Recommendations’ designed to learn lessons and reduce deaths in custody, no one takes a blind bit of notice of them – and, what’s worse, your Office ignores the fact they’re ignored too.

Tragically you’re not alone in looking the other way. Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) in whose prisons these deaths take place, and to whom monitoring the implementation of these Recommendations should be a priority, ignore them too. Year after year, they simply airbrush them out of their Annual Reports as if they have never been made; I will return to this shortly.

Every single Prisons Ombudsman that’s gone before you in the last 25 years at least had the excuse that they’ve never unlocked a prison cell door and found a prisoner swinging dead with a noose around their neck; but as a former Prison Governor you don’t have the luxury of that excuse. You know exactly what it’s like: the shock, horror, frantic attempts at resuscitation, and the wave of utter devastation that then descends on the whole prison afterwards.

Yet, despite that personal experience deaths in custody keep happening and frequently too; as I write this we are six weeks into 2019 and already 20 people have died in our prisons – 17 of whom have seemingly taken their own lives, and eight definitely have.

Your Office still keeps investigating these deaths, still keeps writing their reports, still keeps making recommendations, and still does absolutely nothing when, time after time, those recommendations are ignored – lamentably this week you’ve done it again.

John Delahaye was 46 years old when he was found dead in his cell at Birmingham Prison on 5 March 2018; let me remind you of the catalogue of errors that lead up to it.

Ten weeks before his death Mr Delahaye was taken from Birmingham prison and admitted to hospital almost certainly having taken an insulin overdose; he returned to prison 24 hours later.

In your report into his death published this week, you write:

“When Mr Delahaye returned to Birmingham on 1 January following this overdose, there was no handover between hospital and prison healthcare staff and prison healthcare staff did not know he had returned to prison until the next day. 

I am also concerned that suicide and self-harm monitoring procedures (known as ACCT) were not started until the day after he had returned to prison. In addition, I have concerns about the way the ACCT procedures were managed when they were started. Staff did not effectively investigate why Mr Delahaye had taken the overdose and healthcare staff were not involved. The ACCT was closed prematurely two weeks later, with little having been done to identify or mitigate Mr Delahaye’s risk to himself. This was compounded by the fact that Mr Delahaye was discharged from mental health services after just one appointment.

I am concerned to be repeating recommendations to Birmingham about suicide and self-harm prevention procedures. [emphasis added]

“It is very difficult to understand why Mr Delahaye was allowed to have his insulin back in his possession less than a month after his overdose. I am concerned that NHS guidelines were not followed when this decision was made. 

“I also have serious concerns about the way staff at Birmingham conducted roll checks and unlocks. When Mr Delahaye was found on the morning of 5 March, he had clearly been dead for some time and it seems possible that no member of staff had seen him for more than 13 hours.

“This needs to be rectified urgently. 

“Staff also failed to use an emergency code when they found Mr Delahaye unresponsive. Although this did not affect the outcome for Mr Delahaye, it could make a critical difference in other cases.” 

Now, take a moment to look too at the Birmingham Prison IMB Annual Report published just 10 weeks ago and covering the period in which Mr Delahaye died in the prison. Neither his name, the circumstances of his death, nor the fact that your repeated recommendations had been ignored, are ever mentioned; not even once – they’re airbrushed out of existence; small wonder then why so many consider the IMB as completely and utterly useless?

I would remind you that your Office is not investigating the loss of someone’s property here, but the loss of someone’s life; yet it consistently fails to understand this vital distinction.

I accept the fact you are new to this role, and while there are those who say that as a former Prison Governor you are not the right person to be holding this critical Independent Office, I’m not yet one of them. I think your experience as a Governor means you know where to look, what questions to ask, what answers to demand and having opened cell doors and cut dead people down you know exactly how important all this really is.

The question is: when will we see action from your Office and not just words that everyone, including IMBs, totally ignore?

Yours sincerely,

Mark Leech

Editor: The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales

@prisonsorguk

HMP Featherstone – Staff commended for achieving significant improvements in two years

HMP Featherstone, a training and resettlement prison near Wolverhampton, was found by inspectors to have improved significantly since a poor inspection two years earlier.

Senior staff had supported new colleagues to become more confident in dealing with up to 637 male prisoners, many serving long sentences, and inspectors found a calm atmosphere at the jail during the inspection in October 2018.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “At this inspection we were pleased to find evidence of significant improvement. Across all four (healthy prison) tests we found measurable improvements, with outcomes in respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation now all sufficiently good. The prison was still not safe enough but here, too, meaningful improvements were evidenced.”Mr Clarke added that staff-prisoner relationships reflected this broad improvement and were now good. “A largely inexperienced staff group were well supported by supervisors and managers and most prisoners indicated that they felt respected. Residential units were calm and ordered and staff demonstrated the confidence to challenge poor behaviour.”

Though much of the site needed refurbishment, living conditions were better than at the inspection in 2016. Cells were cleaner and properly equipped and there was good access to kit and amenities. “The promotion of equality and diversity was better than we usually see.”

Featherstone’s recent improvement was underpinned by a much more purposeful daily regime. Time unlocked for prisoners was good and daily routines were predictable. The range of education, training and work had increased, with Ofsted inspectors assessing this aspect as good, though the prison needed to improve men’s skills in English and maths.

About a quarter of prisoners told researchers they still felt unsafe and violence remained high, though it was falling, in recent times quite sharply. A range of initiatives had been put in place to confront violence and its causes and, Mr Clarke said, “there were some encouraging indications that this work was having an impact.”

“Linked to violence was the ready availability of illicit drugs, certainly one of the key challenges the prison still faced. The response of the prison was impressive with a whole series of active, intelligence-led measures in place to try to combat the problem. There was some early evidence that, like the initiatives to tackle violence, these measures were beginning to have an impact.” This work needed to be sustained.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“The key message of this inspection was one of improvement. The prison had come a considerable distance in a relatively brief period of time. Staff were supported to do their job and, despite many having been recruited quite recently, they knew the prisoners well and afforded them meaningful care and support. Energy and initiative were evidenced throughout the prison, being reflected in tangible benefits for those detained and the improved assessments. The governor, managers and the whole staff group should be congratulated for what they were achieving.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:

“The Governor and staff at Featherstone have worked hard to achieve a consistent and purposeful regime and the improvement since the last inspection is commendable. There is a comprehensive plan in place to further improve safety across the prison by tackling drug use and ensuring every prisoner has a dedicated officer to support them through their sentence”.

Read The Report Here

HMP Channings Wood: Stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

HMP Channings Wood, a training and resettlement prison near Newton Abbott in Devon, was found by inspectors to present “a very mixed picture”, with stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

Overall, the prison had not changed since the last inspection, in 2016. All four ‘healthy prison tests’ – safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – were assessed again as being not sufficiently good, the second lowest assessment.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison environment reflected stark contrasts. “Much of the accommodation was of a good standard and prisoners appreciated their access to the pleasant surrounding grounds. On three units, however, in our view, failures of leadership had led to some very poor standards with prisoners living in often bleak and dirty cells.”

There had been efforts to improve safety at the prison, which held up to 724 men, but these were often uncoordinated, which undermined their effectiveness. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners had felt unsafe in the prison at some point, with a third still feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection.

Violence was rising but inspectors were concerned about the prison’s efforts to tackle it. The report noted: “Levels of violence had increased and were high. Although reported data were comparable to other category C prisons, we also found evidence of significant under-reporting that managers were aware of but had not yet addressed.”

“We were not assured,” Mr Clarke added, “that that the well-being of vulnerable prisoners was always sufficiently safeguarded and the prison lacked a coordinated approach to the reduction of violence linked to the problem of drugs.”

Over three-quarters of prisoners thought illicit drugs were easy to access.  “Inadequate supervision of prisoners, for example, meant there were repeated opportunities for drug misuse and associated violence.” Since the last inspection two prisoners had taken their own lives and the number of self-harm incidents had doubled.

Work to promote equality had deteriorated since 2016, though, more positively, most prisoners felt respected by staff and indicated that they knew who to turn to for help. Here, again, however, inspectors observed “variability and polarisation.”

“We saw much positive work being undertaken by staff of all disciplines working appropriately to set and maintain standards. On the poorer wings, in contrast, we found staff congregating in offices, failing to set standards or maintain supportive living conditions and failing to challenge delinquent behaviour on the part of prisoners.” Inspectors noted that the significant number of newer, less experienced officers needed greater support.

However, more positively, prisoners had reasonable access to time out of cell. The prison had sufficient full-time activity places for most men but the management of attendance and punctuality was poor and quality of teaching, learning and assessment required improvement. Public protection measures, as well as release and resettlement planning, were weak and inconsistent.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Inconsistency of outcomes was a recurrent theme of our findings at this inspection. This was best exemplified in varying standards being accepted across the different accommodation wings, but also in the way initiatives to bring about improvement were often implemented in a partial or uncoordinated way. Managers were enthusiastic and open about making progress, but optimism and energy needed to be harnessed in a way that ensured leaders at all levels were visible, demanding consistent standards, and ensuring improvement was embedded and sustainable.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“We recognise the need to achieve greater consistency in order to improve standards across the prison, which is the Governor’s priority. But I am pleased that the Inspectorate acknowledge a range of positive work being undertaken by staff at all levels at Channings Wood. An additional 22

officers have now been recruited to provide key workers for every prisoner, and we have increased resources to improve safety and accommodation conditions.”

Read the Report: https://www.prisons.org.uk/ChanningsWood022019.pdf

Victims can challenge Parole Decisions- but without a ha’penny of Legal Aid to help them, and members of the public are banned!

Justice Secretary David Gauke has unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the Parole System designed to help Victims challenge legally defective decisions – but they won’t get so much as a ha’penny in Legal Aid to help them. 

Victims will for the first time be able to challenge decisions to release the most serious criminals without having to resort to costly and complex court battles, but critics have said expecting victims to understand complex legal arguments without legal assistance is ‘miserly and meaningless’.

Furthermore, it is only victims who can use the new ‘reconsideration mechanism’ – members of the public unconnected with the case, are barred from making use of it.

Ministers announced details of the shake-up just over a year after the Parole Board sparked a backlash by ruling that Worboys, one of the country’s most notorious sex offenders, was safe to be freed after around a decade behind bars.

Mr Gauke said: “Taken together, these reforms will help ensure that the mistakes made in the John Worboys parole case would not happen again.

“We owe that to victims, and I am determined to rebuild society’s trust in this system.”

Under the new reconsideration mechanism, victims who believe a decision to be fundamentally flawed will submit their concerns via the Justice Secretary.

These applications will be assessed by a dedicated team within the Prisons and Probation Service.

If officials conclude there may have been a legal flaw or significant mistake in the process used to reach a decision, they will then be passed to a senior judicial member of the Parole Board, who will decide whether the case should be looked at again.

The Government emphasised that the measure is not aimed at decisions which are “challenging and unpopular”, but which comply with legal requirements and standards of practice.

Victims will not be entitled to legal aid to help them prepare their application, which must be lodged within 21 days of notification of a decision.

There will be no fee for seeking to have a decision reconsidered.

The Government had considered opening up the scheme to the wider public, but following a consultation concluded it should be restricted to the parties in the case.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) noted that its decision to limit the process to release decisions relating to prisoners serving indeterminate or extended determinate sentences may not go as far as some may have wished.

But it said a broader criteria would not be “workable”.

The department also concluded that public hearings for parole processes were not currently “viable”.

The new mechanism, earmarked to be in place by the summer, is expected to cost £1.3 million in the first year and £1.2 million annually going forward.

Officials estimate that in 2019/20, approximately 3,400 parole decisions will be eligible for reconsideration.

It is thought the Justice Secretary may seek to challenge between 1% and 5% of release decisions, while prisoners may seek to challenge between 13% and 16% of decisions to keep them in custody.

The MoJ estimates that the mechanism will generate around 25 to 90 additional oral hearings a year, and will have a “minimal” impact on the prison population.

Kim Harrison, a lawyer from Slater and Gordon who represents a number of Worboys’ victims, welcomed the announcement as a “step in the right direction” but added: “Much needs to be done to support victims, including introducing better counselling and mental health services and properly funded legal advice to help them appeal.”

In other measures, the Parole Board will create standard practice documents to clearly set out the approach expected of panel members, including how they should assess wider allegations of offending which may not have led to a conviction, and an in-depth review will consider possible root-and-branch reforms of the parole process.

Worboys, 61, became known as the “black cab rapist” after attacking women in his hackney carriage.

He was jailed indefinitely in 2009 with a minimum term of eight years after being convicted of 19 offences relating to 12 victims – one count of rape, four counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault, one count of assault by penetration, and 12 counts of administering a substance with intent.

In March, the Parole Board’s release direction was quashed by the High Court following a legal challenge by two women.

The original decision was later formally overturned after the case was examined by a new panel.

The Parole Board assesses whether serving prisoners in England and Wales are safe to be released into the community or moved to open conditions, considering around 25,000 cases a year.

Following complaints the body’s processes were shrouded in secrecy, ministers have already scrapped a rule banning it from disclosing information about the reasoning behind its panels’ findings.

Mark Leech, Editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales, called the lack of legal aid ‘miserly and meaningless’.

Mr Leech said: “I welcome the ability to challenge defective parole decisions, it brings speed and balance to the Parole process – but to expect legally unqualified victims to recognise complex legal issues within what would otherwise be a judicial review in the High Court is miserly and completely meaningless.

“What’s more denying members of the public, who may be legally qualified and able to recognise legal defects in a particular decision, from making use of the new reconsideration mechanism, shows what a complete nonsense the whole thing is.

“As we see so often with this Government, they purport to give with one hand and then immediately snatch it back with the other.

“As a solicitor who understands how complex in law the concept of illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety are, Guake should be ashamed of himself.”

Victims to get new powers to challenge Parole Decisions

Crime victims are to be given new powers to challenge the release of violent offenders after a parole system review sparked by the case of black cab rapist John Worboys.

Rather than launching a costly and time-consuming court challenge to Parole Board decisions, they will be able to apply directly to the Justice Secretary to overturn them, current minister David Gauke said.

The challenge system, which has to be launched within 21 days of victims being notified of a decision to release, will only apply to the most serious of offenders serving lengthy jail terms.

The review came after a decision to release former taxi driver Worboys in 2018, after almost a decade behind bars, was only overturned following a judicial review.

He had been jailed indefinitely in 2009, with a minimum term of eight years, for 19 offences relating to violent sex attacks including rapes on 12 victims.

The new power is among a series of reforms to the parole system due to be announced by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) this week.

Mr Gauke said: “This landmark reform will for the first time empower victims to hold the Parole Board to account for its decision and help restore public confidence in the important work that it does.”

The new system will apply to Indeterminate Sentence Prisoners (ISPs), which include those serving a life sentence and those, like Worboys, sentenced to Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP).

It would also apply to those serving extended sentences – where prison terms are bolstered by ordering the convicted criminal to serve more time on licence afterwards than would usually be the case.

The MoJ said that the challenge threshold would be “similar” to that of a judicial review, focusing on “illegality, irrationality and procedural unfairness”.

The request would be first considered by a team at the Prison and Probation Service and could then be passed to a named Parole Board judge who could order the original panel to review its decision or order a fresh hearing.

It is understood that the Worboys case would meet the review threshold under the “procedural unfairness” provision.

Controversy was sparked in January last year when it emerged the Parole Board had decided Worboys was safe to be freed.

In March, the release direction was quashed by the High Court, following a legal challenge by two women.

As a result Worboys, 61, was kept behind bars until the case had been reassessed by a new panel, which later decided he should remain in prison.

Mark Leech, Editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales, said the new powers ‘strike the right balance’.

Mr Leech said: “The very concept of justice requires balance, fairness to both sides, as this isn’t to be a political decision but a judicial one it therefore strikes the right balance.

“Victims must have a say when it comes to early release decisions, too often in the most serious cases they have been left bewildered by release decisions.

“It will still be open to victims to seek a judicial review of any Parole Panel’s decision referred to it under these new powers, this just provides a speedier route of challenge and to that extent it is to be welcomed for providing speed and clarity to victim and offender alike.”