HMP Isle of Wight – holding nearly 1,000 men convicted of sexual offences – was found to be a respectful prison but one where safety had deteriorated and rehabilitation and release planning was not sufficiently good: Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook, writes these findings have ‘shocked’ staff at the prison and are disputed by prisoners too.
Notable features from this inspection:
HMP Isle of Wight consists of two distinct sites, HMP Albany and HMP Parkhurst;
Cellular accommodation on wings 11 to 15 at the Albany site uses a night sanitation system requiring prisoners to be unlocked one at a time during the night to use the toilet;
40% of prisoners held are over 50 years of age;
83% of the population are high risk; 90% of prisoners are serving sentences of more than 10 years; in our survey, only 8% of prisoners said it was easy for family and friends to visit them, and only 7% said they received a visit each week.
Most of the prisoners held at the time of the inspection in April and May 2019 were serving long sentences for serious offences. Forty per cent of the population were over 50 years old and a significant proportion were elderly and sometimes frail. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison continued to house a very small remand population from local courts on the island, although it was ill-suited to this role.
Since the last inspection of Isle of Wight in 2015 the assessment of respect had slipped from good, the highest grading, to reasonably good, and safety fell from reasonably good to not sufficiently good. Purposeful activity remained at reasonably good and rehabilitation and release planning remained not sufficiently good.
Despite the deterioration in safety and respect, Mr Clarke said, much positive work continued at the prison. “Relationships between staff and prisoners remained good, underpinning prisoners’ experience of everyday life.” Most prisoners said they had a member of staff they could turn to if they had a problem and living conditions were also reasonably good.
Most prisoners could get 10 hours out of their cell each weekday and gym and library provision were good. Teaching and learning were also good and achievement rates were very high on most courses, though inspectors found a large number of prisoners underemployed in a significant number of wing roles.
More concerningly, Mr Clarke said, “we found prisoners had very poor perceptions of safety. In our survey, more than half said they had felt unsafe during their time at HMP Isle of Wight and nearly a quarter felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. While violence was still not widespread, it had risen significantly since the previous inspection and the response of managers was not good enough, leading to inconsistent challenge of perpetrators and little support for victims.”
Many Isle of Wight prisoners were held a long way from home and families experienced significant travel times and expense visiting the prison. It was therefore disappointing that support for prisoners to maintain contact with the outside world was limited to letters, phone calls and some fairly basic visits facilities.
The long-term, high-risk sex offender population presented significant challenges in rehabilitation and release planning, Mr Clarke said. “We found a very similar picture to the previous inspection. Fundamentally, some good work was undermined by a lack of up-to-date assessments of risk and need, high offender supervisor caseloads and a lack of contact between offender supervisors and prisoners.
“This meant the one-to-one motivational work needed with the large number of prisoners who were maintaining their innocence could not take place.” Around half the men at the prison maintained their innocence.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“HMP Isle of Wight is a respectful place where good relationships between frontline staff and prisoners result in many positive outcomes. However, there needs to be a better operational grip on safety. Managers need to address the weaknesses in offender management to ensure the prison fulfils its purpose of reducing the risks these long-term prisoners pose, both within the prison and, importantly, when they are eventually released.”
Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:
“The high-quality education and training at HMP Isle of Wight are vital for helping offenders lead a productive, law abiding life on release, but we recognise that more work is needed to make the prison safer. The Governor and his staff are working hard to bring down levels of violence and self-harm, and the excellent relationships between prisoners and staff will be important in doing this. Every prisoner now has a dedicated officer giving them personal support and, combined with working closer with probation and local authorities, we expect to see an improvement in arrangements to prepare prisoners for release.”
The lack of safety at HMP Isle of Wight is contrary to the feedback that I get the from the two prisons on the Island.
HMP Isle of Wight has had a considerable influx from the YOI estate despite which HMP IoW is reported by residents and staff to be a safe prison.
The prison only does local release for remands and their sentenced population go onto the mainland, it is not resettlement prison, probation at the prison is overloaded and residents report it is often impossible to make appointments – despite which every resident has a dedicated Key Worker – even remands.
Over the last 18 months HMP IoW has taken numbers from the YOI estate and some that have been re-catted from dispersal, the result is high testosterone levels, but the clear view of residents and staff is that it is a largely safe prison.
HMP IoW is a Level Three prison, out-performing many others.
As one IoW staff member told me: “I was shocked to read this report .. the thing about the inspection teams are they have to find fault in order to justify their existence.
“The reality is while HMPPS pays the wages that it does it is unlikely to retain the staff and so the experience that it needs, until that happens, HMPPS is going to keep slipping and Boris can forget about an additional 10,000 spaces, we do not have staff to run it now, never mind with 10,000 more.”
HMP Isle of Wight is a training prison holding around 1,000 prisoners, almost all of whom have been convicted of sexual offences. It opened in April 2009 with the merger of three prisons: HMP Albany, HMP Parkhurst and HMP Camp Hill. Albany was constructed in the 1960s and occupies the site of a former military barracks. Parkhurst was originally a military hospital and became a prison in 1863.
Camp Hill was built in 1912 using prisoner labour from Parkhurst, but closed in April 2013.
This unannounced inspection took place between 15 April and 2 May 2019.
Who knows where the journey ends once we tell that first lie – and the second that inevitably follows once the first has been discovered?
Thirty-four year old Fiona Onasanya had been the Member of Parliament for Peterborough for just seven weeks when in July 2017, no doubt distracted, her thoughts elsewhere, the MP and practising solicitor failed to notice the speedometer on her car slip past 40 in the 30 limit – and she missed the road-side speed camera too, until it flashed and caught her car in its trap.
Three weeks later when the section 172 road traffic forms arrived in the post, requiring her to disclose the name of the driver, a clearly marked ‘Exit’ presented itself – all she had to do was take it.
Had she done so, by admitting she was driving, not paying attention, doing 41mph in a 30 limit, there the matter should have ended; slapped wrist, three points, minor fine perhaps and a few finger-wagging tweets on social media from those who would have insisted that an MP should have known better – and they’d be right too; its 30 for a reason after all.
But she didn’t.
Instead, when she signed the forms insisting a friend was driving, not her, and popped those forms in the post, she flew straight past the ‘Exit’ and continued her journey to disaster – but there was another Exit ahead – would she take that perhaps?
A month later, when interviewed under caution by police, instead of taking the Exit by claiming confusion: “I’m so sorry, I’ve now checked my diary, I had the dates wrong, it was me driving after all, ha ha ha, I’m a new MP, life has been so chaotic, I am so so sorry …blah blah blah” – as a solicitor she knew how to mitigate.
But again she ignored the Exit.
There were other Exits too on the road ahead: her first court appearance; then entering of a plea; followed by committal proceedings, and right the way up to the start of her trial, her path was littered with Exit signs – admittedly taking any of these would have presented increasingly greater difficulties in explaining away why previous Exit signs had been missed, but defiant to the end she ignored them all, went to trial – and lost.
The friend she claimed had been driving wasn’t even in the UK on the date the speeding camera caught the car in its double flash, a fact not even she could explain away.
Blindness to exits, or her obstinate refusal to take them, resulted in a three month prison sentence, the loss of her Parliamentary seat and its £79,468 a year salary, her reputation was trashed and finally, today, she was struck off the Solicitors Roll – and all for what?
In group therapy at Grendon prison I learnt to recognise these dangers, it was part of what was called cognitive thinking, a process of learning to recognise dangerous situations, come up with options, and then take one of them.
Recognising Exits is crucial.
During my time in prison I met numerous people serving life sentences for murder, and mostly because they failed to recognise Exits.
Exits that had usually presented themselves many times on the day they took someone’s life.
Exits presenting numerous opportunities that day to turn off, change course, resist peer pressure, seek help, turn left, not right.
Exits that, had they been taken, would have saved a life, spared their future and avoided the devastation the families of those murdered have to go through all because the Exits were ignored.
It’s never too late to take the exit – but you have to recognise they exist to do so.
Which is why prisons like Grendon, and all Therapeutic Communities in prisons, are so vital.
They equip people with exit recognition skills and the ability, no matter what the pressure to continue on a course destined to end in disaster, to take the Exit before it’s too late.
Priti Patel has said she wants criminals to “feel terror” at the thought of offending, as she distanced herself from her comments in support of the death penalty.
In her first interview as Home Secretary, she pledged to get a grip on violent crime after Boris Johnson committed to recruiting 20,000 more police officers.
“I’ve always felt the Conservative Party is the party of the police and police officers,” she told the Daily Mail.
“Quite frankly, with more police officers out there and greater police presence, I want (criminals) to literally feel terror at the thought of committing offences.”
Ms Patel previously said in 2006 she was in favour of the “ultimate punishment” for the worst of crimes, and supported the death penalty during a Question Time debate on the subject in 2011.
Asked about the death penalty, she told the Mail: “I have never said I’m an active supporter of it and (what I said) is constantly taken out of context.”
Her comments on the BBC show were: “I do actually think when we have a criminal justice system that continuously fails in this country and where we have seen murderers, rapists and people who have committed the most abhorrent crimes in society, go into prison and then are released from prison to go out into the community to then re-offend and do the types of crime they have committed again and again.
“I think that’s appalling. And actually on that basis alone I would actually support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent.”
Ms Patel was one of the greatest beneficiaries of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle after he became Prime Minister.
She was elevated from the backbenches having been sacked as Secretary of State for International Development by Theresa May in 2017 for holding secret meetings with members of the Israeli government.
First of all offenders are the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, not the Home Secretary; this isn’t her brief.
Secondly the very reason why so many young people carry knives and guns is precisely because they already feel terror – terror at the thought that if they do not have one their life is on the line – and the staggering number of deaths on our streets proves they are right.
Thirdly, she needs to understand that policing is not simply a numerical issue – you can have 200,000 extra police on the streets and still not make a difference – indeed if you deploy them in a way that does not have the consent of the communities they police, then the danger is you will make things worse not better.
Finally, it is clear that Ms Patel has little understanding of the real issues surrounding crime. Offenders are far more terrified of gangs on the streets who can kill them, than they ever are of the police who, at worst, can only arrest them; it is deeply concerning that, as Home Secretary, she obviously just doesn’t get it.
On my desk today have landed two Reports, both from the Prisons Inspectorate, and both published today.
The first, on High Down prison is Surrey, speaks of an ‘Energetic Management’ that has really improved safety in the prison while the second, on HMYOI Feltham A (that part of the Young Offender Institution that holds a volatile mix of 15-17 year olds) reveals a prison where safety is in such total chaos the Chief Inspector has issued his sixth-ever Urgent Notification demanding action.
In a nutshell what is the problem with our prison system?
I will tell you what I think.
It is about competing views, and the priority which those who can make decisions attach to each.
On one side you have Joe Bloggs, the man on the Clapham Omnibus, Joe reads The Sun and, in the immortal words of Yes Prime Minister, Joe doesn’t care who runs the country as long as she has big tits.
Joe believes that punishment, hard work, austere conditions, and long sentences are the right response to crime – teach ’em a lesson they won’t forget.
Joe Bloggs can vote – so he is fluent in the language that politicians speak.
On the other side you have The Guardian reading (and often writing) academic experts; they point to the evidence and say – well, yes OK Joe, but we’ve tried all of that for 150 years and it doesn’t work.
Of course it doesn’t work – why should it?
Our prisons today are filled with people who come from high-crime inner-city housing estates, with their school exclusions, poor parenting, lack of opportunities, unemployment, gang, guns, drugs, alcohol and knife cultures.
It’s madness to think you can take someone out of that environment, put them in prison – where they are with people they have grown up with – and at the end of their sentence toss them back into exactly the same toxic environment you took them out of, and expect their time in prison to have changed anything.
It won’t – well rarely anyway and more by luck than design if it does.
In many ways in expecting our prisons to reform people we are asking the impossible – crime is a problem society must solve; prisons cannot do it in a vacuum.
Expecting our prisons to deliver reform by themselves is like the hamster on its wheel; utterly convinced that if they just keep going they’ll get there in the end.
And making prisons harder isn’t the answer either – it’s full of people who have spent a lifetime telling authority to f*!k off, they aren’t afraid of prison either as an institution or any one individual within it – many first went to prison holding their mother’s hand while visiting their father.
And then, in the middle of Joe and the academic experts, you have a bewildered population consisting of 83,000 prisoners, 40,000 staff, and a Prison and Probation Service that is completely disorientated by abrupt policy changes, savage budget cuts, reorganisations (we have had five of those in the last ten years) and constant changes of Justice Secretary – ironically as I write, given the election of Boris Johnson yesterday, we will today have our sixth Justice Secretary in as many years – Grayling, Gove, Truss, Lidington and Gauke.
This was all summed up neatly a century ago.
In 1922 George Bernard Shaw wrote the ‘Retribution Muddle’ in which he wrote:
“Now if you are to punish a man retributively, you must injure him. If you are to reform him, you must improve him. And men are not improved by injuries.” (English Prisons Under Local Government, 1922, Sydney & Beatrice Webb; preface page xiv)
Added to this we have the debate about public or private prisons, and privatised Probation too and the chaos caused by the so-called Through The Gate (and Right Back In Again) ideology.
On the other side of that Gate there is the rise to constantly breaking records of violence in prisons, drugs, suicides, self-harm and a Prisons Inspectorate that, as we have seen, has today issued its sixth Urgent Notification publicly demanding action.
So how do we sort out this mess?
How do we take politics out of it and put evidence in its place?
We need something we have never, ever, had: a Public Inquiry into our Prison System.
We have had many ad hoc private inquiries, Woolf, May, Mountbatten, Learmont, Woodcock – and half a dozen of others too whose Reports are languishing on a shelf somewhere in the Ministry of Justice library – I suspect they’re to be found in the ‘fiction’ section.
We have had a plethora of reports, on different subjects, but none that pulls it all together.
That is what we need.
We need a Public Inquiry that, based on evidence, can define the ‘Mission’: what it is that we want our prison system to deliver; in terms of punishment, retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and reducing reoffending.
And how we dovetail that with real support services for those that leave prison – and just as importantly, how we deliver support for those who need it, long before they ever go near a prison at all.
Once we have the evidence-based ‘Mission’ clear – then all we have to do is resource it to deliver exactly that.
This is a brutally honest account of life on the other side of the prison gate – it comes from a senior manager, working in a prison today where the majority of prisoners are serving long term sentences; this person has been in the Prison Service for over 20 years, and I have known them personally for more than a decade.
Here is what he, or she, thinks of life on the landings, and of the Prison Officers Association too.
Be prepared for a brutally honest account.
I have four new officers on First improvement warnings for sickness, they are all still in their Probationary period and with work-related stress being the main factor.
One of them has childhood mental health issues, he actually has his own mental health team, and he can’t cope.
Another has bouts of anxiety and depression.
A third has just had a wobble and doesn’t look like he will survive.
And a fourth who is always crying.
We may be getting bums on seats, unfortunately they’re not the right bums.
My staff go sick at the drop of a hat.
Instructors are told to get them through whatever…..
Our biggest issue outside of self-harm and violence is staff related issues with NEW staff.. in my opinion less than 10% of staff are good, sadly the rest are in it just for a job.
We need to bring back Boards, where potential staff are interviewed on their suitability – let me say, many are NOT suitable and we spend too much time dealing with staff issues.
I’m pretty fortunate, my reputation gives me a degree of flexibility in terms of how I have managed my staff, they respect me, because I don’t sugar coat issues, I don’t blow smoke up their asses either.
I tell them every day what I expect, I give them SMART objectives, they get them done.
To be fair, when I’m not the Orderly Officer, I’m on my wing, I have an open-door policy and both staff and residents are continually in and out. I am everything that I disliked about my PO/CM when I was an officer.
The residents like it, I tend to sort out more issues, my staff like it because I take the pressure off them and I will stand on the landings and talk with the lads and in some cases the girls too, but unfortunately experience is very rare.
In time they will get experience, but sadly we don’t have that time.
You can’t blame the Governors; they’re doing a job with one arm and leg tied behind their backs.
All is clearly not well inside our prisons.
Getting more staff on the landings is vital – but nowhere near as important as getting the right staff on the landings and the evidence of this senior manager is that this is simply not happening.
In April 2017 when the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was subject to yet another reorganisation and morphed into what is today HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), one of the consequences was that it lost control of prison officer recruitment – which was passed to the Ministry of Justice.
I have never understood the logic behind it and the consequences of it are that we are today clearly locked in a desperate scramble to get the number of officers on the landings back to where they should be; but this cannot simply be a numerical issue.
It has to be the right people, selected for the right reasons, capable of doing an extremely difficult job in the right way – HMPPS today has the task of training Prison Officers, surely they should be the ones who select those people in the first place?
A part of the problem is the Prison Officers Association, and it is true to say I have been a critic of this organisation for many years. Prior to the opening of the first private prison in 1992, POA entrenched industrial practices developed over decades meant that prison governors where held in an industrial headlock by the POA – forbidden from introducing any changes unless the local branch of the POA first agreed; the tail was wagging the dog.
If the local branch of the POA disagreed with a reform a prison governor wanted to introduce they entered what was called a Failure To Agree process, a series of negotiations that could go on for years, and often did.
Prior to 1992 prisons were run for the benefit of prison staff, not for prisoners or the public who paid for them. Many prisoners were locked up 23 hours a day, in appalling Dickensian conditions where many were subject to abuse and violence from prison officers.
Many officers were racist, openly displaying National Front lapel badges.
Some prisons at this time – 1990 – had their own social clubs, usually just outside the main prison gate, which served alcohol at lunchtime with the result some staff went back on duty in the afternoon having been drinking and creating a danger to themselves, their judgment and everyone else – and there was little the Governor could do about it.
If you are interested in what our prisons were really like just a couple of years before the first private prison opened in the UK watch this documentary.
When privatisation came along in 1992 finally those in charge in private prisons were freed from the industrial POA headlock. The union representing private sector prison officers signed no strike agreements, where their industrial issues were settled by discussing things like adults around a table.
It incensed the POA who staged walk outs and took strike action – in effect they cut their own throats.
Prison officers were then banned from striking under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Under Section 127 of the Act it is an offence for any prison officer to take, continue to take, or be induced by others to take, any industrial action or to commit a breach of discipline.
Following the election of a Labour Government in 1997 this law was temporarily replaced in 2000 by a voluntary agreement between the government and the POA, which ruled out strike action as a way of solving disputes – but the POA failed to keep to their word.
After a “protest meeting” in 2006, the government responded by re-enacting the 1994 Act and legally banned strikes again at the High Court.
The High Court clarified in 2017 the effect of section 127, which the court said meant that POA members cannot withhold their “services as a prison officer”, or take any action that would be “likely to put at risk the safety of any person”.
This included withdrawal from what were voluntary services – like the provision of first aid and the taking of assessments to determine whether prisoners are at risk of suicide or self-harm – in addition to their contractual obligations; POA industrial action of any kind had been neutered – and it only had itself to blame.
The POA is a union locked in industrial practices that are 40 years out of date, they behave in many respects like the British Leyland Shop Stewards of the 1970s, believing, wrongly, that they are in some way a layer of prison management – which they are not and must never be.
The mentality of the POA is to criticise everything that the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS does, to see nothing good in any kind of reform for prisons, and many POA officials have all the negotiating skills of a brick wall.
Technically the POA represent the vast majority of prison staff – but in practice the only reason prison officers join the POA is for the legal cover it provides them with in cases of injury or disciplinary conduct hearings.
When it comes to the POA membership having faith in elected POA officials, the union’s pathetic election results speak for themselves.
The results of the most recent POA Election of Union Officials in 2017 makes the point starkly.
In June 2017 the POA sent out 25,529 ballot papers to its Members to Elect a National Chairman and NEC officials – less than 10 percent of these ballot papers were even returned; 2,225 to be exact or just 8.7% – and of those, almost 200 ballot papers were spoilt – an effective way for even the 8.7% of POA Members who voted making the point they believed in none of those who were standing for office.
Mark Fairhurst was elected as National Chairman by just four percent (4%) of POA Members – FOUR PER CENT.
Put another way, Ninety Six percent (96%) of POA Members eligible to vote did NOT vote for him – yet he is their National Chairman – paid for by you and me, the taxpayer, who funds his salary as a Prison Officer despite the fact that half the time he doesn’t work as one at all.
I believe in trade unions, I fully support what they do, the vital functions they discharge and their right to represent their members – what I object to is that in the case of the POA it is the taxpayer who pays 100% of the salaries of POA union officials – yet gives them 50% time off from being the prison officers they are paid to be.
If they work half the time for their members, then it is their members who, deriving the benefits of their union work, that should pay half their salary.
The public deserves value for its money, and it simply isn’t getting it when we pay people to do a full time job but who only work half the time.
The POA are the first to claim that the chaos in our prison system has been caused by the loss of 7,000 experienced frontline prison officers, who were given generous voluntary redundancy packages – known as VEDS – in 2013/14.
What they are less keen to admit to is that it was themselves who did not object to the loss of these officers at the time – they did not ask their Members to vote on VEDS, they sought no mandate from them as to whether they should support or oppose these brutal staff cuts, quietly they went along with it – and the chaos we have today is the result.
At this time the only way of making the required expenditure cuts, now that reducing the prison population was off the political agenda, was by reducing both the numbers of prison staff, at all levels – and also their cost. The POA did not, as might have been expected, oppose this; lured by a promise that market-testing prisons would be abandoned and that generous early retirement terms would be offered to existing staff.
When I asked Mark Fairhurst, the POA National Chairman, in September 2018, why the POA had not opposed these disastrous staffing cuts, given the chaos that had resulted and which they surely must have seen coming a mile off he admitted the POA had whimpishly caved in, sacrificing the safety of their members on their altar of anti-privatisation.
“We had no choice” he wrote. “There was a gun to our heads.
“Accept it or go through wholesale market testing leading to a majority of private prisons.”
So there we have it – the POA were prepared to risk absolute chaos in our prisons, where prison staff (their members) would be massively outnumbered, subject to increasing levels of assaults and all because the POA did not want to compete with private prisons.
And its not only their agreement to staff cuts that the POA seek to conceal, it is when their members are convicted in criminal courts of corruption that they remain tight-lipped too.
The POA refuses to issue any press statement condemning any prison officer convicted of corruption – whether it is bringing in drugs, mobile phones or knives, engaging in illicit sexual affairs with prisoners, stealing prisoners’ property, or forging documents that conceal the truth about deaths in custody – and there have been convictions of prison officers for each of these things – they say nothing.
On the other hand, when staff are assaulted by prisoners who are then rightly convicted and punished by the courts – the POA screams from the rooftops.
I don’t blame them for that, I condemn assaults on prison staff publicly too – but all I ask for is some degree of balance; you can’t condemn a prisoner for assaulting an officer on one hand, and yet say nothing at all when five prison officers are jailed for physical assaults on prisoners.
But that is what they do.
And it isn’t just that they are silent when prison officers are convicted of attacking prisoners either – the POA remain silent and complicit when prison officers attack other prison officers too.
The recent shameful case of Prison Officer Ben Plaistow, who suffered a year long series of homophobic assaults and humiliation by fellow prison officers and who recently won a damning case before an Employment Tribunal – he too has been totally ignored by the POA.
The vast majority of prison officers are decent, professional, hard-working honest people, doing a job I personally would not do for a £100K a year.
They each deserve the public’s support, they all deserve the public’s appreciation, but most importantly they all deserve professional industrial representation by a trade union that believes in decency and respect for everyone.
They deserve a trade union that isn’t constantly banging the table issuing demands, holding out the prospect of unrest by taking prisoners hostage with threats of illegal strike action in order to force industrial concessions.
They deserve a trade union that recognises those tactics achieve nothing at all for anyone; least of all their increasingly demoralised membership whose refusal to vote for union officials in their tens of thousands, should ring POA alarm bells like nothing else ever could.
By Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales.
“Inmates to be handed cell keys” – the headline to Richard Ford’s article in The Times today on the new Incentives policy framework for prisons issued by the Ministry of Justice yesterday, stretches disingenuousness to the very edge of dishonesty.
Let’s cut straight to the chase: prisoners are not ‘handed cell keys’.
Prisoners will be issued with keys to a ‘privacy lock’; a lock that is physically separate to the central cell door lock and one which, in any event, prison staff have master keys that can override the prisoners’ privacy lock at all times.
Another basic but vital point missed completely by Richard Ford’s lamentable article is this: prisoners can use the privacy keys to get into their cells – but there is no keyhole on the inside of the cell door by which they can use their privacy keys to get out.
An important and simple enough point to grasp – but one that was either unrecognised or ignored by Richard Ford.
Another important point is that last year over a million pounds of public money was paid out in compensation for lost and stolen prisoners’ property, where cells doors negligently left open by prison officers while prisoners were not present, allowed other prisoners access to steal the belongings of fellow inmates – yes, shocking isn’t it: there are thieves in our prisons.
Richard Ford’s article is an example of the worst kind of warped reporting that one doesn’t expect from The Times but which has become all too common; lazy journalists who can’t be bothered to ascertain the real facts much less report them.
The new Incentives Policy Framework, which has been a year in the making, is very much to be welcomed – it strikes exactly the right balance between incentive and disincentive.
It has received widespread praise from all quarters with the notable – and predictable – exception of the Prison Officers Association (POA). The POA’s National Chairman, Mark Fairhurst, describing the revised policy as “a recipe for disaster”.
The POA is a Trade Union that trumpets its support for its Members but in truth the vast majority of prison officers couldn’t care less about it – in reality it actually ‘represents’ very few at all.
Mark Fairhurst was elected in 2017 – of the 25,529 Members who were sent ballot papers for the Election of National Chairman, just 1,113 voted for him – 4.39%
The POA are a Union who have little support from its Membership – until they need legal help. Of the 25,529 Ballot Papers sent out just 2,225 were even returned – and of those 189 were either spoilt or left blank – presumably a way of asserting ‘none of the above’.
It is time the POA were challenged, and confronted with the damage they are responsible for, their failure to possess any negotiating skills and the fact that an increasing number of prison officers writing on social media say they are a waste of time.
Our Prison Service has been in meltdown since the loss of 7,000 experienced frontline officers in 2014 – it is a simple but painful fact that the POA agreed to the loss of those 7,000 Officers – who they now constantly blame the Government for when they were themselves responsible for raising not a single objection to any of those officers leaving.
Prison Officers must now retire at the age of 68 – a ridiculous age for any prison officer to still be walking the landings – and yet the POA, with their constant abuse of Government, their ballots to carry out illegal strike action, their being taken to court and made the subject of injunctions, their demand that their staff stand outside the main prison gate in the pouring rain in a fruitless attempt to change policy that hasn’t worked as a negotiating tactic since mid 1980s – and for which the end result is that those prison officers lose pay – shows what an out of touch, unrepresentative, failed Union they really are.
The POA are rightly quick to make press statements condemning when officers are injured – but despite prison officers being convicted and jailed for corruption, inappropriate relationships with prisoners, violence and abuse against prisoners, fraudulent doctoring of documents, importation of drugs, phones and even knives into prisons, the POA says nothing; refusing to publicly condemn a single one of these corrupt members; complicit by its silence lest they lose even more of the few members they have left.
Today industrial disputes are resolved around a table, not stood outside a prison gate engaged in an illegal battle they can never win. Modern Trade Unions work in partnership with their employers, putting their case forward for change, based on evidence and a desire to work together – not banging the table, demanding change, on the basis of threats and walk-outs; the failure of that as a negotiating tactic is proven by the fact that the POA achieve so little.
Thankfully we are now seeing change in the prison system, a new breed of prison officer is coming through, better educated, better trained, more intelligent and the POA needs to reform itself in the same way, or become less of a effective Trade Union than even they currently are.
Like any parent I can’t even begin to understand the heartache of Marie McCourt, the mother of Helen McCourt, who has no idea where her daughter’s body is located because the person convicted of her murder, Ian Simms, refuses to say – insisting he is innocent of the crime.
Now, under new laws announced this month by the Justice Secretary convicted killers who refuse to reveal the location of their victim’s body may spend longer in prison. The planned law change, to be known as ‘Helen’s Law’ in her memory, will in future compel the Parole Board to take account of a failure to reveal the location of a victim’s remains when considering a killer’s release.
To any sane person it seems reasonable, I mean if anyone knows where the body is, then it has to be the convicted killer, doesn’t it?
Or does it – what happens if juries get it wrong?
What happens if they convict an innocent person?
What happens when juries believe a liar?
It has happened before – and I was involved.
On 30th November 1980, at the Old Bailey, Harry ‘Big H’ MacKenney and Terry Pinfold were convicted of six contract killings and sentenced to life – MacKenney getting a Whole Life tariff. Both men insisted they were innocent and knew nothing about any of the alleged murders.
It was a curious case.
There was no dispute that each of their six ‘victims’ had existed, nor that each and every one of them had suddenly vanished into thin air. But the involvement of both MacKenney and Pinfold in their disappearances depended on the word of just one man: John Childs.
Childs, originally arrested and questioned by Flying Squad detectives for an armed robbery, a crime he admitted, went on to tell them a bizarre story of six contract murders which, Childs claimed, had each been procured by Pinfold and then carried out by himself and MacKenney.
So where were the bodies?
Childs told detectives each of the six bodies had been dismembered in his east London flat, after which he attempted to mince the victims remains with an industrial three-phase electrical mincing machine.
When that failed, claiming the three-phase machine “would not turn at all” when connected to the flat’s two-phase electricity supply, the dismembered bodies he said had been cremated and reduced to ash in the flat’s fire grate – with the ashes then being dispersed into the wind at numerous rural locations.
Flying Squad detectives, led by Detective Superintendent Frank Cater, were dumbstruck by the story.
MacKenney was a man they knew well, having arrested him many times for a string of armed robberies but, despite standing over 6’4″ tall and being placed on over 60 of the Flying Squad’s Identity Parades, MacKenney had not been picked out even once.
MacKenney’s one previous conviction was for punching a bus driver in the early 1960’s – hardly the monstrous murderer portrayed by Childs, but Cater, and his boss, Chief Superintendent Tony Lundy, threw everything they had into the investigation.
It came to nothing.
No bodies of any of the alleged victims were ever found.
Despite months of examinations not a single piece of forensic evidence was ever discovered linking either Pinfold or MacKenney to any of the alleged crime scenes – nor any evidence at all linking even Childs himself to the crimes apart from his claims.
No blood was ever found in the flat occupied by Childs, where the bodies were said by him to have been dismembered, and despite detailed searches no trace of the industrial mincing Childs claimed to have used unsuccessfully to mince the bodies, well no trace of that was ever found either.
Despite a trawl through three years worth of Exchange and Mart newspapers, from which Childs claimed Pinfold had purchased the mincer, no such machine was ever discovered that could to be linked to MacKenney, Pinfold, or Childs himself.
A detailed a month-long forensic search of the domestic fire grate in Childs’ flat, where he claimed each of the six dismembered bodies had been burnt to cinders, produced not a single speck of forensic evidence to support his claims.
Thorough forensic searches of the various locations where Childs claimed to have disposed of the victims’ ashes, also revealed nothing; not a single piece of evidence.
The Crown themselves were forced to confront this when Childs himself appeared for sentencing having pleaded guilty to the six murders. John Matthew QC, prosecuting, told Mr Justice Lawson at the Old Bailey that, frankly, the only reason Childs was before the court at all was due to his admissions: “Without the admissions of this defendant the Crown could not have brought a prosecution in respect of any of these murders.”
So how could Pinfold and MacKenney have been convicted – and how did I ever become involved in this case?
In 1994 I was nearing the end of a 14 year sentence for robbery in Scotland when I received a letter from ‘Big H’, who I knew from Parkhurst earlier in my sentence. I was writing feature articles on the prison system for The Guardian newspaper at time and he had read one and decided to get back in touch and ask for my help. “I’m innocent” he said.
After all the time I’d been in jail I was no stranger to claims of innocence, we’ve all heard them, but there was something different about Harry’s case, it was just so incredible that I wanted to know more so I asked Harry MacKenney to send me details of his case; four weeks later five large egg boxes stacked with trial papers arrived and with nine months of my own sentence still to serve, I sat down to read.
It was truly astonishing.
Soon after my release in March 1995 I took the case of Harry MacKenney to Michael Levy, a Manchester solicitor I respected and asked him to take the case on, he agreed and employed me as the Case Consultant. With the advice and guidance of Edward Fitzgerald QC, a barrister I had known and respected for well over 20 years, I got to work.
It was obvious that getting to the bottom of this case meant dismantling the evidence of Bruce Childs. Childs was a psychopath, that much was known from a report available at the trial of Pinfold and MacKenney, prepared by Mr Barry Irving.
Irving held a Master’s Degree in Social Psychology and was a member of the permanent research staff at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, he wrote: “I believe Childs to be severely psychopathic insofar as he shows an abnormal lack of reaction to social pressures, he will not exhibit to the court any of the normal externally observable signs of fabrication upon which the jury depend to detect lying from the witness’s demeanour.”
In short, Irving was saying Childs was so disturbed no-one could tell from watching him in the witness box that he was lying, he wouldn’t show any signs of it – but the trial judge, Mr Justice May, ruled Irving’s report could not go before the jury.
“It is for juries, not psychiatrists or psychologists to determine whether a witness is telling the truth” he ruled. On the law as it stood at the time, he was absolutely right in his ruling.
Since then however the law had changed – although that of itself was not a sufficient ground of appeal.
I turned to Professor Morgan, a professor of Electrical Engineering at UMIST – the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology – and a world leader on three-phase electrical machines. Sitting in his office I came straight to the point: Why would a three-phase industrial mincing machine, when connected to the two-phase domestic electricity supply in Childs’ flat, not work?
Answer: it would work.
In direct contradiction to the evidence of Childs that the mincing machine he had used ‘would not turn at all’, Professor Morgan explained that it would definitely turn, it might lack power, certainly, but it would definitely turn. Why had no one at the trial checked?
Next, I needed a fire expert. Inquiries I had made revealed crematoria need 1600-1800 degrees to reduce a body to ash – could a fire in a domestic council flat grate produce such temperatures – and what about the smell? Neighbours of Childs questioned in 1979 all said his behaviour was bizarre, but none of them said anything about the smell of burning flesh.
I turned to Paul Williamson, an Assistant Chief Fire Officer with 35 years service. He was adamant about two things; firstly a fire in a domestic grate would not exceed 1000 degrees, you need a fuel injection system to get beyond that and 1000 degrees was way below the temperatures needed to reduce a body to ash – and secondly you could not burn six bodies without the smell of burning flesh being obvious.
“We all know how the smell of a bacon butty lingers in a kitchen for an hour” he said, “the smell of burning flesh is unmistakable, you can’t burn six complete bodies and no one notice a thing without powerful extraction fans.” Childs had never claimed to have extraction fans.
More worryingly, evidence we found in police files, but not disclosed to the defence at the trial, revealed that one of the alleged victims, Terry Eve, had actually been tracked down by police, living under an assumed name in south London, three years after Childs and the Crown alleged he had been murdered – and the Detective Chief Inspector who had been told this was still alive and able to corroborate it.
Finally Childs himself admitted, in a sworn affidavit, the whole story was fictitious from start to end, he had taken the details from newspaper reports – MacKenney and Pinfold he said were innocent.
From inquiries we made it also became clear that Childs had a long history of bogus admissions to crimes. At various times, in addition to the claims he made about MacKenney and Pinfold, Childs had told police he was responsible for:
The killing of an inmate when he was at Rochester Borstal in 1958/9. The police had conducted a full investigation of this confession and they concluded that, although he had given a truthful account of his violent behaviour at Borstal, he had embellished it by making up a totally fictitious account of the murder of an inmate.
A murder at the Kray Brothers Club in Holloway in 1964/5. In this case Childs claimed that with criminal associates he acted as Judge and “tried” a person alleged to be an informer, and acting as Jury he convicted the man, and as Executioner he claimed to have then shot him. The police again conducted a full investigation and concluded that it was extremely unlikely that this ever happened.
There were further claims of a robbery and shooting at the Soho Club in 1966/7, stabbings in public houses in Hillingdon and drive by shooting too; the police could trace no record of any of these.
A murder in Poplar High Street in 1978 of a vagrant whom Childs then claimed to have dismembered and burnt. The police could find no evidence to support this at all.
In July 2001 the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) having spent 18 months considering MacKenney’s application, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.
More than two years later, in October 2003, the Appeal Court finally quashed the convictions of Harry MacKenney and Terry Pinfold and both men, after spending 24 years in prison, walked free.
But pause here now for a moment.
What if none of this had happened?
What if Helen’s Law, or something similar, had been in place at this time?
How could Pinfold or MacKenney, or anyone convicted of a murder they knew nothing about, reveal the location of a deceased whose death or disposal they had nothing to do with?
Juries do get it wrong, the case of MacKenney and Pinfold proves that six times over – and what happens even when juries get it right?
What happens when the Parole Board, forced to employ Helen’s Law comes up against someone genuinely guilty of a murder? Someone who admits their part in it, who is remorseful, has made good progress in custody, whose risk of harm can be safely managed in the community – but who genuinely asserts the body was disposed of not by them, but by a third party, who are themselves now deceased, and they have no idea where the body of the person they killed is located?
Are they to be denied release?
And what of those killers who don’t care about getting out, what of those who after decades in prison have nothing to go out to?
What of those who will see this as a sick game, who wish to inflict even greater pain on the victim’s families – families who may well over the years have constantly abused the prisoner in the media whenever their case was mentioned – and who now demand their help?
What if killers deliberately mislead by identifying as ‘burial sites’ what are today major buildings, motorways, or railway lines; saying these are the final resting place of the deceased?
What if a person claims the body is buried in what is now Canary Wharf, the Port of Dover, Heathrow or Gatwick Airports?
How many times are these places to be shut down, sites excavated, and all in vain – raising a family’s hopes, only to have them trashed and dashed once again?
What happens if it is claimed the body was buried at sea – how does the Parole Board even begin to unpick that one?
It is understandable why any parent wants to locate the body of their child, brutally slain and left to rot in some godforsaken place they know not where.
But this is a difficult and complex area, one that politicians interfere with at their peril. What seems to them like an opportunity to gain political kudos may well, in reality, bring nothing but unforeseen and untold distress to the victim’s family who have surely already suffered more than enough.
We may be dealing here with some killers who have no feelings, serial killers especially rarely do, and the end result of Helen’s Law, however well-intentioned, may be that the victim’s families must endure even greater pain.
Who knows what may happen when juries, families or the Parole Board, believe a liar?
I remember it all like it was yesterday – and I doubt I will ever forget.
The 23rd May 1985 was a bitterly cold day in Dartmoor prison as the howling wind whistled off the local Tors and I found myself once again shivering as I walked alone Midnight Express style around a small caged exercise yard in the E.Hall punishment block of a prison built to hold Napoleonic prisoners of war 200 years before.
I was serving 56 days’ solitary confinement, completely my own fault, having just spent two weeks protesting about the change in parole policy by the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan, on the roof of Long Lartin Maximum Security prison in Evesham.
In the cage next to me was a young man called David Greenhow, 23 years old, with learning difficulties, his hair matted with mucus he occupied the cell next to mine and I would often hear him screaming in the night.
That day he spent his hour of exercise standing against the wall of the cage rocking backwards and forwards – he was in E.Hall for repeatedly kicking his cell door in the main prison, he couldn’t explain why, and the Governor had responded by placing him in the E.Hall punishment block for what was euphemistically called the ‘Good Order and Discipline’ of the prison.
We never spoke that day, not once, I asked him how he was but he never responded, his ceaseless rocking backwards and forwards left me with the impression of a young man more in need of help than punishment, and I continued my circular walk lost in my own thoughts against the biting Dartmoor wind.
It was three hours later when I heard the first Officer shout, followed by the stampede of feet to the cell next door. Urgent voices rang out ‘Get the Minuteman’ – the resuscitation machine – but by the time that arrived 20 minutes later from the hospital at the other side of the prison, David Greenhow was beyond help.
His young life ended there, dangling from a ripped bed sheet that he had tied around the cell window bars. This young man, with his whole future stretching out before him, had chosen to take his own life rather than face the anguish of going through even one more day.
That evening the police arrived, they spoke only to prison officers and stayed long enough to rule out foul play. According to the later Inquest Report what were then called the ‘Board of Visitors’, but are today known as Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) – the supposed ‘watchdogs’ of the public interest – never attended that night. The Chairman, according to the report, had been telephoned at home and advised of the death but seemingly saw no reason to drive the 20 miles from his home in Plymouth to the prison; the man was dead, so what?
Even a century ago, at least in Reading Gaol, the Chaplain called.
At 11pm as I looked through the drill hole in the centre of the spyhole fitted into my cell door I watched as David Greenhow’s lifeless body, wrapped in a green blanket and strapped to a wheelchair, was pushed along the landing outside my cell door to a waiting ambulance on what was to be his final journey in this world – a trip to the hospital mortuary.
David Greenhow was just one of many I have seen choose death over life to prison suicide over the years, it’s hard for those who have not experienced the devastation of despair that descends on a prison wing after someone has taken their own life to explain it, but there is a silence that wasn’t there before, some people talk in hushed whispers while others resort to morbid comedy to cope: “He was too young to be hanging around bars anyway.”
I’ve heard it all – but every death in custody is an event that I never forget and it is to this day what focusses my attention and drives me to confront the horrors of lives needlessly lost which are simply written off as par for the prison course by those who should know better.
Recently some on social media have criticised me for focussing on this, for not understanding, they assert, ‘the issues’; for seemingly misunderstanding the roles that certain officials have to play, and for critically pointing out that too many of today’s IMBs fail to mention in their annual reports how deaths in custody in the prisons that they monitor are treated as events unworthy of any real attention.
They’re wrong: I do understand, and too well as only someone who has been through it too many times can do.
The fact is that lessons that should be learnt from each death are not only routinely ignored, but the very fact that they are ignored is itself shamefully unworthy of any acknowledgement or note.
For every death in custody in England and Wales the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) conducts an investigation, attempting to learn lessons to prevent the next death. They make a plethora of well-intended recommendations designed to prevent repetition, pointing out where things went wrong, how events may have turned out differently if the rules, regulations, practices, procedures, policies and previous identical recommendations made for the second, third and fourth time had been followed.
But they’re not followed; indeed they are almost routinely ignored, without consequence to those who ignore them, but not to those who later die needlessly when they may have been saved.
In IMB annual reports every year, and I read them all, so often the text relating to the number of deaths that have occurred in the prisons these IMBs ‘monitor’ are cut and pasted from one annual report to the next, with only the often increasing numbers changed from one year to the next.
Today, as I write this, 29th June 2019, the PPO published yet another death in custody report, this time into the death by hanging of 30 year old James Turnbull at HMP Durham. In that report the PPO again points out to HMP Durham the failures to implement the same recommendations in respect of Mr Turnbull’s death that the PPO had made previously to Durham Prison – and which like so many before it remain ignored and not implemented.
Mr James Turnbull was found hanged in his cell on 23 December 2017 at HMP Durham. He was 30 years old. Mr Turnbull experienced a severe decline in his mental health in the weeks before he died. His transfer to a psychiatric hospital had been approved and he was awaiting a bed space when he died. The investigation found there was a delay in arranging a psychiatric assessment for Mr Turnbull. If he had been assessed more promptly, it is possible he may have been transferred to hospital earlier where he could have received appropriate treatment.
Staff managed Mr Turnbull under suicide and self-harm prevention procedures (known as ACCT) when his mental health declined. Initially, they did this well. However, I am concerned that staff wrongly assessed his level of risk and stopped ACCT procedures prematurely. They restarted ACCT procedures on 20 December, after Mr Turnbull told them he had been thinking of ways to hang himself, but worryingly, stopped them just over 24 hours later. I am concerned that despite Mr Turnbull’s continued paranoid behaviour, his pending transfer to psychiatric hospital and a recent stated intention to take his life, he was not being monitored under ACCT procedures when he died. Previous investigations at Durham have identified similar deficiencies in assessing prisoners’ risk and managing ACCT procedures. The Prison Group Director needs to satisfy himself that staff at Durham are properly applying ACCT procedures to protect prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm.
Why were the recommendations by the PPO of failures in the past to carry out the mandatory suicide and self-harm procedures correctly at Durham not implemented – and why were these later criticisms even required at all?
Durham is a prison with a shocking record of suicides – precisely perhaps because the lessons and PPO recommendations are neither learned nor implemented. But the failure to implement death in custody recommendations is not something the IMB at Durham found worthy of any note at all – indeed they imply that all is well when it clearly isn’t.
In the latest HMP Durham IMB annual report, covering the period November 2017 (a month before Mr Turnbull died) to October 2018 and published in March 2019, this is what they say:
“Over the last year deaths in custody have increased from 7 (2017) to 11 (2018). Out of the 11 deaths this year, no Coroner’s report is available. The Board have been informed promptly of these deaths and where possible have observed the initial actions and subsequent investigation. All Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) reports have been monitored by the Board and discussed with the Governor. The prison action plans have been monitored accordingly. “
Not a single word about the death of Mr Turnbull, indeed none of the 11 prisoners who died at Durham during this year warrant any specific mention at all. There is nothing, not a word, about the criticism of the PPO and the prison’s failure to implement previous recommendations – and the fact is they must have known when writing their annual report because every prison and its IMB are given the contents of PPO Reports within weeks of a death, and often well over a year before the report itself is made public.
Instead the Durham prison IMB just make the risible claim that PPO reports have been monitored; what on earth does that even mean?
This isn’t just happening at Durham, this is a nationwide problem where IMBs fearful of rocking the Ministry of Justice’s ‘boat’ prefer silence to sanction, concealing from the public whose loved ones have died in their jail, how their deaths might have been prevented if the prisons they monitor had implemented recommendations made previously and ignored.
This problem was made more obvious recently when Anne Owers, the Chair of the National IMB Management Board, issued her first National IMB Annual Report on 5th June 2019. Because this report is merely a rehashing of the flawed IMB annual reports from Boards around the country, this too made no mention at all of any failures, by any prison, to implement PPO recommendations on deaths in custody.
Indeed when you read this report, which others who ought to know better have commended, you will find that the word ‘death’ or ‘deaths’ in this 56 page report appears just once, as a passing reference only, on page 11.
This lamentable fact was forcibly brought home in the Ministerial Response to the National IMB Annual Report when the Prisons Minister, Robert Buckland QC, responded formally to the Report on 28th June 2019 – in which he failed to mention even once, the subject of deaths in custody.
It is not just IMBs and Ministers who are to blame for this, the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman are themselves complicit in this concealment – and it starts right on Day One.
The PPO is advised immediately there is a death in custody. But they make no announcement about it, they conceal what deaths they are currently investigating and they have absolutely no mechanism in place for monitoring the implementation of their recommendations at all – which is why prisons ignore them with impunity and without consequence.
That concealment is supported by both HM Prison and Probation Service and the Ministry of Justice, neither of whom make public when someone has died in their care; they leave that to journalists to discover when news ‘leaks’ out days or weeks later – if at all.
The PPO is the first to trumpet its alleged independence, it makes much of it in every report they publish, but the fact is that this is little more than a mirage.
When a person dies in the custody of the State the PPO should announce they are investigating, there should be an online list of current investigations, it can be anonymised, there are sensitivities of next of kin to be considered and the judicial process of an Inquest to consider too, I understand all that. But the very fact they are investigating a death in custody, where it happened, when it happened, male or female and the age of the deceased should be made public – this is the United Kingdom, not North Korea.
This concealment has to stop.
I recently conducted a search of our Fatal Incident database, it contains all the PPO Fatal Incident Reports and I conducted a search of how many reports the PPO had issued on deaths in custody where the PPO had been forced to repeat recommendations that had been made previously but ignored – recommendations that had to be made again when further death in similar circumstances had occurred; the almost 100 cases runs to some six pages.
Unless we learn the lessons of why so many die in custody, unless we are open and transparent about deaths, acknowledging immediately when they occur, unless the PPO can put in place a robust mechanism for monitoring the implementation of their recommendations – and IMBs can be honest about when that implementation just isn’t happening – then people will continue to die, perhaps needlessly, in our prisons.
And, just like 35 years ago when 23-year-old David Greenhow was being driven out of the gates of Dartmoor Prison for the final time, the facts is that prison officials will continue to stamp the front of far too many prisoners’ records with the brutal self-explanatory text: “Discharged: Dead”.
Mark Leech FRSA, is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales.
Yesterday I was taken to task for not being positive enough when I wrote about HMP Garth where, following (unusually) an announced HMIP inspection, it was revealed the prison had high levels of drugs and violence, where in terms of the four Healthy Prison Tests, safety had crept up from 1/4 to 2/4, respect from 2/4 to 3/4 and both purposeful activity and release planning had stalled at 3/4 since the last inspection two years ago.
It was said that I did not give enough credit where it was due.
Well that is certainly one view and one with some value to it, but on the other side of the coin Garth was also a prison where 56% of all the HMIP recommendations made and accepted by the prison two years previously had not been achieved at all.
Its really important that staff are given credit for progress, but those same staff also need to be able to take reality on the chin too – once we start to view a 56% failure rate on implementation as something to be proud of, something for which to quote one member of staff at Garth they should be given a ‘pat on the back’ for, then there is a real danger in my view that we are celebrating failure not success.
Mistaking failure for progress just skews reality; implementing 75% or 80% of HMI recommendations deserves praise, but when that drops to less than half, to just 44% that ought to be viewed as a cause for concern not credit – or the danger is that it becomes accepted as normalised and that must never be the case.
Personally I would like to see every Governor who has failed to implement 50% or more of HMI recommendations being required to publicly explain to the Prisons Inspectorate, in a written document that appears in an Annex to the Report, exactly why in two years they have been unable to do better.
There are two sides to every story and one story is only good until another one is told – if nothing else if provides an opportunity to explain the reasons why more progress wasn’t made and I imagine some would be surprised at the reasons given which currently remain hidden from view.
If the Justice Secretary has to explain publicly what has gone wrong and what he will do to put it right when faced with an HMI Urgent Notification, the same principle of accountability should apply to Governing Governors too: they too have their story to tell – and they ought to be allowed to tell it.
The buck stops on their desk and with it credit for success and responsibility for failure too.
Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales @prisonsorguk
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.
“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?
Editor: The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales