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.”

When Will Hapless, Hopeless, Rory Stewart Resign?

Prison Safety Crisis As Assaults and Self Harm Reach Record Levels

Violence and self-harm in prisons are “unacceptably high”, the Justice Secretary has admitted, after official figures revealed both have surged again to reach new record levels – and calls for his Prisons Minister Rory Stewart to resign intensify

David Gauke acknowledged the latest official safety in custody statistics for England and Wales were “disturbing” after they showed increases across all of the key categories.

In the year to September, there were 33,803 assault incidents, up 20% on the previous 12 months.

Of those, nearly 4,000 were recorded as “serious” – such as those which require medical treatment or result in fractures, burns, or extensive bruising.

Assaults on staff also continue to rise, reaching record highs.

They increased by 29% year on year, to 10,085, including 997 which were serious, although the Ministry of Justice said a change in the way these figures are recorded may have contributed to the jump.

There were 52,814 self-harm incidents, a 23% increase, and a new record high, according to the MoJ’s report.

It also revealed there were 325 deaths in prison custody in the 12 months to December 2018, up 10% from the previous year. Of these, four were homicides.

Mr Gauke said: “Violence and self-harm in our prisons is unacceptably high and these figures underline why we are spending an extra £70m to fight the drugs plaguing prisons and boost security, while also training over 4,000 new prison officers in handling the complex offender population.

“Clearly there is a huge amount yet to be done but I am determined to cut the violence so prisons can focus on rehabilitating the offenders who will be back out at some point.

“And while these figures are disturbing, I am optimistic that the measures we have been putting in place will help us to reduce violence and ultimately better protect the public.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon claimed cuts to staff and budgets were “directly to blame for violence spiralling out of control in our prisons”.

He said: “Our prisons have become a danger to officers, inmates and wider society.”

The Government has come under sustained pressure in recent years over the state of jails after a safety crisis swept through much of the estate.

The new statistics show the overall number of assaults has more than doubled in the last four years.

While the vast majority of the incidents are recorded in male establishments, female prisons have also registered an increase in assaults, with 1,396 in the 12 months to September – the highest number for an equivalent period in the last decade.

Ministers say drugs, and psychoactive substances – formerly known as legal highs – have been a “game changer” in destabilising prisons.

Ahead of the latest findings, the Government announced that new scanning equipment that can detect invisible traces of illicit substances soaked into clothing and paper is up and running in 10 of the most challenging jails.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart declared in August that he would quit if there was no improvement in safety standards at the 10 establishments within a year.

Mr Stewart has also suggested that jail sentences of six months or less for most crimes could be scrapped to alleviate pressure on the system.

The Press Association revealed on Thursday that prisons have been issued with detailed guidance on handling incoming mail following a surge in attempts to smuggle in drug-laced paper and other contraband via post.

An official security briefing says correspondence is being exploited to convey illicit substances and items into establishments, with instances reported in all prison regions.

Mark Day, of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “These disturbing figures show every indicator of prison safety to be pointing the wrong way, with a rise in numbers of natural and self-inflicted deaths and record levels of self-harm and assaults.

“The measures the Government have put in place to improve prison safety, including increasing staff numbers and the roll-out of a new key worker model, have not yet succeeded in reversing this rising trend.”

Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Ministers have announced their intention to reform sentencing, and the harrowing statistics published today show why action is needed so urgently.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook, was scathing about Rory Stewart, calling him ‘hapless and hopeless’.

Mr Leech said: “Over the last six to eight months Rory Stewart our Prisons Minister has spent night and day tweeting about what?

“Deaths in custody?

“Self-harm?

“Assaults on staff and prisoners?

“No.

“He has spent his time tweeting about Brexit – don’t take my word for it go and look at his twitter account.

“He’s the Prisons Minister, yet to watch him you’d think he was the Brexit Secretary.

“Sure he’s a nice guy, pleasant sociable, fun at times – but let me tell you this: as a Prisons Minister he’s both hapless and hopeless – he promised to resign, now let us see him live up to his word and just do it.

“Put control of our prisons, its policies, its recruitment, its funding, its staffing back where it belongs, inside HMPPS and those who actually know what a cell door looks like.”

Mail & Property Scanners installed in ’10 Jails Project’ Prisons

Prisons have been issued with specialist scanning equipment and detailed instructions on handling incoming mail following a surge in attempts to post drug-laced paper and other contraband to inmates.

Correspondence is being exploited to convey illicit substances and items into establishments, according to an official security briefing seen by the Press Association.

Instances have been reported in all prison regions in England and Wales, and in both the male and female estate.

Finds have included “large amounts” of drugs, tobacco and sim cards, the document circulated by HM Prison & Probation Service says.

It also reveals that some jails have reported chemically laced paper containing household chemicals such as alloy wheel cleaner, insect poison, koi carp sedative and acetone.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said scanners which can detect invisible traces of drugs soaked into clothing and paper have been installed at 10 of the most challenging jails.

He said drugs in prison have been a “game-changer”, driving self-harm and extreme violence, adding: “As the methods used to smuggle drugs into prisons continue to evolve, our response to that threat becomes ever more agile and vigilant.”

Smuggling attempts involving mail have come under the spotlight after psychoactive substances such as Spice were identified as a major threat to prison stability.

The drugs, formerly known as “legal highs”, have had a “significant” impact on the safety and security of establishments, the briefing note says.

The official guidance, obtained by the Press Association following a Freedom of Information request, says intelligence continues to suggest that paper laced with psychoactive substances (PS) is being supplied via correspondence.

It states: “The potency of PS paper can vary significantly between batches and even within different sections of a single sheet.

“As our ability to detect herbal PS and interrupt conveyance has improved, prisoners have increasingly sought to convey PS-soaked paper as it is easier to conceal.

“Actual levels of laced paper entering the establishments are not known; however, intelligence reporting indicates that post appears to be the preferred method.”

The briefing, marked “Official”, was issued to governors, security departments and mail room staff in November.

It says: “Whilst it is recognised that mail is one method in which prisoners may receive illicit items, we should not introduce processes that indefinitely treat all such correspondence as suspicious.

“Where justified, we should open, read, and stop mail on a case-by-case basis.”

Staff members who suspect that mail contains illicit items are advised to wear personal protective equipment for health and safety reasons and evidence preservation, the five-page paper says.

Photocopying correspondence and providing prisoners with copies of the original letters may be considered if it is proportionate to the risk posed, the guidance says.

Any establishment that imposes this measure for all post should review the position at least every three months, while legal and confidential mail can only be photocopied if there is “specific intelligence or suspicion”.

The document recommends that prisons communicate with law firms to ensure genuine correspondence is correctly marked, following warnings about the use of bogus legal letters for smuggling attempts.

Where there is a local supplier of newspapers and magazines, jails should consider using more than one to “disrupt potential conveyance activity in this area”.

The document emphasises that “due care should be given not to significantly delay a prisoner’s access to mail, in the interest of ensuring minimal impact on family life”.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This guidance shows why tackling drugs in prison is more complicated than people sometimes like to think.”

He suggested a straightforward way to reduce the problem would be to give prisoners “controlled access” to electronic communications, adding: “You can’t spray Spice on to an email.”

Mark Leech, Editor of Converse, the largest circulation national monthly prisons newspaper, welcomed the development but said it needed to go much further.

Mr Leech said: “Drugs are a menace in our prisons leading to violence, bullying, self-harm and suicides, anything that reduces the importation into prisons of drugs is to be welcomed.

“But installing scanners in less than 10 per cent of prisons is woefully inadequate, the Prisons Minister needs to get real and install them across the prison estate.

“Prison governors can authorise the opening of mail between inmates and social contacts to check for illicit enclosures, and they also have the power to open legal correspondence, and read it, where there are grounds for believing that it contains illicit enclosures or doesn’t come from a bona fide legal source.”

The latest prison safety statistics will be published at 09.30 today – Thursday 31st January 2019.

UK “Must strengthen work to prevent ill-treatment in detention in crucial year of international scrutiny”

The UK’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) – established to scrutinise State detention in all its forms – has called in its annual report for ever greater efforts to monitor conditions and treatment in line with international best practice.

On the eve of the NPM’s 10th anniversary, its Chair John Wadham used its 9th annual report to warn that 2019 is a year in which the NPM and UK Government will receive unprecedented scrutiny by two United Nations committees.

The NPM was established in 2009 by the UK Government to meet its UN treaty obligations under the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

The NPM’s 21 independent bodies have powers to inspect or monitor all places of detention across the UK including prisons, police custody, immigration centres, secure settings for children and young adults and mental health settings. Through the regular, independent monitoring of places of detention, the NPM plays a key role in preventing ill-treatment in detention.

For the first time, in the 2017–2018 report, the NPM has been able to calculate the number of visits and inspections its members carry out every year. It found:

  • Dedicated volunteers made over 66,000 monitoring visits throughout the year to prisons, young offender institutions, immigration detention facilities, police custody, court custody and to observe escorts;
  • There were over 1,500 inspections carried out across the UK.

During these visits and inspections, NPM members regularly highlighted a range of concerns about detainees not being held in safe and decent conditions. They also identified excessive or improper use of restraints on vulnerable detainees – children, those in mental health detention and those detained pending deportation.

However, Mr Wadham stressed the need to enhance the penetration and impact of monitoring by NPM members. “The strength of our NPM model in the UK allows professional inspectors and members of the community to check on what is happening behind closed doors and to try to prevent ill-treatment.

“Unfortunately, there is much more to be done to prevent ill-treatment and improve conditions for detainees and we look forward to more support from the government to make this happen.”

This is particularly important because in the coming year the record of the NPM and the UK Government will be forensically examined by the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), and then by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), during its first ever visit to the UK.

Mr Wadham added: “The NPM still lacks essential guarantees of its independence and continues with inadequate funding. We know that the failure to make progress hinders our ability to prevent ill-treatment, and will expose us to criticism by both the CAT and the SPT.”

Notes:

  1. The NPM’s Ninth Annual Report gives an overview of its work monitoring detention across the UK from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018. A copy of the Annual Report can be found on the NPM website: https://www.nationalpreventivemechanism.org.uk/.
  2. The NPM Annual Report was laid before Parliament by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice with an accompanying Written Ministerial Statement. The Statement can be found at https://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements when published.
  3. The NPM was established in March 2009 under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). A United Nations treaty, OPCAT was ratified by the UK in 2003. OPCAT requires the UK to have in place a ‘national preventive mechanism’ to visit all places of detention and monitor the treatment of and conditions for detainees.
  4. Correspondence with the UN SPT highlighting their concern with the NPM’s informal status can be found here: https://www.nationalpreventivemechanism.org.uk/publications-resources/.
  5. In its 14th Report of 2016–17 “Part 1 of the Prisons and Courts Bill”, the Justice Select Committee recommended the UK Government “place the NPM on a definitive statutory basis, in accordance with the UK’s international obligations.” (paragraph 36)
  6. The NPM consists of 21 independent bodies throughout the UK, which have powers to regularly inspect or monitor places of detention and share the aim of preventing ill-treatment of anyone deprived of their liberty. It is coordinated by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
  7. The 21 bodies who make up the NPM are:
    England and Wales

Care Inspectorate Wales

Care Quality Commission

The Children’s Commissioner for England
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services
Healthcare Inspectorate Wales
Independent Monitoring Boards
Independent Custody Visiting Association

Lay Observers

Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Service and Skills)

Northern Ireland

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland

Independent Monitoring Boards (Northern Ireland)

Northern Ireland Policing Board Independent Custody Visiting Scheme

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority

Scotland
      Care Inspectorate

      Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland

Independent Custody Visitors Scotland
Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland

Scottish Human Rights Commission

United Kingdom

Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

Children in Custody – Welcome signs of improvement but many still feel unsafe

Children in Custody 2017–18: An analysis of 12–18-year-olds’ perceptions of their experiences in secure training centres and young offender institutions

Signs of improvement in youth custody establishments have yet to translate into greater feelings of safety for those detained, according to new analysis of the perceptions of children in custody.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the study of children held in 2017-18 in England and Wales, warned against complacency because of improvements seen in some recent inspections of secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs).

Despite indications of improved behaviour, significant numbers of children in both types of establishment still said they had felt unsafe at some time. The figures were 34% for STCs and 40% in YOIs.

In February 2017, Mr Clarke warned the Minister for Victims, Youth and Family Justice that HM Inspectorate of Prisons could not then classify any STC or YOI as safe enough to hold children, because of high levels of violence.

This year (2017-18), Mr Clarke said, “there have been some encouraging signs of improvement in safety at some establishments, but history tells us that all too often early signs of improvement have not been sustained.

“A key factor in securing a safe environment for children in custody is finding positive ways to encourage good behaviour. During the year we published a thematic report on this subject, the key finding of which was that all effective behaviour management was underpinned by positive relationships between staff and children. Building those positive relationships is a key challenge for both STCs and YOIs, given the shortages of staff, their high turnover rates and, in too many establishments, very poor time out of cell for the children.”

Mr Clarke added: “It is notable that there has been no statistically significant shift in the perceptions of children about their treatment and conditions – either in STCs or YOIs. Too many children… (34% in STCs and 40% in YOIs) report having felt unsafe since coming into custody.”

The independent HMIP report was commissioned by the Youth Justice Board (YJB). Mr Clarke said the YJB and the recently created Youth Custody Service (YCS) within the prison service should fully understand a notable finding in the perceptions analysis. This is that significantly more (87%) children in STCs reported being treated respectfully by staff than the 64% of boys who did so in YOIs.

A total of 686 children, from a population in custody of just under 840, answered questions in a survey.

Key findings included:

  • 42% of children in STCs identified as being from a black or other minority ethnic background;
  • Over half of children (56%) in STCs reported that they had been physically restrained in the centre;
  • Nearly a third of children in STCs (30%) reported being victimised by other children by being shouted at through windows;
  • Over half (51%) of boys in YOIs identified as being from a black or minority ethnic background, the highest rate recorded in surveys of YOIs:
  • Half of children (50%) in YOIs reported that they had been physically restrained.

Mr Clarke said:

“I trust that the details of this report will prove useful to those whose responsibility it is to provide safe, respectful and purposeful custody for children. As we all know, the perceptions of children in custody, will, for them, be the reality of what is happening. That is why we should not allow the recent improvement in inspection findings to give rise to complacency.”

Read The Report

Scrap most prison sentences of under six months, says Prisons Minister

Jail sentences of six months or less for most crimes could be scrapped to alleviate pressure on the system, the prisons minister has suggested – a call said to be ‘bizarre’ by a prisons expert.

Some 30,000 criminals per year in England and Wales, including burglars and most shoplifters, could be spared jail under the proposals, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Exceptions would be made for violent or sex offenders, Rory Stewart told the paper.

Mr Stewart said the move would ease pressure on prisons and that “very short” jail terms were “long enough to damage you and not long enough to heal you”.

He told the Daily Telegraph Magazine: “You bring somebody in for three or four weeks, they lose their house, their job, their family, their reputation.

“They come (into prison), they meet a lot of interesting characters (to put it politely) and then you whap them on to the streets again.

“The public are safer if we have a good community sentence … and it will relieve a lot of pressure on prisons.”

Since the early 1990s, the prison population has doubled, rising from around 40,000 to more than 80,000 in 2018, official figures show.

More than half of the 86,275 offenders sentenced to immediate custody in England and Wales in 2017 were handed sentences of six months or less, according to a Parliamentary response from Mr Stewart to shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon last month.

The Telegraph said Mr Stewart cited research indicating that criminals given short jail terms were more likely to re-offend than those given community sentences.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “As we have said previously, short sentences are too often ineffective, provide little opportunity to rehabilitate offenders and lead to unacceptably high rates of reoffending.

“That’s why we are exploring potential alternatives but this work is ongoing and we have reached no conclusions at this time.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the call was “bizarre”.

Mr Leech said: “I am absolutely in agreement with Rory Stewart on the substance of this, there are better ways of punishing non-violent, non-sexual, offenders other than very short sentences that clog up the system and cost a fortune.

“But Rory is a Minister of the Crown, if he wanted to introduce legislation curbing the courts’ ability to pass short sentences in such cases he could start that ball rolling tomorrow.

“It’s bizarre that he doesn’t just do it.”