The prison population of England and Wales has hit a new record high of 86,608 people, with a rise of nearly 700 this week as the courts took the exceptional step of remanding into custody almost two-thirds of those charged with riot-related offences.

Prison governors said that the system now faced “an unprecedented situation” because of the riots, and emergency contingency measures had been agreed with prison service chiefs in case the rise in inmate numbers continued unabated.

The Prison Governors Association said the medium- to long-term measures included opening sufficient new and refurbished jail accommodation to avoid the normal emergency measure of using police cells.

The governors said they were confident the situation could be managed safely.

The record prison numbers are putting the jails and young offender institutions under increasing pressure; there are only 1,485 spare places in the system before prison governors have to put out the “jail full” signs.

Prison service chiefs are expected to outline the new contingency measures on Friday, including increased overcrowding by doubling and even trebling inmates in cells designed for single occupation.

Prison governors had already warned that the riots have put further strains on an already-stretched prison system, with inmates being moved out of London and Manchester to create space for rioters being sent to jail or remanded in custody awaiting trial.

The Ministry of Justice said that its latest figures, up to noon on Wednesday, showed that 1,297 people had appeared before magistrates charged with riot-related offences. A total of 772, or 65%, had been remanded in custody, compared with the “normal” remand rate for serious offences being 10%.

“This is causing massive problems for prisons,” said Harry Fletcher, of Napo, the probation officers’ union. There are so many of them coming through the system, it is causing considerable problems. When people are being held so far from home it causes real difficulties for their families.” He said that Nottingham jail alone had been sent a group of 30 prisoners from London this week.

The total prison population on Friday last week stood at 85,931, which included 607 immigration detainees. As space runs out so the potential for work, education or rehabilitation will be “zero”, claimed Fletcher.

The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, will be hoping that the developing pressures on the prison system are purely temporary, otherwise they have the capacity to derail his plans to stabilise the jail population and bring in his “rehabilitation revolution”.

The normal pressure valve for the prison system when it comes close to capacity is to put into effect Operation Safeguard, which involves emergency use of police cells to house prisoners. But that option is now closed off as forces stay prepared for any further disturbances.

In the medium-term the prison service might be able to add portable accommodation within the perimeters of existing jails, and no doubt in the longer-term the prospect of finding a new prison ship could be raised.

The prison service has already announced plans to close two small jails, Latchmere House, in London, and Brockhill prison, at Redditch, Worcestershire, next month. One option could be to postpone these closures if the pressure on jails continues to rise at the current rate.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said that there were enough places for those being sent to prison, including in young offender institutions, following the riots: “There is substantial capacity in the prison system. We will provide prison places for those committed to custody by the courts. We are developing contingencies should exceptional pressure be placed on the prison estate.”


Clegg has it the wrong way round


The National Prisoners Newspaper for England and Wales

16th August 2011, 15.35hrs – NO Embargo

Plans to force former prisoners into work on release from jail are is welcome in principle, but it comes at the wrong end of the sentence said Mark Leech, Editor of Converse the national prisoners newspaper.

The plan was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as part of the measures to end the “dismal cycle of repeat crime.”

Mr Clegg said that those released from jail from March next year would be “met at the prison gates” by providers in the Work Programme and put through a “tough process so that they find work and they stay on the straight and narrow”.

However “Clegg has it the wrong way round” Mr Leech said.

“Instead of meeting them on the last day of their sentence and trying to instil a work ethic, he should start from the very first day of that sentence, ensuring they get up each day, attend meaningful work, at realistic wages, and with a proportion of that pay  being paid to victims of crime.

“Leaving it to the end of the sentence is meaningless, they will just come out, stick two fingers up, and go on their way.”

“I welcome anything which is aimed at reducing crime, but this scheme is knee-jerk and ill-thought-through.”


Converse: 08450 660011

Bomb Scare Locks Down Wandsworth Prison

London’s Wandsworth Prison was in lock down today after staff at the prison received a Bomb Scare.
All prisoners were locked in their cells as education, training, workshops and morning visiting sessions were all shut down.
A Prison Service spokesperson said:
“On 11 August staff at Wandsworth prison investigated an alleged bomb threat.
“All necessary procedures and checks were carried out and no suspect packages were found.”

Governors Worried – Prisons may not be able to cope with large rioter numbers

CONVERSE: The National Prisoners Newspaper for England and Wales

Press Release: 11th August 2011 – No Embargo


An already over crowded prison system will not have the capacity to cope with any more than about 800 rioters said Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national prisoners newspaper.

Speaking as Parliament was recalled and the Prime Minister promised ‘touch sentences’ Mr Leech said: “The truth is that the penal reality may not match the political promise.”

Mr Leech said: “Although on paper the prison system has capacity for about 2000 more prisoners, the reality is that these are spread right across the prison estate – in male prisons, female prisons, open prisons, young offender institutions.

“It would take a massive amount of luck for the rioter ‘pegs’ to fit the prison ‘holes exactly – and the chances are they won’t.

“Prison Governors I have spoken to are worried, the prison system is currently a very volatile place, and an influx of large numbers of rioters could see the riots merely being moved from the streets to the jails themselves.”


Shrien Dewani : Can be extradited to South Africa rules Judge

Shrien Dewani can be extradited to South Africa to stand trial over the murder of his wife while on honeymoon, District Judge Howard Riddle said today.

The Bristol businessman, 31, is accused of ordering the car-jacking and shooting which left Anni Dewani, 28, dead in a taxi in Cape Town last November.

Dewani denies any involvement and has fought extradition proceedings, arguing that he is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and is too unwell to be extradited.

The judge said the “court must consider the strong public interest in honouring our extradition treaty”.

He said he had “no doubt” that Dewani is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and is at high risk of suicide or self-harm.

But he said he was satisfied he would receive the appropriate levels of mental health care at the hands of the South African authorities.

He took more than two hours to read out his judgment at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in south east London, beginning with evidence relating to the serious problems with overcrowding, violence and sexual violence in South African jails.

He said Dewani, whom he described as “good-looking, youthful and physically well-preserved”, would be particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, adding: “There has been some suggestion that he may be gay.”

But although many prisons are ill-equipped to deal with the mentally ill and inmates are at high risk of contracting HIV or Aids, the judge said he was satisfied that Dewani would be held in a prison with a good level of facilities and be kept in a single cell.

Anni’s parents, Vinod and Nilam Hindocha, were in court to witness proceedings, surrounded by their family and friends.

Speaking outside after the hearing, her father Vinod said today’s decision was “one step to closure”.

He said: “I would like to thank the British justice system for the decision, which I believe is a fair one.”

He said it was not about Dewani, but “it’s about my beautiful daughter Anni, not forgetting her.

“I’m sure she’d be very, very happy today to hear the decision.

“I wish Shrien a very speedy recovery so he can now put his head down and help the police and clear his name.”

Anni’s sister, Ami Denborg, added: “Nothing will bring back my beautiful little innocent sister who was killed.

“But getting this decision today at least we will get somewhere.”

Describing the past few months, she added: “It’s been a nightmare. Today we feel very happy about the decision.”

HMP Wandsworth: Prisoners safety is “now a matter of serious concern”

HM Prison Wandsworth


Our last inspection of HMP Wandsworth in June 2009 was marred by an attempt to subvert the
process by moving ‘difficult’ prisoners between Wandsworth and Pentonville so they were not
present in either prison during the inspection. This action by managers at the prisons
overshadowed the inspection findings at Wandsworth, which otherwise would have reported
on good progress in a prison that had been of concern for some time.
There was no attempt to subvert this follow-up inspection. However, the prison’s progress had
halted and overall outcomes for prisoners were significantly worse than at the time of the last

In particular, the safety of prisoners held in Wandsworth is now a matter of serious concern.

HMP Wandsworth is a large, Victorian, category B prison serving the courts of South London.
There is no doubt it holds a challenging population with multiple problems, many of whom are
held for only short periods. We were told that morale in the prison had suffered after the
progress made by the time of the last inspection was undermined by the prisoner swap.
Nevertheless, Wandsworth compared badly with similar prisons facing similar challenges and
we were concerned by what appeared to be unwillingness among some prison managers and
staff to acknowledge and take responsibility for the problems the prison faced.
The level of self-harm and the number of self-inflicted deaths were high. There had been about
700 ACCT documents opened in 2010, 120 in the first two months of 2011 and 60 open at the
time of the inspection. Typically, there were about 32 incidents of self-harm each month and
about 60 open ACCT documents at any given time. There had been 11 deaths in custody
between January 2010 and the time of this inspection; four of these had apparently been selfinflicted.
Key areas of risk were the inconsistent quality of ACCT procedures and the practice
of moving prisoners who were stabilising from drugs or detoxing from alcohol out of the first
night centre, where they could be closely monitored, before stabilisation was complete. We
were also concerned that poor staff-prisoner relationships, the lack of a predictable regime,
deficiency of association, and insufficient activity contributed to feelings of isolation and
alienation that might have led to self-harming behaviour.
Only 58% of prisoners (against the 70% comparator and 73% at the time of the last inspection)
said they had a member of staff in the prison they could turn to if they had a problem. We
observed frequently indifferent and sometimes abusive staff interactions with prisoners.
Prisoners struggled to get assistance with low level domestic issues or answers to simple
queries. The formal application and complaints systems were overwhelmed and ineffective.
Inspectors were inundated by prisoners asking for reasonable help with small things because
the prison staff did not assist. The induction process was poor and many prisoners lacked
basic knowledge about the routines and rules of the prison.
Prisoners with any sort of specific individual need were particularly disadvantaged. We found
prisoners with mobility difficulties located on residential landings which did not allow them
access to showers. One prisoner with a disability had been remanded at the prison for more
than three months and told us he had not had a shower in that time. There was no strategy to
meet the needs of foreign national prisoners. Despite the presence of UKBA staff in the prison,
liaison arrangements did not appear to be effective. Many foreign national prisoners were held
beyond the end of their sentence – one for three years. We were told by the independent
advice service that inaccurate information had led to some detainees being incorrectly held.
Most cells were shared and had inadequately screened toilets. First night cells were not
cleaned of graffiti; some of what we saw was racist. At best, prisoners were locked in their cells
for 16.5 hours a day (but even that was not every day of the week); at worst, prisoners were
out of their cells for just two hours a day. Association was often cancelled and when it did
occur there was little for prisoners to do and we observed little interaction with officers.
Exercise in the fresh air was limited to 30 minutes a day but this was cancelled in bad weather
and recreational use of the PE facilities was poor. The core day was not adhered to. There
were good training opportunities in the workshops but it was disappointing to see the excellent
Timpsons workshop operating at well below capacity.
Victims of bullying behaviour were not adequately protected. Processes to identify and
respond to both individual incidents and patterns of violent behaviour and to support victims
were ineffective. The level of use of force remained high and our examination of records of
incidents showed that de-escalation was not always used. Reviews and records of the use of
force were not sufficiently rigorous and neither we nor the prison could be assured that all use
of force was proportionate and necessary.
The segregation unit lacked direction. The regime was poor and there appeared to be little
attempt to tackle and resolve any of the underlying reasons for prisoners’ behaviour. One
prisoner with obvious communication difficulties, lying in on his bed with a blanket over his
head and an uneaten meal beside him, told me he would refuse to go back to normal location
because he was being bullied. Segregation staff did not appear to be aware of his concerns or
have attempted to resolve them and it seemed all too likely that confrontation would occur
when it was time for him to return.
The prison did not respond adequately to the needs of the diverse population it held. In
addition to the concerns about prisoners with disabilities and foreign national prisoners referred
to above, black and minority ethnic prisoners were disadvantaged in significant areas of the
prison and this needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Performance in other diversity
strands was also weak and diversity was not visibly promoted in the prison.
Health care offered a generally better picture. The Jones Unit provided a high level of inpatient
care in a good environment for prisoners with a physical illness. Mental health services were
good and when transfers to secure mental health units were required they were not unduly
In our survey, 40% of prisoners, against a comparator of 23%, said that the food was good or
very good. We received few complaints about the food.
Resettlement was the best area of the provision and some good resettlement services were
provided. Work on accommodation, education, training and employment and substance
misuse was encouraging but all area of resettlement would be strengthened by a strategy
based on a needs analysis and opportunities for prisoners to engage with resettlement
services earlier in their sentences.
We were told that some resettlement services would be discontinued. It was not clear whether
this was for budgetary or other reasons. This compounded disruptions or cancellations to
many aspects of the prison regime, as described in this report, which were caused by staff
shortages and redeployments.
The treatment and conditions of simply too many prisoners at Wandsworth was demeaning,
unsafe and fell below what could be classed as decent. I did not detect sufficient willingness
in the prison to acknowledge and address these concerns. I hope the Prison Service
management will now act decisively to reverse the prison’s decline.

Nick Hardwick
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Time to use a massive show of force

As riots across London entered a third night and spread across the UK it is time for the police to use a massive show of force in order to retake the streets said Mark Leech, editor of Converse.

“In no other western European city would police just stand back and watch businesses being looted in front of their eyes – they would call upon a massive show of force to retake the streets and that is what needs to happen here.

“If that involves the use of the army so be it, but happen it must.

“I just wonder how the police would cope if this were to happen in a year’s time, after the Coalition Government has stripped the police of 30,000 officers, and with an Olympic Games to manage?”


Police & Politicians – ‘no different to rioters’

8/8/2011: 1250pm

The police and politicians who condemn those who have rioted in London over the last two days are little different themselves said Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national prisoners newspaper

“There is no respect for authority now – and police and politicians have themselves to blame for that.

“Police are taking backhanders from Murdoch, politicians are fiddling their expenses – those who loot shops are just as bad, but they are in reality no different to those in authority who have set a shocking example of misconduct.

“I do not condone what has happened but I like to think I can see the bigger picture – why should looters go to prison for stealing training shoes when the former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith wrongly claimed £110,000 in expenses and was only made to apologise and not pay back a single penny”?






The National Prisoners Newspaper

8th August 2011 – No Embargo


The Prison Service has increased its security state to amber in light of the riots that have hit London in the last two days – but it may be a double-edged sword said Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales.

Mr Leech said:  “It is right that the Prison Service are aware that what is happening on the streets could spill over into the prisons – particularly if those currently arrested end up in prison themselves.

“But they have a difficult line to tread between pre-empting unrest on one hand, and not seeking to incite it on the other.

“Politicians inflame the situation by just dismissing those who have caused this rioting as ‘mindless thugs’, rioting cannot be condoned, of course not, but equally politicians must strive to understand why it has happened even if they cannot explain it.


Lib Dems: “Decriminalise all personal drug use” policy

Liberal Democrats are poised to call for the decriminalisation of the possession of all drugs, insisting that current laws are “harmful” and “ineffective”.

Party members are almost certain to back a motion at next month’s conference urging the Government to set up an expert panel to consider the decriminalisation of personal drug use.

The motion will become party policy if it wins support at the conference in Birmingham, which is likely to provoke tensions with the party’s Conservative coalition partners.

The Lib Dems would like to see drug law reforms based on legislation in Portugal, where the personal use of any controlled drug is no longer a criminal offence.

Drug users would no longer face a prison sentence or fine but would instead be required to go for treatment or counselling. The current penalties for dealing drugs would not change.

The motion states that there is “increasing evidence that the UK’s drugs policy is not only ineffective and not cost-effective but actually harmful, impacting particularly severely on the poor and marginalised”.

It points out that those countries which have decriminalised possession of drugs have not seen increased use of those drugs relative to their neighbours.

“Individuals, especially young people, can be damaged both by the imposition of criminal records and by a drug habit, and … the priority for those addicted to all substances must be healthcare, education and rehabilitation, not punishment,” the motion says.

“One of the key barriers to developing better drugs policy has been the previous Labour government’s persistent refusal to take on board scientific advice, and the absence of an overall evaluative framework of the UK’s drugs strategy.”

Lib Dem members believe that an evidence-based policy could produce large savings for the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, which could be reinvested in education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes.

The motion will be moved by Ewan Hoyle, founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, and supported by Lib Dem MEP Sir Graham Watson.

Party members can submit amendments to the motion by September 5, ahead of the conference on September 17-21.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman dismissed a similar call from Labour ex-Cabinet minister Bob Ainsworth to legalise hard drugs last year.

Mr Ainsworth said the war on drugs had been “nothing but a disaster” and switching the trade from the hands of criminals to doctors and pharmacies appeared to be the best solution.

Asked whether David Cameron thought Mr Ainsworth’s ideas merited consideration, his spokesman said simply: “No.”

He added: “The Government is not in favour of legalisation of drugs because we don’t think it is the right approach.

“Drugs cause a lot of harm in society and we don’t think legalising them would be consistent with minimising that harm.”

But Mr Ainsworth claimed that the PM privately believed there should be a “full debate” on drug decriminalisation.

In a Westminster Hall debate in December, Mr Ainsworth said Mr Cameron had supported a Home Affairs Select Committee report in 2002 that called on the Government to reclassify Ecstasy from A to B.

The Labour MP added: “More importantly, it asked us to have a full debate on the alternatives to prohibition and the Member (Mr Cameron) went along with it. He supported it and he advocated it – and he was right to do so.

“But when he became the leader of the Conservative Party, for reasons best known to himself, he felt he needed to recant, and he said that he had been wrong to support that policy.

“I think that shines a light on exactly what the problem is here.”