Grayling orders absconders to be named

grendon springhill

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said there will be “no nonsense” over the naming of on-the-run criminals whose identities had been kept secret by Government officials.

Thirteen out of 18 missing convicts, whose identities had been withheld because Government officials believed it would be “unfair” to publish them, have now been named.

Mr Grayling stated that data protection laws will not be used to protect them, arguing: ” They are wanted men and should be treated as such.

“That’s why on my watch we will not hold back their names, unless the police ask us not to for operational reasons.”

It comes after a Freedom of Information request by the Daily Mail to release the identities of missing prisoners had been rejected by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – without considering whether it would be in the public interest to release the information.

The request was made after armed robbed Michael Wheatley – known as “skull cracker” – absconded while on temporary release from an open prison three weeks ago.

Rapist Robert Jones, arsonist Shied Riasat, burglars Viorel Avadanii and Steven Fortnam and robbers Sean Morrisey, Cesk Hanja and Islam Aslam are among 13 names which have now been published, the Daily Mail reports.

Andrew Akuffo, who was serving life for wounding with intent, drugs and firearms offences, Michael Collinson who was given almost seven years for wounding with intent, and Tom Zolynski, a carer who stole £10,000 from a frail, elderly man, are also at large.

The other three are fraudster Ismail Hasko, drink driver John Wilson and drug dealer Leacroft Wallace.

The Mail notes that of the five names being withheld, two have been recaptured and face criminal charges while police have asked for three more to remain classified on “operational” grounds.

Mr Grayling said: “We take any abscondings very seriously, reporting it to the police immediately. The police catch most of them quickly.

“Even so, I think the rules in open prisons have been too lax and I am tightening them.

“There’ll be more stringent risk assessments, and anyone who absconds will get a longer sentence and will be banned from going back to an open prison.

“From the end of this year, we’ll also use GPS tags to monitor where they are.”

He also suggested the number of people absconding from open prisons is a “small fraction” of what it was ten years ago.

The fact that 18 prisoners had absconded since May 2010 and not returned to custody was originally released in a parliamentary answer given to Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan on April 1 by Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright.

Wheatley – who fled Standford Hill open prison on May 3 – was been arrested along with another man in east London earlier this month.

Kent Police said Wheatley, 55, and another man aged 53 were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit armed robbery in Tower Hamlets. He was also arrested on suspicion of being unlawfully at large.

Wheatley, who earned his nickname after pistol-whipping victims, had gone on the run twice in the past and each time staged a series of violent robberies before being caught and re-jailed.

Legal Challenge – but is there really a ban on prisoners having books?

Prisoner reading a book

The government’s so-called ban on prisoners receiving books is facing a legal challenge, with one prisons expert asserting there is no ban on books at all.

The Ministry of Justice and secretary of state Chris Grayling have been criticised over the Earned Privileges Scheme, which sees prisoners banned from receiving books and other items in the post.

Now a female inmate, known as BGJ, has decided to challenge the ban, according to the BBC.

BBC Newsnight’s political editor Emily Maitlis said: “She [the prisoner] is an epilepsy sufferer, very highly qualified and she has said her life is in despair without access to these books, which have really been taking her through this life sentence that she will serve.”

The MoJ says the legal challenge comes outside of the three-month window for appealing against a new policy, as the scheme was introduced in November.

The BBC said the lawyers would press ahead with the challenge, arguing that the policy had been brought in at different times in different prisons and that BGJ had only been affected in the past 10 days.

Authors and human rights groups have condemned the policy, which Grayling has previously defended as a measure to stop illicit materials being smuggled into prisons.

Writers including Carol Ann Duffy, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Mark Haddon have protested against ther ban, but Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said there was no ‘ban on books’ just a restriction on where they could come from.

Mr Leech said: “Anyone who reads Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 30/2013, which brought in the new Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, can see there is no ban on books at all – just a general restriction that they cannot be sent in from family because of cases where pages have been doused with liquid drugs which are then cut up and sold to prisoners – but even then Governors have discretion to allow it [para 10.4].

“For example page 46 of PSI 30/2013 states ‘Specialist products including.. books.. may be purchased by prisoners for their own use’.

“Page 56 states Prisoners are allowed a maximum of 12 books in possession for their own use, and page 62 says that Governors may not prevent unconvicted prisoners from having supplied to them at their own expense..books.

“Where is this ban – I am a publisher and we send around 100 books a week in to prisoners, none of which have been withheld.

“I believe that any legal challenge is destined to fail, it would be bizarre if the Secretary of State could not make restrictions on security grounds which limit potential souces of abuse, and the courts have a long history of being reluctant to look behind ‘security grounds’ advanced as reasons for policy.

“Its unlikely that any challenge will get off the ground anyway because the PSI came into force on 1st November 2013 and the rule is that any legal challenge to it must be brought ‘promptly’ and, in any event, not later than 3 months after the grounds to make the claim first arose infact there have been cases brought within the three month time limit which were nonethless ruled out of time because they were not brought ‘promptly’.” (CPR Part 54.5 and ex.p Finn-Kelcey)

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Prisoner Vote Decision Delayed Again

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A decision over whether prisoners should be given the vote could delayed until after the next general election, the Justice Secretary has indicated.

Chris Grayling said complex recommendations made by a cross-party committee about how to deal with the controversial issue had caused delays, and refused to rule out kicking the issue into the next parliament.

The Tory last year published a draft Bill offering MPs three options – giving the vote to prisoners serving less than four years or less than six months or keeping the blanket ban.

After the recommendations were set out, a committee of MPs and peers recommended that voting rights should be given to prisoners serving short sentences or approaching the end of their time behind bars.

They said it would be ”wholly disproportionate” for the UK to defy a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which has said Britain’s ban on votes for those behind bars is a breach of their human rights.

The committee called on the Government to table a Bill granting the vote in local, general and European elections to those serving less than 12 months or within six months of release, with exceptions for those convicted of serious crimes.

Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear he does not want to extend votes to prisoners, telling MPs it would make him ”physically ill”, and a House of Commons vote in 2011 saw MPs vote by an overwhelming 234 to 22 to preserve the ban.

Quizzed by the House of Lords Constitution committee about the Government’s progress, Mr Grayling said the committee’s recommendation was the reason for the “slightly slow response”.

He said: “The position we are in at the moment is we are still considering the response from the committee, and the reason that we are taking a bit of time over this is not that we have moved away from our earlier position but because the option that the committee recommended – which was to provide, or to be considered, providing votes for prisoners in the last few months of their sentence – actually is quite complex.

“So, we need to take quite a careful look at what the viability is of doing that. Obviously, I would wish, in whatever measures in due course are brought before the House, to be able to reflect the views of the committee, but it is not something where you can simply tick the box and say ‘yep, fine’.

“It’s actually quite different to anything that has previously been envisaged. It does require some careful analysis.”

Asked if the delays meant the matter would probably be pushed beyond the end of the parliament, Mr Grayling replied: “I couldn’t say that for certain yet. But it certainly wasn’t a straightforward recommendation because, as you can imagine, we have got people at different stages of their sentence, we have got people who are on indeterminate sentences, and so looking at how exactly you deal with that, and of course, people who are subject to parole board release as opposed to automatic release again causes a logistical issue for us.”

Mr Grayling told the committee it was Conservative policy to replace the Human Rights Act but insisted the details of how that would be done would be set out in the party’s manifesto.

On The Run Offenders Face Extra Time

Criminals who go on the run to avoid being sent back behind bars could face an extra two years in prison under new measures announced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
The new measure is aimed at punishing criminals who have been released from prison but abscond to avoid being recalled for breaching their licence conditions.
Under current laws, once they are caught they can be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence, but there is no additional penalty for going on the run.
The introduction of a new offence of being unlawfully at large following recall to custody will mean they could face additional punishment when they are recaptured and hauled before the courts.
The Ministry of Justice said around 800 criminals a year could face prosecution under the new offence which will carry a maximum two-year sentence.
It is already a criminal offence to escape from jail, to not surrender to custody when on bail and to not return from release on temporary licence, and this change will close a loophole in the law when offenders remain unlawfully at large following recall to custody.
Mr Grayling said: “It is unacceptable that criminals who disregard the law and attempt to evade the authorities are able to do so with impunity.
“I am today sending a clear message to those people that if you try to avoid serving your sentence you will face the consequences when you are caught. I think the hard-working taxpayers of this country would expect nothing less than tough punishment for offenders who try and beat the system.
“From my first day in this job I have been clear that punishment must mean punishment. We’re on the side of people who work hard and want to get on and my message is simple – if you break the law, you will not get away with it.”

Prison Disturbances: tip of an iceberg?

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Government cuts to prisons sparked a disturbance involving around 40 inmates at a jail in Kent, the Prison Officers’ Association have warned – while another prisons expert said it was the tip of an iceberg.

Police and fire crews had to be deployed to Maidstone Prison when the trouble erupted in one of the wings.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed that it was resolved last night. It is believed to have lasted more than three hours.

A prison services spokeswoman said the incident had been resolved without any injuries to staff or prisoners.

There was no evidence of damage, she added.

“An investigation is under way and the perpetrators will be dealt with appropriately by the prison,” she said.

A second demonstration by prisoners at Rye Hill Prison, near Rugby in Warwickshire, was unrelated to the Maidstone incident, the prison services spokeswoman said.

“There was a passive demonstration at HMP Rye Hill where around 60 offenders refused to return to their cells,” she said.

“This was peacefully resolved within a few hours.”

Prison Officers Association vice chairman Ralph Valerio said the Maidstone Prison riot was in response to new regime changes and staff cuts that resulted in prisoners having to spend more times in their cells.

“Try to put yourself in the shoes of the offender – you find yourself spending more time locked up with less time to be able to call your family and less time to be able to have social interaction with the staff and with other offenders on that wing then it can have a detrimental effect,” he told Sky News.

“As a trade union we have been warning against this for some time.

“The prison system is going through a tremendous amount of change at a tremendous rate of pace and it’s a warning that the rate of change is unprecedented.”

Maidstone, with an inmate population of about 600, is a category C training prison that predominantly houses sex offenders from the Kent and Sussex areas.

The prison also takes in a number of foreign prisoners with more than 18 months to serve.

Rye Hills a category B training prison holding 664 men who have been sentenced to more than four years, and have at least 18 months left to serve.

Criminologist Professor David Wilson said prison guards probably enacted Operation Tornado to bring the latest riot under control.

It is a proven method using specialist officers that has been used many times before, he said.

“These are very well-tested systems and so it will be about trying to bring order back to HMP Maidstone,” he told Sky News.

“In these situations it’s usually a question of being some particular incident that ignites the prisoners who want to take this kind of action and sometimes that action gets out of control.”

Mr Valerio said the staff were well trained to deal with the situation.

“We have a contingency plan, the prison service is very, very good at dealing with these sorts of situations and the staff involved in that

The disturbances come just days after a clampdown on prison perks began to be rolled out.

Under changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, prisoners in England and Wales will have to earn privileges including the right to wear their own clothes.

Certificate 18-rated movies and subscription channels have also been banned from private prisons.

Mr Valerio said the government can expect to see more disruption across all prisons as a result of the scheme and budget cuts which have impacted staffing levels.

“Staff had been warning that unrest was growing among the prisoners at that prison,” he told the BBC.

“We can expect to see that no just at Maidstone but across the prison service in England and Wales.

“Prisons will potentially become more dangerous places as this scheme is rolled out.”

He said contact with staff is crucial for prisoners

A Prison Service spokeswoman added: “All our prisons run a safe and secure regime and are staffed appropriately.

“We are currently introducing reforms to the prison system that will provide better value for taxpayers while protecting the public and improving the chances of prisoners being rehabilitated.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners said reforms being introduced would spark unrest in jails across the country.

Mr Leech said: “The reforms which Grayling is introducing have nothing at all to do with better value for tax payers or increased rehabilitation for prisoners, they are about one thing and one thing only – appearing tough in order to be re-elected.

“Grayling is completely uneducated about prisons, he is risking the safety of prison officers and prisoners in a dangerous game of politics with our prisons and I have a dreadful fear that what we have seen at Rye Hill and Maidstone are just the tip of an iceberg of prisoner discontent across the prison system.”

Grayling In Prison Privileges Crackdown

Chris Grayling

All convicted male prisoners are to be banned from watching violent and sexually explicit films as part of a crackdown on “perks” that comes into effect today.

Inmates will also be required to wear a uniform for their first two weeks behind bars, and will lose automatic access to daytime television and gym equipment.

The changes to the prison service’s incentives and earned privileges regime have been ordered by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, and will apply across England and Wales.

The requirement to wear prison clothes and restrictions on access to private cash will be compulsory for all convicted prisoners for the first fortnight of their sentence as part of a new “entry level” to the system. Female prisoners will not have to wear a uniform. In most cases the uniform will involve a grey or maroon tracksuit with a light blue T-shirt. In some jails older uniforms with a striped top will be worn.

Grayling has said that under the new policy a lack of bad behaviour will not be enough to earn privileges. Instead inmates will have to work actively towards their rehabilitation and help other prisoners.

The justice secretary has been particularly exercised about access to television for prisoners. The 4,000 inmates in privately run jails will not be able to watch Sky Sports or other subscription channels that are not available to public sector prison inmates.

All prisoners are to be banned from watching daytime television when they should be doing purposeful activities.

Prison governors have been working to make staff and prisoners aware of the changes since April to ensure the scheme is implemented safely.

Earlier this week Vicky Pryce, who was jailed along with her ex-husband, the former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, warned that there could be rioting when the changes come into effect. “There’s very little else to do in prison but watch television. It’s one of the very few things that these people have,” she said. “And if they take those away from their cells, as the government is saying it will do now, there will be riots, serious riots. And that is not an overstatement.”

But Grayling defended the changes saying: “For too long the public has seen prisoners spending their days languishing in their cells watching TV, using illegal mobile phones to taunt their victims on Facebook or boasting about their supposedly easy life in prisons. This is not right and it cannot continue.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for Prisoners said the crack down was “playing a dangerous game of politics with prisons.”

Mr Leech said: “The reason why so many prisoners spent their days locked up in their cells is because Grayling has cut prison budgets to the bone, there is no money for workshops and, even if there was, there isn’t the money to employ the amount of staff needed to escort them there.

“Grayling is playing a dangerous game of politics with prisons, it’s all very well him sitting safe and secure in his Whitehall office – it is prison staff on the landings who have to translate these dangerous policies into practice.”

Prisoners Replace Probation Officers Claims Labour

probation

The Coalition is sacking probation officers and paying former prisoners to take their place, Labour claimed today.

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter questioned the costs and merits of the Government’s new prisoner rehabilitation plans.

Outlining the proposals in the Commons, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the new policy would mean lower reoffending rates by ensuring prisoners were properly managed when they left jail by “for the first time creating continuity between custody and community”.

But Mr Slaughter said: “It’s not probation officers who will now undertake 70% of supervision – you place a great deal of faith in reformed old lags helping out but you admitted on the Today programme these will have to be paid.

“So, professional probation officers sacked and replaced by ex-offenders. Is this your brave new world?”

Mr Slaughter said it was “disappointing” it had taken the coalition “three wasted years” to reach the conclusion on the need to cut reoffending.

He said Labour in government made some progress on cutting reoffending and said Mr Grayling’s plans were “ambitious”.

“Unfortunately, it’s a programme based on fewer resources, untried and untested methods, and putting faith in exactly those private sector organisations that have failed to deliver other major public sector contracts,” he said.

Mr Slaughter asked if there would be more money available or if existing resources would be spread more thinly, and he questioned the cost of reorganising the prison system to create the Government’s proposed “resettlement prisons”.

The shadow minister said: “You know the prison estate is chronically overcrowded and understaffed, so do you seriously think a reorganisation can take place against such a backdrop?”

Mr Slaughter questioned whether ex-offenders would get priority for social housing during “the worst housing shortage for a generation”.

He added: “Reducing reoffending while maintaining public safety should be our twin priorities.

“A focus on reoffending is to be welcomed but the Government’s ill thought-out policies and total reliance on payment by results are putting the safety of communities up and down the country at risk.”

The changes will mean every offender leaving prison must serve a minimum of 12 months under supervision in the community.

Mr Grayling said all offenders who enter prison, even for just a few days, will be subject to new supervision and will be given support through housing, employment, training and substance abuse programmes.

The reforms, to be rolled out across England and Wales by 2015, will see around 65,000 offenders serving sentences of up to two years receive extended rehabilitation.

Responding to Mr Slaughter in the Commons, Mr Grayling said: “I don’t understand why you are coming up with this faux anger about what we are doing when the legislative foundations that enable us to push through these reforms were passed by the last Labour government.

“If they supported this concept then, why do they not support it now?”

He defended the plans to use former prisoners after it was demonstrated as effective in test schemes.

Mr Grayling said: “You need to go and look, not in the world of big business but in the voluntary sector, where some of our first-rate charities have got living examples today of former offenders who have gone straight and are now helping turn the lives around of a next generation of offenders.

“I want to capture those skills in helping bring down reoffending.”

The Justice Secretary said the coalition did not believe all problems would be solved by “throwing money” at them.

“Are we actually saying it is not possible to run the system more efficiently and deliver support where it is needed to the offenders most likely to reoffend when they leave prison?” he said.

“Again, the divide between us and them. They think it is just a question of spending more taxpayers’ money, higher taxes. We want to get better value for the taxes we already raise.”

Mr Grayling said the resettlement prisons would make the prison estate work better and stop the need for prisoners to be moved across the country.

He said the plans had been worked up in conjunction with governors and other experts.

He told MPs: “Short sentence offenders will almost always stay in one place and longer sentence offenders will come to a prison close to where they are going to be released so when they are released we can provide continuity of support through the prison gate.

“It’s the right thing to do, it should have been done years ago.”

Mark Leech, editor of  Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said it was little more than a charade.

“I passionately believe that successful ex-offenders have a role to play in helping others reform, but its a charade to think they can replace skilled and qualified probation officers.

“When the reoffending figures rise or refuse to fall what is the next big idea to be – handcuffing offenders to police officers perhaps?

“This Justice Secretary says he wants to get drugs off the streets – well it might be an idea if he first managed to keep them out of jails.”

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said breaking the cycle of crime means breaking the dependency on drugs.

The Labour MP said: “Can I ask him (Mr Grayling) to be very careful about choosing providers on drugs rehabilitation, like G4S, who may have expertise in tagging, and they are obviously very good at that; however, they don’t have the expertise as far as rehabilitation on drugs is concerned.”

Mr Grayling replied that the Government has to be “absolutely certain” that the organisations it recruits have got the necessary expertise.

“I have no intention whatever of contracting with organisations that cannot demonstrate that they have got real and genuine expertise in delivering the solutions we need, I give him that reassurance.”

Barrister Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough, Oadby and Wigston) also urged the minister to ensure that small groups, such as charities and individuals, had a chance alongside bigger contractors to “carry people from prison out into the community” so there is no gap between incarceration and going out into society.

He added that he wants reassurances that people in prison will leave jail being able to read, with the average inmate currently having the reading age of an 11-year-old.

Sir Edward said: “You cannot get a job if you cannot read.”

Mr Grayling said one of the elements of the new contracts will be to put together resettlement services in prisons and support out of prisons to create a “genuinely joined-up service”.

He added that there were examples of older, more experienced offenders who have gone through the prison system helping younger inmates.

Mr Grayling said he wants to see prisoners who can read teaching those who cannot.

Conservative Philip Davies (Shipley) questioned what weight is being put on longer prisonsentences as figures suggest these reduce rates of re-offending.

He said: “The figures from his department are perfectly clear that the longer people spend in prison the less likely they are to re-offend, largely because it gives them the time to do things like teach people to read whilst they are in prison before they are released.”

Mr Grayling said the length of time people had been spending in prison was increasing and he agreed they needed to take the opportunity to turn around the lives of people in jail.

But he added: “Those who are today saying short sentences don’t work, they shouldn’t happen, they always miss the point that 80% of people that arrive in our prisons have already been through a community sentence and it hasn’t worked.”

Concerns were raised in the Commons by Labour MPs about the opportunities for public sector organisations to bid for payment by results contracts.

Earlier in the questions, shadow minister for public health Diane Abbott, said: “How can it be a good thing to exclude some of the people with the most expertise and professional training in these matters?”

Mr Grayling said it was not correct to suggest the public sector would miss out and probation staff are being actively encouraged and supported to form their own mutual organisations to bid for contracts.