Which side of the line are you on?

By Mark Leech
Editor: The Prisons Handbook

Well, which side of the line are you on?

People who assault police officers should face a “two strikes” system that results in a mandatory jail sentence for a second offence, Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Britain’s most senior officer, has said.

My question is: why?

As someone who knows a thing or two about crime and prisons let me ask this: why would we allow someone to land a second punch when the first one was bad enough?

If we really want to protect our police and prison officers – the latter of whom suffered 10,311 assaults in the 12 months to March 2019, up 15% from the previous year, a record high figure and one that in the latest quarter alone rose by a further 4% – then let’s get serious.

I know from personal, lamentable, experience, that anything less than a jail sentence is seen as ‘getting off’.

Trust me when I say this: custody counts – the swiftness with which it is delivered it absolutely vital – but let me be absolutely clear about this too.

We send far too many people to prison, many for the wrong reasons, spreading a wide criminal net, catching a lot of small fish, and giving those sentences in some cases that are frankly wrong – the homeless man, who lives in a tent, who has mental health issues and who, according to the judge who sentenced him to six months for contempt yesterday, received negligent professional legal representation, is a classic example of that.

But when it comes to attacking police or prison officers we need to see these offences in a completely different category of crime.

So if you are charged with attacking an Emergency Service Worker once, never mind twice, the presumption at first hearing should be against bail – the colleagues of police officers hospitalised one night, should not see the person they charged with the offence out on the streets the very next day.

I know some will say that goes against the presumption of innocence – but no it doesn’t, because the same argument applies equally to everyone charged with serious offences who are denied bail – the problem is magistrates and judges do not see attacks on Emergency Workers as serious offences; and they must be made to do so.

On conviction, an immediate custodial sentence should also be the presumption too – and with an Extended Sentence seen as the norm.

An Extended Sentence moves the release at the halfway point of a sentence to the two-thirds point, with release then dependent on the Parole Board, and it comes with an extended period of post-release supervision, balancing support with a vitally important standing of the ground to make clear such offences are intolerable and must be dealt with as such.

I am totally against mandatory sentences, they allow politicians to pass sentences and not judges, and that isn’t what I recognise as justice – but clearly this idea of you go to jail for the second police assault diminishes the seriousness of these crimes rather than elevates them to the level of seriousness that they rightly deserve.

What’s more, if we are not to simply transfer the violence against Emergency Workers from pavement to prison, then the way we deal with those who attack prison officers must be equally robust – justice needs to be as swift in prison as it needs to be on the streets – but the truth is that it isn’t.

Far too often the CPS refuse to proceed on prison officer assaults because they do not see the point of prosecuting someone and sending them to prison when they’re already there; it’s a major miscalculation and a green light to continue.

Drugs are awash in our jails, organised by gangs corrupt who inexperienced staff, while individuals prey on their own so-called loved ones who are themselves then corrupted to bring drugs in before being caught and then jailed themselves; if you genuinely love and care about someone, you just don’t put them in that position – that’s not a relationship, its cowardly, selfish, bullying.

Violence in prisons is at a record high, and don’t believe all the hype surrounding the recent figures on the ’10 Prisons Project’ – yes they do show promising results, but a true examination of them shows it was a real mixed bag of results and not the ‘we’ve turned a corner’ gloss put on it that some would have you believe – violence in some of those 10 prisons actually increased.

We need much more investment in violence reduction strategies inside our prisons, every prison has a violence reduction strategy but in Prison Inspectorate Report after Report I see criticisms that it is simply not being delivered nor given the importance that it deserves.

We have anger management courses in prisons for offenders, but places on them are thin on the ground, with neither the cash nor the trained staff are in place to deliver them.

We need airport-style security scanners at the front gate of every prison in the country – the Prime Minister will tell you that this is happening, I can tell you they haven’t even been ordered, and there is no bidding process either for their purchase or installation underway, nor any staff training programme in train for their operation either.

The police and prison officers are our first and last line of defence – an attack on them is an attack on everyone and we should see it as such and respond in a fair, just but absolutely robust way.

As Boris would say: “No If’s; No But’s”.

Either attacks on Emergency Workers are serious offences, or they’re not; which side of the line are you on?

www.markleech.com @prisonsorguk

Inmate charged over razor attack on prison officer

A 25-year old prison inmate has been charged with grievous bodily harm after an officer had his throat cut.

Michael McKenna, of HMP Nottingham, is accused of attacking a 23-year-old member of staff at the jail on Sunday.

He has been charged with grievous bodily harm, attempting to inflict grievous bodily harm and a racially aggravated public order offence.

McKenna was due to appear at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on Monday, Nottinghamshire Police said.

Prison Officers’ Association national chairman Mark Fairhurst said the officer, who was new to the job and still in his probationary period, needed 17 stitches after being attacked with a razor.

He has since been released from hospital.

An inspection report published last year found levels of violence at the prison were “very high”, with 103 assaults on staff in the previous six months.

Over the same period, there had been 198 incidents where prisoners had climbed on to safety netting between landings.

In the wake of the attack, prisons union the POA called for the roll-out of incapacitant spray to officers to be fast-tracked so that members have “equipment to deal with extreme violence”.

It said: “The Health and Safety of our members and indeed those in our care is paramount. Government ministers must now act swiftly before we are talking about a death of a serving prison officer.

“The violence in our jails as identified by this horrendous attack is at epidemic level and the union will not stand by and allow such attacks on our members.”

HMP Nottingham is a category B male prison which expanded in 2010 to hold 1,060 prisoners.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales – the definitive 1500-page annual reference book on prisons now in its 21st annual edition – said he found the issue around Pava spray ‘bizarre’.

Mr Leech said: “We allow all 18+ prisoners to have rechargeable e-cigarettes for Vaping; why don’t we just issue rechargeable electric razors?

“What I find really bizarre is that new entry Prison Officers under going their initial 12-week training are not at any point trained in the use of Pava spray.

“On their POELT course they are taught how to restrain prisoners, how to conduct cell extractions, and even how to blow a whistle properly – but deploying Pava spray does not form any part of their initial training before they are posted to their first establishment – I just ask the simple question ‘why’?”

 

Over 20% of Jails ‘of concern’ says MoJ

pplinprison
The performance of more than a fifth of prisons in England and Wales is “of concern”, a government body has said.

Its annual ratings show 28 out of 126 jails, including the three opened under the coalition government, are “of concern” – the third of four ratings.

Only one – Brinsford Young Offenders Institution in Wolverhampton – got the lowest “of serious concern” rating.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said prisons “are still running safe and decent regimes”.

The prisons opened under the current government are Oakwood in the West Midlands and Thameside and Isis, both in south London.

Oakwood and Thameside both opened in spring 2012 and are privately operated.

Isis, a publicly-run jail for adults and young offenders in south London, opened in July 2010.

The ratings come from the National Offender Management Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice.

Its Prison Rating System (PRS) lists performance in four categories: public protection, reducing reoffending, decency and resource management and operational effectiveness.

Overall performance is graded into one of four bands.

These bands are – 4: exceptional performance, 3: meeting majority of targets, 2: overall performance is of concern, and 1: overall performance is of serious concern.

Separate figures show the number of prisoners who died in custody in 2013-14 was 225 – up from 181 in the previous year and higher than in any of the previous nine years.

The figures in the report only go back to 2004-05, but the next-highest figure in that period was 211 in 2011-12.

Of the 2013-14 deaths, 88 were recorded as self-inflicted, 127 were from natural causes, three were homicides and seven were listed as “other”.

Speaking about the number of deaths, justice minister Andrew Selous said the government was “working hard to understand the reasons for the recent increase”.

“But this is a complex issue and there is no simple explanation, with the prison population containing a high proportion of very vulnerable individuals,” he said.

Mark Leech, editor of the national prisons newspaper Converse said Chris Grayling was “ignoring the facts”.

Mr Leech said: “We’ve been warning Grayling for the last two years that his policies of savage budget cuts would have devastating effects and, now they are, he is choosing to ignore the facts when all the evidence is overwhelming.

“You cannot strip half a billion pounds from prison service budgets and expect it to carry on as if nothing has happened – all the more so at a time of record overcrowding and a massive shortage of staff – its sheer lunacy to expect that nothing will give – of course it will, and it is doing.”

Prison Officer Assaults up by 45%

officerfullsutton

The number of serious assaults on prison officers by offenders has risen significantly under the coalition prompting one prisons expert to predict our prisons are on the verge of serious unrest.

A total of 543 assaults by prisoners on officers in jails were referred to the police in 2012, a 45% rise from the 374 assaults referred to police in 2010 when the coalition came to power, official figures showed.

The figure equated to nearly three assaults every two days in 2012.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said that dedicated and hard-working prison officers should not have to face violence at work and blamed the Government for allowing jails to become overcrowded.

Mr Khan, who unveiled the figures using a written parliamentary question, said: “How can ministers expect to rehabilitate criminals if prisons are dens of violence?

“On their watch, this Government have presided over prisons becoming more and more overcrowded and violent.

“We’ve seen call outs by the prison riot squad up sharply, and last year saw the highest number of deaths in custody for over a decade.

“And all the time prisoners are spending too much time idling away in their cells or on landings instead of undertaking meaningful activity like work, education or training.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that prisons are in crisis and the Government are either oblivious or simply don’t care.”

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is reviewing policy for managing violence in prisons.

Replying to Mr Khan’s question, he said: “NOMS takes the issue of assaults on prison staff very seriously. It currently has systems in place to deal with perpetrators quickly and robustly, with serious incidents referred to the police for prosecution.

“It is working with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that prisoners who assault staff are charged and punished appropriately.

“NOMS is committed to exploring options to continue to improve how violence is tackled in prisons to keep both staff and prisoners safe. It is currently reviewing the policy and practice of the management of violence.”

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales said the rise in assaults was largely due to savage budget cuts.

Mr Leech said: “Since 2010 over half a billion pounds has been slashed from prison budgets, resulting in fewer staff being employed and as a result already attenuated regimes being reduced even further.

“You cannot expect prison Governors to do everything with next to nothing, our prisons cannot be run on a shoe-string and while Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne are sitting pretty in their ivory towers our prisons are in increasing danger of exploding – I’d like to see Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne manning the landings at Full Sutton for a day; they’d soon change their tune.”