The shocking real world true story of life behind today’s prison gates

By Mark Leech

This is a brutally honest account of life on the other side of the prison gate – it comes from a senior manager, working in a prison today where the majority of prisoners are serving long term sentences; this person has been in the Prison Service for over 20 years, and I have known them personally for more than a decade.

Here is what he, or she, thinks of life on the landings, and of the Prison Officers Association too.

Be prepared for a brutally honest account.

I have four new officers on First improvement warnings for sickness, they are all still in their Probationary period and with work-related stress being the main factor.

One of them has childhood mental health issues, he actually has his own mental health team, and he can’t cope.

Another has bouts of anxiety and depression.

A third has just had a wobble and doesn’t look like he will survive.

And a fourth who is always crying.

We may be getting bums on seats, unfortunately they’re not the right bums.

My staff go sick at the drop of a hat.

Instructors are told to get them through whatever…..

Our biggest issue outside of self-harm and violence is staff related issues with NEW staff.. in my opinion less than 10% of staff are good, sadly the rest are in it just for a job.

We need to bring back Boards, where potential staff are interviewed on their suitability – let me say, many are NOT suitable and we spend too much time dealing with staff issues.

I’m pretty fortunate, my reputation gives me a degree of flexibility in terms of how I have managed my staff, they respect me, because I don’t sugar coat issues, I don’t blow smoke up their asses either.

I tell them every day what I expect, I give them SMART objectives, they get them done.

To be fair, when I’m not the Orderly Officer, I’m on my wing, I have an open-door policy and both staff and residents are continually in and out. I am everything that I disliked about my PO/CM when I was an officer.

The residents like it, I tend to sort out more issues, my staff like it because I take the pressure off them and I will stand on the landings and talk with the lads and in some cases the girls too, but unfortunately experience is very rare.

In time they will get experience, but sadly we don’t have that time.

You can’t blame the Governors; they’re doing a job with one arm and leg tied behind their backs.

All is clearly not well inside our prisons.

Getting more staff on the landings is vital – but nowhere near as important as getting the right staff on the landings and the evidence of this senior manager is that this is simply not happening.

In April 2017 when the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was subject to yet another reorganisation and morphed into what is today HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), one of the consequences was that it lost control of prison officer recruitment – which was passed to the Ministry of Justice.

I have never understood the logic behind it and the consequences of it are that we are today clearly locked in a desperate scramble to get the number of officers on the landings back to where they should be; but this cannot simply be a numerical issue.

It has to be the right people, selected for the right reasons, capable of doing an extremely difficult job in the right way – HMPPS today has the task of training Prison Officers, surely they should be the ones who select those people in the first place?

A part of the problem is the Prison Officers Association, and it is true to say I have been a critic of this organisation for many years. Prior to the opening of the first private prison in 1992, POA entrenched industrial practices developed over decades meant that prison governors where held in an industrial headlock by the POA – forbidden from introducing any changes unless the local branch of the POA first agreed; the tail was wagging the dog.

If the local branch of the POA disagreed with a reform a prison governor wanted to introduce they entered what was called a Failure To Agree process, a series of negotiations that could go on for years, and often did.

Prior to 1992 prisons were run for the benefit of prison staff, not for prisoners or the public who paid for them. Many prisoners were locked up 23 hours a day, in appalling Dickensian conditions where many were subject to abuse and violence from prison officers.

Many officers were racist, openly displaying National Front lapel badges.

Some prisons at this time – 1990 – had their own social clubs, usually just outside the main prison gate, which served alcohol at lunchtime with the result some staff went back on duty in the afternoon having been drinking and creating a danger to themselves, their judgment and everyone else – and there was little the Governor could do about it.

If you are interested in what our prisons were really like just a couple of years before the first private prison opened in the UK watch this documentary.

When privatisation came along in 1992 finally those in charge in private prisons were freed from the industrial POA headlock. The union representing private sector prison officers signed no strike agreements, where their industrial issues were settled by discussing things like adults around a table.

It incensed the POA who staged walk outs and took strike action – in effect they cut their own throats.

Prison officers were then banned from striking under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Under Section 127 of the Act it is an offence for any prison officer to take, continue to take, or be induced by others to take,  any industrial action or to commit a breach of discipline.

Following the election of a Labour Government in 1997 this law was temporarily replaced in 2000 by a voluntary agreement between the government and the POA, which ruled out strike action as a way of solving disputes – but the POA failed to keep to their word.

After a “protest meeting” in 2006, the government responded by re-enacting the 1994 Act and legally banned strikes again at the High Court.

The High Court clarified in 2017 the effect of section 127, which the court said meant that POA members cannot withhold their “services as a prison officer”, or take any action that would be “likely to put at risk the safety of any person”.

This included withdrawal from what were voluntary services – like the provision of first aid and the taking of assessments to determine whether prisoners are at risk of suicide or self-harm – in addition to their contractual obligations; POA industrial action of any kind had been neutered – and it only had itself to blame.

The POA is a union locked in industrial practices that are 40 years out of date, they behave in many respects like the British Leyland Shop Stewards of the 1970s, believing, wrongly, that they are in some way a layer of prison management – which they are not and must never be.

The mentality of the POA is to criticise everything that the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS does, to see nothing good in any kind of reform for prisons, and many POA officials have all the negotiating skills of a brick wall.

Technically the POA represent the vast majority of prison staff – but in practice the only reason prison officers join the POA is for the legal cover it provides them with in cases of injury or disciplinary conduct hearings.

When it comes to the POA membership having faith in elected POA officials, the union’s pathetic election results speak for themselves.

Click to Enlarge

The results of the most recent POA Election of Union Officials in 2017 makes the point starkly.

In June 2017 the POA sent out 25,529 ballot papers to its Members to Elect a National Chairman and NEC officials – less than 10 percent of these ballot papers were even returned; 2,225 to be exact or just 8.7% – and of those, almost 200 ballot papers were spoilt – an effective way for even the 8.7% of POA Members who voted making the point they believed in none of those who were standing for office.

Mark Fairhurst was elected as National Chairman by just four percent (4%) of POA Members – FOUR PER CENT.

Put another way, Ninety Six percent (96%) of POA Members eligible to vote did NOT vote for him – yet he is their National Chairman – paid for by you and me, the taxpayer, who funds his salary as a Prison Officer despite the fact that half the time he doesn’t work as one at all.

I believe in trade unions, I fully support what they do, the vital functions they discharge and their right to represent their members – what I object to is that in the case of the POA it is the taxpayer who pays 100% of the salaries of POA union officials – yet gives them 50% time off from being the prison officers they are paid to be.

If they work half the time for their members, then it is their members who, deriving the benefits of their union work, that should pay half their salary.

The public deserves value for its money, and it simply isn’t getting it when we pay people to do a full time job but who only work half the time.

The POA are the first to claim that the chaos in our prison system has been caused by the loss of 7,000 experienced frontline prison officers, who were given generous voluntary redundancy packages – known as VEDS – in 2013/14.

What they are less keen to admit to is that it was themselves who did not object to the loss of these officers at the time – they did not ask their Members to vote on VEDS, they sought no mandate from them as to whether they should support or oppose these brutal staff cuts, quietly they went along with it – and the chaos we have today is the result.

In 2018 Phil Wheatley, the former Director General of the Prison Service explained it like this:

At this time the only way of making the required expenditure cuts, now that reducing the prison population was off the political agenda, was by reducing both the numbers of prison staff, at all levels – and also their cost.
The POA did not, as might have been expected, oppose this; lured by a promise that market-testing prisons would be abandoned and that generous early retirement terms would be offered to existing staff.

When I asked Mark Fairhurst, the POA National Chairman, in September 2018, why the POA had not opposed these disastrous staffing cuts, given the chaos that had resulted and which they surely must have seen coming a mile off he admitted the POA had whimpishly caved in, sacrificing the safety of their members on their altar of anti-privatisation.

“We had no choice” he wrote. “There was a gun to our heads.
“Accept it or go through wholesale market testing leading to a majority of private prisons.”

So there we have it – the POA were prepared to risk absolute chaos in our prisons,  where prison staff (their members) would be massively outnumbered, subject to increasing levels of assaults and all because the POA did not want to compete with private prisons.

And its not only their agreement to staff cuts that the POA seek to conceal, it is when their members are convicted in criminal courts of corruption that they remain tight-lipped too.

The POA refuses to issue any press statement condemning any prison officer convicted of corruption – whether it is bringing in drugs, mobile phones or knives, engaging in illicit sexual affairs with prisoners, stealing prisoners’  property, or forging documents that conceal the truth about deaths in custody – and there have been convictions of prison officers for each of these things – they say nothing.

On the other hand, when staff are assaulted by prisoners who are then rightly convicted and punished by the courts – the POA screams from the rooftops.

I don’t blame them for that, I condemn assaults on prison staff publicly too – but all I ask for is some degree of balance; you can’t condemn a prisoner for assaulting an officer on one hand, and yet say nothing at all when five prison officers are jailed for physical assaults on prisoners.

But that is what they do.

And it isn’t just that they are silent when prison officers are convicted of attacking prisoners either – the POA remain silent and complicit when prison officers attack other prison officers too.

The recent shameful case of Prison Officer Ben Plaistow, who suffered a year long series of homophobic assaults and humiliation by fellow prison officers and who recently won a damning case before an Employment Tribunal – he too has been totally ignored by the POA.

The vast majority of prison officers are decent, professional, hard-working honest people, doing a job I personally would not do for a £100K a year.

They each deserve the public’s support, they all deserve the public’s appreciation, but most importantly they all deserve professional industrial representation by a trade union that believes in decency and respect for everyone.

They deserve a trade union that isn’t constantly banging the table issuing  demands, holding out the prospect of unrest by taking prisoners hostage with threats of illegal strike action in order to force industrial concessions.

They deserve a trade union that recognises those tactics achieve nothing at all for anyone; least of all their increasingly demoralised membership whose refusal to vote for union officials in their tens of thousands, should ring POA alarm bells like nothing else ever could.

Thameside IMB Annual Report: “There are 70+ gangs with members in the prison who need to be kept apart.”





The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Thameside, a public sector prison in London, has published it annual report.


HMP Thameside holds a diverse and fluctuating prisoner population with different needs (young and elderly, remand and convicted [short and long sentences], UK and foreign nationals). Every day it accepts whomever the courts and HMPPS send it, and the average stay is short. Operating within, but very close to, its operating capacity of 1232 men, it has been ‘crowded’ throughout the reporting year (as defined by HMPPS). It meets these challenges well.

Main judgements

Are prisoners treated fairly?

The prison’s systems and practices are properly designed to be fair but the IMB is seriously concerned at the unfair impact of inadequate management of some processes. Areas of ‘low level’ unfairness identified in the 2016/17 Annual Report persist (5.7). Far from improving, the handling of prisoners’ complaints deteriorated markedly at the end of 2017/18 (5.9). The organisation of home detention curfew (11.6) remains unreliable. Delays making repairs when equipment is broken (7.1, 7.2, 7.8), cancellation of activity sessions (7.3), and more use of restricted regime with men spending longer in their cells (7.4), all cause the IMB growing disquiet. A simple task, like delivering necessary post to prisoners, has been taking up to two weeks (5.8). Nevertheless, the IMB can also report that the prison has implemented valuable initiatives, detailed in the evidence sections below (e.g. 4.2.1, 4.4, 5.1, 8.4, 8.7, 10.4, 11.5).

Are prisoners treated humanely?

HMP Thameside remains a humane prison with an unoppressive ethos. The nine protected characteristics are taken seriously and prisoners’ basic rights are recognised (5.1). The Early Days Centre provides appropriate oversight when men first arrive (4.6) but the care with which the ACCT system is implemented deteriorated during 2017/18 (4.3). Adjudications and Reviews are conducted humanely (6.4, 6.7). A smoking ban was introduced in March 2018 following good preparation. Men suffering from the withdrawal of tobacco are helped (8.2). The quality of healthcare is not consistent. There are unexplained delays in treatment or referral (8.4). Some men held in the In-Patient Unit have too little time out of cell (8.3.2).

Are prisoners prepared well for their release?

Prisoners committed to HMP Thameside stay for periods ranging from a few days to several years. The average is 5 weeks (11.1). Many have needs that cannot be met by the prison. Because of their diversity, it is impractical to establish all-inclusive programmes to prepare men for life in society. Disappointingly, the availability of suitable accommodation for released men remains poor (11.4). A typical prisoner leaving the establishment has not been prepared well for a law-abiding lifestyle. On the plus side, substance misusers are helped whilst in prison (8.7); maintenance of family links is supported well (7.7, 11.5); some men improve their numeracy and literacy (9.2), or gain employment-related skills in textiles or reprographics (10.4); job fairs involving employers are organised (10.5). However, such measures impacted a fraction of the ~1500 men who were released in 2017/18 (11.1).


Violence. Levels of violence within the prison remain too high but have declined slightly since 2016/17. During the final quarter of the reporting year the average monthly number of assaults (prisoner on prisoner and prisoner on staff) was 39 (43 in 2016/17), with 8 classed as serious (9 in 2016/17). The prison does not collect similar data about prisoner on prisoner and staff on prisoner bullying but there has been an increase in Applications to the IMB alleging bullying (Section D).

4.2 Violence reduction. There are two limbs to violence reduction – (i) organisational arrangements to minimise the opportunities for violent behaviour and (ii) behavioural interventions to help those prone to anger and violence to increase their self-control.

4.2.1 There are 70+ gangs with members in the prison who need to be kept apart. This is done well, through close understanding of gang affiliations and enmities and good intelligence. In May 2018, a revised regime for the movement of prisoners (to activities, etc.) was introduced. Early indications are that it reduces violent incidents though it appears to have consequences in other areas that need to be addressed (7.8, 8.3.2).

4.2.2 Behavioural interventions are less impressive. Given the classification of the prison, longer term violence reduction courses are not run. There is a reliance on in-cell reading packs which require the willingness, often absent, of prisoners to get involved. A new programme, due to start in August 2018, facilitates more staff interaction with violent offenders, but without good supporting courses its effectiveness will be limited.

4.3 Vulnerable prisoners. The IMB’s monitoring this year has reinforced its 2016/17 opinion that “Assessment Care in Custody Teamwork (ACCT) paper-work … does not encourage officers to monitor vulnerable prisoners thoughtfully because it promotes a box-ticking mind-set”. In May 2018, a spot check of all 42 ACCT documents then open found little evidence of mental health needs assessment or therapeutic input from NHS staff to care plans, or of regular meaningful interactions between prisoner and custodial staff as specified by an ACCT. Not all routine observation records were reliable. The prison identified this weak practice early in 2018 but has not succeeded in correcting it.

4.4 Self-harm. Prisoner self-harm incidents (as reported in the prison’s daily meeting) averaged over one a day in June 2018; few were life threatening, and repeat selfharming by the same prisoner is common. The number is static but too high. The safer custody team have introduced several initiatives, such as identifying men who seldom interact with other prisoners, spending considerable time withdrawn in their cells, and providing social opportunities to help take them out of themselves. This is good.

4.5 Deaths in Custody. There were two deaths in custody during 2017/18. Neither was apparently self- inflicted. Inquests have yet to be held.

4.6 Early days. The Early Days regime introduced in January 2017 has bedded down. All new arrivals are monitored with particular care by officers on a dedicated wing, with readily available trained prisoner ‘insiders’ to offer help and reassurance.

4.7 Health and safety. The prison’s design and construction make it generally healthy and safe. The smoking ban introduced in March is positive. Rodent infestation is now better controlled. Significant resources are committed to eliminating corruption and preventing drugs and phones entering the prison. Much is intercepted, but not everything. In June, 31% of mandatory random drug tests were positive (mostly ‘spice’).

4.8 Prisoners sometimes put themselves at risk. The monthly averages during April to June 2018 were 7 incidents at height, 2 cell fires, 16 drugs finds, 6 hooch finds and 7 improvised weapons. Sometimes men tamper with electrical equipment. Substance misuse, especially taking ‘spice’, regularly damages both health and safety.

Read the full report here

£1 Million Paid For Lost Prisoner Property

Prisoners have received more than a million pounds in compensation for lost or damaged property in the last five years, new figures reveal.

Over 13,000 taxpayer-funded payouts have been made since 2013 for items including clothing, trainers, DVD players and hair clippers.

In December, the Press Association revealed that 10,357 compensation payments were issued to inmates held at state prisons in England and Wales for lost and damaged property from 2013-14 to 2016-17.

Six-figure sums were paid out in each of the four years, adding up to £855,541.02.

New statistics obtained from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) following a further Freedom of Information request by the Press Association show 2,666 awards were made in relation to prisoners’ belongings in 2017-18, at a total cost of £220,053.78.

It means £1,075,594.80 has been paid out since 2013, while the number and value of payments went up in the last financial year despite a watchdog highlighting the problem.

Following the latest revelations, the head of the Commons Justice committee called on jails to “sort it out”, while the Prison Service said it successfully defends two thirds of all compensation cases brought by prisoners.

A sample of cases in 2017-18 shows compensation was awarded for damage to tracksuit bottoms (£10), a T-shirt (£3) and a stereo (£150).

In one instance, £8.19 was paid out for “damage” to food “due to lockdown”.

Awards were made for lost property including tobacco (£20.80), a DVD player (£68.99), a watch (£10) and a TV magazine (£0.57).

The earlier FOI response showed hair clippers, a dressing gown and trainers were among lost items covered by successful compensation claims in 2016-17.

There were 41 more compensation awards in 2017-18 compared to the year before and the total amount paid out was nearly £21,000 higher.

Authorised belongings can be held in possession, meaning the prisoner keeps the item on them or in their cell, while excess items can be stored locally at the jail or at a central depot.

Rules allow for inmates to lodge complaints and claims for compensation when property is lost or damaged.

Last year then Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen called on the prison service to “get a grip” on the way property is managed.

The issue has also been flagged up by independent monitoring boards at a number of prisons, with one recent report saying the disappearance of property on transfer between establishments seems to be an “intractable” problem.

Conservative MP Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee, said: “This issue has been raised at a number of our recent prison visits, so these figures do not come as a surprise.

“Property is a regular source of complaint to both the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and independent monitoring boards.

“Until prisons properly follow the clear guidance from the Ombudsman, scarce resources, not to mention taxpayers’ money, will continue to be wasted.

“Prisons need to sort it out to ensure that they have an adequate system for property recording.”

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “This increase in payments to prisoners for lost and damaged property will concern many taxpayers across the country.

“Either the authorities are failing to treat prisoners at a standard they are legally required to, or they’re giving out compensation payments too easily – both at the expense of hard-pressed taxpayers.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook said it was right that prisoners are compensated for their loss.

Mr Leech said, “Prisoners are not Outlaws, they retain all civil rights not taken away expressly or by implication, and that includes being compensated when either they or their property are injured, damaged or lost at the hands of the State.

“That approach finds its focus in the first sentence, of the first Rule, of the Mandela Rules – originally the UN Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: ‘All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.'”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We successfully defend two thirds of all compensation cases brought against us by prisoners.

“Where compensation is awarded, we always seek to ensure that payments are offset against outstanding debts owed to the courts and victims.

“In addition, a programme of work is underway to prevent the causes of claims to allow us to better protect taxpayers’ money.”

HMP Doncaster – “A very poor prison, safety a major concern” say Inspectors

HMP Doncaster
HMP Doncaster

Safety was a major concern at HMP Doncaster and a lack of staff was contributing to problems, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the South Yorkshire local jail.

HMP Doncaster, which opened in 1994 and is managed by Serco, holds just over 1,000 adult and young adult male prisoners. At the time of the inspection the population had been reduced by 100 as part of a response to the difficulties the prison found itself in. A previous inspection in March 2014 found a poorly performing institution in a state of drift. This more recent inspection 18 months later found that many problems remained unaddressed and some had worsened, although the recent appointment of a new director had led to some improvements.


Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • Doncaster receives new prisoners from the streets, with many pressing risks and needs, but its initial risk assessment remained inadequate and early days procedures did not focus sufficiently on prisoner safety;
  • levels of assault were much higher than in similar prisons and many violent incidents had resulted in serious injuries for staff and prisoners;
  • despite some efforts to understand these problems, initiatives to address violence were ineffective and investigations were weak;
  • the incidence of self-harm was very high and there had been three self-inflicted deaths in the previous 18 months;
  • despite the generally caring approach of staff, monitoring procedures for those at risk of self-harm (ACCT) were not good enough, support was intermittent and inspectors found too many prisoners in crisis left isolated in poor conditions;
  • staff on the wings were overwhelmed: there were too few staff and they did not have enough support;
  • security, derived from good relationships and interactions, was weak;
  • in the preceding few months there had been numerous acts of indiscipline, including barricades, hostage incidents and incidents at height;
  • drugs were widely available, and many prisoners told inspectors that new psychoactive substances were a major problem;
  • not enough was done to encourage good behaviour;
  • use of force and the special cell were high and increasing, but governance and supervision were inadequate;
  • environmental conditions throughout the prison were very poor, with filth, graffiti, missing windows and inadequate furniture in many cells;
  • health care provision had deteriorated; and
  • time out of cell for prisoners was erratic and poorly managed and although there were sufficient activity places for prisoners to have at least part-time work, training or education, these were still underused.


However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there were many good staff trying to do their best, although professional boundaries were not well managed and there was a lack of challenge to poor behaviour;
  • there were early signs of improvement in the promotion of equality and the work with the 6% of the population who were foreign nationals was better than inspectors usually see;
  • for those who did attend education, the quality of teaching and instruction was generally good, as were standards of work and the level of achievement by prisoners; and
  • the quality of offender management was better than usual in local prisons and the delivery of resettlement services was generally good.


Martin Lomas said:

“Doncaster has been a more effective prison in the past and we saw some very good people during our inspection. However, this report describes a very poor prison. The relative competence of the learning and skills and resettlement providers did not compensate for the inadequate standards across much of the prison and the lack of staff was a critical problem. The director and his management team were not in denial of the difficulties and there was evidence that the decline was being arrested; the prison certainly cannot be allowed to get any worse.”


Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“This is a disappointing report which reflects the considerable challenges Doncaster is currently facing.

“There have been a number of improvements since the time of the inspection, including an increase in the number of staff and the refurbishment of the prison accommodation.

“However we will continue to monitor the prison closely through a formal performance management process until the concerns highlighted by the independent inspectorate have been satisfactorily addressed.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 9 March 2016 at:

May denies prison radicalisation is caused by staff shortages


Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected claims that staff shortages are hindering efforts to prevent Islamic radicalisation in prisons – and has been supported in doing so by prison experts.
The former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office has warned that stretched resources are making it increasingly difficult to find the needle in a “growing haystack of extremists”.
Ex-detective chief inspector Chris Phillips told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “What we have actually is a prison population that’s growing.
“We have less officers generally in prisons than ever before and we also have less police officers to deal with them, so what we have is a growing haystack of extremists where we still have to find the single needle that’s going to go off and do something really nasty.
“But of course we’ve got less people to go and look for them as well so it’s a really difficult thing for the police service and prison service to deal with.”
Asked if a lack of prison officers was making the job harder, Mrs May told the programme: “I don’t think that is the problem.
“But what I think we do need to look at and continue to look at – and measures have been taken to be dealing with this – of course we need to continue looking at this issue of how we can ensure that radicalisation doesn’t take place in prisons.
“In prisons often it’s about being part of a gang, being part of a group, the group that perhaps has more members you join and you can get drawn into radicalisation although they don’t intend it in the first place.”
She went on: “The work that our security services, our law enforcement agencies, are doing day in and day out is of course working to identify those who would be trying to do something nasty, who would be planning an attack or about to carry out an attack.
“But it is constant. What we have seen over the last year is a significant increase in the number of disruptions that the police have undertaken, particularly of people potentially travelling to Syria.
“So we are constantly looking at what we need to do to defeat this radicalisation.”
Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales, questioned whether staffing numbers could really be an issue.
Mr Leech said: “There is a real problem with radicalisation in prisons, which the Prison Service has responded to, but the real danger of radicalisation occurs where long term prisoners, often convicted or connected to terrorism, are able to mix freely with others – serving long sentences, disillusioned, and often far from home.
“Those circumstances take place in our high security prisons which have, for the most part, not suffered from staffing cuts in a real sense and are not overcrowded like other jails tend to be.”
Stephen O’Connell, president of the Prison Governors Association told Today: “I am not aware of any evidence that the issue has got worse over the last 12 months or that it has been affected by staff numbers or prisoner numbers.
“I’m not saying that that couldn’t be the case; I’m just not aware of any evidence that supports it.”
He went on: “Please don’t interpret what I’m saying as ‘there isn’t a problem’; I’m just not aware that its got worse because of the changes in staffing.
“I understand the correlation between staff numbers and prisoner numbers but when it comes to dealing with extremists, we are talking about a small number of prisoners with some very dedicated resources to actually managing those.”

Prison key compromises costs half a million


Prison keys have been lost or taken out of jails by accident more than 200 times since 2010 leading to more than half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on relocking them, official figures show.

Under the coalition £514,584 of public money has been spent relocking prisons while keys have been lost or inadvertently taken out of prisons 237 times, Justice Minister Andrew Selous revealed.

Meanwhile, G4S were forced to pay £499,000 to relock Birmingham prison in 2011 as it is run by the private security contractor.

Mr Selous said: “Security is paramount within prisons and it is important that the risk of any potential key compromise is addressed as quickly as possible in order to protect the public.

“When a key/lock incident is reported an immediate investigation is undertaken to assess the risk and unless it is clear that security has not been compromised, then locking mechanisms and keys will be replaced and/or other necessary remedial action will be taken.

“A range of procedural and physical measures are used to assist in the secure management of keys in prisons. These increasingly include electronic and biometric systems.”

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, who uncovered the figures using a written parliamentary question, said: “Normally (Justice Secretary) Chris Grayling boasts about locking up criminals and throwing away the keys, but in fact this data I have uncovered shows he’s losing the keys and sending the bill to the taxpayer.

“This kind of incompetence is very costly to the taxpayer and shows the mess the prisons system has got into under David Cameron.”

:: Here is a list of prisons that have been relocked due to lost keys, the date when they were relocked, and the cost of doing so, since 2010:

14/05/2010 – Swaleside – £95,430

21/06/2010 – Glen Parva – £208,329

04/11/2010 – Warren Hill – £101,301

20/12/2010 – Ashwell – £15,576

24/10/2011 – Birmingham – £499,000 (Paid for by G4S)

09/01/2012 – Maidstone – £5,847

28/02/2014 – Lindholme – £40,286

08/05/2014 – Haverigg – £32,882

21/07/2014 – Highpoint – £14,933

HMP Send – A very effective women’s prison


HMP Send was a safe and decent prison which did excellent work to rehabilitate the women it held, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the women’s prison in Surrey.

HMP Send holds just over 280 convicted women prisoners, well over half of whom are serving long or indeterminate sentences for serious offences. Its last inspection was in 2011 and found a settled institution with an impressive regime for prisoners. This inspection found that improvement has continued and Send is now a very successful prison. It is one of the few prisons to achieve the highest grading for outcomes across all four healthy prison tests: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. An excellent range of interventions was offered to address offending behaviour, including a facility to address the needs of women with a personality disorder.

Inspectors were also pleased to find that:

  • Send was a very safe institution where violent incidents were very rare;
  • levels of self-harm continued to reduce and care for those who were vulnerable was good;
  • there was little evidence of significant illicit drug use;
  • women with alcohol issues received appropriate support;
  • living conditions and the environment were generally very good and relationships between staff and prisoners were particularly strong;
  • mental health provision was impressive;
  • prisoners had a good amount of time out of cell and reasonable access to the prison’s grounds;
  • learning and skills provision was well managed and there was sufficient education, training and work for all the women held; and
  • resettlement services were much better than inspectors usually see and offender management arrangements were good.

Inspectors felt that the promotion of equality and diversity required attention, although most outcomes were reasonable, and also thought support for women who had been victims of domestic violence should be improved. The incentives and earned privileges (IEP) arrangements supported the safety of the prison but some requirements, notably that the hoods be cut off women’s coats, were ridiculous.

Nick Hardwick said:

“We highlight a number of relatively minor concerns that will assist the prison, but overall this is an excellent report that describes the work of a very effective prison. Women, some of whom are dealing with long sentences and considerable personal challenges and risks, are kept safely and in a prison that affords them respect. They use their time usefully and their risks are addressed meaningfully. This is not only a good prison; it is a useful and effective prison. The governor and staff should be congratulated on their success.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 3 June 2014 at:

Prison Officer Assaults up by 45%


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.”

Prison undercrowding is a problem to ponder

Death of Pym Fortuym
Death of Pym Fortuym

The Dutch government is facing an unusual crisis: Prison undercrowding.

There are now more guards and other staff than prisoners in the Netherlands for the first time, according to data released by the Justice Ministry.

In 2008, there were more than 15,000 inmates, but by March this year there were just 9,710, compared with 9,914 staff.

In the US, that figure is more like one staff member for every five prisoners.

Crime rates have fallen slightly in recent years but are not notably lower in the Netherlands than in neighbouring countries, and many Dutch people think sentences for violent offenders are too light.

Justice Ministry spokesman Jochgem van Opstal said: “We’re studying what the reason for the decline is.”

The ministry is already carrying out prison closures.

The number of inmates included 650 Belgian criminals the Netherlands is housing as part of a temporary deal.

The Justice Ministry is shedding 3,500 employees in the closure programme, but labour union Abvakabo FNV has attacked the cuts, saying they were leading to staffing shortages.

Union leader Corrie van Brenk said: “At this moment you can’t say there is any safety in Dutch prisons. It’s an explosive situation.”

The government has rejected the criticism, saying violent incidents in prisons have been declining.

One change politicians are considering is ending a practice of granting probation to criminals once they have served two-thirds of their sentences. That policy has proved an embarrassment for prime minister Mark Rutte.

During his election campaign in 2012, Mr Rutte promised to “fire any justice minister” who granted early release to Volkert van der Graaf, an animal rights activist convicted of murdering politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002.

Van der Graaf will be released on May 2, having served 12 years of his 18-year sentence.

Rising numbers of Prison Muslims are “fuelling extremism”


Rising numbers of prisoners are becoming ‘convenience Muslims’ leading to heightened tensions with guards and fuelling extremism, the head of the Prison Officers’ Association has warned.

Union general secretary Steve Gillan said that many prisoners were turning to Islam to win benefits, and to gain the status associated with being part of a gang.

He said prison staff were coming under threat from groups of Muslims on a daily basis, and warned that young prisoners were at risk of being radicalised while behind bars.

In 1991 there were 1,957 Muslims serving prison sentences in England and Wales, but numbers had risen to 11,683 by 2013.

Mr Gillan said that many converts, who are known as ‘convenience Muslims’, changed faiths because it meant they were entitled to more time outside of their cells and offered better food.

Muslim prisoners are also excluded from work and education on Fridays so they can attend prayers.

Mr Gillan said that others wanted the status and security of being part of a particular group while in prison, and that it was relatively common for prisoners to leave Islam upon their release.

‘Some people also believe that it is better to have a cult status and belong to a particular gang

‘What we’ve got to guard against is the real threat of the extremists and the radicalisation of young, disaffected prisoners,’ Mr Gillan told The Times. ‘They are the extremists of tomorrow.’

Mr Gillan’s comments came as two Muslim prisoners who were already serving life sentences for murder were found guilty of making threats to kill an officer during a siege at HMP Full Sutton, near York, in the days after the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

Feroz Khan and Fuad Awale, both 26, were convicted of threatening Richard Thompson, with Khan also found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm on the guard.

Both men, along with another prisoner, David Watson, 27, had been accused of holding Mr Thompson hostage on May 26 last year, and demanding the release of radical preacher Abu Qatada and Roshonara Choudhry, a student who attempted to stab MP Stephen Timms to death in 2010.

They were also accused of demanding to be flown to Afghanistan, the jury heard.

However, they were cleared of the false imprisonment, and Khan was found not guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm against another officer, Rachel Oxtoby.

The trial at the Old Bailey had heard that relations between prison staff and some of the Muslim inmates ‘became strained’ in the days after Fusilier Rigby was murdered.

The court was told that Khan had planned the attack after telling another guard that it was a Muslim’s duty to ‘fight until Sharia law is established in every country’.

Jury members also heard that Khan and Awale targeted Mr Thompson, believing him to be ex-British military, and that Khan had beaten the guard, fracturing his eye socket before threatening to kill him.

As Mr Thompson was pinned to his chair Awale pointed a sharp implement by his throat and said: ‘Stop struggling, I’ve killed two people – I’ll kill you’.

Khan had told jurors he planned to take a prison guard hostage in order to stage a high profile terrorist incident ‘perfectly timed’ with the murder of Drummer Rigby.

The convict claimed that he acted in the days after the soldier’s death so he could gain maximum media exposure.
He said he was in ‘constant fear’ of his life following a rise in tension on Echo Wing and that he felt threatened by prison staff and non-Muslim inmates in the wake of the Woolwich murder.

Khan, Awale and Watson were all serving life sentences for murder at the time of the incident, and all three had become devout Muslims following their convictions.

On February 26, 2007, Khan shot his friend Skander Rehman in the back of the head at point blank range after luring him to a park in Bradford – wrongly believing he was having an affair with his wife.

Somali-born Awale was convicted in Janurary last year of the double murder of two teenagers, Mohammed Abdi Farah, 19, and Amin Ahmed Ismail, 18, who were shot in a Milton Keynes drug war on May 26, 2011.

Watson, a white Muslim convert, stabbed to death a security guard at a HMV store in Norwich’s Chapelfield shopping centre after being caught with a stolen CD on December 18, 2006.

The drug dealer murdered Paul Cavanagh after fearing police would find £10,000 of crack cocaine he had in a carrier bag.

Khan and Awale were told they would be sentenced next week.

The Muslim prison population has increased since 2009 by nearly 1,500 – 550 of those in the last 12 months alone.

The court was told that one in three prisoners at Full Sutton are Muslim.

At Long Lartin in Worcestershire the proportion is 20 per cent and in Whitemoor, a top-security prison in Cambridgeshire, more than four in ten prisoners are Muslim.

In Belmarsh prison in London, which houses Lee Rigby murderers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, one in three inmates is a Muslim.

Mr Gillan said: ‘Incidents like that at Full Sutton are becoming more and more of a daily threat. Prison officers regularly raise issues about Muslim radicalism and the concerns they have about doing their jobs generally against [a backdrop of] gang culture.’