|Not a care in the world|
What the British prison system does do is provide costly temporary human warehousing, and it often does a poor job of that as the recent doubling of the number of suicides illustrates very graphically. Other than this, prison doesn’t really work at all yet the system grinds on, failing as it goes. I believe that the following quote is often attributed to Einstein: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” He wasn’t wrong.
So what has Mr Grayling done to address the gathering storm that is engulfing the prison system on his watch? Where are his brilliant solutions capable of turning around this rapidly sinking ship?
|Time for the life-belts?|
Moving beyond the question of whether these 20 scapegoats are victims of a bit of UKIP-pleasing populism, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Mr Grayling’s grand initiative has impacted on just 20 inmates, out of the 85,700 plus people currently in HMPS custody. We are told that another 800 foreign nationals are currently facing deportation at the end of their custodial sentences, but in reality many of these guys will be serving long stretches for serious crimes and would probably never have got within sniffing distance of an open prison anyway. It’s all meaningless spin sneakily designed to get a desperately needed approving headline in the Daily Mail. Which, predictably, it did.
|Sorry lads, wrong passports|
At this point, I could take readers on a guided tour of the wilderness of horrors that the English criminal justice system has now become. Defendants appearing unrepresented before the courts owing to Legal Aid not being available; barristers refusing to accept briefs because it’s not worth their professional effort for the peanuts on offer; judges being forced to take extraordinary measures to sort out representation and translation themselves; criminal trials coming close to collapse. But that’s not really my department. I’ll leave others better qualified than me to highlight the latest ideological lunacies imposed by Team Grayling at that end of the criminal justice system.
Prisons, however, I do know a thing or two about – probably a great deal more than Mr Grayling does. As I’ve pointed out in previous blog posts, there is an ever-increasing mountain – perhaps more appropriately in this case, an iceberg – of evidence that the prison system is coming close to collapse due to overcrowding, under-staffing and radical budget cuts. Something is going to have to give soon and when things really head south, it is going to be very nasty – perhaps even ‘biblical’ – a quote, appropriately enough, from the film Law Abiding Citizen.
|HMP Lincoln... on the edge?|
In fact, as the Howard League for Penal Reform highlighted last month, the number of officers at Lincoln has been cut by 37 percent since September 2010, when there were 207 on the staff. By 2013, that number had fallen to just 130. In reality this means that almost everything and anything is liable to cancelled without notice: education, work, exercise, legal visits, weekly visits to the prison library (that was another big fib, wasn’t it Mr Grayling), showers, access to payphones to call home. It’s hardly surprising that ‘incidents’ are occurring across the prison estate as nicks grind slowly to a halt and tensions rise to boiling point.
So what are the actual implications, other than cons being locked behind their doors for up to 23 hours a day? Records won’t be getting updated regularly in the Prison National Offender Management Information System (P-NOMIS). Cell-sharing risk assessments (which are supposed to reduce the risk of potentially violent inmates being housed in cells with more vulnerable prisoners) won’t be done on time or at all. Paperwork will be piling up on every desk.
The impact will be felt by every con on every wing. Applications (apps) will go unanswered. Well-behaved inmates who have applied for promotion to Enhanced level within the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system will hear nothing for months, thus undermining morale and the whole internal structure for rewarding those who obey the rules with small, but significant privileges. Lose the cooperation of the well-behaved majority and it is but a short step to a potential loss of control of a wing or of an entire prison.
|Mike Spurr... always grinning|
Then there are the less visible impacts, primarily in prison Offender Management Units (OMUs), where tasks such as sentence planning, preparation of reports for the Parole Board, updates to the online Offender Assessment System (OASys), risk assessments and other public protection work isn’t getting done on time because there just aren’t enough trained staff to do it. This deficit will have a major impact on prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (lifers and IPPs) who are entirely dependant on recommendations being made by the Parole Board regarding re-categorisation and release on licence. Longer sentences for those who could be released back into the community, subject to appropriate supervision and risk management, just means further overcrowding in our prisons and an average annual cost to the taxpayer of £40,000 per con.
|Transforming order into chaos|
Team Grayling's policies are leaving a disaster area at every level: the courts, prisons, probation. It takes skill and dedication to one’s ideological cause to inflict such pointless devastation across the entire criminal justice system, while playing fast and loose with public protection. Why bother with advocating an evidence-based approach to problem solving when you can rely instead on flights of ideological fancy, knee-jerk reactions, tabloid headline chasing and crisis management (without any actual management)?
|Not grinning enough to be lifelike|
However, none of that seems to matter... he just goes on his merry way causing chaos and leaving disaster in his wake. And yet he is so faceless that if the TV satire Spitting Image was still in business, it would be a challenge to find any characteristic - no matter how incidental - on which to create a vaguely recognisable puppet. A true nowhere man grinning inanely as he rearranges the deckchairs on the sinking MOJ Titanic to loud applause from readers of the Daily Mail.