Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Team Grayling and NOMS Are In Denial

Another day, another damning official report on the failures of the UK's prison system. This time it's Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) for England and Wales, who has raised serious concerns over the marked rise in the deaths by suicide of young adult prisoners aged 18-24 whilst in custody. You can read his report here.

As the latest PPO bulletin highlights, between April 2007 and March 2014, the Ombudsman's office investigated 89 self-inflicted deaths of young adult prisoners. It also points to problems of bullying of young adult prisoners, poor risk assessment and monitoring by prison staff and a failure to follow up on concerns raised by inmates' families. 

The PPO report comes at a time when the overall rate of suicides in custody has risen significantly. In 2013-14, 88 prisoners of all ages in England and Wales took their own lives, up from 52 self-inflicted deaths in 2012-13.

At the moment both the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) are in denial about the current crisis inside prisons. While public sector prisons are close to meltdown due to mismanagement and slashing of budgets, the private sector situation is even worse. Just read the damning reports on HMP Oakwood, G4S' flagship private prison near Wolverhampton, now known by cons as 'Jokewood'.

HMP Oakwood aka 'Jokewood'
In its report, issued in June 2013, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) made the following findings about HMP Oakwood: "The inexperience of the staff was everywhere evident" and "against all four of our healthy prison tests, safety, respect, activity and resettlement, the outcomes we observed were either insufficient or poor." Moreover, it found that "the provision of health care at Oakwood was very poor - there was no assessment of need; systems did not work; care needs were not met; and the administration of medication was in chaos".

Following that inspection, the prison's healthcare provider was served with a regulatory enforcement notice from the Care Quality Commission. NOMS confirmed its concerns again in October 2013, although it acknowledged that a new management team had recently taken over. 

We have had the US model of privatised, for-profit prisons foisted upon us with all the well-documented abuses that system brings with it. One of the major problems with these for-profit establishments is that the recruitment of front line staff is done on the cheap. Young, inexperienced and under-paid wing staff are completely out of their depth and this is why there are so many reports of rising violence, availability of drugs, self-harm and suicides.

Many UK prisons are simply unable to deliver on their duty of care to those in custody. This can be clearly seen in inspection report after inspection report produced by the Prisons Inspectorate, yet little or no positive improvement is seen to follow - in some cases, the situation on wings gets worse.

But not in London prisons any more
It has definitely not been a good day for the MOJ or for Chris Grayling. The PPO report has been published on the same day that the news has come that private sector education provider A4e has opted to terminate its £17 million prisoner education contract at 12 London prisons citing "budget constraints" - ie, it's not making enough profit from the deal. These contracted out arrangements are awarded following a bidding process under the auspices of the Offenders' Learning and Skills Service (OLASS).

This is just another fine mess within the shambles that is the prison system under Team Grayling. Prison education - which has always been seen as a key element in rehabilitation and reducing re-offending - has been severely undermined over the past two years. No courses above Level 2 are now provided by prison education departments (anything of a higher level or which is more vocational than basic literacy, numeracy or IT now has to be funded by the prisoner, either using their own resources or a loan).

Since payment under these OLASS contracts is by results (eg prisoner attendance in class and completion of course hours) if sessions have to be cancelled because there are insufficient staff to escort prisoners to and from education departments, then of course private sector providers are going to lose money. There has been an ongoing problem of this kind when inmates who are enrolled on education courses are transferred to other establishments without any notice, but the present staff shortages are hitting education departments hard. In the final analysis, it all comes down to Mr Grayling's complete and utter inability to manage the prison system. He is totally out of his depth and unqualified for this role.

Trouble behind the doors
Having closed prisons and cut front line staff numbers, he and his team have brought many prisons close to the verge of collapse. The number of people incarcerated is now at an all time high and overcrowding, at a time when there is a lack of experienced staff, is leading to a surge in violence, self-harm and suicide. Healthcare provision in prisons is a national disgrace and the latest crisis in education and training in the London prisons is just one more example of Team Grayling's collective failure.

It's high time for Mike Spurr, the head of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), to stop parroting Mr Grayling's denials that a complete meltdown is imminent and to start being honest about the current crisis and its causes: mismanagement of resources; ideological grand-standing; political interference in the day-to-day running of prisons and undermining of staff morale. The misguided introduction of the revised Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system on 1 November is also fuelling the rising tensions inside prisons.

The Prisons Inspectorate desperately needs to have teeth and legal powers to take action against failing prisons, whether in the public or private sectors. I believe that every UK prison should require an annual certificate of efficiency - like regional police forces. If the certificate is refused by the Inspectorate, acting under statutory powers, then that establishment should be put into special measures and the existing senior management team either removed and replaced or supervised closely until the required improvements have been fully implemented.

Moreover, I believe that emergency inspections should be triggered by any marked rise in suicide rates or incidents of disorder. Such things happen for a reason and the Inspectorate needs to launch urgent investigations and publish transparent reports. At the moment, no matter how critical a report issued by the HMIP or the PPO is, the reaction of NOMS is to claim that problems that have been identified are being addressed and that improvements are being made, even when this is obvious 'spin' and no real action is being taken. I don't know about you, but my opinion is that the MOJ and NOMS are in denial of their offending behaviour even though they have blood on their hands. 


  1. I agree about them having blood on their hands but there is a really simple solution that 'cons' can take. If they all turned round and claimed to want to kill their cell mates then I doubt they would be doubled up (or trebled up) in cells. Not enough room. The media would have a field day of the Courts were advised not to send people to Prison as there was a waiting list to get in!

    Just a thought.

    PS, Still enjoying your Blog :)

    1. Thanks for the comment. A nice idea, but I'm not really convinced that it would work.

      I recall a case at a B-cat of a lifer (returned to close conditions from a D-cat) who attempted to strangle his pad-mate in the dark following a dispute over a TV channel. Following the assault, the lifer was moved cell, but his ex-pad-mate was so traumatised and terrified of being attacked again once the lights went out, that he refused to share a cell with anyone. He even requested support from mental health, but they just fobbed him off.

      Because he refused to share a cell, he was immediately busted from Enhanced to Basic level and was put back into prison kit and lost the TV. That was all done without an adjudication or even an IEP warning. I did help him appeal it, but although he did get back to standard, he eventually had to two-up in order to keep it.

  2. It's a nice thought to think that a threat to kill your padmate would result in getting a single cell, My experience (not that I've ever threatened to kill anyone) is that you'd be regarded as "high risk" have your privileges removed and still remain in the same cell, with the same guy, who would then be scared to death of you (or you of them).

    During my time inside I was threatened with violence by a padmate during lockup. Screws can't, and won't, do anything about that other than keep an eye on the situation should something happen. Even then it can take several (potentially life saving) minutes to get help to you.

    Prisons are full - full to bursting. I spent nearly 18 months in a cell built for one. Very small dimensions but shared that with another guy, We ate, slept and defecated in a room smaller than the average bathroom. I'm so grateful it was only two of us and not three.

    Deaths in prison have risen sharply in the last year - since Team Graying have had an influence. I account 30 deaths to his policies. So, Mr Grayling, I invite you to serve 30 life sentences in the conditions you feel are suitable for inmates and let me know what you think of your policies after a week or two.

    1. Thanks for your contribution. I would agree. If I remember rightly high-riskers who were in that category because of threatening a pad-mate were ineligible for Enhanced and would probably end up on 'bully Basic'.

      I know plenty of cases of people who were supposed to be on single cell status for psychological (PTSD) or medical reasons (eg constant double incontinence) whose medical certificates were constantly ignored by wing staff and a couple were actually threatened with being shipped out if they continued to insist on a single pad. Most just gave in and two'd up for a quiet life.

      I've blogged an earlier post about cell-share risk assessments. These are little more than a joke and most of the time these aren't even done. It's only a matter of time before some high-risker who should be in a single batters his pad-mate to death and then the shit will hit the fan for HMPS. Not that Grayling will give a flying f__k!

  3. Sadly Grayling hasn't a got f**cking clue about what goes on in these places and seemingly he doesn't want to know.

    Self inflicted deaths are increasing and yet the policy is to make life harder. There really is blood on Graylings hands. I guess he'll sleep well tonight, many mothers of his victims won't.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Grayling certainly doesn't know a thing about how to run the criminal justice system. However, I actually get the impression that he approves of all the negative publicity the Prison Service is getting at the moment, including the suicides.

      He is plainly running after the hardline hang 'em and flog 'em vote, so every dead con is - as far as Team Grayling is concerned - a good con. He uses these statistics to put the fear of God into the general population. I think he wants people to think: "If prison under Grayling is so bad that inmates are topping themselves right, left and centre, then it proves that jail is a terrible place." It's all about the politics of fear and hatred.