Prison

Prison

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Is the Writing on the Wall for Nick Hardwick?

There is an interesting – and important – article in today’s online version of The Guardian focusing on the likely fate awaiting Nick Hardwick, the current HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP). As The Guardian prison correspondent, Eric Allison, points out there has been a recent tradition of ditching Chief Inspectors who prove to be too independent and forthright for politicians to stomach. You can find the article here.

Ramsbotham: shown the door
As Mr Allison (himself a former prisoner) highlights in his piece, a previous Chief Inspector of Prisons hit the buffers for political reasons: ex-Army general Lord Ramsbotham, whose contract was not extended in 2001 following tensions with the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw. There are now rumours circulating that Mr Hardwick could find that his own five-year contract will not be renewed in June 2015. Officially, no decision has yet been taken, but in all likelihood the post will be readvertised in due course.

No doubt one of the reasons that ‘Crisis’ Chris Grayling would like to replace Mr Hardwick as Chief Inspector is that under the latter’s leadership the Inspectorate has continued the tradition established by Lord Ramsbotham of telling it like it is. Almost every HMIP report now highlights the escalating crisis that is engulfing the prison estate in England and Wales. Sometimes the issues raised by HMIP are highly embarrassing for both the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

Recent warnings about the desperate situation inside some of our prisons and Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) have been flagged up in damning reports on YOI Glen Parva, HMP Chelmsford and HMP Swaleside in Kent. It was at Swaleside – where the HMIP had just warned that some prisoners were too scared to even leave their cells – that the latest trouble occurred during which fires were lit by inmates and a prison officer had his face slashed. 

Mr Grayling’s immediate reaction has been to deny that there is a crisis over staff numbers at Swaleside, although he has announced that he will be scuttling down to Kent himself to find out what went wrong – possibly a brave move for a man who is arguably the most hatred and reviled Lord Chancellor in English history. He can expect a rough ride from the local Prison Officers Association and the frontline staff, let alone the cons. He had better hope he doesn’t get locked on a wing all by himself when the cons are out of their cells “due to a regrettable oversight” by the furious wing screws.

HMP Swaleside: in crisis
Many of these problems are a direct result of massive budget cuts and frontline staff shortages, compounded by overcrowding and populist knee-jerk reactions about making prison ‘tougher’. As a result, the suicide rate is rising, along with self-harm and violence against prison staff. 

However, this is not the message Mr Grayling wants the public – and especially the long-suffering taxpayer – to hear. He remains in persistent denial of his inability to provide effective political leadership at the top of the MOJ where he is, by any measure, completely out of his depth.

Rather than address these serious failings across the prison estate, Mr Grayling would much prefer to silence whistleblowers who refuse to kowtow before his ineptitude, in much the same fashion as any other tinpot dictator. In the words of T.S. Eliot, Mr Grayling “cannot bear very much reality”. 

It is no doubt Mr Hardwick’s honesty and courage in highlighting the crisis in our prisons that is infuriating an increasingly embattled Secretary of State. That is why I fear that Mr H is likely to be looking for a new job in the not too distant future. Of course, in my own view, a far better solution would be to ditch ‘Crisis’ Chris, but keep Nick Hardwick as Chief Inspector.

20 comments:

  1. Ditch crisis Chris, have Mr Hardwick fill his shoes and maybe your good self heading up HMIP?

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    1. Thanks for a wonderful suggestion! Much as I'd like to play a role in reforming our prison system, I'm afraid that my own stay as a guest of Her Majesty might count against me during the selection process!

      I do think, however, that HMIP should consider including some ex-cons in its team, even as part-time consultants. Perhaps the same could go for former screws. Both would bring valuable perspectives to the inspection and report writing process.

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  2. Are there any UK prisons that can be described as a beacons of excellence?

    Peter.

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  3. That's a very good question, Peter. It's clear from recent HM Inspectorate reports that some prisons are doing better than others, although staff shortages and budget cuts are hitting the Prison Service hard. Lack of frontline staff is also undermining the performance of those establishments that previously did well on issues such as rehabilitation and resettlement.

    I do think that the many success stories from open prisons (Cat-Ds) are often overshadowed by the horrors of the failing inner city Cat-B locals. Open prisons often play a very constructive role in their local areas by providing cons who volunteer to work for charities, hospitals, care homes and do other important activities, such as fundraising for good causes or clearing up the environment at no cost to the council.

    There is also generally a much lower reoffending rate for inmates who are released from open conditions. Of course, that may be due to the fact that they tend to be fairly self-selecting institutions. Inmates who have bad disciplinary records are unlikely to make it to open prisons in the first place.

    However, my own view is that many Cat-C prisoners, particularly the non-violent ones, should really be in Cat-Ds, while a fair number of cons in open prisons should get early release if they can demonstrate that they would have lawful employment to go to. Obviously they would then remain on probation licence until the end of their sentences, but this could cut the waste of taxpayers' money on incarcerating non-violent offenders who could be earning a living, paying tax and NI and supporting their families (if they have them). Just a thought!

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  4. What is the government doing with the old Victorian Prisons? I know one old Cat C Prison is being converted into a hotel, do you know anything about the rest of them?

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    1. Thanks for your question. As far as I know from reading media reports most Victorian prisons are listed buildings, as are even older former prisons such as Shepton Mallet (dating back to 1625). This puts some limits on what can be done and there seem to be regular delays in actually getting these closed sites into use again. I believe there are ideas of turning Shepton Mallet into a hotel, a museum, a bar etc, but no recent news.

      Other older prisoners - such as HMP Verne on Portland in Dorset - have recently become immigration detention centres, so although the actual prison role is over, the buildings are still being used for official purposes. Of course, Lincoln, Wandsworth, Pentonville etc are all Victorian or older in origin, yet they remain in use as prisons (having had various modifications or refurbishments).

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    2. Several are still for sale. See http://www.moj-prisondisposals.co.uk/

      Go on! Make an offer!

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    3. Thanks for the link. I think my bank manager might ask a few awkward questions!

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    4. Hmm...I thought you were the mystery owner of Dana Prison cos you mention Shrewsbury Town a lot!

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    5. Nope, it wasn't me, Guv... I'm innocent of that charge! I've never been to Shrewsbury (town or nick).

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  5. Chris 'Comical Ali' Grayling.

    Wot a c*ck!!

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    1. A c*ck of justice! *squeak*

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    2. Did you read my post in August? The Comical Ali of the Ministry of Justice: http://prisonuk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-comical-ali-of-ministry-of-justice.html

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  6. I am unsure whether the Freedom Of Information Act applies to prison data, but I would have thought some computerized record is kept of most events generated by the prison system to move or process prisoners. For example, if a prisoner is busted to Basic, put into solitary or put on a course. The statistics that could be generated across the whole prison system would tell an interesting story. They would also highlight events that are not taking place but that should be.

    Ignore me, I am just being a naive idealistic fool. 8-)

    Peter.

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    1. Thanks for your question, Peter. As far as I'm aware the FOI Act does apply to prisons, although often the response tends to be that the Ministry of Justice doesn't collate all the statistics and commissioning a specific investigation would be too costly. Sometimes MPs can get specific answers via Parliamentary Questions, although I gather that they can also hit brick walls.

      Of course, all this data does exist. The internal prison system is called p-NOMIS and this holds all computerised prisoner records. According to the Ministry of Justice these files include prisoners' personal details, age group, type of offence(s), type of custody (including those remanded on bail and sentenced), sentence length, prisoner movement data (internal and external), case note information, addresses of the prisoner (release, reception and curfew) and involvement in breaches of prison discipline. It also includes full details of the prisoners’ visits history, activities (both paid/unpaid work and offender rehabilitation programmes) and details of the prisoners’ financial records whilst in prison.

      So via p-NOMIS, all this information should be available. I do know that when HM Inspectorate of Prisons carries out an inspection then all these records are checked in order to see how much force is being used, how many cons have been in the Block, how many are on each level of the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system etc - including breakdowns by age, race etc.

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    2. I was told I could have full disclosure of my records from prison for a fee, I don't recall but it was £10 or £15 or so

      However, such disclosure and FOI requests would, of course, be subject to prison 'security' which can cover up a multitude of sins.

      It's very easy to hide anything awkward under the guise of a security threat, governors and those higher up can essentially ignore serious internal issues that are being held back from the public as it's a 'security' issue which can't be discussed.

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  7. Can you please write something about prison governors.

    Peter.

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    1. Thanks for your request, Peter. It may be tricky since cons see them so rarely! However, I'll add the subject to my to do list.

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  8. Hey its vas. Are there many Greek people inside. Just curious as im Greek

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    1. Hi Vas, I'm sure there are. I've met people all pretty much all nationalities inside, so I think it's pretty certain that there will be some Greek people too.

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