Thursday, 21 August 2014

Chris Grayling Must Accept Whats Happening in Prisons

          One imagines the election can’t come quickly enough for Chris Grayling. Whatever the outcome, he’ll be freed from responsibility for a prison system that is rapidly deteriorating in front, if not of his eyes, then those of almost all who work in and visit jails. 

While he may not think so, as a society we are indeed lucky that the Prison Inspectorate (HMIP) and local monitoring boards (IMB’s) can catalogue for us the impact of the cuts which he and his predecessor have imposed on the service; and to signal the dangers they pose to security, control and justice in prisons. As Zola put it, "if you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way".


Much has been made of the stinging criticisms in Nick Hardwick’s recent reports. But the annual reports of IMB’s- the local people who visit prisons week in week out are to some extent more telling. IMB’s sometimes have a reputation of being too close to the prison management and too much part of the local establishment – I met an IMB chair last year who had first been appointed by Roy Jenkins. But the reports they send to the Justice department each year are born of familiarity with the day to day life of the prison which HMIP cannot easily capture.

What is striking about recent reports is the concern about the impact of the benchmarking process which has been used to determine adequate staffing numbers.


Take two very different prisons both given reasonably positive reports last year by HMIP and both rated a 3 -   meeting the majority of their targets- in the latest NOMS performance table. At Liverpool, a large local jail, the IMB reported that members, when performing their duties on the wings, “have noted with considerable concern, the low ratio between Prison Officers and prisoners. If staffing levels were reduced further, the Board feels that the capability of prison staff to contain any incident that may take place would seriously compromise staff.” At Erlestoke, a small Training prison “the Board continues to be concerned about the staff to offender ratios, particularly on the residential wings. There are times during the day when only one officer is on duty, responsible for over approximately 50 offenders. The Board considers this to be unsafe for the officer and for offenders”.

At Nottingham, the IMB reported that  the reduced staffing levels which came into effect in September 2013 as a result of the nationally imposed benchmarking operation, have severely stretched the prison’s resources, resulting in frequent cancellation of education, library, work, exercise sessions and  gym sessions together with  the virtual collapse of an effective Personal Officer scheme. At Norwich, officials from the Department of Work and Pensions do not consider the reduced staffing levels provide enough safety for them to visit prisoners in the activities block. At Portland, the IMB questioned whether the prison could continue to function humanely and efficiently at even the most basic level, if there are further financial cuts.

Other Boards describe some of the impacts of those cuts and of overcrowding, whether it is prisoners forced to urinate on the floor of vans outside Norwich prison, cells measuring less than 6.5 square metres being used for two prisoners at Lewes or lack of sufficient prisoner clothing at Lincoln. Some of this treatment,  including the growing incidence of abuse of prisoners by cell mates  and other prisoners - could easily be found inhuman and degrading were it brought before the European Court of Human Rights .

While he is likely to be dismissive of any such findings, it is difficult to see how Grayling can simply continue to ignore the findings of the Boards or the Inspectors. Both the HMIP and IMB’s form part of an internationally authorised body aimed at preventing ill treatment in places of detention in the UK- the so called National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the UK government has agreed (at article 22) to examine the recommendations of the NPM “and enter into a dialogue with it on possible implementation measures.”

Such a dialogue is therefore not simply an urgent practical necessity but a legal requirement. Grayling will surely wish to comply with the Ministerial Code which places (at 1.2) an overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations.

 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this up - eventually I anticipate folk will say - why were we not told!

    I particularly feel for staff working in prison on a daily basis.

    This Facebook Group, gives them a chance to anonymously express their concerns, which I suspect MOST would find astounding: -

    https://www.facebook.com/Knowthedangeruk

    It seems as if most in Napo have given up the struggle to get improvements with a very low turn out in their recent election for national officers - it is VERY concerning.

    http://www.probationmatters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-membership-speaks.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. PS - I think your blog clock maybe set wrongly - My post above was made at 10.59 am UK time 27th Aug 2014

    ReplyDelete

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