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Posted by: In: General 17 Jul 2015 0 comments

Ever since Prison Consultants was formed we have been repeating the mantra that Prisons are not places of punishment, prison is the punishment.

We have also pointed out, ad nauseam, that whilst Prisons are fine at keeping wrong doers away from the rest of society, they also have a role in rehabilitating offenders and acting as a positive agent for helping offenders to mend their broken lives and become useful citizens.

Many people disagree with us. They point out that some prisoners are happy to follow a lifetime of crime. They favour longer sentences and harsher prison regimes.

But  stiffer sentences served within antiquated and overcrowded prisons, many of them dating back to Queen Victoria’s time, have brought about a situation whereby our reoffending rates stand at a staggering  58% for those serving a year or less, and as much as 26% for those serving between 4 and 10 years.

That’s not the full picture.

Overcrowded prisons are leading to increased incidence of suicide, self harm, narcotics abuse, assaults, mental illness, bullying, depression and demoralised prison staff.

The cost of reoffending is estimated as being in excess of £13billion per year.

If a small percentage of this were to be invested into rehabilitative prison projects like vocational training and basic education, coupled with decent and humane treatment toward our offenders,  this could save  the country millions. And of course it would have other benefits.

It is what in other countries who have adopted this approach appreciate.

At the moment we have a system which institutionalizes our offenders and gives them up as lost causes. No other civilized country does this. We are sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.

But now we have received positive news. After three years of a hard line Minister of Justice the new man at the helm, Michael Gove, has spoken with perception and insight about some of the problems with the system, and has come up with some ideas to improve things.

At the heart of Mr Gove’s new broom approach is an acknowledgement that the standards of education offered to offenders are hopelessly inadequate.

He is to be congratulated. His predecessor banned offenders receiving books. Now Mr Gove will encourage them to start reading those books.

It is a very promising start.

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-treasure-in-the-heart-of-man-making-prisons-work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: In: General 23 Mar 2015 0 comments

Just in time for the General Election the new Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 comes into force on 13 April.

The new Act will introduce new offences, like juror misconduct, and will increase the severity of sentences for existing offences.

The Justice Secretary is quoted as claiming that crime has fallen  (everyone knows it hasn’t) and that serious offenders will now be going to prison for longer.

“We have changed the law,” he trumpeted, “to deliver tougher and swifter justice for victims and the public.”

Meanwhile Lord Woolf, who was in charge of the enquiry into the prison riot at Strangeways  in 1990, has called for a new enquiry into the state of our prisons.

During the 1990 riot two people died and hundreds were injured. Lord Woolf said Britain was heading for a crisis within its prisons, and that  conditions in our prisons now are as bad as they were in 1990.

These two stories are wholly unconnected. For the time being.

Posted by: In: General 16 Feb 2015 0 comments

One of our consultants was on Sky News last week , discussing  the issue of prisoners’ voting rights.

Under UK law prisoners serving a custodial sentence do not have the right to vote. Why should they?  runs the argument.  They have committed offences, and in some cases the offences were serious. It would be an insult to their victims.

The European Court heard all these arguments, for and against, back in 2005. They decided that the UK ban contravened Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last week was the latest, and probably last, episode in the saga; the European Court decided that prisoners deprived of the vote should not be able to claim damages against the UK Government. It made that decision whilst noting, in its words, “the continuing violation” of human rights law by the UK Government.

It was that decision which prompted Sky news to seek our views on the original ban.

The truth is that successive Governments have mismanaged this. There would have been minimal objection if certain categories of prisoners had had their right to vote removed or suspended, with the vast majority of prisoners left entitled to vote if they so wished. Hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees would have been saved . The Government would not have lost face.

In Germany, and quite a few other countries, prisoners are actually encouraged to vote. It is seen as part of their rehabilitation. It is seen as encouraging prisoners to feel like members of society. It is seen as encouraging a more mature outlook. It is believed that it for the common good. It is believed that, however modestly, it may help to prevent re-offending by way of reintergration.

We agree.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: In: General 03 Feb 2015 0 comments

It’s nearly a year since the Justice Secretary got one of his minions to write to the Poet Laureate defending his decision to ban books being sent to prisoners. The ban itself was introduced in November 2013.

It was a long letter. It spoke about “misinformation “ being circulated  about the ban. It spoke about the need to stop drugs, extremist material, SIM cards, mobile phones and weapons being sent to prison hidden in parcels containing shoes, clothes, toothpaste and breakfast cereals ( although not books, funnily enough). It spoke about prisons being flooded with “thousands of  unknown parcels each day.” It spoke about the burden this would have on prison staff .

The ban attracted widespread criticism: it was vindictive, the work of Philistines; it was redolent of prison regimes in Communist Europe; it was not conducive to allowing prisoners to better themselves; it was anti-intellectual; it hampered rehabilitation.

Grayling, who looks like he has never read a book in his life, was unbowed.

Predictably the ban was challenged in the High Court. Grayling’s long letter to the Poet Laureate cut no ice with Mr Justice Collins who said he could see “no good reason” to restrict access to  books. He went further: he thought the Government’s argument that access to books  constituted a privilege was  “strange”.

The decision of the High Court was announced on 5 December last year. We wonder how much this has all cost.

Posted by: In: General 22 Jan 2015 0 comments

A lot of people assume that giving evidence at Court is exactly like it appears on the television. It isn’t. A recent article in The Times (January 19th) by Frances Gibb reports  that “Crime victims to get expert help on coping with hostile lawyers in court”. Her report explains that how victims of crimes will be briefed on how to give evidence in court, and how to cope with hostile cross-examination.

We have long since commented on how foreboding the court process is. However we tend to view it from the vantage point of the defendants on trial

Giving evidence when your livelihood might be at stake, not to mention  the potential prospect of a subsequent prison sentence, is the most daunting experience most defendants will ever face. It is worth remembering that a person is presumed innocent till proven guilty; however how the evidence is delivered by the defendant is paramount in convincing those who need convincing of the true facts of a case.

Just imagine: you’re in a large airless and windowless room being faced by ranks of lawyers and a panel of jurors with whom you’re afraid to make eye contact. You’re on your own. Desperate to put up a good fight; scared you’ll be tongue-tied, tripped up or caught out and if you get it wrong you may be thrown into planet prison, you’re family thrown into crisis, the potential loss of a career, home etc the list goes on. You probably haven’t had a good night’s sleep for weeks and you can’t think straight.

In the weeks before the trial your lawyers may have given you some tips: wear smart clothes, don’t mumble, address your answers to the Judge. All good advice.

But that’s probably about as much as they will tell you. They will have more important things to do on your case, and if your lawyer is being paid by Legal Aid the chances are they simply won’t have the time to spend on making you feel a little less in dread and awe of the witness box.

A case in point. We had a client who came to us late on in a very long trial. The evidence against our client was weak and the likelihood of acquittal was strong. Yet our client still faced the prospect of the trial and getting the true facts across so that the Jury would understand and return the correct verdict. Why would this person come to us if they are innocent you may ask? The answer is simple….prison was the likely outcome should the jury return a guilty verdict, so the client wanted to prepare in case the jury got it wrong. And don’t forget, even the most hard -hearted cynic has to accept that sometimes the jury get it wrong. That’s why we have appeals.

Our client was successful in being acquitted of all charges, we helped our client by taking away the fear of the unknown and making our client more effective….even so our client was so traumatised by the whole event that our client has not worked since and is suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) . As explained, we became  involved late in the proceedings, perhaps if we had been called in earlier this complex condition may also have been avoided.

We help. We help people facing the prospect of having to defend themselves by advising on what it is like to give evidence. Unlike your lawyers, we have been through it. We know that if you are not properly prepared for what to expect you will spend your first day in Court feeling like Alice felt in Wonderland. And that might influence how you give evidence.

We don’t coach people. That’s not allowed. What we do is try and make people feel as comfortable as possible before they give evidence. We explain the court procedure, the court rules, the court jargon and the things to avoid doing and saying. It just might make all the difference.

 We take the away the fear of the unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: In: General 05 Jan 2015 0 comments

If you are a serving prisoner you are caught in possession of a mobile phone you can be sentenced to a further 2 years in prison and hit with an unlimited fine.

Now the Government plans to do more.  They intend to introduce a law which will compel the mobile network operators to disconnect the phones of offenders.

To the vast majority of prisoners the possession of mobile phones by some other prisoners is actually deplored. They lead to random room searches, body searches, fights, arguments and allegations of “grassing”.

And yet the Government admits that the problem is so widespread that they are having to toughen up the existing laws. The issue, you see, is that the owners of these mobiles sometimes use them to organise crimes. And it is a widespread problem-around 130 mobile phones are seized every week.

So what is the elephant in the room?

Here’s a clue-how do all these mobiles find their way into the most security-conscious establishments in the country?

Let’s examine how difficult it is to smuggle a mobile phone into a prison. Every new prisoner is extensively searched on arrival, their possessions logged and bagged. Body orifices are also checked using a sophisticated BOSS chair (Body Orifice Security Scanner). An expensive and complicated piece of kit which does exactly what it says on the tin. No chance of a mobile slipping through the net this way then.

What about visiting times? No chance there either-prisoners are searched entering and leaving the visiting hall. Some of them are strip searched. Visitors are searched too.

What about posting the mobile, hidden in clothes, books or whatever? Please. Every item posted to a prisoner is carefully checked before it is handed over. And most items, like books, are banned anyway.

By a process of elimination that means that a significant number of phones are delivered to inmates by people who are employed by the Prison Service.

That’s the elephant in the room.

 

Posted by: In: General 23 Dec 2014 0 comments

Last Friday, 19 December, a former foreign exchange trader at RBS was arrested by the City of London police, at the bidding of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). According to the press dozens more arrests will take place in the coming months as the SFO gets to grips with the alleged rigging of the foreign exchange markets.

The SFO isn’t saying much. But we have a pretty shrewd idea of what lies in store for any bank traders who fall into their net.

On the day of their arrest comes the first challenge. They will be sitting in a local police station waiting for the SFO investigators to arrive. They will be told of their right to legal representation. The only solicitors they know are probably from the large firms who handle big ticket City work, mergers and acquisitions, corporate tax, banking law. No use in a case where the SFO are asking awkward questions about hundreds of interesting e mails sent on the spur of the moment years ago. No use where the SFO may be arguing there should be no bail………………..

When they eventually find the right solicitor the traders meet the next challenge. These solicitors will want the traders to do some work; they will want the traders to read all those e mails the SFO are relying on, they will want the traders to explain the jargon, identify who’s who and help explain how the SFO have arrived at those figures on that graph and in that chart. It’s not the sort of work the traders are used to……………

Then there’s the choice of the trial barrister. A big-hitting QC and a hard-working and tenacious junior barrister. They will want to meet the trader. See what sort of impression he or she will give to the jury. Assess whether the trader will collapse under cross examination. Decide whether the trader has a defence. See if there are any emails the bank are sitting on which might help the defence………

On and on it goes for months on end interspersed with a  trip to the Court where  a Judge asks the assembled legal teams lots of questions about trial preparation, while the trader sits there wondering whether those people taking notes work for the solicitors or the newspapers……………

We know from our clients that a large number of defendants don’t have a true grasp of what is going on. They are shell shocked on-lookers in the gladiatorial arena of the court room yet they are the focus of attention.  They are too scared to ask their lawyers lest they appear stupid. Or because they are afraid of what the answer may be. They will be concerned of the consequences if things don’t go well and fearful of what may lay ahead. They can’t speak to their co-defendants because that’s not allowed by the bail conditions. They can’t ask their families for obvious reasons. So they ask us and we help.

It’s what we do.

 

Posted by: In: General 13 Dec 2014 0 comments

This week, 11 December to be exact, Lord Faulks answered a written question from Lord Browne of Belmont.

Lord Browne wanted to know how much it cost the Government, on average, to incarcerate a prisoner between 2011 and 2014.

Back came the answer: there has been a reduction of 17% in the overall average cost per prisoner between 2011 and 2014. The average cost at the moment is in the region of £26,000 per prisoner.

That’s good news for the French company Sodexo. It runs five UK prisons at a cost to the taxpayer of £35,000 per prisoner. A tidy profit, to be sure.

But here’s the rub. Sodexo is also in charge of probation for low/medium risk prisoners in 6 of the 21 probation areas. Sodexo is in charge of those probation services in South Yorkshire, Essex, Northumbria, Cumbria/Lancashire, Norfolk/Suffolk and Cambridgeshire/Northamptonshire. And the amount Sodexo are paid per probationer is much less- as low as £1500 per person in some cases.

The probation service trade union (NAPO) makes the sensible point that it is idiocy to pay the same company a comparative pittance for keeping someone out of prison, when they can earn over 20 times as much if the same person fouls up their probation and is recalled to prison.

Are we being unfair to Sodexo? Consider this: last March a riot broke out at HMP Northumberland. Inmates took over a whole wing. Chris Grayling claimed the cause of the riot was because prisoners were forced to work longer days. There were three problems with this explanation: one there were no similar riots at other prisons. Two, there are not actually enough jobs at the prison for the 1300 prisoners. Three, it wasn’t true. The riots were caused by staff shortages. The prison is run by Sodexo.

Posted by: In: General 05 Dec 2014 0 comments

Back in 2005 HMP Forest Bank, a prison near Manchester, asked the Co-operative Bank to consider offering prisoners the chance to open a basic bank account. The problem was, you see, many prisoners were being turned away by the High Street banks, who claimed to be rather choosy about who they let bank with them.

This was back in the days before banks were accused of foreign exchange fiddling, LIBOR rate manipulation, money laundering, tax evasion, selling worthless financial products and causing a world-wide slump.

The Co-operative Bank were sympathetic. They were told that having a bank account helps stop prisoners from re-offending.  That’s because it’s hard to get a job or rent a flat if you don’t have a bank account. They carried out a bit of research and issued a paper in 2008.

Then the Co-operative Bank launched a scheme in 2010 to encourage prisoners to sign up with them. It generated plenty of decent publicity for the bank as well as plenty of business.

Now, with considerably less publicity (none actually) they have stopped the scheme. Meanwhile we learn from our contacts that Barclays Bank are going one step further- they are closing the accounts of ex-prisoners , even where those prisoners banked with Barclays for years before their offence.

We’d like to think someone from one of the High Street banks will read this, get in touch with us and tell us what’s going on. But we’re not holding our breath.

 

 

Posted by: In: General 28 Nov 2014 0 comments

The Ministry of Justice has announced the results of its consultation on  the future of criminal legal aid. The results were published this week in a 30 page report.

The report opens with a foreword by the Minister of Justice. Criminal legal aid is a vital part of the justice system, he notes. But not so vital that it can’t be subjected to ruthless cuts. So instead of 1500 firms offering criminal legal aid there will just over 500 firms. They won’t be paid as much. So legal aid firms will close. This all starts next October.

The Minister says in his report that this will not be welcome to those law firms. Really?

There were nearly 4,000 responses to the consultation, mostly from law firms. They must be wondering why they bothered. Those consulted largely expressed views that had already been considered, said the report witheringly.

The effects of the cuts on those facing criminal prosecution are easy to foresee. Law firms will have to recruit cheaper, less experienced staff. Mistakes, inevitably, will be made. We at Prison Consultants receive a steady number of enquiries from clients and their families who are seeking to change lawyers because their lawyers are too busy, too stretched or too understaffed to handle their cases with the degree of attention and urgency our clients think their cases deserve. We explain that it is not the lawyers’ fault. The lawyers are operating under almost impossibly strict rules governing how much time they can spend on cases. And this is happening now, nearly a year before the cuts kick in.

When the cuts do kick in people in prisons will find it virtually impossible to obtain legal aid to fight their corner in cases involving disciplinary matters and categorisation.

The Government reckons that these cuts will save it £215 million.But by the time you factor in the costs of expensive re-trials and appeals, because cash strapped legal aid firms overlooked something first time round, the savings made won’t look so rosy.

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