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Posted by: In: General 22 Nov 2014 0 comments

The former News of the World editor, sentenced to 18 months in prison last July, was released from Open Prison yesterday. You would think, judging by most media coverage of his release, that Andy Coulson is now a free man.

In fact he was released under something called the Home Detention Curfew Scheme, which was introduced in 1999. Receive a sentence of more than three months, but less than four years, and you qualify for the scheme. It means he will be required to wear an electronic tag for the next four months and , as the name of the scheme suggests, observe a home curfew. In practice this means he will only be allowed to spend a prescribed number of hours each day away from his home and he will have to observe any other conditions imposed upon him.

Even those who qualify for the scheme don’t always obtain early release. No one can be released unless they have been risk-assessed and can show they have suitable accommodation to house them. Anyone who seems likely to re-offend whilst wearing the tag won’t be released under the scheme.

Posted by: In: General 15 Nov 2014 0 comments

Last week the Ministry of Justice published the findings of the Chief Inspector of Prisons following his visit to HMP Elmley , which is a prison serving  courts in Kent and Sussex.

Although the Inspector found a few things worthy of praise the dominant theme of his report was his very serious concern with the need for the prison to stabilise and recruit more staff.

There are 1,252 prisoners at HMP Elmley. It was designed to hold 985 prisoners. That’s bad enough. What makes the overcrowding worse is the large number of staff vacancies.

What emerged from the inspection at HMP Elmley was that almost 200 prisoners had no work to do at all (because there simply wasn’t enough work to go round) and spent 23 hours per day in their cells. So the number of fights increased by 60% in a single year and the number of serious assaults jumped sharply. Worst of all there had been 5 self-inflicted deaths since 2012.

Here at Prison Consultants we were well aware of the problems at HMP Elmley. We know that prison staff have been warning the Ministry of difficulties at the prison for at least a year.

Posted by: In: General 06 Nov 2014 0 comments

There are a number of reasons why people are sent to prison: deprivation of liberty is seen as an appropriate punishment; some people are such a risk to society that they ought to be behind bars; some people are deterred from committing crimes by the fear of going to prison.

It was once fashionable to think that prison was almost a house of correction: prisoners could be taught skills and values which would encourage them to get jobs when they came out of prison and make a contribution to society.

It’s no longer fashionable to think that.

The re-offending rates are dismal. 58% of those sentenced to a prison term of one year or less will re-offend. The rate for those sentenced to between one year and four years is 36%. Where sentences are between four years and ten years the rate is 28%. For sentences over ten years the rate is 17%.

Certain newspapers believe they have the solution to the problem of re-offending. Prisons, they say, are glorified holiday camps. They should be made into labour camps, or Soviet era gulags.

But prisons aren’t holiday camps. They are edgy, dangerous places mired in filth and decay. And, believe it or not, it would probably be more expensive making prisons even more forbidding places than they are now. More officers would need to be recruited, more overtime paid, more administrators employed, more CCTV installed, more drug tests carried out, more segregation units constructed

The problem is that the various bodies, Government, prison officers, probation, prison reformers, all have their own ideas about how best to reduce re-offending. Very often these ideas are not compatible. The Government’s latest idea is to tinker with the probation service. It means that probation services are being thrown open to the private sector, despite plenty of evidence suggesting that the private sector isn’t to be trusted when it comes to safeguarding prisoners.

There will always be re-offenders. Only a fool would think otherwise. But the way to reduce the numbers is to train, encourage and educate those in prisons, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It will be expensive, but in the long run it will be cheaper.

Posted by: In: General 02 Nov 2014 0 comments

According to The Sunday Times all prisoners released on temporary licence will be soon be fitted with GPS ‘’smart tags’’ which will track their progress 24 hours per day.

The Ministry of Justice has decided that this is the best way to stop those on temporary licence committing offences. The Sunday Times then goes on to quote an unnamed senior Whitehall source who apparently said the Ministry does not wish to end the temporary licence scheme “because it’s an important part of getting people to transition (sic) to life outside prison.”

The Mail on Sunday added a bit more meat to the story. They reckon 1,500 prisoners are released on temporary licence each day. If that figure is correct-and no source is quoted-it must include those who leave Open prisons each day to go and work.

Much of the impetus for this new found interest in prisoners on day release comes about because a man from an Open prison in Kent used his temporary licence to go on a crime spree earlier this year. The Kent prison got the blame. The real culprits were at the Ministry of Justice, who had ignored pleas from the prison to have the man returned to a more secure prison.

No one knows how much these smart tags will cost.

No one knows if it will actually work.

Basic electronic tagging has been used by the prison service for over 10 years. The companies that used to carry it out, Serco and G4S, were sacked last December for overcharging. So it seems likely that the responsibility of fitting the new tags will fall upon prison officers. Have they been trained to fit these tags? What do you think?

This is what we think: there is a direct connection between the government slashing expenditure on the prison and probation service, reductions in the number of prison officers, overcrowding in prisons and the increasing number of offences committed by those on temporary licence.  Some people would call the policy penny wise and pound foolish.

We can think of other things to call it.



Posted by: In: General 01 Nov 2014 0 comments

Last week, on 28th October to be exact, the Ministry of Justice published its latest set of prison statistics. They are called “Costs per place and costs per prisoner”.

The statistics cover 2013-14. During that period the average number of people in prison was 83,798. That includes males in Young Offenders Institutes. A little over a third of the total number of prisoners are in Category C prisons. About 4000 prisoners are in Open prisons

To put the overall figure in context, this country currently has a prison population which is double the size of the population of Dover.

According to the Government bean counters the average cost to the state of each prisoner is £24,935. The real cost is much more than that. Prisons are turning away the chance to give their prisoners something rewarding to do. Something which will save money and possibly, just possibly, aid rehabilitation of prisoners and stop re-offending. The cost of reoffending in this country is a staggering £13bn per year. Just think how a reduction in this figure could aid the NHS for example.

Prisoners in Category C prisons do no useful work. Most of them would jump at the chance of doing something which paid them a few quid more than the £10 they get each week for sweeping corridors, mopping floors or cleaning windows. But the Government hasn’t the sense to see this.

Last year a local businessman approached a Category C prison in the south of England. He had a proposition. He would pay the prison and its prisoners if they would agree to label and wrap up plastic parts for children’s toys. None of these plastic parts represented a security threat. They couldn’t be used as weapons. They couldn’t be stolen and traded for food or tobacco. There is a very good reason why things like this should happen. It instils work ethic, a sense of achievement and a view to an alternative lifestyle away from criminal activity. It’s called rehabilitation and it’s a win win situation.

The prison governor turned the idea down flat. Too much paperwork. It’s happened at other prisons.

It’s wrong!

Posted by: In: General 25 Oct 2014 0 comments

Did you see Jonathan Aitken’s letter to The Guardian?

Aitken, the former MP, was prompted to write in after reading about the escalating suicide rates in our prisons. It’s now one suicide every 5 days.

Having identified a major cause of the rise in suicides (the cut in the number of prison staff by 10,000- yes 10,000- in the last three years) Aitken unfortunately went off at a tangent when suggesting that one way of reducing suicides was for the prison authorities to enlist the help of prisoners trained by the Samaritans to listen to the problems of other prisoners. These trained prisoners, all volunteers, are known as “listeners”, because that’s what they do. They listen. Aitken wants them to become watchers. He wants the listeners to help the prison staff by watching prisoners who are believed to be at risk of self harm. In short, Aitken was suggesting peer support in his letter.

Aitken undoubtedly means well. But his prison days are long gone. He spent 7 months in prison. He was released in February 2000. If a week is a long time in politics, 14 years is an eternity in the prison world.

Back in 2011 the Ministry of Justice launched its most recent attempt to limit suicides. It issued an Instruction to its prisons (“Management of prisoners at risk of harm to self, to others and from others” PSI64/2011) which came into effect on 1st April 2012. It’s on the Ministry of Justice website. It is well worth a read. When you’re reading it remember this: since this Instruction was issued suicides in prisons have increased.

The Instruction suggested peer support as a means of reducing suicides, self harm and harm to and from others. There’s a whole chapter devoted to it in the Instruction.

And has it been implemented on a prison wide basis? No.

Has it been implemented in any prison? No.

Why not?

Because it will cost too much to implement and  because there are not enough prison staff to manage it.

If a prison wanted to adopt a peer support scheme it would be required to do the following:

–         identify the need and articulate the aims of the scheme (not our words by the way, this is the wording used in the Instruction)

–         identify a member of staff to manage the scheme

–         pick suitable prisoners to act as peers

–         advertise the scheme

–         provide initial training and on-going training

–         have procedures to de-select peers and an appeals process for those resisting de-selection

–         monitor the scheme

–         decide how much to pay peers

–         make sure the peers have on-going support.

So there you are.





Posted by: In: General 19 Oct 2014 0 comments

According to The Daily Mail today, Chris Grayling’s latest brainwave is to quadruple the maximum sentence handed out to internet trolls.

Presently the offence of serious internet abuse carries a 6 month tariff. But Grayling intends to high- jack the latest criminal justice bill going through parliament. In future, he says, the maximum sentence will be 2 years. Grayling has been quoted as saying that trolls should expect to be behind bars for 2 years. Cleary he does not understand how sentencing works. Anyone sentenced to 2 years in prison will serve less than half the time ‘’behind bars’’, most of it in an open prison.

We expect Grayling’s civil servants will stop this in its tracks. Prisons in this country are cracking at the seams. Yes, serious internet abuse is unpleasant and should be a criminal offence. But any reasonably intelligent teenager could tell you two things:

  1.  Quite a few of the trolls have mental health issues;
  2. It’s possible to come up with sanctions which would reduce trolling to the minimum and keep the vast majority of trolls out of prison.

How about stringent fines, confiscation of hardware and weekly reporting to the probation office?

Posted by: In: General 19 Oct 2014 0 comments

There was a shocking report in the Nottingham Post (15th October 2014) regarding the recent death of a prisoner. The prisoner did evidently not die of natural causes, but at least the death was “…not believed to be suspicious”, which we assume means that no one else was involved.

The report acted as a summary sheet of other incidents within Nottingham Prison, including prisoners barricading themselves in the staff canteen in September, a prisoner biting off an ear of a prison officer and another prisoner gouging his own eyes out.

The story country-wide is far worse. On average every 5 days another prisoner commits suicide as reported in The Guardian on the 17th October 2014

It’s mostly down to Government cuts. The Justice Minister doesn’t agree. But then again, he’s a here today, gone tomorrow politician. Voters think prisoners have it too easy, therefore cuts are good.

The Independent Monitoring Board reckons that a 25% funding cut has led to the loss of 140 prison officers at Nottingham Prison .

Prison officers maintain order in prisons. They stop, or try to stop, drugs and mobile phones being smuggled into our prisons. That isn’t working. Our prisons are infested with drugs. On my first day at Open Prison I was offered 5 mobile phones, all at very reasonable prices. You may or may not know that prisoners are not allowed access to mobile phones. At my previous prison, in the West Country, one enterprising prisoner organized a serious crime from the safety of his own cell, using a mobile phone. There weren’t enough prison officers to stop it happening.

That’s what cuts mean on the ground. It’s actually the economics of the feeble-minded. Because there aren’t enough prison officers there’s a loss of control in prisons. Prisoners abscond. Prison property gets damaged. Prison officers get hurt. Prisoners get hurt. Prisoners commit suicide. Prisoners self harm. So the NHS has to treat the injured, the police have to dedicate resources to chasing the absconders and the victims sue the Government. And all that costs money. So actually Grayling’s cuts don’t work on any level.

The main corollary of the cuts is to prevent prisons from educating prisoners so that they won’t re-offend. The Justice Minister doesn’t realize this. Prisons are not places to be punished, they are the punishment. Prisons should be places of rehabilitation. Amongst other things this means educating prisoners. Not just academia but life skills and thinking skills. It means imbuing them with a work ethic. It means trying to equip them with the skills and outlook to become people who have something to contribute to society.

At Prison Consultants we have previously mentioned in our blogs and in the media that cutbacks within the prison system will put the lives of prisoners and staff at risk. They have made life in prison less safe, more hazardous.

As more and more first time white collar offenders find their way into our overcrowded prisons they need to understand how best to make use of their time inside,

We can’t change the system but we can certainly prepare for it.

Posted by: In: General 27 Jul 2014 0 comments

In earlier blogs we have predicted that the cutbacks could cause disquiet within prisons. It appears that, as reported by the Daily Mail that there has been a serious incident at HMP Ranby, The recent cutbacks have resulted in the reduction of staff. This causes the reduction of Association time and general reduction in time out of the cells.

Association is the time whereby prisoners are allowed out of their cells, they can shower, mix with other prisoners, make phone calls, clean their cells and generally stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air. This period under normal prison regime can be no longer than 2 hours. The reduction of Association time has the direct effect of confining prisoners in very small cells for longer periods. Taking into consideration the recent hot weather prison cells become ovens. Ventilation normally consists of a vent or a very small window that opens by no more that 4 inches or so, then factor in a cell occupancy of  2 or more men in a cell designed for 1 and the situation becomes intolerable.

It doesn’t matter who a prisoner was on the outside, if you treat someone like an animal then be prepared for them to become feral. In this case it appears that when asked to go back to their cells prisoners decided otherwise and refused. If 120 men refuse to return to cells there is not much that 6 officers will be able to do about it!

The cutbacks are causing this situation and it is a very short sighted view. There will be damage to property, people will get injured if not worse, further sentences could result therefore  increasing the prison population and the resulting costs to the tax payer. Prison are not for punishment they are the punishment and unless we try and rehabilitate prisoners and not torture them them then our excessive recidivism rate and the purported £13bn that its costs society is unlikely to reduce, it is more likely to increase.

Posted by: In: General 06 Jul 2014 0 comments

In an open letter to The Telegraph  Jonathan Aitken revealed some well-meaning advice to Andy Coulson on how to cope with prison life which may have been too much coloured by his own unusually soft experience of incarceration. An excerpt as follows

“You were immediately interested in becoming a “listener” (prison Samaritans); or working for the Shannon Trust’s Toe by Toe programme, which enables young illiterate offenders to be taught reading and writing skills by other prisoners (just the job for an ex-editor).”

“You would be extraordinarily unlucky if anything truly unpleasant happened to you. One or two rough verbals maybe, but nothing worse. So you should have little to fear.”

Mr Coulson will not be in jail long enough to be trained as a listener, unless the Samaritans take him on purely for publicity reasons; the Samaritans devote significant effort to training listeners and given that he will be out in nine months (or four and a half if he earns a Tag) he would not have time to put the training to good use.

In addition, prison life has changed much in the 15 years since Mr Aitken was inside; last year alone there was a complete overhaul in IEP (Incentives and Earned Privileges ) regulations which dictate how prisoners are to be treated and what is expected from them in order to progress

Mr Aitken’s offence was, in essence, lying – fairly low in the pecking order of repugnant crime from his fellow prisoners’ point of view. Mr Coulson, on the other hand, has been jailed for his involvement in hacking the phones of, among others, a murdered child, which raises his exposure to danger considerably above that of the “one or two rough verbals” suggested by Mr Aitken.

There is also the possibility that he might be housed in close proximity to convicts whose offences were reported sensationally and judgementally by the News of the World, and who might harbour grudges.

It is concerning that Mr Coulson may have approached his incarceration with an inappropriate awareness of the serious risks he faces.

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