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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Post 5 - Dum Down Offending Behaviour and What Do You Expect?

We had occasion to have discussions with some guys who were recently released from prison, they had served relatively different terms inside ranging from 18 months to in excess of 19 years, they were in for  a variety of offences ranging from Murder to Fraud, we engaged with them over various topics and had many lengthy and insightful discussions.  One of the things that quickly became apparent was the varying degrees of insight into themselves and their offending behaviour and the simple questions like why they had committed the offences they had and why they were not going to do it again.  On the surface simple questions and ones you would think were asked prior to release of certain types of prisoner, and ones which you would think were asked by prison governors or the Parole Board when they conduct their reviews of the suitability of release for those they are tasked with decision making regarding release or progression.

As the Parole Board state within their literature "We carry out risk assessments on prisoners in England and Wales according to provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the Crime Sentences Act 1997  "Our main responsibility is to protect the public, and we manage the early release of prisoners serving fixed-length sentences of 4 years or more and the release of prisoners who are serving Life Sentences or Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection and the re-release of prisoners who had been given life or indeterminate sentences were released and were then re-imprisoned"
However apparently not so simple.

Example;  One person is of the view he is a better class of 'killer' ergo 'above' others in the criminal 'pecking order' as he killed a male, not a woman, nor a child.  The fact that his victim was a boy just out of his teens seemed to escape him (cognitive distortion) and the fact that almost all those who die at the hands of a criminal leave behind victims also seemed to escape him in the emotional sense.  Yes, a discussion on an intellectual level related to victim awareness can be had with most people who are released from prison, but how many feel genuine remorse, guilt and shame, for their actions is another debate.  One it appears some are ill equipped to undertake.

American prisoner stratification is somewhat different to that of prisons here in the UK, and an article by 'Jim Smith' in 1995 The Pecking Order is also shown to be pertinent today as much as it was 20 years ago as demonstrated by the clear views of our example given above.

Another Example is the fraudster who "only defrauded charities" where "there are no victims"... Hello?  Yes another cognitive distortion.  A complete failure to comprehend that monies taken from them deprives potential beneficiaries of charitable works/handouts.  This person spends 3 weeks in a B Category local prison followed by 19 months in an open prison where of course life is easier, so no experience of a real prison environment ergo no deterrent some might say?

So the question needs to be asked.  Who is responsible for "Dumming Down" Offending Behaviour programmes?

The Ministry of Justice in 2014 reported their offending behaviour portfolio and explain that although most programmes are monitored and or implemented by Forensic Psychologists in the main they are facilitated by uniformed prison officers, where the entry criteria is minimal (see Requirements) and where they clearly state "Personal qualities and life experience are more important than academic qualifications."  In 2003 OBPU were involved in studies which clearly showed interventions were the way to go, facilitated by psychologists.  Yet within a decade cost came into play, psychologists were moved back from front line interventions and replaced by prison officers!

How can it be that programmes so important to the process of reducing crime (victims) can be facilitated on a daily basis by in the main unqualified prison officers?  Yes they may have supervision, even possibly with a psychologist, but surely it is obvious yet needs to be said, the training that comes with years of study and then practical application on site under supervision of a senior practitioner cannot be replicated by a formally uneducated person regardless of how pleasant their manner within the group or culture.  Probation Officers who are formally educated cannot assist as they are inundated with report writing and whats to be done?

The challenges which in our view require qualified facilitators and professional oversight are;

Religious Radicalisation, Sexual Offending, Decision Making, Parenting, Problem Solving, Life Skills (cooking, money management, personal hygiene, housekeeping, ironing etc), Basic Education (numeracy & Literacy), Emotional Management, Relationship Skills, Use of Weapons and Violence...just to name a few.

Just another set of obstacles and challenges for Mr. Gove and possibly ones he needs to address quickly before we have complete chaos and implosion of an already fragile infrastructure judging by the levels of re-offending within prisons (because an assualt inside is still a crime, as is a theft or a deception), occurring even before people are released.  Around half of all crime is committed by people who have already been through the criminal justice system.

The cost to the taxpayer of re-offending is estimated to be £9.5 to £13 billion per year according to a government policy paper in May 2015 ... "Re-offending has been too high for too long, despite significant government spending on offender management in the last decade. There has been little change in reconviction rates and almost half of those released from prison go on to re-offend within 12 months.  So clearly the need to reduce re-offending to reduce both the number of victims and the costs to the taxpayer is evident and in order to achieve this, we need a tough but intelligent criminal justice system that punishes people properly when they break the law, but also supports them so they don’t commit crime in the future."

So do we need to increase the numbers of psychologists and probation staff significantly and redefine the role to include more face time facilitating interviews with prisoners and facilitating interventions and programmes?  Short term seems expensive, however long term gains make this the CHEAP option as real insight is developed by prisoners and thereby real reductions in recidivism may be a real outcome.  We make no claims to be experts or even to make a reasonable case, we were simply dumbfounded at the cognitive distortions clearly still apparent in those we encountered during our discussions and do not claim they are in any way representative of the majority.

However the reductions in staff are real and present, the choice now is do we hire more uniforms or do we make a real investment in reducing crime and recidivism in our society?

As Michael Gove said in his speech there is "treasure in the heart of man" Click here

So go to our website and take a look.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Post 4 - Consequences of Shaking The Trees

As some of you may be aware a few weeks ago we started our own blog as we thought it right that we start to link social media with our website as we are new to the whole Internet/social media promotion game.  We were doing OK on twitter @boltsandbars and we were starting to get the hang of the whole tweeting thing (we learnt very quickly that capital letters = shouting not passion) and seemed to be picking up followers fairly quickly, so clearly some of the tweeters found our comments of interest.  As a result we engaged in talks with direct messaging etc, all tools of the twitter world and during one such chat with a follower he suggested we contact 'Jim Brown' (not his real name I am reliably informed) on twitter and see if he can assist us in progressing our objectives in relation to our website by way of an article or an interview, so we did.

'Jim Brown' also has a blog called probation matters where he reports on all manner of matters probation related.  We spoke, exchanged mobile numbers and arranged to meet, in a Northern Hotel lobby, all very MI5 ish.  We talked for 3 hours or so on mostly Criminal Justice System related subjects with a bit of privatisation of probation services within the UK thrown in.  Following our meeting, (the next day in fact) 'Jim' posted his blog which contained some references to our company, our purpose and our website referring to us as the 'New Kids on the Block' - and then life changed.

We received a text from 'Jim' that someone had posted an anonymous entry on his blog which contained offensive and abusive comments and remarks regarding one of the Bolts & Bars team, and 'Jim' informed us he had deleted the post and also now applied moderation.  Then the games began.

That night one of us received three abusive telephone calls from an unknown number, and thereafter abusive/threatening/intimidating text messages on a frequent and regular basis which continue to this day.  Another member of our team has had his house (where he lives with his partner) broken into and items stolen, and then on a second occasion broken into but nothing taken. Then recently two known offenders turned up at the company registered office intimidating our director and demanding the residential address of team members. 

Now of course we are not suggesting for a second these events are connected or have anything to do with 'Jim' personally, for you could not meet a nicer man.    Some have suggested events are connected with ex-employees (since dismissed) or victims/extended victims disgruntled that we employ ex-offenders, or even potential jilted admirers.  Whoever it is , it's getting 'old' and is creating anxiety and distress for colleagues, friends and family and we are saddened and dissapointed that people cannot see the good in what we are trying to do and support us as oppose to attempt to hinder us at every turn.

So what do we do? We have read the entries on 'Jim Brown's blog, and of course all the negative views expressed therein regarding our company, ex-offenders, 'carpetbaggers' etc, but there are also entries from other probation people who encourage debate, welcome positive constructive comment, change and debate, so therein lies the problem which as we see it is twofold.

One is, who is our ominous, threatening, intimidating and boring observer?  

Two, how do we engage in any meaningful way with those who apparently have contempt for us as a whole (ex-offenders) and contribute in any way to making the situation more accessible for those who find themselves without reasonable access to the law and thus justice by virtue of their circumstances in being incarcerated by the UK, many of whom are not criminals but are asylum seekers, migrants, children, or Mental Health patients?

The answer to one is fairly simple, and we can only say hopefully this will cease as it is causing much anxiety and distress to those in receipt and also our colleagues, friends and family.  

Two is somewhat more complicated.  You see we spent many years in small boxes circa 10ft x 6ft engaging in self analysis, introspection, education, reading, growing, developing and engaging with thoughts and feelings we had not until that point encountered with the exception of many years before when we were very young. We do have opinions about the system that many of us lived in and of course some of us are motivated to engage in a pro-social and positive manner to get involved as it is fair to say, the CJS is facing difficulties and you can never have too much information from which to make informed decisions.  Some would say the perspective of service users would be a very valuable tool indeed.  We are not hear to 'beat up' or bemoan the probation service, or anyone else for that matter, we are simply trying to shed light on certain areas of public life of which the public are unaware.  Our main area for concern is the fact that there are quite literally tens of thousands of people who are unable to share/voice their concerns and fears for their friends/family members/loved ones in a focused manner to bring attention to trends or patterns of behaviour emerging within institutions nationwide.

If NOMS or HMP, or the Immigration Service for example supported our project and gave us access to those incarcerated as they do with other unnamed charities, dot.orgs, publications or private companies then they may not have the amount of discontent, violence, suicide and levels of complaints which they currently encounter which indirectly costs tens of millions of pounds a year to the treasury.  They would be able to monitor, thus note from the posts of those visiting, or corresponding with others incarcerated or detained what is going on, what their concerns are, 'temperature feel' the environment and react BEFORE matters have escalated or deteriorated.  Surely it would be a vital tool?

In so doing that would thus improve circumstances for everyone incarcerated by the UK government, but also for the Staff working in those places, less friction, less complaints, less sick time off, less malcontent, less despair and anguish as everyone will feel they are being heard.  Instead of weeks or months to resolve a complaint, someone in authority has had it brought to their attention by a site observer within hours, thereby saving millions in man hours and paperwork throughout several different establishments and systems.  The site could even be incorporated into the 'virtual campus' loop, and monitored internally by individual establishments?  The possibilities are endless.

I guess what we are saying is if somehow we have shaken the trees and unwittingly upset someone somewhere, it was unintentional, and we are not here to lambast or criticise generally.  We are here to help in a constructive and pro-social way as we believe that just because someone is incarcerated (and remember not all are convicted criminals, some are migrants, children, MH patients) then they deserve to encounter decent standards of care by those responsible for their care, and in our view 'care' encompasses a multitude of ingredients.  When you take away the ability for someone to manage their life and that of their families etc for themselves, in doing that we then have a responsibility to them and society as a whole to ensure when they are returned into life outside the walls that they are able and that 'life' is viable for them.

You may not all agree, but hopefully someone out there does and will assist, support and promote our initiative.  We are extremely fortunate in that some shares in the company bolts & bars are in the process of being sold as the deposit for the purchase of those funds was a huge benefit in bringing us to the point we currently find ourselves in, however as we all know money is tight in the current climate.  We do not claim to be a charity and then receive from trusts directly linked to the charity, we do not request donations or ask people to subscribe to us as a charity, we operate as a ltd company for that reason - to be completely transparent and open about who we are and what we are.  We will donate 15% of our net profit to charities, we still seek charities who are OK with working with and accepting donations from people who have been in prison, oddly they are hard to find despite the number of organisations, charities and dot.orgs making millions on the back of people who are incarcerated.  Many of them have provided invaluable tools over the years such as Insidetime and the Prison Reform Trust who produce fabulous material such as the Bromley Report , but there are many others who some might say have not really affected any real change over the last 30 years, but that is a question for other people to answer, suffice to say if they had, there may not be so many of them today.  Bolts and Bars are here for real change, to bring IT and all it can offer into the field of public life, namely our institutions which fail so regularly and cost so much and appear to have no real oversight in relation to the failures other than a few departments who publish reports/studies and white papers which are in general then ignored and left on the shelf to be brought out at the next crisis meeting, as crisis management seems to have been the norm for two decades within certain elements of the Criminal Justice system, NOMS, Border and Immigration and the MH arm of the NHS.

People (human beings who are still members of society here or abroad and who will one day return to live in those societies), regardless of who they are or where they are detained or what they have done, in any civilised society should be entitled to have their voice heard, our site provides that platform, that is why we are here.

Go to our website and see what difference you can make to the world of those less fortunate than us.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Post 3 - The Fraud of Justice - or Good Practice - You Decide

There was a very lively discussion with several 'twitterati' Saturday 17 September (in case you want to track back and read the discussions) generally centred around Probation "Good Practice".  So rather than repeat views and comment I thought I would simply give you a question and allow you to form a view and hopefully expand the debate.

Someone is charged with Murder, the case is fully investigated by the authorities, it results in charges being brought and court proceedings begin.  The evidence is supplied to all parties and is thoroughly examined in an open court by experts on both sides.  The decision is made by a jury of 12 having heard all the evidence tested before them in court, they decide guilty and the Judge passes sentence after a full examination of the evidence has taken place.

Cost for process circa £250,000.

The same someone goes to jail for say 20 years.  Throughout that time he is examined by experts, encounters psychological examination, psychiatric assessment, he is monitored closely for years by those trained in such matters.  His letters are examined, his phone calls are listened to, his visitors monitored, searched and vetted.  Copious and numerous reports are written about him during that time, until he is considered ready to be considered for release.

The Parole Board of experts are supplied with hundreds of papers in a dossier to be examined and digested by them, the same dossier is supplied to the prisoner and his lawyer in order for him to prepare and submit his representations and comment on the dossier.  Both parties can call upon experts and witnesses to take part in an oral hearing where all the material is examined and questions can be asked of witnesses and the prisoner, victims can comment in writing or appear in person to make their personal statement.  The Parole Board panel is chaired by a Judge, and following a full examination of the evidence the panel takes a view on risk to the public and the Judge orders release.

Cost for term in prison to release circa £1.2million.

In the community on license and an allegation is made (not always) and then RECALLED on the recommendation of a probation officer.  Done without any thought to the human cost to friends, families, work colleagues, the existence painstakingly built up sometimes over years.  No examination of the evidence in court, without any testing of the evidence, often without sight of the evidence against him, always without the benefit of representations to the courts or the home office before the recall, and NO Judicial input whatsoever, no expert evaluation simply arbitrary imprisonment, the Guantanamo syndrome if you like.  You stand suspected, not charged, not remanded, no simply accused therefore we imprison you? Done in our name by bureaucrats in Probation and NOMS and often with complete disregard to the protocols in place for such a decision to be made. 

Financial and Human Cost to the taxpayer unlimited!

This is arrogance of the highest order by practitioners drunk on power.  Is this process right, Humane and Just in the world we live in today?  How can it be that a probation officer (could be 24 years old) makes a decision which costs us millions of pounds every single year, year in and year out, with no accountability, no transparency?

The core values of our website, are to allow access to Justice for everyone (Accessibility), to create transparent systems and processes where we incarcerate anyone, patient, child, woman or man (Transparency), ensure compliance with the statutory instruments and the integrity of practitioners and those tasked with the care of those who are voiceless in our society (Accountability) and try to ensure that those tasked with the care and responsibility for the voiceless wield their power with human compassion and integrity (Humility).

Go to our website and join us, make a difference and bring real change to a system which costs the tax payer (us) tens of millions year in year out, and do it in a pro-social way.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Post 2 - Author The Solicitors Journal about us on 20th August 2015.

Launched at the Law Society this week, Bolts&Bars is a new access to justice tool on behalf of the 'voiceless'. Designed as a one-stop-shop for those interested in the incarcerated - not necessarily by court order - including immigrants, children, the elderly, and those with mental health conditions, it aims to provide valuable information about the UK's detention centres and offer a transparent forum for the imprisoned to share their experiences.

'Some people deserve to be in prison for their crimes but they still deserve to be heard,' said Bolts&Bars founder. 'But there is no excuse for young children, mentally ill people, or migrants not to be able to access the law.'

One prominent supporter of the project is notable barrister Flo Krause, who successfully acted for former prisoner John Hirst in his high-profile and contentious action against the blanket ban on prisoner voting, which left David Cameron feeling 'physically ill'.

Providing specific examples from two decades of practising prison law, Krause said: 'To be truly voiceless, somebody is not only unheard but unseen. People are put away into institutions and become voiceless. The institutions subsume them. They disappear behind walls and under the weight of rules and regulations. There is no one to witness their plight and no one to record the dramas that go on behind those thick walls.'

Also speaking at the launch, Russell-Cooke partner Peter Cadman observed that even in the 'good-old days of legal aid' there was an element of abandonment of clients by solicitors after conviction. Now, with funding squeezed ever tighter, the ability for firms to provide aftercare to clients is nearly impossible.

'The timing of this venture is excellent,' he added. 'We are at a time when the public purse is not paying lawyers to assist and represent, and at a time when the cost of keeping a prisoner in prison is so astronomic that the balance between the spend and the save is just wrong.'

Cadman said he hopes the project will help offenders navigate the penal system and calm the 'ripple effect' that impacts on a prisoner's family and friends by providing them the information needed to cope with an incarcerated loved one.

Although the Howard League has benefitted greatly from this silliest of seasons, the same cannot be said for Bolts&Bars. The event, which took place within the Law Society's 'magnificent' Common Room, far from reached the venue's attendance capacity. Barring a couple of legal journalists and invested supporters it was empty, despite 'hundreds' of emails declaring an interest in the launch.

The Bolts&Bars team clearly face an uphill battle. If you cannot get lawyers into a room to discuss our rotten prison estate, what hope have you of opening up various important issues to the wider public who are predisposed to thinking prisoners should forfeit their rights upon incarceration. Maybe, as SJ's Kevin Poulter has suggested, solicitors should reflect on the ways they support access to justice, perhaps by giving consideration to the work of Bolts&Bars.  Go to their website

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal