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Thursday, 18 February 2016

Post 10 - Weapon of Choice the SIR not the SLR

If you read the previous Post 9, you are now aware if you weren't before that there are various means of 'punishment' within an institution, either the brutal uncompromising kind of Con on Con or the official process of adjudications or the often used 'unofficial' punishments from the uniforms such as the 'ghosting' described in Post 9.  All have an unquantified cost in human and financial terms, and in financial terms it is another 'blackhole' (see Blog Post 3) within the billions wasted in the UK Criminal Justice System.

Ghosting is a phrase used in UK institutions to describe an unscheduled transfer of an inmate usually claimed to be for security reasons as most decisions taken in UK Institutions under the 'umbrella' of security are rarely scrutinised too closely by the powers that be.  The uniforms simply claim actions of that nature were taken for the "good order and discipline of the establishment", a catch all used frequently to disguise actions of instrumental aggression against people in the care of the State, usually no right of appeal and certainly not in a timely manner because they are now usually hundreds of miles away in another part of the country. 

'Ghostings' typically occur in the early hours when everyone is asleep and the jail is still locked down, if they don't expect resistance there will be three screws in uniform and a junior manager at the door, however if they expect trouble then the 'Mufti' (Minimum Use of Force Tactical Intervention) are called in to do the job, and believe me they do it quickly, efficiently and violently to the extent that now all 'security' cell removals are supposed to be filmed.The Mufti squad since conception have been symptomatic with prisoner injuries, the Howard League for Penal Reform at the outset of Mufti Squads wrote letters requesting enquiries for topical issues exposing staff brutality or prisoner injuries through the use of Mufti squads, yet it is still in use today 25 years later, and not much has changed. Following a 'ghosting' the Con arrives elsewhere with a black mark against his name and can take months if not years for the 'stain' imposed on his record sheet and his reputation to be restored. Despite the fact that more often than not there will have been no breach of prison discipline rules nor will they have been through any 'official' recognised disciplinary process to warrant removal and transfer commonly away from their family and thereby punishing visitors in the process. However that is the overt obvious stuff, what about the ability to inflict 'punishment' without the Con being aware until sometimes years later?  Sounds unlikely, well it happens, and it happens a lot. 

Many staff are ex-military and as such used to handling the SLR however they no longer need such an antiquated weapon as things are far more sophisticated now with the advent of the 'SIR'. This is a Security Information Report, probably designed with good intentions, but unwittingly has become the weapon of choice for those with an interest in a campaign of 'Instrumental Aggression', and it is available to anyone who understands the workings of a prison or worse the Parole Board.  What is it?  Well it is what's written on the tin, a report written following "intelligence" received or known, considered to be significant to the security of the establishment. 

Quite literally a form is filled out detailing the relevant information, and on the face of it you would think it is logical to have such an instrument available as it allows others unfamiliar with the individual or situation concerned to read a file, read any SIR's contained therein and form a view.  But there are obvious flaws which open this process to abuse, the ability to be manipulated and thereby impotent as a tool for which it is designed.  However despite knowing this the prison service continue with this process and subsequently the prisons are full of Cons who have SIR's entered daily on their files without their knowledge.  Information comes in from all areas, yes censorship of incoming and outgoing mail (officially 5% random unless targeted by security) in the post room, and yes monitoring of telephone conversations or recordings of conversations, albeit they are generally supposed to be random unless targeted, (yes you guessed it targeted by security on the basis of information received ergo SIR).  But there is a far more sinister side to this and I am sure you are ahead of me, because there are too many (for the process not to be flawed), examples where SIR's are submitted as a result of spurious allegations from other less principled Cons, or calculated allegations by competitors in the drug distribution game, or by debtors trying to avoid payment, spiteful or malicious Cons who get perverse entertainment from causing another misery or difficulty, peer envy etc, the implications of which are obvious.

However the worst abuse of this system of information gathering, and far more frightening is occasions of false and fabricated SIR's deliberately compiled by a member of staff in full knowledge of all the implications of such an act on the sentence of the Con as these documents are read by the Governor or brought to their attention when considering HDC, or the IEP status of a Con within their establishment.  Even More worrying is the Parole Board specifically request a report from the security department with particular note to how many SIR's if any, have been compiled regarding the person whose case they are considering either for progression or release.  In the case of Lifers appearing in person before a Parole Board Oral Hearing there is quite often discussion regarding entries and it may possibly be the first time the Con had knowledge of any such event, yet they are having to defend against unknown accusers in relation to unknown allegations, which again is a huge flaw in our delivery of Justice.  But many pre-tariff reviews are conducted on the papers only so how do you defend against something you are unaware of, it's a ludicrous and abusive process and one in which the parole board are misled on many occasions.
"Agree or else"

Information needs to be gathered within institutions, information and intelligence should however be gathered relating to anyone who is involved in questionable activities, including staff. As with all systems which involve a human element, it lies with the person inputting the data to maintain their own personal integrity and not be party to any deviation from the professional standards required and to be mindful of the implications for the Con and his family (who are also victims of the offending behaviour).  

This is why without a secure whistleblower telephone process within institutions and NOMS for staff and Cons alike prison reform is doomed to fail, because peer pressure is enormous and the stigma and marginalisation a whistleblower faces is for many a terrifying prospect.

To knowingly compile false reports of any nature in any capacity as a member of NOMS (be it prison officer, case worker, probation officer etc) in our view should be a criminal offence.  In many ways the Parole Board involves the judiciary, and some may say compiling false reports which are laid before them is tantamount to perverting the course of justice.  But from the number of reports we get, plus personal knowledge of this practice we know spurious reporting costs hundreds of millions of pounds and are yet another unquantifiable black hole within NOMS expenditure.

If you know of anyone who has been subjected to this abuse, or someone who perpetrates this abuse on those in their care, visit our website and post on the relevant institution message board and we will bring it to the attention of the appropriate body on your behalf.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Post 9 - Do The Real Lunatics Run the Asylums? You Decide.

This was a week quite literally hundreds of thousands of people were waiting for.  It could have been a week marked in history for decades to come, as one where finally something was to be done to halt the irrepressible decline of UK institutional life.  Institutions where it seems by any recognised form of scientific/mathematical scale far too many vulnerable people die.  Every year for the last 3 decades, scores of people in the care of the UK Government have perceived no other alternative than to take their own life, according to the 'death rates' and suicide statistics collated by Inquest who are a respected and worthwhile organisation which provides data on this rather taboo subject.

Well despite my personal hopes, the reality of the much awaited, and thereafter much commented upon speech was in line with my expectations, and sadly in my view, all the important issues, the challenging, uncomfortable problems connected with prison reform were avoided, or worse simply ignored!  We all held our breath with the exception of the 'acceptable critics' (who were privy in advance) for the forthcoming announcement by David Cameron, the first 'exclusively' prison reform speech from a sitting British Prime Minister in twenty years.  To my embarrassment on occasion I admonished some tweeters for 'trashing' Cameron before the speech was made, I accused others of pre-judgement, well how stupid am I?  Now I too feel this latest announcement was something of a sham,  I feel it was made for underlying political maneuverings related to long term objectives regarding the privatisation and commercialisation of the Criminal Justice System, the in/out European referendum issue and long term conservative party leadership positioning. There is nothing in it which will bring about reductions in Mental Health abuse, nothing to save the lives of the vulnerable or suicidal, nothing in practical terms which will change anything, much less bring about "wholesale prison reform" as it was announced it is intended to do.

Now obviously this is just my view, I am not an expert and nor am I an educated man, but I'm not a fool either, having spent 19 years in prison.  During that time I read many books and worked in two prison libraries, I read mainly about Psychology, Human Behaviour, Business and Law, I also took a few exams and wrote some Tutor Marked Assessments (TMA's) for other Cons who were studying with the Open University (in exchange for bits and pieces), but that was my lot really. I was all about trying to resist falling victim to institutionalisation and desensitisation, remaining sane and help others to do the same if I could.  One thing everyone inside doing a long stretch learns is the dynamic of a prison landing, just like politics in the workplace, the same applies in prisons if not more so. A 'political' mistake inside can cost you enormously, it can get you slashed across the face (known as a mars bar = scar) or worse Jugged, a term used to describe a jug of boiling water thrown in your face, and if they really want to damage you the jug is filled with sugar which apparently makes it far harder for plastic surgeons to repair as it peels your skin from your face (go figure).  Prisoner on Prisoner punishments are usually brutal, uncompromising and executed with military precision, though that is changing with the huge influx of NPS (New Psychoactive Substances) blamed by Nick Hardwick the outgoing Inspector of Prisons for the upsurge in prison violence and hospital transfers of the last 2 years.  However there are other more subtle punishments which can be inflicted upon you, punishments which originate from a uniform but are not conducted through the normal adjudication system in place for breaking prison rules and the maintenance of good order and discipline within the institution.  

But before I expand and you accuse me of paranoia or conspiracy theories let me tell you a little bit more about me. Having been released from prison I then spent my professional life working in Criminal Justice having founded my own company, which developed into a reputable entity in the field.  This brought my staff and I into contact either in person or on the telephone with people who were in the most part detained (although some were in the community on licence) by the UK Government in one form or another.  I have quite literally interviewed thousands of people who have been through the criminal justice system. Young offenders, adult male and female prisoners (the large majority were serving Life Sentences), patients in secure units and in some circumstances people serving the remainder of their sentence on licence in the community.  In the process I had cause to document their situation as it was at that given time, generally with a view to assisting in the preparation of their case to be put before the relevant administrative or judicial bodies.  One thing which was a common denominator with almost everyone I interviewed, and either almost everyone I interviewed suffered from a Paranoid Personality Disorder or they have hit on one of the major causes for many of the practical problems within UK Institutions.  They have all complained about issues related to members of staff and the apparent chaotic daily life within an Institution.  To the extent I cannot believe it has not been the same for any Criminal Lawyer who has conducted more than 5 interviews with people who have experienced detention.

Now normally one prefers to go with the 'cock up theory' or simple incompetence, however when you hear similar accounts from a huge number of people spread across the nation with no connection, relaying roughly the same details of certain daily events then you have to consider that these events are orchestrated or part of a deliberate strategy to thwart the smooth management of these places.  My view is they are in the main orchestrated events.

The reason I can say this with a certain amount of authority is obviously the interviews I have conducted, "but they're Cons" you might say, "of course they'll lie", well OK, but what about the fact that during my own 19 years inside I have also personally witnessed many events which today fill me with shame as I did not intervene or take steps to report events, I was a coward.  Then finally post release in the course of my professional life I employed ex-prison service staff (governor grade through the ranks) and I have mixed socially with people who have held front line and lower management roles in prisons and they have confirmed it to me.  So I know it is a fact these events are deliberate strategies to thwart the smooth running of establishments, so the question is by who and for what purpose?

Well for the next few days I am going to post actual events on this blog and you can decide for yourself were they deliberate strategies, is it hyperbole as one twitterati stated (although he is a serving prison officer), decide for yourselves.  Here is one example.

I was a cleaner on the old D wing (lifer wing) of Wormwood Scrubs, a huge Victorian jail, the wings were huge and the landings extremely long and poorly lit back then.  Notorious for violence, in those days 'the Scrubs' was an ominous and sinister environment in which to 'do your bird'.

Employment for Cons was scarce, I was fortunate enough to have a job as a wing cleaner, and one day three of us were left out cleaning on the ground floor, the rest of the wing were banged up, as in those days it was quite literally 23 hours behind your door, with the exception of Sunday if you went to church. Prison wings are eerie places when everyone is locked down, and depending on the time of day they can be deafening in their silence.  My cell was on the 3's, (D wing had 4 landings) and I had nipped up to hide some biscuits I'd been given by one of the other cons who had taken them from the screws tea room as he was their 'teaboy', when I heard voices outside on the landing.  Unbeknown to me the screws had told the other 2 cleaners to stay in the cleaning store so I was the only one on the landings and they had clearly overlooked me.  There were five screws huddled and whispering together talking, no not talking, planning how they were going to inflict violence on a fellow Con.  They were whispering just outside to the left of my door not realising I was in there as oppose to downstairs cleaning, they discussed unlocking the door of their target and four of them agreed to wait outside whilst the fifth one (I will refer to him as 'L') went in and provoked the Con into an argument, they agreed at that point 'L' would shout for help whilst simultaneously attacking the Con.  The others would then rush in and assist 'L' in beating the Con up at which point they agreed they would take him down into the segregation unit housed in the cellars.  I waited in my cell silent as they initiated their plan, once the violence started and screams and shouts came from the cell the whole wing erupted with the banging and kicking of steel doors and shouting abuse through the door jams.  The Con had no chance.

They brought him out onto the landing, his face was bloodied where his nose and left eye was bleeding and he was struggling to stand, he still had soap on his face, so clearly they had gone in on him as he was washing his face in his bucket.  Two of them were holding him up underarm and two others had him by the wrists, the fifth 'L' was snarling and swearing, at him prodding him and holding his chin up as screws appeared from everywhere storming up the metal stairs and along metal gangways to 'support' their colleagues. 

Something insane happened, and to this day I don't know why I did it but I opened my door wide and stepped out into my doorway my eyes met with the Con and immediately screws rushed me and forced me back into my cell violently pushing me to the floor and banging my door up.  I have never forgotten that event and it was many many years ago.  The next morning at 5am my cell door was thrown open and 3 screws stood there menacingly, and one said "pack your kit, your leaving us" and when I asked where I was going he responded with "just think yourself lucky your being allowed to leave on your feet and not in a box, now fucking hurry up"... Within an hour I was being driven to HMP Onley which in those days was the exchange point where all Cons in transit went to be processed for transfer, I spent 5 hours there and later that night arrived in another Victorian hell hole...all FACT.

Life went on until many years later I read a ''News of The World' newspaper article which published the names of some screws who had been convicted from the Scrubs for violence, one of them was 'L', I confess to a wry smile when I read his name, as I can still see him with his peak hat on, fat belly, pony tail, earrings and Dog breath explaining the wing rules in his threatening bullying it's true, every dog does have it's day.

Now why is that anecdote relevant to Messrs Cameron and Gove and their "Wholesale Prison Reform" plans?  Well because in the view of many who have lived the experience for many years it is the culture within the 'old school' elements of the POA that have to be overcome before any initiative to reform or even improve the reality of life inside can be fundamentally successful.  There are some very good professional staff working within UK institutions, but there are also some not so good and they are dragging the rest down and will ultimately cost them all potentially their livelihoods unless they wake up and smell the coffee.

More soon, so keep checking...In the meantime check out the website, it's FREE to use and FREE to advertise, its organic so suggest content, or a document or a link and we will add it for you.  Get involved life is not a dress rehearsal.  Please comment by clicking on 'comments' below, your feedback is of interest to us and your opinion matters.