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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.

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