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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Post 15 - The 'Monolith' we know as NOMS

This is our last blog post as the owner and controller of Bolts & Bars before it goes under new management, so we thought we'd better lay out our alternative for the current system we have for the control and oversight of our institutions in this country which house so many vulnerable people.

I use the word vulnerable deliberately as so many are ill with various mental health conditions and so should be under the care of our National Health Service, or young children who should be under the care of Social Services, or migrants awaiting deportation or processing who either way should not be under lock and key, women and elderly who should only be there if they're violent or a public danger.
Time for some fresh eyes and some new ideas
However that said, none of those are the real reasons in my view why they are vulnerable although they are good reasons to consider. The one thing they all have in common by virtue of the fact they are effectively 'prisoners' and as such the applicable laws pertaining to their conditions and rules under which they are held come under 'prison rules' and prison law class. They do not (with the exception of the very rare case nowadays) have access to legal aid. In other words they have no protections under the law, in the sense that whilst there may be rules and laws to abide by and to protect them, they cannot defend themselves nor their rights under those protections without access to adequate and equal resources (their own money). So in effect they have no access to the law, and thus no real access to justice because we have either done away with, or capped the relevant legal aid funds for people such as the vulnerable in the given circumstances.  

It may surprise you, but that is not what I want to write about. Why you ask, well because everyone involved with the prison industrial complex including charities, prison reform campaign groups, criminal justice system workers, journalists, politicians, police officers, probation officers, court staff and the judiciary all know that aspect is not going to change. Despite all the campaigning and speech making and report writing by various bodies including Chief Inspector of Prisons, IMB groups, national newspapers and TV programmes, with all the rhetoric from well intentioned people who have seen the light because their life has been touched personally in one way or another, nothing will change. Not if we maintain our current course with our current model. Therefore I propose a fundamental sweeping change to our system, and I believe we can succeed and affect real, tangible, long lasting reform if we are brave and creative in our thinking when considering solutions. My meagre pondering has brought me to this conclusion...
Stand out and create change

The first problem to deal with is NOMS - Acronym (we do love an acronym in the UK) for the 'National Offender Management Service' which is a department of the United Kingdom Ministry of Justice and a modern day monolith. Unable or unwilling  it doesn't matter, it must go, so either we disband it completely or we re-brand it!

I am for re-branding and so I have written a proposal for the powers that be if they are at all interested (which they are probably not). After all why would they want to reduce  deaths in custody, reduce assaults on staff and inmates, reduce the numbers of suicide and self harm, reduce the incarcerated population figures, save money and be renowned worldwide for a safe, productive, progressive and humane system of incarceration...well they wouldn't would they?

The new NOMS in my vision would stand for 'National Offender Monitoring Service' and have absolutely no management or fiscal responsibilities for prisons whatsoever.  It should include the following organisations which should be merged to form the new NOMS: The National Probation Service, The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, The Prisons and Probation Inspectorates, The Independent Monitoring Board (old BOV), and The Parole Board for England and Wales.

This body would have responsibility and authority for monitoring and inspecting all institutions private and public, all probation CRCs', monitoring convicted offenders in the community or post release on licence from prison, they would also facilitate all parole board related activities and report their views. NOMS CEO would be a judicial appointment and it would have an executive board comprised of relevant personalities.  

What of the institutions you wonder - well in my view that is the easy bit. Break up the existing estate and give complete responsibility, including all fiscal and management autonomy to the Police and Crime Commissioner of whichever Police Force area they lie within and allocate all financial resources accordingly. POA member contracts can be given the same clause of re-employment/compensation given to those members who work in institutions that are subsequently privatised.  The ethos and conditions of each institution will be a direct reflection of the community in which it is housed as they vote the commissioners in.  

"Put your money where your mouth is?"...We did.

In time the role of a warder will become professionalised and the POA a thing of the past, communities can take ownership of their respective institutions and hopefully those institutions will encounter tangible reform.  One thing is for certain, it can't be any worse than what is happening right now as we speak.

I am sure as normal in this field there will be much sniping and ridicule of my thoughts on this, but it has to be better than decades of report writing, expenditure in excess of trillions of pounds and consistent death rates without any accountability to anyone whatsoever. At some point as a proud and decent country in which we live we have to reflect our values into our institutions and ensure we create less victims by ensuring people come out of those places as better people than when they went in, with a good, pro-social, positive outlook determined to atone and give back. Asking them to change their ways is one thing, effecting change is another, and that is our responsibility as a society as much as it is theirs as the offender.  It is not rocket science, all it takes is a cohesive determination to see it through and an application of decent human values without concern to political or personal advantage.

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