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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.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Post 14 - Devious In & Devious Out - How Does Society Measure the Real Cost?

What a year this has been, so much has occurred in such a short time.  Twelve months since I launched my website (see post 2) at the Law Society for England & Wales with two prominent figures in their respective area of the law as speakers I felt that day would turn out to be a turning point for all those people who are incarcerated and therefore disenfranchised and vulnerable to those who wield power and control over them in their daily existence within UK institutions.  

Peter Cadman and Flo Krause two people I am proud to know personally and call my friends, (who humbled me with the fact that they were prepared to stand on a podium and endorse my vision) gave wonderful and passionate speeches. They talked of the need for 'Transparency' by those agencies tasked with managing UK institutions where human beings are incarcerated, 'Acessibility' to those insitutions via public comment and media, 'Accountability' of those who hold power and influence over the lives of those incarcerated and that such power and influence is wielded with 'Humility'. Peter pointed out it is cheaper to pay for private education at Eton College for a year than send someone to prison, a bizarre and disturbing fact about where our priorities lie as a society. 

Many significant personalities related to the lives of those incarcerated have encountered major life changes, Michael Gove has rightly been sacked as in my view he was simply a devious opportunist and not favoured by the 22 committee who I as with many others believe are the real power within UK conservative politics. A barrister of great integrity Flo Krause 'hung up her wig' and ended her career and her life passion in Law, as has Juliet Lyons who resigned from the Prison Reform Trust. Also Erwin James someone I have known personally for many decades and someone I consider a friend has published his wonderfully brave and moving book "Redeemable - A Memoir of Darkness and Hope" all about his life journey from a horrendous start in life to the integrated, happy and respected man I lunched with in London recently who in addition to his many achievements and being an author of several books and Guardian newspaper columnist he is also now the editor in chief of Inside Time.

What of us? Well one of our staff attempted to blackmail our company director with deleting the website content unless he paid him a significant amount of money, as he thought he was the only one with access to the content management system (clearly the sharpest tool in the box) so no surprise the guy was sacked, thereafter we discovered he actually had not done the amount of work he had been billing or claiming for anyway, we chose not to prosecute him as he was on a probation licence and his girlfriend had recently had a newborn baby.  We were subjected to a campaign of abusive and threatening text messages and involved the police who identified the parties involved and subsequently interviewed one of them and are monitoring events (this saga resulted in the installation of 24hr cctv). We have had meetings and discussions with serveral parties who are commentators or interested parties to Criminal Justice Reform who wanted to involve themselves with us in joint ventures utilising us and we have met many people this past year.  Many of those were well intentioned characters such as Alex Cavendish who is amongst many things a very bright man.

Another, a prominent academic in his field (who yes actually lectures at a university) invited me to a meeting at his campus, and as the day progressed he degenerated into a paranoid, aggressive, dysfunctional excessive drinker (who I hope has sought help) confronting people in the street for looking at him! There was the one who it transpired was a solicitor of meagre integrity and moral values who appears to collude with his client in covering up their crimes. Another was introduced to me as a recently released fraudster (nothing against that if reformed, but I fear he may not be) who was still peddling the same fictitious life history/story that was part of his presentation to victims of his crimes! Needless to say left him swiftly in the dust as little he said was actually true, and now he is gradually grooming identified parties within the Association of Prison Lawyers, barrister bloggers and others he has since identified that he feels may contribute something to his prison refom plans (that others will fund I am sure as he won't/can't as potless), apparently now he is a reformer (as oppose to reformed). He actually stated he was charging people to give them advice regarding what to expect if they were sentenced to a term of imprisonment (charlatan) talk about exploitation! Sadly there are many who see prisons and the plight of people incarcerated as an opportunity to make money by fleecing grants and donors or to create an existence which feeds their pathological need to be perceived as an authority or a prominent personality within the field. Blatantly achieved by grooming and ingratiating themselves with those they perceive as the current acceptable critics who have the ears of the decision makers, or in fact anyone they think may be of use to their devious strategy. 

It would be an interesting study to correlate and monitor how many 'prison commentators/reformers' were inside for fraud, an offence which has NO offending behaviour programmes to address the devious thinking involved in calculated crimes such as aquisitive fraud yet they are among the highest repeat offenders, whereas those sentenced to life and are on licence for their natural lives post release are the lowest.  It is also often the case in prison that it is the fraudsters who have worked their way into 'key' positions within establishments, usually by grooming and desensitising staff, it is also interesting to see that behaviour continue post release as they are invariably not on licence for long, and where they are on it at all they are quickly perceived by a probation officer under pressure of work as a low priority.  Yet in reality how much do they cost overall, what is the true cost if they are now outside involved in the Prison Industrial Complex which is awash with money (13bn is the cost of the CJS alone at the last count)?

There were some old school rules inside whilst doing your bird which applied in almost all cases. Rules such as a northener in a southern jail AVOID, a southerner in a northern jail AVOID, someone who has been in lots of jails in a short period AVOID, drug user/dealer AVOID, those who gossip AVOID, those who seek influencial positions in the nick AVOID, Sexual groomers AVOID, there are many more but those listed were the mainstay of a peaceful life inside for most people. Either way I have a serious illness to deal with and as such am no longer able to continue in the vein that I once could (not for the time being anyway) and so I will observe from afar the machinations, floundering and manouverings of those devious characters and see if in fact I am sadly once again proved right in my judgment of their motives. I hope not...

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Post 13 - Does Corruption & Collusion Really Equal Crime?

To follow on from Posts 11 and 12 the theme of corruption/collusion was very much the topical thread running through most of the media streams globally as a result of the expose regarding Panama and the leaking of 11.4m (2.6 terabytes of data) files regarding the activities of clients from the Law firm Mossack Fonseca, the stabbing in the back of Boris Johnston by Michael Gove and then the Labour Party in complete disarray and rebellion all in my view evidence of the corrupt and collusive world of the powerful where many simply seek to further their own ambitions at whatever cost to their integrity and character. 

The root of all evil?
What struck me about the furore those events created is that generally we can be quite a vindictive and unpleasant bunch when we choose to be, and especially when it comes to criticising the rich and powerful.  Yet which of us would not employ lawyers and accountants to exploit legal loopholes in tax law if we were in a position to have so much money that we needed to protect it from economic factors influenced by others, who may or may not be as astute as us?

So we get all hot and bothered about the tax obligations that may or may not be deliberately avoided, yet at the same time in my view we can appear indifferent to the plight of anyone who in our twisted thinking "deserves all he gets". Consider for a moment someone who is disenfranchised, ostracised or stigmatised such as an ex-offender or someone suffering a mental health illness, or even worse some poor soul who is marked out with both, who then becomes a 'victim'. Do you think you would be inclined to highlight a wrong done against them, to pursue it, or even beyond and actually go to any lengths within the law to right that wrong on their behalf, regardless of the personal cost to you?  The answer if you are totally honest with yourself is likely to be no. Why?

Well for many reasons not withstanding the fact that depending on your standing/vocation it may be professional suicide (hence very few high profile people or politicians take up any cause which is unpalatable to the general public) as it is a high risk/low reward scenario, a thankless task with no reward or recognition for helping someone within that sector of society and certainly not from the establishment. If anything you would probably end up on a watch list of some sort or another. Have we come to the point where in fact not that many people in power seek to know of wrongdoings against those perceived to be outside society, even if temporarily, do we prefer out of sight out of mind, if we don't know then we can't be roped in?
Is it in fact that we are all criminals?

President Obama is now openly talking about the prison industrial complex, he is discussing prison reform and laying out his plans for the future of incarceration within America to the extent that it is now something to be found in most daily papers in the United States and some brave souls promote change on a daily basis. Will it have time to be implemented before either Donald Trump dumps it as he seems likely to do, or before Hillary Clinton screws it up as she has done with so many other initiatives she has been tasked with, who knows? One thing I think we can pretty much count on is as I predicted in my blog of 11th February 2016, UK Prison Reform is one trend where we appear to be completely reluctant to follow our American cousins from across the big pond.

I genuinely fear for those who live and work inside all institutions within our governments control, because they are now crime zones as bad as any inner city in this country. I know it, you know it, the media know it, and those working there know it, but the worst thing is those responsible for managing and reporting on the management of it, they also know it and yet nothing changes.

My greatest fear is it never will and hundreds of men women and children will continue to die either because they see no other choice but kill themselves through suicide, or they have diminished access to adequate health care.  It appears to be because many of those in the sector are ego driven, making money from it at various levels and in the end they simply talk or write about it. Apart from myself and Mark Johnson the founder of User Voice I am unaware of anyone who has put their own money into a reform initiative on any meaningful scale, very few actually do anything tangible which may truly change it for the better.  They do not have an original viable idea between them, they squabble and plagiarise each other claiming Kudos here and credit there, and in fact if someone does actually take action, then the acceptable critics join ranks in fear and outrage, with campaigns of instrumental poison and aggression against the entity or person who dared to stand apart, lest they be exposed for what they are...parasites who simply feed of the misery and suffering of others and the conscious neglect of those with the power to influence real tangible positive reform.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Post 12 - 'Risk' Reduction or Not?

The word 'risk' has now become such a regular feature in everything we read, hear and see on the various forms of media which now influence almost every area of modern life. Constantly phrases are used such as "We have to weigh up the risks"..."What are the risks involved?"..."How risky is it?"..."What's our exposure?"..."Can we stand the heat?"..."What are the consequences?"..."What are the outcomes?"..."Have we done a costs benefit analysis?..."What's the ROI?"...etc etc. Risk, something which is pre-eminent throughout so many areas of life today the world over.  Depending where you were fortunate enough (or not as the case may be) to be born or to live, the generic everyday risks you face on a daily basis are or course different. In Europe even a school trip = risk assessment, the relevant HSE are now integrated into every area of European life and we are safeguarded by this statutory factor to the extent that now we probably never give it a second thought.  But 'risk' comes in many forms and not all are tangible or overt, visible therefore manageable, some risks are subtle and engage with us without us even being aware of it as 'risk' takes on many guises which on the surface appear socially acceptable and in fact expected and normal.

It seems so many people and organisations have a view, they readily voice their views and in some cases they are strong influencers of others and their perception and understanding of risks to the point that decisions are made which effect the lives of many and yet most attach the decision to the front line 'Face Person' of the decision.  However the differential in the ability to think critically before influencing is not necessarily something given much weight when these people are put in a position of influence.  So who are the true 'influencers'?  Apart from the obvious Marketing, Media, Religion, Schools and Parenting influences, there are other groups which until recently in my view have been overlooked because if you think about it, it may not be that they are in fact individuals either.

An example on the most serious scale of an individual influencer is perhaps whoever is President of the United States at any given time?  Perhaps even a Prime Minister voted in with a landslide, loved by everyone at the time, who all prospered under his government, but then a decision is made which later appears in hindsight to have been flawed or motivated by other factors than those promoted at the time, if the press and pressure groups are to be believed.  In my personal view only a moron could think such decisions are made alone or with a personal motive in mind, surely they are made on the basis of multiple full and complete risk assessments of the situation and information available and current at the time. A risk assessment is almost never carried out by the decision maker, almost never carried out by the 'Face Person', it is usually done by 'experts' in their respective fields, experts who when the shit hits the fan do not have to stand up and explain their thinking process or their rationale for the decision, as the perception perpetuated by the mass media is of course the 'Face Person'' is the person responsible, ergo they are culpable.  In many spheres of operation such as Politics, the Military or a PLC such an outcome can be fatal as the ingredients of the outcome are obvious to the general public.
"So we'll blame you if that's OK?"
But what of situations where that is not the case, where there is such a myriad of obstacles to establishing who was behind the analysis which gave rise to the final decision, where does that responsibility lie?  What of the Life Sentenced Prisoners who are released (a Killer who is released from Prison and Kills again, or the Multiple Rapist who is released and Rapes again) surely it is inadequate to suggest these are calculated risk decisions taken by an "independent" Parole Board, which was the explanation given on every occasion when there is a failing, who were the 'influencers' and what is their culpability?  In response people suggest we need to leave the EU and abandon the ECHR as it is misused to defend the rights of prisoners and after all they have forgone their "rights" when they broke the law haven't they?  
But the examples above are not representative of people who truly encountered change within themselves, they did not integrate any learning, they did not encounter true remorse, shame or guilt for their actions previously, they simply learnt what they needed to say at any given moment, they manipulated those they had contact with on a daily basis. Inadequately trained and educated in the necessary skills to identify and recognise traits, to the extent that by the time they appeared before the Parole Board reports had been written suggesting these people had changed. In fact they were clearly extremely dangerous men, and in the case of one of those men the authorities were warned years in advance, I know this because I warned them about him and what the future would bring were he progressed, but at the time I was ignored.
The fact is the American and UK prison systems are broken, and no amount of building new prisons to house ever increasing numbers or internal reconstruction is going to change that, because reducing offending rates whatever country we are talking about, is all about people, it's about people engaging with people.  So locking people up for extended periods with others who are all 'doing time' warehoused with little or no intellectual stimulation is simply the blind leading the blind.  You can worry about drug problems in prisons, or lack of education or even the levels of violence, but unless you connect the right people with the 'right' people, you will only effect superficial change and certainly not make any impact on serious crime rates (unless of course that is your intention). No one is born bad. With the exception of the criminally insane or those who 'retire' having made their fortune with their ill gotten gains, criminals change because they want to change. They change because they choose to change, they reach a point where they register the consequences of their actions and decisions. They encounter realisation of the impact they have had on others, they feel the pain they have caused through their actions, they understand and comprehend they have brought hurt and chaos into the lives of many and as a result they are on a road to nowhere.
The Choice to Change is Open to All

They encounter genuine remorse and guilt, shame combined with resolve to never create victims again. Sometimes that realisation is brought about through introspection and self analyses, sometimes through an event, a powerful experience or the guidance and support of another with greater insight and  knowledge of the issues at hand. One thing is absolute, and it is that the decision to truly change their lives is NEVER chosen by a criminal because they have been broken or coerced through an institutional attitude or a political policy.

In my view cutting front line Probation Officer staffing levels is a mistake. Cutting Prison Officer staffing levels is a mistake. Building huge prisons to house greater numbers of criminals is a mistake. Surely it is apparent a refined recruitment process needs to be implemented, and pay a decent salary for educated staff with the right skill sets. Obviously you will not get certain invested parties saying that because if the staff inside have the skills then those parties become redundant. However surely if you are going to have hidden parties "influencing" decision makers then you have to ensure they are the right people with the right tools equipped to do so and not simply doing so because that's how we do it. The world penal community of 'experts' agree that Norway is the world leader in rehabilitation, so why are we ignoring them, are we so arrogant or corrupt that we believe only we know better in everything? Whilst in the meantime recidivism just is, and will remain a facet of broken Criminal Justice Systems the world over while their communities suffer and the invested parties become wealthier as the industry of prisons and incarceration continues to grow and expand? So really we are confronted with unknown risks daily by the mere fact that we do not invest in a proven theory, we prefer to keep gambling and experimenting because we know better?

That is corruption in it's purest form.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Post 11 - Is The Concept of Corruption Corrupt?

Most of us when we hear the word corruption think of 'backhanders', something given or promised in order to improperly influence a person's conduct or decision, usually a gift or money. However we would be wrong if we thought that is all it's about. Corruption is a very strange phenomenon in many ways, not in the sense that is exists but more in that when identified, quite often rather than being exposed others are sucked in by definition of the fact they do not expose or disclose, that by omission and virtue of their knowledge they too are corrupted;  Many would say to be corrupt you do not have to receive a personal 'gain'. Some would say systems and processes are corrupt not people, that people are merely human and therefore frail and vulnerable to an existing circumstance, ie there is no such thing as the 'Rotten Apple' syndrome, but if so what of morality and personal responsibilities, free will and choice? 

"The One Bad Apple Theory"
One of the problems with the rotten apple theory is for that theory to be true there must only be single parties independent of each other who are all about themselves, so greed and personal gain. However for an individual person to be considered corrupt there clearly has to be a manipulation or divergence of what is proper or correct, in other words exploitation to gain. That said we are then confronted with those within processes, systems or organisations who are deemed corrupt, are they rotten apples or is it worse the tree is infected, or even worse than that is the whole orchard diseased, and if so does that mean the surrounding soil is contaminated, and if so what of the farmer tending the soil, are they then corrupt? It does seem that there appears to be some dissent regarding levels of corruption, the implication being there are different types and that some are acceptable?  

Detectives who fabricate evidence and logs to give the impression to a jury and the courts that fingerprints and items which came into their possession 4 months after a crime was committed were found at the scene of the crime 4 months earlier? Involves more than one party, collusion possibly systemic at the time as the police called it 'dressing the cake', so is that corruption? My personal view is yes, and a divisional commander of the metropolitan police agreed and apologised in person to the criminal in the presence of the solicitor, however only after 6 years of 'chasing' by letter, after CIB1 and CIB2 had been disbanded, and after the offending police officers had retired and after the criminal agreed in writing they would not seek an appeal. Some may even say in addition to the act the conditions in which the apology was offered and came about were also corrupt? In such circumstances the detectives can retire and go on to lead a productive life, earning a living with his CV intact and portray a facade of decency to any and all who enquire, despite the fact they are as much criminal as the people they have imprisoned throughout their careers. "Shocked by the extent of corruption within its ranks, Scotland Yard set up a new anti-corruption unit in the early 1990s. Its members had to operate in conditions of unprecedented secrecy and they became known as the 'Ghost Squad'. Bent Detectives really did believe they were untouchable: they stole cash and property, fitted-up innocent people and sold secret information to cripple court cases. Many of them are now in jail or awaiting trial but the battle against corruption is not over.  Only now can the story of the 'Ghost Squad' be revealed. Award-winning BBC home affairs correspondent Graeme McLagan had followed the investigation since the beginning. He has interviewed undercover officers and many of the corrupt officers they have exposed".
"No Way, Not Us"
What about the prison officer who accepts cash/goods/benefits to smuggle items into prisons or make life easier for a prisoner inside their prison? What about the same prison officer committing the same acts but out of fear of threat to himself or his family but chooses not to report events?  What about their peers who are aware but say or do nothing?  The Prison Officer who leaves the service and in preparation for when he does takes copies of the OASys software, internal prison service training and guidance manuals, confidential material relating to prisoners. People within administration or management positions who manipulate and adjust schedules or worse 'lose' paperwork in order to delay proceedings to benefit their friends? The person in power over a vulnerable person in their care who knowingly writes a false report for example a social worker or probation officer with a theory 'adjust' the history of their client to fit their errant theories and when discovered are simply removed from the case, is this corruption?  The manager of those persons who simply sign off a report giving the impression they have read and agree with the report but the reality is they read nothing they are simply protecting one of their own.

The taxi driver who agrees to take you somewhere for cash in his pocket as oppose to on the meter, or the Maitre D' who accepts money to seat you at a good table or 'bump' another when the restaurant is full, both deprive their employer of income? What about the people who make these requests of those in a position to assist who then succumb; Is this corruption? The professor who uses research from their students or interns to further themselves, their research or publish, all without any accreditation or recognition to the contributors. Many would say this is life, it is part and parcel of the world we live in, where is the line? Who draws the line and just because you drew it does that give you the right to cross it or redefine it at will, and if you do and are discovered, what then?

If as many believe corruption just 'is' and some say it appears NOMS do because they refuse FOI's on the subject and don't seem to want to invest in real systems which will catch corrupt or violent staff, what is the answer?  They don't want to bring in enhanced recruitment processes which include tools such as Psychometric testing, when one would say you can never have too much information, in particular about someone who was volunteering to hold power and control over vulnerable people.

"Your In, Sorry Your Out"
There are psychological factors at play in all areas or incarceration, and whether research showed a drop or not in corruption or violence, the fact that a person was wearing a camera system being monitored externally and was synchronised with a GPS system with 'live' systems at all times whilst they were inside their respective institution; in my humble view would certainly have very obvious effects on their demeanour and outcomes regarding spurious allegations, complaints etc.  So the question remains why NOMS are not entertaining the idea as a realistic proposal and possible solution, and is the fact that they are not doing so, in itself corrupt?  A ten year telephone contract negotiated in the midst of a recession was not corrupt, staff stealing food is not corrupt, staff receiving benefits such as sailing trips or beneficial loan rates is not corrupt, free hanging baskets of plants from prison gardens is not corrupt, the list goes on and on to the extent you have to wonder about motivation.  You cannot be involved with this sector and not know or have heard about what happens.  So how can so many, so called respectable people and organisations, carry on day in day out making the same noises, taking home their salaries, quaffing copious amounts of wine and food, pontificating over dinner lunch or at an event, when the truth is they all appear to be a sham.  By definition then where does the corruption begin? Where does it lead? Is it in fact corrupt as it appears to be the 'norm' and no one seems to want to stand up and take it on?

Why is that?

NOMS the Corruption Prevention Unit
01527 551229.

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.