I have been quiet for a while as I sat back and looked at the state of the Criminal Justice System and my particular interest; the state of our prisons.
Well sit, back, pour a cup of tea (or perhaps you will want something stronger!) and hold onto your chair or loved one, because here it comes!
Nothing has changed
The prisons are still full – if not over crowded. The Prison’s minister still doesn’t engage with the public when it comes to the issues of prisons today (even his social media profile omits to tell us he is the prison’s minister). The government has decided to build a few more mammoth prisons (even though the larger the prison the higher the failure rate). There is a new Secretary of State for Justice (whom I shan’t lambast because I haven’t really heard him speak about prisons save for the usual “we’ll be tough” rhetoric of every one of his predecessors; however, his parody account is simply outstanding). The government has decided to spend millions on tackling the drone issue by having them barked at by some lovely dog called Shep, Lassie or something; despite there being less than 50 reported incidents this year. IPP prisoners ae still being held beyond their tariff (this despite the sentence being found unlawful). Magistrates are still jailing people for the most heinous of acts such as begging, being homeless and that most awful of crimes – not paying one’s television licence. We are jailing women who have been abused and become addicted to narcotics through necessity rather than desire. Oh! Even better, according to a recent inspection we have decided to lock up children for 23 hours a day without giving them the chance of bettering themselves.
Then the last straw, the final straw (can you hear the camel’s back breaking?); we mandate that certain types of offenders go on a course. Some of us who have been in prison just love sitting in a classroom again, don’t we? The course, it says, is to help you overcome certain issues that may have caused you to offend and to help you prepare for a law-abiding life. However, recent studies (by those far more intelligent than I even claim to be) have discovered that the rate of reoffending by those who have completed the course is higher than those who haven’t. SORRY WHAAAAAAT????? Look, I am not naïve enough nor inflammatory enough to go as far as some others and say that this course is causing people to reoffend but I am bold enough to say “Have you lost your minds?" to HMPPS/ MOJ ?” This surely will open the doors for solicitors and their ilk to seek redress from HMPPS, will it not?
Let me site a couple of conundrums for you to ponder:
1. Prisoner A, last year was refused parole and was told by his parole board that he needs to complete this course (let’s just call it SOTP, for the sake of ease) in order to be considered for release. He puts his name down to attend (those of us in the know, understand that such waiting times can be in ordinate). Just as he is about to start the course it is stopped by the prison due to the information they received. Now; here’s the rub… What happens? Is the prisoner then being punished and denied release because HMPPS have pulled a course? One could argue that HMPPS will replace the course with a “like for like” but then he must wait longer to get on it.
2. Prisoner B goes out into the community and reoffends in the same manner as he/she did before. But wait they have been on a course that has now been labelled as “could increase the chance of reoffending” What wants to mitigate that in front of a judge?
Answers on a postcard to………
All this and legal aid has just been reintroduced for those incarcerated. TURN THE FLOODGATES TO OPEN PEOPLE!!
I despair of this type of monumental cock up, I really do. When I started these rants, back in the world of black and white, I said that I wanted to highlight the sheer and utter inane red tape and bureaucracy that HMPPS and the MOJ sometimes present us with. Thank you to both fine organisations for giving me the fodder for my many rants.
It’s the same with some of the education providers as it is with some of those organisations that provide the courses in prison (the 3rd party providers, I believe they are called). Some of them are fantastic, marvellous saintly like people; but some others??? There is a phrase in Latin that poses the question “Cui Bono?” “Who Benefits?” We all saw that program a year ago showing some people sitting in the education classes colouring pictures in, because there was no work to do. Do the providers get paid for attendance or do they get paid for results? Why don’t they get paid for the amount of people they get through basic literacy and numeracy skills? Why are people still leaving our jails illiterate? Why are people still leaving our jails not having a vocation, a skill never mind a job?
Oh, that leads me onto “Through the gate.” There is no gate for those recently released only a brick wall. Why after I left prison was I faced with an uphill battle to deal with a person that had never spoken to me previously, who couldn’t house me because I didn’t meet the emergency criteria, who couldn’t point me in the right direction for medical care or even to a job centre? Because I wasn’t a priority; that’s why. Why did the prison that I was in refuse to help people who were from the town that the prison was located? Why? Because it was a London resettlement prison. If that person was from the same village as the location of the prison they would have to transfer out to another establishment.
I am thinking of starting up a revolving door company to sell them to 120 prisons. Anyone want in?
What can I do to change all this? Absolutely nothing! Until you, dear reader, get up in arms to speak to your MP about the nasty subject of prison, nothing will ever change. Monumental screw ups will continue on a regular basis. Has anyone else heard that the algorithm they were using for the fabled “prison league tables” was so fatally flawed that the MOJ has now shelved the idea completely? All this, after the massive press drive extolling its benefits. No-one wants to talk about prisons save for those wonderful people on twitter with whom I interact regularly. Wonderful that you all are, and you all have my respect, we are but a small group and unless more attention is brought to the plight of prisons and those incarcerated in them; things just can never get better for those whom society has decided are the scourge of it and need removing from it.
I, for one, decided that it was better to be inside the tent ….ing out rather than the opposite. I wrote about that in an article for Russell Webster. (The Tartan Con's Story). I work in an area where I have so much passion, dedication and concern. I am determined that all prisons in the United Kingdom shall offer a safe, well informed transition into custody. I am so very fortunate that 2/3rds (figure that one out) of the private providers have taken me up on my offer of help. I am lucky, I now have a proven track record in what I do to help my “friends” behind the door.
It’s strange, though, I am more at ease talking to prisoners than staff. That’s not to insult the people that I work with. On the whole they have been marvellous and more than welcoming. Even those who weren’t when they first met me seemed to have understood that I am just there to help. It’s just that I feel at ease with the prisoners. When I talk to them or about them I say “we”. It is something that I hope I never stop doing. I had a discussion with someone with whom I hold in the highest esteem, recently, and I said, “You may pay my wages, but I don’t work for you, I work for the men behind the door.” I meant no slight to this person I just wanted him to “get” what I was about.
You see, I have an experience that these staff or governors can never have had (and hopefully never will). I see things from behind the door, I have witnessed first-hand the futility of what happens to prisoners and prisons when the government intervenes and does not let those who know the job better (The Governors, their staff and the families of those incarcerated) get on with it. In saying that I had one Governor who told me that “rehabilitation is not on the list of my priorities.” Bless ‘im. “Tim nice but Dim” springs to mind!
On another occasion, I was talking to a prison about trying to help them and the report that came back about me was that they had never met someone so passionate about what it is they do. I could not ask for a more humbling accolade. If you are reading this, then Thank you.
I guess what I am trying to say here people is this, if you want to change things remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. I knew that I could not turn around the entire prison crisis in my lifetime, so I chose one part of it. One part that for me is the most important. For you, it might be something else. Education for example. Start trying to change the way our prisoners are educated (or not if you ask me). It might be meals, you might think that £1.87 per day to feed a man is a bit too low (perish the thought), so get on that. It might be that you feel the whole sentence plan thing is in disarray (see previous parenthesis), so start tackling that. Believe me when I say I can point you in the right direction in all of this, but I just can’t do it on my own. Baby steps. Together we can make a difference, but we just need to pay heed as to how.
I am turning into a greater fan of the Howard League after really listening to what it is they do for those in custody. What they are doing in the background is not to be diminished in any shape or form. They have the ears of the people that can mandate a difference. I simply walk in the shadows of all of these fine organisations.
And that’s it, people, there it is, I walk in the shadows. I seek nothing other than to help, to better serve those who are in custody. And that’s what I do; I serve them.
And I am honoured to do so.
Rant over for now,
Of course, of all of this is just my opinion, I could be wrong.