Prisons Reforms – Part One

Following my recent blogs on what is patently failing within the HM Prison Service in the United Kingdom I have been asked to elaborate and suggest ways in which it could be improved.

I should say at the outset that these are my thoughts and ideas based solely on my experience as a Senior Manager now retired from the service.

So why is the system failing

Firstly because this Government -as others of all political persuasion have in the past – simply have no idea of what they want prisons to achieve save for their stated policies of “keeping the public safe” by locking up those who are a “danger to the public”.

Which sounds excellent and where the perpetrators of heinous serious crimes are concerned it is absolutely the correct policy.

However how is locking up people who refuse to pay their Council Tax or other such crimes that draw anything between a four week and twelve month prison sentence actually “protecting the public” and more importantly ‘from what’?

If all prisoners who have been sentenced to twelve months or less for non- violent or sexually related offences were released the prison population would fall by 8,000

Of course the Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP and Justice Secretary David Guake MP (though these may have changed by the time this is published) would say that it would be criminal to release them which in the infamous words of Mandy Rice Davies “they would say that wouldn’t they”?

The reality as anyone who knows anything about prisons will tell you is that anything less than a an 18/24 months sentence is from a rehabilitation point of view a waste of time for the simple reason that by the time they have gone through the induction and assessment process there is very little you can do to impact future behaviours.

What is criminal is that successive Governments – of which this is by far the worst – continuing to cut staffing levels in prisons whilst at the same time presiding over a prisoner population increasing to well over 82,000.

It is also criminal that no-one appears to be able to identify at any given time exactly where available spaces are within the whole prison system

Now I accept this argument isn’t a new one but that nevertheless makes it no less of a valid argument or of less importance.

The problem is no-one in Government is prepared to listen and worse still they blithely continue to ignore the issue preferring instead of recognising and acknowledging the contribution of those who working face to face with prisoners in the system deflect attention by accusing the Prison Officers Association (POA) of being difficult.

Well the POA have every right to be stroppy and difficult given that no one listens to what them which is amazing when what they are saying is based on the difficulties – and dangers – they face every day

Is there any wonder that they are frustrated at the total lack of understanding or perhaps more accurately a Government not wanting to understand the issue.

It is a toxic mixture that has resulted in a failing system in which rehabilitation of offenders has taken a back seat to political dogma and ideology leading to increased re-offending levels.

Surely if nothing else the prison system should be designed around the principle that those released back into society don’t go on to commit further crimes –

To put it in terms that I hope even politicians will understand – if you are a victim of a re-offender – the blame lies solely at the door of Theresa May, Amber Rudd and before them David Cameron and Chris Grayling.

And no I am not going to exclude Labour who championed the privatisation of the Prison Service, cuts to staffing levels whilst at the same time increasing the levels of beuracracy and targets that made no sense

MPs complain about being abused but they should try working in the hostile environment of a prison if they want to experience what real abuse, both verbal, psychological and physical is about

Except of course very few of them would or even could last more than a day on the prison coal face.

And yes I do get angry at the lack of support prison staff receive.

When are or is credit to prison staff ever mentioned when talking about public services?
The next time will be the first?

There are savings and better reallocation of funding to be made but only if politicians understand exactly what prison are for and then have policies to ensure they are delivered.

Only then will they achieve what society wants to see,

Namely reduced reoffending, protection of the public, reducing the number of people in prison and reducing the cost of running individual prisons.

I have written to Richard Burgon MP as I did Chris Grayling MP – without any acknowledgement – offering to meet with any of his staff to discuss ideas and suggestions.

I don’t expect them to be in the least interested because what happens behind the wall stays behind the wall.

That is until someone dies or a prison goes up in smoke when suddenly looks of concern suddenly appear and blame is apportioned both of which just as quickly disappear.

So what can be done?

To start with all prisons should be taken back into public control to ensure a single coherent and co-ordinated approach across the whole of the estate. 

Management of prisons should be streamlined – and yes reduced – with the savings being redirected to recruit front line staff.

It has been reported that prisoners claims for compensation from lost or damaged property since 2013 is almost £1million which raises a number of questions amongst which are 

The vast majority of the claims are for “personal clothing” that is lost or damaged during the laundering process either in prisons who have a laundry on site or when sent off site to another prison.

It is a ridiculous situation and one that doesn’t take into account the additional cost of staff time in investigating the claims and what the data doesn’t show is the number of claims that are made which are rejected.

My solution to save the taxpayer £1million is to stop all prisoner – except those on remand who have not yet been found guilty of a crime – from wearing personal clothing and insist that they wear clothing produced within the prison system.

Prisoners will always complain about the meals that are made available however it does seem nonsensical that they are not expected to make a contribution to their meals – after all once released they will have to learn that food doesn’t come free.

The average allowance for prisoner meals is £2.50 a day.

The average prisoner wage is £12/week with unemployment pay £6/week.

Isn’t it amazing that people who have not committed crime are being refused unemployment pay and have to resort to relying on food banks to feed themselves and their families when prisoners are guaranteed three meals a day – and yes they even have a selection to choose from – and are entitled to unemployment pay for day one of their custodial sentence

My proposal is that all prisoners should automatically be deducted 50p a day towards the food costs.

For every 500 prisoner in custody this would release £91,000 a year to provided for essential front line services in prisons.

What should not happen is that the current level of victualling budgets to prisons should be cut, the income from prisoners should be used to increase front line services in establishments.

It is time to drastically review the targets set for prisons a great deal of which are nonsensical and simply add additional bureaucracy to the running of establishments.

One such target is that listed as “Purposeful Activity” which is supposed to record the number of hours that prisoners are engaged not only in “purposeful” but more importantly ” meaningful” activity.

It is recorded as the average -for example 30 hours a week- activities that the prison population is engaged in, except the results are nonsense and far to easily manipulated by for example having more “prisoner cleaners” on each of the prison blocks.

What it really records is the length of time prisoners are out of their cells, off their accommodation blocks and is recorded even if prisoners are not actually engaged in an activity especially in workshops where there is no work.

There are a number of other radical changes that I believe would not only improve the prison regimes and decrease reoffending but would also allow the reallocation of funding and resources to the prevention agenda

I will address them in a future article on this very important issue.