Friday, July 8, 2005

Throw away the key

The one profession to get results on recidivism has been sacrificed to Labour's desire to lock up criminals in private prisons

UK: Patrick Carter is one of Downing Street's thinkers. He was asked to work out a way of streamlining the prison system at a time when the population has reached a record 76,000 and is estimated to hit 93,000 by the end of the decade.

But ever since Downing Street published the Carter review on the new National Offender Management Service (Noms) last winter, the criminal justice community has searched in vain for the evidence base and the business case.

Carter proposed the merger of two professional cultures: prison, which warehouses criminals and probation, which works on how and why offenders offend. To cut custodial sentences he proposed a sentencing regime designed to keep less serious offenders in the community - a scheme expected to fail under pressure from the tabloids and, therefore, Downing Street itself.

Noms is based on an ethic of efficiency and competition, unburdened by professional judgment and public service. But what evidence supports Noms? Judy McKnight is the general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, a union whose members, unusually, address the life and times of their clients - criminals - as part of their professional politics, and she has been told that we are not allowed to know.

She asked the Open Government Unit to give the business case for this new monster agency. That was in January. It took until May and the Freedom of Information Act to get a reply. The Open Government Unit said, yes, Noms is controversial and, yes, data is available; but, no, she can't have it. Disclosure would "impinge on the space needed by the government to debate all relevant issues"; it would "lead to speculation on the way Noms is being established", and this could "lead to a decline in support for the policy".

That fear is no doubt cemented by scepticism in the Home Office which, according to leaks, is afraid that the £4bn merger of the two services "faces a high risk of failure". It gets worse. According to the Open Government Unit, disclosure could "jeopardise" Noms by undermining the confidence not only of staff but of the judiciary. "Such prejudice" would be "detrimental to the public interest." "Business cases" may be revised and rejected but must not be revealed, says the unit. Why? Because public debate would "compromise" the procurement programme.

Ah, so it might deter the private sector. Carter proposed simultaneous integration and fragmentation of prison and probation. Scotland had a public debate and preferred a collegial, multi-disciplinary model. But England got a three-week consultation - over Christmas - and a merger. Management of the mega corrections agency would be informed by technical rather than professional values, and would be open to "contestability" - Carter code for privatisation. This will bury the small but sometimes beautiful probation service, probably the most feminised of the criminal-justice professions, and one of the most successful, into the large and largely unsuccessful prison system.

Noms's mission is to reduce re-offending, but custody yields a 60% recidivism rate. And putting more and more people in prison actually puts public safety at risk, says Professor Michael Jacobson, New York's former chief probation officer. He has been in Britain this month arguing that, contrary to myth, the city's crime was cut in the 1990s not by prison but by community punishment and probation. So, why privatise probation, rather than focus on reforming the big but unsuccessful prison service? We are left to guess - and my guess is that the government's view of what works with offenders has become that nothing works, that criminals are part of a larger residuum with criminal tendencies, and if we can't make them earn a legal living wage, and we can't kill them, all we can do is control them. So, criminal justice replaces social justice.

What sponsors crime, the kind of crime that drives communities crazy, is a dangerous kind of knowledge because it tells us so much about what people do with power and powerlessness, what can change and what it costs to create change; and not least what it is about men's culture - most offenders being men - that connects them to cultures of crime. The government bankrolled a research programme on crime and punishment, but that unpublished review has not been allowed to enlighten public debate about the cultures and causes of crime, and the possibilities and limits of change. Not-knowingness encourages the prevailing prejudice that nothing works and therefore public safety can only be gained by curfew, control and containment: if we can't cut their hands off, or their willies, or their heads, then lock 'em up and throw away the key.

This is the orientation that lurks behind the preference for a managerial and technical - rather than professional and public-service - response to crime and punishment. This approach empties the debate of the distinction between efficiency and effectiveness, suggests Richard Garside, the director of the Crime and Society Foundation. Tagging can be done by anyone, Tesco or Group 4. Super-prisons, by the efficiency logic, are better value for money than smaller prisons, and Group 4 can do prison just as well as Her Majesty. Containment is less challenging than addressing offenders' circumstances, the cultures and causes of crime.

The profession associated with change rather than containment is, of course, probation. But it has been disdained as public-service and "soft", even though it has delivered the most creative and challenging work with offenders to reduce recidivism. Pessimism begets prison and privatisation, and that is why the business case - if it exists - must stay secret. But there is hope; the Home Office, after all, has a new, nice team in Charles Clarke, Fiona McTaggart and Baroness Scotland, all thinking people. It is to be hoped that they're not entirely persuaded by the pessimists.

By Beatrix Campbell posted 8 July 05


Judges' misdeeds will remain secret
UK: Judges who are disciplined for bad behaviour will not have the findings against them made public under a complaints regime to be launched next year.

Prisoner total rises 15% in six years
England and Wales are continuing to jail offenders at a higher rate than any other major country in western Europe, it emerged today. New research indicates that the government's use of prison as its main tool of penal policy has increased by 15% since 1999.

CPS drops prosecution over death in custody
UK: The family of Roger Sylvester, who died after being restrained by police officers, yesterday expressed their disappointment at a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute any of the officers involved.

Prisoner's cell death
UK: A prisoner was found hanged in his cell last week, the Home Office said, fuelling criticism over the soaring number of suicides in custody.

Plans for five new 'superprisons'
Recent figures show a total of 75,550 prisoners were held in 139 jails in England and Wales, nudging up the previous record of April 2004 by just six inmates.

Prison has lost its way - report
UK: Bristol prison is suffering wide-ranging problems because of inconsistent management, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has said.

Row over acupuncture for prisoners
UK: The Home Office has responded to criticism over prison inmates who are being offered acupuncture on the NHS in order to relieve stress.

Number of prisoners sent back to jail trebles
UK: The number of prisoners being sent back to jail after release has nearly trebled in the past five years, according to a report published today.

Top judge says crowded prisons cannot break cycle of crime
UK: Reoffending rates after a prison sentence are at an "unacceptably high level" and the failure of the criminal justice system to stop prisoners reoffending should shock the public, England's top judge, [Ruling Class] Lord Woolf, said last week.

All the World's a Prison: History
No doubt many of my readers, even those who are well-educated or widely read, think that the prison -- the place where dark deeds are darkly answered[2] -- is an ancient institution, a barbaric hold-over from barbaric times. In fact, the prison is of relatively recent origin, and this tells us a great deal about the pretentions and realities of modern times, and the wisdom and high degree of development of the ancients.

Decade after inspector left in disgust, report tells of filth
UK: Dirty, mice-infested cells, high levels of self-harm, and widespread bullying over drugs and medications were just some of the damning findings of a report into conditions at Holloway, Britain's largest women's prison.

Most women 'should not be jailed'
Women make up 6% of the prison population in England and Wales. Imprisonment of women should be "virtually abolished", a prison reform group has said.

Youth 'murdered for officers' pleasure'
UK: An Asian teenager was murdered by a white racist after they were placed in the same cell as part of a game to fulfil the "perverted pleasure" of prison officers, a public inquiry heard on Friday.

Deaths in isolation as prison segregation increases
The use of segregation [solitary confinement] of prisoners as punishment has been increasing recently in Australia, the US, and the UK. Segregation can be used for protection or punishment, but in both cases it results in extreme psychological stress. An indication that segregation is being over-used is the appearance of deaths in custody from suicide of those placed in segregation.

Inquest blames jail for overdose death
UK: An inquest jury returned a verdict itemising a catalogue of faults at Styal prison in Cheshire, concluding that the prison's "failure of duty of care" contributed to the death of Sarah Campbell, 18, who took an overdose of tablets on the first day of her three-year sentence.

Put in the way of self-harm in a place intended to protect others
UK: Sarah Campbell, 18, spent the last hours of her life in the segregation unit of Styal prison, Cheshire. "The seg", as those places are referred to, used to be known as "the block", short for punishment block. [ Seg is a bullshit word for Punishment, Solitary Confinement, Torture, Mental Illness, Self-Harm, Human Rights Abuse and that is State Terror.]

Britain 'sliding into police state'
The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is transforming Britain into a police state, one of the country's former leading anti-terrorist police chiefs [false flag police chiefs] said yesterday.

UK solitary confinement
UK: Segregation units are prisons within prisons - the places where the most unchecked brutality is meted out to prisoners. In recent years conditions in high security segregation units have deteriorated, and the use of long-term segregation as a control mechanism has increased.

Inquiry must root out prison racists
UK: It is difficult to imagine a more brutal murder than that of Zahid Mubarek. The 19-year-old was clubbed to death by his cellmate at Feltham Young Offender Institution in the early hours of 21 March 2000. He was due to be released just a few hours later.

Prison suicides soar as jails hire 'babysitters'
UK: Prison officers are being taken off suicide watch and replaced by unqualified 'babysitters' because the system is overwhelmed by an epidemic of self-harm.

Plan to sell off juvenile jails as job lot
UK: The government is to put out to tender all its dedicated juvenile jails that hold children under 18 in a departure in Whitehall's privatisation programme.

Failure to sack 'racist' prison staff condemned
UK: Two prison officers suspended for racism are still on full pay three years after a stash of Nazi memorabilia, neo-fascist literature and Ku Klux Klan-inspired 'nigger-hunting licences' was found in a police raid on their home.

Report slams 'unjust' jailing of women on remand
UK: Six out of 10 women sent to jail while they await trial are acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence, a report published today reveals. Introducing the report, Lady Kennedy QC calls for a complete review of the use of remand and bail for women saying it is "inhumane and unjust".

Concern as UK prison suicides hit record level
UK: More prisoners took their own lives in English jails in August than in any other month since records began, prison reformers said today.

End of years of despair as Holloway closes its doors
But now Holloway prison in north London - where Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in Britain, was hanged in 1955 - has been earmarked for closure, along with several other women's prisons, which have been hit by a spate of suicides.

How detox and self-help brought suicide jail back from the brink
UK: Six suicides in 12 months made Styal jail notorious and the Prisons Ombudsman criticised the prison and its staff for serious failures. But things are changing.

Belmarsh detainees consider suicide, says freed man
UK: The first of the Muslim detainees released from Belmarsh high security prison after being held on suspicion of terrorism has told the Guardian his fellow prisoners are suffering such severe mental problems that they constantly consider suicide.

Suicides and unrest have soared, admits Home Office
UK:The already overcrowded prison population is set to go on rising and will top 80,000 within the next three years, a senior Home Office civil servant warned yesterday.

England tops the EU in imprisonment
England and Wales jail more offenders per capita than any other European, Union country, according to new figures.