2008 articles

Prisoners should not be called 'inmates', says MoJ
Prison officers have been told not to refer to their charges as "inmates" because it might offend them.

By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 6:16PM GMT 31 Dec 2008

Ministers claim the age-old term is not appropriate if criminals are to be treated with "respect and dignity".

One prison officer leader attacked the move and warned jails have already become too soft as he called for a return to tough prisons in 2009.

Opposition MPs said it was "politically correct nonsense".

In a scathing outburst, Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, called for an end to the "namby pamby attitude" that has led to soft prisons.

"It never ceases to amaze me, the hypocrisy of politicians and senior civil servants," he said.

"On the one hand they say we are not going to have soft prisons but on the other phraseology that has been around for a long, long time suddenly becomes offensive to our dear charges.

"As far as I am concerned they are convicts, they are prisoners, they are inmates.

"We should treat them fair and properly but prison should be tough. As we come to 2009, prisons should move away from being seen and actually being soft options to be challenging and demanding places of punishment.

"Without that we will continue to slide down in the views of the general public and will send people out of prison more likely to reoffend."

Prisons minister David Hanson revealed the Ministry of Justice stance in a letter to an inmate in HMP Wakefield, in which he said: "Prison staff are expected to treat prisoners with dignity and respect and for this reason the term 'prisoner' should be used in preference to the term 'inmate'."

He went on to say the term "offender" was not inappropriate.

Mr Caton added: "People far away in ivory towers tell my colleagues on the landings of Wakefield Prison that they know best.

"Prison officers know best how to speak to prisoners and how to refer to them."

Shadow Justice Secretary, Nick Herbert, said: "The government would do well to concentrate their efforts on stopping prisoners walking out of open jails, ending early release and tackling the drugs trade in prison which is rife, rather than this politically correct nonsense."

A Prison Service spokesman said: "The term prisoner, rather than inmate, has been preferred for a number of years as it is more accurate and specific to those held in prison. The term 'inmate' can refer to anyone held in any type of institution."

Earlier this year prison inspectors at Bullingdon jail in Oxfordshire, said prisoners should be addressed by their first names, given free condoms and be served evening meals later time to stop them feeling hungry in the night.

By Matthew Hickley
Last updated at 12:29 AM on 20th December 2008
A senior magistrate has resigned in protest at Government policies that impose soft punishments and undermine the courts.

Dr Dick Soper says criminals are walking free from prison after serving just a quarter of the sentences he and his colleagues impose.

Others are being handed fixed fines or police cautions - taking justice out of the hands of the courts and away from public scrutiny.

select for full story Dr Soper, 64, a GP, has served 26 years on the bench at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. He used his final session yesterday to deliver an angry broadside, saying: 'Although I could serve for another five years I no longer feel my time is being usefully spent in court. 'I feel that this long-standing system which has served the public well for centuries has, in recent years, been more and more interfered with by politicians.' He told how he recently jailed an offender for six months but saw him walking about the town just six weeks later. Dr Soper said: 'My greatest frustration and that of my colleagues is the very early release of prisoners.' He said virtually all offenders are released automatically halfway through their sentences, while emergency measures to tackle prison overcrowding means many have another 18 days knocked off their sentences. Yet the judges and magistrates who heard their cases have no say over their early release. Dr Soper said magistrates considered 'very hard' how to punish criminals, and added: 'It is frustrating when that careful thought seems to be undermined. It has certainly reduced my confidence in the system.'

He also complained that sentencing guidelines appear to be increasingly influenced by Whitehall.

Dr Soper said: 'The heavy hand of the executive seems to run through them and you get the feeling that greater central control is being exerted over this previously independent organisation.' Community service and unpaid work have been trumpeted by ministers as punishments to help ease jail overcrowding, but Dr Soper said his own research locally showed only 60-65 per cent of offenders bothered to turn up. Police were increasingly preferring to deal with offenders through cautions and on-the-spot fines rather than charging them and sending them to court, he said - undermining the principle of public and media scrutiny of justice. Dr Soper said: 'It is not just minor cases they deal with - theft and violence are included and this court recently had a violent offender who had previously been cautioned by the police for causing grievous bodily harm.' In his years as a JP, Dr Soper said, the number of courts in West Suffolk had dropped from six to three - and will soon be cut to just one. 'The idea of local justice, one of the strengths of the system, is disappearing fast,' he said.

'Now I hear that the courts budget is to be cut further, so what next?' Tory spokesman Nick Herbert said: 'Labour's appalling mismanagement of our jails has seen sentences shortened and violent prisoners released early. 'It is no wonder both public and professional confidence in the criminal justice system is being undermined.'

select for full story New prison has en suite cells and flatscreen televisions
01 Dec 2008

Prisoners at the privately-run HMP Addiewell in West Lothian will also be able to check dinner menus and order their meals in advance.

The first 30 prisoners - who volunteered to be housed there - will arrive next week.

Politicians have raised concerns over the level of comfort at the jail, but the new governor defended the modern facilities.

While many prisoners in Scotland still suffer Victorian conditions, the inmates at Addiewell will enjoy facilities including a Microsoft computer room, a library and a gym hall and fitness suite.

The 12 wings also have "electronic kiosks" so that prisoners can check menus and order meals, check how much money they have in their accounts, top-up phone accounts and order goods from the canteen.

Audrey Park, the prison director (governor), said that only flatscreen televisions were available to purchase, they were "only 15in" and they came with Freeview built in.

She added: "You can't not have it. I would describe the cells as decent cells for a 21st-century Scotland where prisoners have the ability to shower in their cell.

"At the end of the day, any prison cell is a concrete box which we shut at night. The punishment is losing one's liberty.

"I'm always hoping for innovation and prepared to try things without getting lambasted by the media."

But Bill Aitken, the Scottish Tory justice spokesman, questioned whether the conditions would provide a real deterrent.

He said: "I do not wish prisoners to live in Dickensian squalor, but there does come a time when the level of comfort does not provide any real deterrent to offending.

"By the sounds of Addiewell, we have reached that stage there.

"There are many people who might think that in these times of financial hardship, prisoners are getting a chance to live in conditions not available to the poorer, law-abiding sections of our society."

select for full story Tuesday 2nd December 2008

INCREASING numbers of young people are falling into lives of crime.

Almost daily we read about youths involved in gang culture, serious knife attacks or just petty crime.

Prisons and young offenders’ institutes are filling up rapidly.

So just how do you deter young people from ending up behind bars?

I joined a group of pupils at Bishop Perowne CE College in Worcester during a session aimed at doing just that.

The school was visited by officers from HMP Long Lartin at Evesham, as part of the Prison Me No Way! programme run by the No Way Trust.

The trust is a national educational charity set up in 1995 by prison officers who wanted to make an impact on the lives of young people and turn them away from crime and its consequences using highly innovative educational techniques.

During the session the year seven pupils discovered the reality of what life is really like in prison, taking a look at clothes, a mock cell and getting a taste of how drugs sniffer dogs go about their work.

“Most of the children will get their ideas on prison from the TV from such programmes as Bad Girls,” said prison officer Steve Cullis.

“We aim to teach them the harsh reality.

“We want to be frank and honest with them, and hopefully it will leave an impact that will ensure they never want to end up in that situation.”

The session started with the question ‘What do you think prison is like?’ The replies from the pupils included ‘dark’, ‘scary’, ‘boring’, and ‘not a nice place to be’.

But most still had an idealised view of prison, where inmates sat around playing on Playstations all day, wearing and eating what ever they wanted, and living a pretty comfortable life.

“When we finish the session the children have a much starker view on prison life,” said Mr Cullis.

“They soon realise that it’s not a nice place at all.”

Mr Cullis explained to the group how prisoners are transferred from the courts to prisons, sometimes enduring several hours locked in a prison van with only a small potty or a bottle to relieve themselves, which they must hold on to for the entire journey. Once at the prison, inmates are strip-searched and then given prison clothing to wear.

“How many of you would wear your brother or sister’s underwear?” Mr Cullis asked.

“In prison you are given three pairs of underpants, which may have previously been worn by 439 people before you.

They are clean, but they will have been used a lot before.”

After talking to the pupils about the clothing and the size of cells, prison officer Nicola Groves demonstrated officers’ riot gear on one of the pupils.

“It’s about giving children a stark understanding of what goes on inside prison,” she said.

“And to make them realise it is not a place they want to find themselves.

“We don’t want to frighten the kids, just educate them.”

Not surprisingly the pupils were most excited about the attendance of Dillon, a drugs sniffer dog.

Handler Tony O’Leary showed the pupils how he is able to find drugs hidden inside a room, or on an individual.

“Bringing in the dog always gets the kids more excited,” Mr O’Leary said.

“They enjoy seeing him do his thing. But there is a serious side to it as it shows them just how easily we can find drugs and that there is no hiding place.”

The pupils bombarded the officers with questions about prison life, and were clearly shocked by some of the answers.

John Plant, head of personal, social and health education (PSHE) at the school, said it had been a worthwhile session.

“When we were contacted by the trust to ask if we would be interested in hosting one of these sessions we were delighted,” he said.

“I think it is very important for the students to be aware of various social cirumstances such as prison and what goes on in places that they would not normally see.

the intelligence officer at Woodhill high-security prison
From The Times
November 29, 2008

Sean O'Neill, Crime Editor
Thames Valley Police began to investigate Detective Sergeant Mark Kearney ostensibly as a way of silencing an officer they suspected of talking to the press.

In an effort to stop embarrassing titbits about the force appearing in the Milton Keynes Citizen, they bugged his car, raided his house and those of his friends and seized their belongings.

But in using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, Thames Valley Police did not foresee that their ill-conceived efforts would draw in ministers and MPs, lead to an official Whitehall inquiry and expose one of the most shadowy aspects of police work - the eavesdropping carried out on prisoners and their visitors in British jails.

Mr Kearney, a policeman for 30 years and the intelligence officer at Woodhill high-security prison, was charged with misconduct in a public office for leaking what the courts have ruled were “trivial” stories.

One concerned an MK Dons footballer brawling in a nightclub, while another, about day-release prisoners working for the Citizens Advice Bureau, appeared in a Sunday paper written by the journalist son of the Security Minister, Lord West of Spithead.

Far from leaking sensitive information, the officer said he had a long record of protecting it and sticking to the rules when senior police officers put pressure on him to bug inmates. He believes that his refusal to bend and break the rules on surveillance led to him being victimised.

“I think I became a bit of a thorn in their side. I became quite awkward,” Mr Kearney told The Times.

At an early stage in the case, Mr Kearney resigned from the police and decided that the only way he could keep himself out of jail was to reveal the extent of what he knew - but had never leaked - about high-profile prisoners and covert surveillance in the prison system.

What was disclosed in legal documents was devastating. It emerged that Mr Kearney had been asked to record conversations between Sadiq Khan MP, a former solicitor and now a junior minister, and his constituent Babar Ahmad, who is wanted in America on terrorist charges.

The revelation provoked a scandal and led to an official inquiry by Sir Christopher Rose, the Surveillance Commissioner. But perhaps more seriously it disclosed the existence of “talking tables” in prison visiting areas - where microphones are embedded to record inmates' conversations.

In documents seen by The Times, Mr Kearney says he was frequently asked to eavesdrop on legal visits between solicitors and their clients and always rejected the requests.

His defence papers said he had previously fought to keep secret the extent of prison surveillance. Mr Kearney's unit had recorded phone calls and visits involving Ian Huntley, the school caretaker who murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham in 2002. As his trial approached, the Crown wanted to use the conversations in evidence but Kearney resisted, fearing this would alert prisoners to the use of bugging techniques in jails.

In one document, Mr Kearney's lawyers state: “The defendant believes it was Hazel Blears MP, then a Home Office minister, who directed the use of this material at the trial despite the fact that [Kearney] understood that the defence for Huntley were prepared to admit that the girls had been in his house.”

The court papers say that Ms Blears's alleged intervention undermined the use of surveillance in prison as an intelligence-gathering tool. The day after it was used at trial one inmate was recorded as he sat alone in a visiting room saying: “Hello officers.”

Pressure to conduct illicit recordings came, Mr Kearney said, from forces around Britain. The Metropolitan Police Special Branch was particularly keen, he said, to bug terrorist prisoners or covertly search their cells.

Mr Kearney said: “At Woodhill we were well respected because we produced a good product. We spent quite a lot of the State's money installing the equipment. Prisoners were moved from other jails to Woodhill so we could provide the product. We were victims of our own success.

“Officers often don't understand the difference between intelligence and evidence. The two are totally separate. A good case might use intelligence to lead to the evidence, but you don't expose the source or the methodology.” Mr Kearney was five weeks away from retirement when he was charged after an investigation in which Thames Valley officers bugged his car.

That device picked up 20 hours of conversations between him and Miss Murrer. The handful of stories that later appeared in the Milton Keynes Citizen were were deemed sufficient to pursue Mr Kearney and Miss Murrer through the courts. Charges were also pressed against Mr Kearney's son, Harry, a serving soldier, for telling a local reporter that Thames Valley Police had lost the keys to one of its stations.

Mr Kearney said: “To get at me the police have tried to bring my son down as well - we used to call it hostage taking, arresting a suspect's family to make him crack. But the Army have stood by him.”

The case has taken a toll on Mr Kearney's health. He was taken to hospital last week after falling ill in the dock. Doctors suspect a stroke.


  2008 articles