select for full details Prison violence is the worst I have seen in my 30-year career
Cuts and overcrowding are making this a dangerous time, and we prison governors are being squeezed by both sides. Liz Truss must make changes fast
By John Attard   3 December, 2016
in my 29 years of working for the prison service – now called the National Offender Management Service – I have seen many things, from truly stunning acts of compassion to extreme acts of violence. But the violence I have seen in the last four years is the worst I have witnessed.

I am a national officer for the Prison Governors’ Association, the union that represents prison governors, and it is my duty to say that the prison service is in spiralling decline, brought about through savage staff cuts over the past four years, increased overcrowding, synthetic drugs, mobile phones and the imposition of doctrines about how we should manage.

The impact has been stark: self-inflicted deaths have doubled, violence has increased, serious assaults on our staff are at their highest level for at least a decade and we have seen riots and prisoners escaping.

Most governors do not have the same legal protection to speak their minds as I do and they are being squeezed from both sides. They are often blamed by officers for failures while being under intense pressure from the prison service to deliver with depleted resources, and their hands tied because of the imposition of central control.

select for full details I was told by one governor that he could not call in a pest controller to deal with a rat and cockroach infestation because he was not authorised to go outside the management contract. Another prison refused to accept any more prisoners from court because so many cell observation panels were broken, placing officers at risk of being assaulted when carrying out their checks.

I continue to carry out operational duties in prisons when required and I recently went back to a busy London prison to carry out a duty governor role after a nine-year gap working elsewhere. The changes I saw broke my heart. Staff are now having to manage a whole series of incidents, including fights, drug smuggling, extortion and what I can only describe as an institutional breakdown in basic discipline.

Of course incidents of this type happened before the cuts, but the volume of incidents is now so much higher. Prisoners are not being locked away when the alarm is raised. This is not always necessary but if there is a serious incident it allows staff to bring order and ensures that the security of the prison is not compromised. This used to happen as matter of course if prisoners were fighting, for example, and did not immediately stop when ordered to.

Now, there are so few staff available that all they can do is stop the fight and deal with the incident while other prisoners watch. What’s absent is the feeling of order and control.

The only redeeming feature of that weekend was seeing the astonishing bravery and commitment from the staff on duty – a camaraderie only seen from those working in extreme conditions and a professionalism that deserves admiration, respect and mention.

The collapse of the prison service has unfolded over four years. It was started by the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, who stripped out millions of pounds, and was certainly not halted by his immediate successor, Michael Gove, whose ideas were well-intentioned but lacking operational credibility.

The new justice secretary, Liz Truss, on the other hand, is genuinely trying to halt this collapse. Since she has been in charge, she has obtained funding for additional staffing, and is looking for answers beyond that. Importantly, she is listening to governors and officers to find out what governors think we can do to stop the violence and make prisons safer.

The squandering of experienced staff when they were induced to leave the service, coupled with lower numbers on the frontline, cannot be rectified overnight. It will be years before we get somewhere close to where we once were. Additional prison spaces are not available on demand, reducing the population appears to be unpalatable to this government, and the re-establishing of control, respect and appropriate prisoner-staff relations needs time.

The white paper on prison safety and reform is a good start but it will not be supported unconditionally if it is implemented poorly. Let’s hope the new justice secretary will be given the opportunity to make good on her commitments – anything less would be unrealistic and unfair.

select for full details
Prison guard quits after being spooked by chilling mind games from killer inmate nicknamed 'Hannibal Lecter'
The 22-year-old was so creeped out by details given to her by murderer Daniel Eastwood she told prison bosses she felt 'too intimidated and insecure' to continue the job
By John Ferguson   3 December, 2016
A prison guard has quit her job after a killer inmate nicknamed 'Hannibal Lecter' revealed he knew chilling details about her family.

The 22-year-old was so creeped out by details given to her by murderer Daniel Eastwood she told prison bosses she felt 'too intimidated and insecure' to continue the job.

Eastwood recounted private details about her and her family during a night-shift run-in.

The Scottish Daily Record reports well-spoken Eastwood, 31, was given the nickname of notorious screen psychopath Lecter because of his ultra violent temperament and love of sinister mind games.

He is serving life for strangling a fellow con with shoe laces and once ate a razor blade after being placed in segregation for a brutal attack on a prison guard.

The G4S worker resigned after having to pick Eastwood up from hospital in October to take him back to prison after treatment. She was left terrified when he was able to tell the guard her full home address - and the home address of her father.

It has never been revealed how the fiend managed to access the personal information.

A pal of the guard, who asked us not to name her as she is now terrified of reprisals, said: “Eastwood is completely unstable, he is a very dangerous man, the kind of character you just do not want to be involved with in any way.

“When you read about his history, the mind games, the explosive violence, its not surprising that he has been given the Hannibal Lecter nickname.

“If you are a young woman who hasn’t been working with prisoners for a long time, you would be understandably terrified if this guy appears to have personal information and some kind of obsession with you.”

The Record has been passed a copy of an email the woman - who we are not naming - sent to her bosses.

She wrote: “I’m writing to you about an issue I’m extremely concerned about.

“I was carrying out my nightshift duties on the 27th October at Wishaw General Hospital.

“I was on with ***** ****** and the prisoner was Daniel Eastwood.

“Throughout my shift Mr Eastwood made me feel very uncomfortable and intimidated as he was able to disclose personal information about myself and my family.

select for full details Prison officer leaders reach deal on pay and conditions
Leaders of the prison officers union have reached a deal over pay and conditions following concerns about jail safety, the Ministry of Justice has said.
By BBC NEWS   1 December, 2016
The package on offer from the government includes a pay rise and a reduction in the retirement age.

The deal will now be put to a ballot of the union's membership.

Up to 10,000 prison officers in England and Wales protested last month over claims of a "surge" in jail violence.

They stopped work over claims of a "surge in violence" in jails but returned to work after a High Court injunction ordered them to end their 24-hour protest.

Under the agreement, prison officers will be allowed to retire at 65 - up to three years ahead of the current state pension age - at no cost to them and with full pension benefits.

Uniformed staff will also be given consolidated pay rises of between 0.5% and 1% for each of the next three years, on top of usual performance-related pay increases.

They also stand to receive a "recognition and retention" package totalling £1,000.

Prisons minister Sam Gyimah, said the government and POA had also "agreed a significant number of health and safety reforms as well as new powers for governors in terms of how they deploy their staff in prisons".

The POA directed members to take action last month after talks with the government over health and safety concerns broke down.

It came after multiple high-profile incidents at prisons across England.

In October, Jamal Mahmoud, an inmate at HMP Pentonville, died after being stabbed to death in an attack at the prison, which left two others injured.

And last month prisoners caused almost £1m of damage during a riot at Bedford prison.

Days later at HMP Isle of Wight, an inmate cut a prison officer's throat with a razor blade on the way back to his cell.

In an effort to tackle safety issues Justice Secretary Liz Truss unveiled proposals detailing £1.3bn investment in new prisons over the next five years, including plans for 2,100 extra prison officers, drug tests for inmates on entry and exit from prisons, and more autonomy for governors.

In response to the new pay deal she said: "This agreement is a good offer which rightly recognises the hard work and dedication of officers across the country doing a tough job."

select for full details top judge urges tougher community service as alternative to prison
Lord chief justice says he hopes ‘problem-solving courts’ scheme is expanded and warns of shortage of high court judges.
By Owen Bowcott   22 November, 2016
Fewer criminals should be jailed and tougher community punishments developed as an alternative to imprisonment, the lord chief justice has urged.

Appearing before MPs on the justice select committee on Monday, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd also warned there was a shortage of high court judges partially because of cuts in their pension rights and that up to 40 would need to be recruited by over the next few years.

The most senior judge in England and Wales welcomed the introduction of US-style “problem-solving courts”, whereby offenders are brought back regularly to have their sentences and progress reviewed by a judge after conviction.

Thomas said there had been a “pause in the government’s thinking” but hoped the scheme would be expanded. “There’s an awful lot we can do to avoid sending certain people to prison provided that the orders are properly carried out by the probation and rehabilitation companies,” he said.

“The prison population is very, very high at the moment. Whether it will continue to rise is always difficult to tell. There are worries that it will. I don’t know whether we can dispense with more [offenders] by really tough, and I do mean tough, community penalties. So I would like to see that done first.”

His comments come as jails in England and Wales endure a turbulent period. This month thousands of prison officers staged a walkout amid claims the system was “in meltdown” after a rise in violence and self-harm incidents in jails. There are more than 85,000 people in prison in England and Wales.

Thomas said the latest survey of morale among the judiciary showed serious concerns, reflecting resentment over cuts in the value of judges’ pensions and changes to their working practices.

An employment tribunal is hearing a claim by more than 200 judges who allege that they have been the subject of discrimination because newly appointed judges have been given less generous pension provision.

The lord chief justice said that on recruitment, judges take a “huge salary cut” from their work as barristers in private practice. High court judges are paid about £180,000 a year.

select for full details Prison officer has his EAR bitten off by mentally unstable inmate
Guard was head-butted, twice, punched and then had his ear bitten off.
By Rachael Burford   24 November, 2016
Prisoner was moved because he was attacking officers in Pentonville.

The officer was rushed to hospital after the assault at 10am yesterday morning.

A source told the Mail the prisoner was moved to the west London penitentiary after a number of attacks on guards at Pentonville prison.

They added: 'The prisoner is clearly mentally unstable and should not be held in a prison. 'He was moved here because he was attacking officers in Pentonville. This is happening far too often.' The 31-year-old inmate allegedly refused to take his medication before assaulting the officer.

The guard was taken to hospital and his injuries are not thought to be life-threatening. The attack comes just days after the Prison Officers Association, led by National Chairman Mike Rolfe, held resumed talks with the Prison Service about health and safety in British jails.

Mr Rolfe said: 'Once again we have an officer assaulted by an inmate who is clearly unstable and should not be in a prison. 'He should be in a mental hospital. He was moved to the Scrubs because he carried out a number of assaults on staff at Pentonville'.

He added : 'This was a very nasty attack on an officer. Head-butted twice, punched, and then had his ear bitten off. It is outrageous what is happening to staff in prisons throughout the country. Something has got to be done. And soon.' In May this year staff at Wormwood Scrubs staged a walk out over safety fears.

The protest was a result of health and safety concerns after a report published by the HM Inspectorate described the facility as 'overwhelmed' and 'rat-infested'. According to top-secret security reports seen by The Mail on Sunday, a staggering 125 serious incidents took place in prisons in a single week in November. These included riots, hostage-taking, fights, escapes and drug-smuggling. In the report jail chiefs detailed that week’s most high-profile events, included 300 inmates rioting at Bedford jail, causing £1 million of damage, and two prisoners escaping from Pentonville and going on the run.

Ex-prison officer Zoe Crowe who got £100k payout found guilty of assault
Glamorous former officer who got £100k payout in court found guilty of assaults.
By Ciaran Barnes 24 Nov, 2016
A former Northern Ireland prison officer who won a £100,000 payout for unfair dismissal has been convicted of two counts of assault.

Zoe Crowe was found guilty after a contest at Belfast Magistrates’ Court last Friday. The 39-year-old from Knockleigh Drive in Greenisland will be sentenced on December 15.

She had denied assaulting Gary Jenkins on April 6 causing him actual bodily harm, and of unlawfully assaulting Amanda Waide on the same date.

Glamorous Zoe hit the headlines in 2011 when she was sacked from her job at Maghaberry Prison on Christmas Eve.

Her dismissal, which was revealed in a courier delivered letter to her home, came after a Department of Justice investigation into alleged misconduct at the high-security jail. Her troubles first began in November 2011 when she was led out of Maghaberry Prison by security staff and suspended from duty.

Zoe later took a case with the Northern Ireland Civil Service Appeal Board (NICSAB) which found she had been the victim of unfair dismissal. In 2012 she was awarded a £100,000 compensation windfall that also took into consideration six months of lost pay.

The petite blonde was supported throughout the process by DUP peer Lord Morrow, who said: “This lady has been through a dreadful ordeal and the manner in which she was treated was appalling and degrading.”

Zoe is well known around south-east Antrim and comes from a big family based in the Rathcoole estate. Pictures of her enjoying an eleventh night bonfire in the area feature on her Facebook page, as do sexy snaps of her dressed as a naughty schoolgirl and a bumblebee.

The former prison officer also has words of warning for anyone who crosses her, saying on social media: “I can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Pick your words wisely.”

select for full details Far-right terrorist Thomas Mair jailed for life for Jo Cox murder
Unemployed gardener, 53, given whole-life sentence for murder of MP that judge said was inspired by white supremacism
By Ian Cobain   23 November, 2016
An extreme rightwing terrorist has been sentenced to prison for the rest of his life for the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox after a seven-day Old Bailey trial in which he made no effort to defend himself.

Thomas Mair repeatedly shot and stabbed Cox in an attack during the EU referendum campaign in June. While attacking her he was saying: “This is for Britain”, “keep Britain independent”, and “Britain first”, the court heard. The judge said Mair would have to serve a whole-life sentence due to the “exceptional seriousness” of the offence: a murder committed to advance a cause associated with Nazism.

Mr Justice Wilkie refused Mair’s request to address the court, saying he had already had opportunities to explain himself, and had not done so.

Cox, the judge told Mair, was not only a “passionate, open-hearted, inclusive and generous” person, but a true patriot. He, on the other hand “affected to be a patriot”.

“It is evident from your internet searches that your inspiration is not love of country or your fellow citizens, it is an admiration for Nazis and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds,” Wilkie said. “Our parents’ generation made huge sacrifices to defeat those ideas and values in the second world war. What you did … betrays those sacrifices.”

Mair had “betrayed the quintessence of our country, its adherence to parliamentary democracy”. By not having the courage to admit his crime, the judge added, he had forced the prosecution to prove their case in detail, which “no doubt deliberately”had increased the anguish of his victim’s family. Mair struck on 16 June after Cox got out of a car in Birstall, a small market town in West Yorkshire that was part of her Batley and Spen constituency. He shot her twice in the head and once in the chest with a sawn-off .22 hunting rifle before stabbing her 15 times.

The MP died shortly afterwards in the back of an ambulance, despite emergency surgery. She was 41, and the mother of two children, then aged five and three.

select for full details UK prison anarchy exposed as shocking 19-day investigation reveals
30 guards attacked by lags, hostage taking, legal highs and £1million of damage in HMP Bedford riot
By Jack Royston   19 November, 2016
The UK's jails have become little more than a war-zone as the level of rioting, violence and drug-abuse reaches tipping point.

THE anarchy in UK prisons has been laid bare through a shocking 19-day snapshot of life behind bars.

Figures obtained by The Sun on Sunday show 400 incidents in that time, including 30 assaults by lags on prison officers. There were also 96 “lag-on-lag” attacks — and 15 deaths in custody.

The figures were gathered from just 20 of the 199 jails in England and Wales, meaning they potentially represent just the tip of the iceberg.

In the same statistics, it emerged that 12 smuggling operations involving drones were reported by officers.

The gadgets have fuelled a surge of contraband flowing into jails. Bizarre items confiscated include sex toys, Kinder eggs containing drugs and children’s drawings soaked in illicit substances.

Officers at a jail in the North East found cannabis in the carcass of a rabbit on perimeter fencing.

The internal figures, compiled by the Ministry of Justice, also show 13 mobile phones discovered. And under-pressure staff dealt with 162 incidents involving inmates threatening to jump from prison wings. Meanwhile, there were five fires in cells and 16 incidents of “concerted indiscipline”.

These include the riot at Bedford prison, where 300 inmates ran amok causing £1million damage, and the rampage at Lewes prison in East Sussex, where lags took over a wing, leaving a £50,000 repair bill.

Other stats show 16 incidents of prisoners self-harming and 14 cases of hostage-taking.

There were also 13 lags absconding or escaping, including two prisoners who recently went on the run from Pentonville in North London.

The figures from the 20 prisons cover the period between October 24 and November 11.

They come just days after 1,000 prison officers staged a walkout across England and Wales.

select for full details Prison guard warns lags run the jails now as she admits officers have lost control in crisis
Former warder Kelly Smith claims it is only a matter of time before a prison officer is killed on the job
By Patrick Hill   19 November, 2016
An inmate faced up to a prison officer and bragged: “We run the jails now.”

The shocking moment drove it home to former warder Kelly Smith, 33, that she and her ­colleagues had lost control – and Britain’s jails were in crisis. Kelly, who has since left, made the revelation days after 10,000 officers went on strike and MPs were outraged by online shots of lags wolfing steaks, taking drugs and guzzling booze.

Sickened by disgraceful failures of the system, she said: “It is so dangerous now – it is only a matter of time before a prison officer is killed. They are being put at risk every day.”

Kelly feels compelled to speak out about how staff were ­ordered to ignore ­contraband mobiles because there were no ­resources to deal with them.

Drugs including heroin, cocaine and Spice are rife but a jail she worked in had just a single sniffer dog – which it had to share with six other institutions. She said CCTV to stop smuggling had not worked for a decade.

Kelly left the service in July after 15 years. She said: “It’s become ­ridiculous. Prisoners can do what they want. There aren’t enough staff to stop them. They’re running it, not the staff. You press an alarm and there are no staff there to come and help you.

“The service is being cut everywhere and the governors are ignoring what’s going on while the prisons are going to s***. Staff are being pushed to their limit and they can’t cope.”

Over her career Kelly, who worked at Maidstone, Rochester and Cookham Wood jails, witnessed repeated ­cutbacks and growing red tape which made the job increasingly difficult.

She said: “When I first started, it was a career and I was proud to say I worked in the Prison Service . But the other day I spoke to a girl who told me she was thinking of taking a job there. I said, ‘Please don’t!’

“When I was at Rochester I was told to ignore seeing phones. They said to me, ‘You have to just let it slide.’

“Maidstone is rife with drugs, ­especially Spice, and there’s also a problem with heroin and cocaine.

“We used to have enough staff and dogs to keep drugs out but it is easy to get them in now.

“A lot of it gets thrown in over the wall and walking around the prison the smell of drugs is everywhere. Staff know exactly what is going on but they don’t have the resources to stop it.

select for full details Locking people up indefinitely adds to prison problems
November - Guardian Letters page
By Guardian Letters   21 November, 2016
in your article (High court sends 10,000 prison officers back to work after justice secretary acts, 16 November), the head of the National Offender Management Service, Michael Spurr, was reported as saying that prisoners were not being unlocked, creating a dangerous situation.”

Prisoners not being unlocked is nothing new. In its 2014 report on HMP Isis, to take one example, the prison inspectorate had to recommend that prisoners be able to spend “a reasonable amount of time” out of their cells. Its 2016 report found that this had not been achieved and noted that 40% of prisoners were locked up during the core day (as well as from early evening till the morning) and that the regime had been “punitively restricted for several years”.

The cause is not one day of action by prison officers, but staffing cuts imposed by the coalition government, and the failure of the current administration to address the increasingly dangerous situation across the prison system.
Liz Duthie

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Michael Gove, in his Longford lecture (Report,, 18 November), complained about the state of our prisons caused by lack of funding. Can it be that he has forgotten that he was, until recently, the justice secretary; that he seemed ideally placed to deal with the scandalous conditions in the prisons, including the suicide rate of inmates; and that he deserted his responsibility there in order to join Farage/Johnson bandwagon?

Had he continued with the vital work on the prisons he would still be respected. As it is, he and the three Brexit ministers should be forced to face the impossible task they have set themselves, and the ignominy that awaits them when it is acknowledged that they cannot both have the European cake and eat it.
David Hindmarsh

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Your editorial (Taking control of prisons starts by freeing those held for too long, 18 November) is spot-on. Prisoners not having release dates benefits nobody, causes problems for their eventual rehabilitation into society, and is costing the taxpayer needless expense.

We need to keep up the pressure to stop indefinite detention for immigration purposes too. People are detained without any time limit, more and more are being detained for years. The UK is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a time limit on depriving people of their freedom, and we should be ashamed of this. Detention like this also achieves no purpose, wastes lives, and wastes money.
Suzanne Fletcher
Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees

select for full details Notorious drugs gang who terrorised town and filmed themselves goading police officers as 'scumbags'
14 people connected to the notorious Fernhill Gang were locked up following their campaign of guns and drugs terror in Bootle, Merseyside
By Neil Docking   19 November, 2016
Among them was its feared leader, Kyle Shiels, 26, who led a cocaine and heroin racket along with plots to smuggle illicit substances and mobile phones into HMP Liverpool.

He orchestrated two attempts to flood Walton prison with contraband – the second while calling the shots from his own jail cell - and has been sentenced to 16 years in prison, the Liverpool Echo reported .

Shiels and an accomplice today sat laughing in the dock until Judge Anil Murray passed sentence telling Shiels: “This was an organised and slick operation conducted with ruthless efficiency.

“You are a determined, sophisticated and calculating drug dealer. You have absolutely no regard for the law.”

A family member shouted “how long” and stormed out of court, while Shiels, of no fixed address yelled: “How do you let them get away with this?”

the other man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, blasted “it’s a joke” as he was jailed for 11 years and 10 months.

Mark Ainsworth, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court the pair were “feared by the community” during the 2015 operation.

He said: “Night and day, they and their team of helpers worked tirelessly round the clock dealing Class A drugs locally on the Dodge Estate, from where they came, and throughout South Sefton and north to Southport.

“They used many graft phones, which were the call centre for the business.

"The phones were active 24/7, with batch messages being sent out to their customer database, sometimes hundreds at a time.

select for full details “The orders would then flow in from mobiles, land lines and telephone kiosks.”

The volume of business meant they enlisted drivers to deliver drugs, including cabbie Brian McClelland.

When police seized their cars they used hire vehicles, which clocked up hundreds of miles in just a few days. Mr Ainsworth said: “The gang used intimidatory tactics to try and prevent police officers working the streets from stopping them.

“When police officers did stop the gang, the vehicles would often be seen to initially try and evade the police, allowing the occupants the time and opportunity to internally secrete the drugs.

“Pots of Vaseline were recovered as part of the essential tool of their trade.”

Residents were terrified by the Fernhill “gang culture”, involving violence against rival factions, and reluctant to speak to police.

Judge Anil Murray said: “I’ve seen footage of one such occasion and the actions of those involved were chilling.”

One video filmed by the gang inside a car during an attempted police search shows a yob goad an officer and say: “Do I oblige? You’re just a public servant.”

Another criminal then tells the police: “You little rat. You little f***ing scumbag. F***ing little scumbags they are.” Mr Ainsworth said drug dealer Kevin Roberts abandoned his car when he was attacked and taken to hospital.

He later armed himself with a sawn off shotgun and a self-loading pistol, with shotgun cartridges and Luger rounds.

Terence Nixon was caught with £300 of heroin and crack cocaine in his sock.

Officers recovered £2,000 in a Gucci case and £530 of heroin in the garden of Steven Fletcher’s Netherton “safe house”.

Abbey and Sam Knowles stored cocaine, heroin, cannabis and paracetamol at their Bootle home.

In April 2015, Shiels, Nixon and Kevin Bell tried to smuggle drugs into HMP Liverpool, when vulnerable drug addict David McGrady was bullied into being a “human mule”.

He was to get arrested, with Bell acting as his “appropriate adult” in police interviews, and remanded into prison. Nixon delivered a “sausage-shaped package” – containing £170 of high purity cocaine – to McGrady.

But police raided McGrady’s property, also seizing £600 of heroin.

The next plan, masterminded by inmate Shiels on a mobile phone and assisted by Connor McKevitt, was even more audacious.

Just after 1am on August 7, a prison guard noticed an item “levitating in the air” moving towards G Block, where Shiels was housed.

The alarm was raised and a fishing wire cut, causing a plastic bottle to fall to the ground.

It contained 15 mobile phones, eight SIM cards, 10 chargers and cannabis.

Outside the prison, two bottles containing £4,500 of cannabis and more mobiles were found.

The court heard Shiels, his accomplice, Roberts, McKevitt, Lee, Fletcher and Nixon were all Fernhill Gang members.

the state is being humiliated inside Britain’s prisons
This month in HMP Bedford, inmates took control of several wings and posted their jeering triumph via an illicit phone on YouTube.
By Ian Acheson   18 November, 2016
The next morning, two prisoners escaped from HMP Pentonville. Pictures from inside HMP Guys Marsh yesterday confirm a jail, as reported by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, effectively out of control.

select for full details And this is only the tip of a ghastly iceberg. Rates of suicide, homicide and serious assaults are soaring. The safety crisis inside prisons is acute and threatens us all unless there is decisive action and leadership.

Active leadership was something in noticeably short supply when I led a recent independent review of prison extremism for Michael Gove. We found the National Offender Management Service (Noms), responsible for managing prisons and probation, was an unloved, unlovely bureaucratic monster, dangerously out of touch with its operational heartland on an issue of national security importance. It had an almost paranoid, defensive headquarters culture that elevated many people to senior positions without operational experience of running prisons. It was untroubled by regular scrutiny because the system of prisons inspection, ably led by Peter Clarke, is geared towards individual jails. We encountered so much passivity, evasiveness, political correctness and inertia around the threat posed by Islamist extremism that we coined the phrase "institutional timidity" to describe it. Clearly, Noms has to go. As an arm’s length comfort blanket for ministers, it is wearing dangerously thin. A centralised and ineffectual bureaucracy is at odds with the notion of operational independence for Governors in their prisons. The money saved by axing this expensive managerial indulgence could be spent on badly needed front line operational staff. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons should become a fully-fledged regulator with legal powers to enforce decent minimum standards for prisoners instead of standing by impotently while prison bosses cherry pick from their report recommendations or ignore them entirely.

But the safety crisis in prisons isn’t just a consequence of poor senior leadership at Noms (although you do have to ask what they were doing implementing disastrous austerity cuts to prison staff numbers, surely in the full knowledge of the consequences). There has been a collapse in the vital esprit de corps of the prison service. The decline in status and authority of prison officers is almost as sharp as the drop in numbers.

When I was a prison officer, there were sufficient numbers of experienced staff around me that I learned my "jailcraft" from them, and knew that in the event of an incident, backup would be almost instantaneous. It is impossible to underestimate how important this foundation is for a healthy prison. Without order, control and stability, nothing else hopeful is possible in prisons. I had the time and confidence to speak with prisoners, to understand and respond to their problems and develop a relationship with them which would keep both of us safe and assist with their rehabilitation. I wasn’t watching my back, I was doing my job.

Since then, rampant, often fatuous managerialism has combined with staff cuts to reduce the work of a prison officer to that of a fearful turnkey. It is appalling that prison officers now speak about retreating to "places of safety" inside prisons. It is completely unacceptable that staff have no time to meaningfully engage with prisoners in the interests of "driving out inefficiency". It is outrageous that serious violence against prison staff has become in effect normalised.

The additional recruitment that Liz Truss has announced is a welcome first step. Yet even though we give our prison staff one of the shortest training periods of any service in Western Europe, this will still take far too much time to have an impact even in prioritised prisons. So too will an endless and expensive public enquiry into the state of prisons. Rome is burning now.

select for full details Prison officers know how to run jails. Liz Truss needs to listen to us
Just when we need to be heard most, a court has stopped our strike action. For the sake of our ailing prisons, we call on Truss to do better than her predecessors
By Mike Rolfe   18 November, 2016
prisons, whether we like them or not, are an essential public service that have never been a priority when it comes to government spending.

But when there is a long-term squeeze on funding from successive governments who have had no idea about the role prison officers and associated staff perform, there are seriously detrimental effects.

That is why it was absolutely essential this week that prison officers made their concerns known in the most public possible way, by taking protest action to highlight their concerns, laying bare the prison service’s darkest secrets for all to see. The court injunction to end the strike is another sad indictment of the conditions prison officers have to operate within. We have no formal way to pursue our grievances, no way of getting our concerns listened to, and a system that is designed to hide the facts and conceal the truth of the consistent failings in prisons.

It has been a failure of many governments not to invest appropriately in prisons. Attracting, recruiting and retaining the very best talent to work with prisoners in order to turn their lives around should be at the forefront of all considerations. The political merry-go-round of successive justice secretaries looking to make a name for themselves has either quickly made them, or in some instances quickly broken them.

So it is unfortunate that the most recent appointee to the role, Liz Truss, has taken over the helm at a critical stage in the ongoing failure of the prison system, with murder, violence, self-harm, suicide, riots and even escapees a regular occurrence. It is no wonder the public have demanded answers about how such failures have been allowed to happen.

Truss’s predecessors failed to bring about positive reform and predominantly preoccupied themselves with reducing the cost of a broken system, rather than taking the time to stop and listen to the core problems from experienced staff. This has left Truss the unenviable task of mending a system that’s in a state of disarray and deterioration. As she quite rightly says, there are no quick fixes.

A justice minister, however, has a sizeable number of interested parties who will seek to influence direction in the prison estate. For various reasons this can be unhelpful if the messages conflict with one another and do not create a clear picture. That is why it is essential that the running of the prison system is left to the experts in the field: the staff.

Many organisations have strong views on the number of prisoners that are locked up, the care they receive, the education and support needed to turn a prisoner’s life around. But the core role of security, discipline, control and order should never be interfered with by an outsider. Those on the outside may not always agree with how these services are delivered, but for prison officers to achieve them they must be supported in their methods and not demonised.

In recent years, savage budget cuts mean that over 30% of frontline staffing has been removed, and the net effect of this is a loss of control. The Prison Officers’ Association is a responsible trade union, and we have patiently tried to work with the government and our employers to bring about change that not only benefits our members but also improves the lives of prisoners and the general public alike, fostering safer, more viable institutions under increasingly impossible constraints.

Whatever your view of prisons and how prisoners should be treated, recent news stories have shown that none of what you expect to be happening inside is currently achievable. The system will need much more than the promised £100m a year to recruit and retain staff while bringing

select for full details We can no longer ignore the crisis in our prisons
Without urgent action, we are at risk of a mass riot or a terrorist atrocity
By Spectator   19 November, 2016
One of the stated objectives of this week’s brief strike by prison officers was to publicise the dire conditions in many of our jails. In this regard, as in many others, it was a failure.

The strike triggered discussions as to whether it was legal (it wasn’t, the High Court ruled) and questions about how exactly it helped prison safety to abandon the wings to the inmates for the day.

But there is all too little awareness of or concern about the increasingly desperate living conditions of those sentenced to spend time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Order seems to be breaking down. In the past year there have been 625 serious assaults by prisoners on prison staff — up 30 per cent on the previous year — plus six homicides and 2,197 serious assaults against fellow inmates.

When schools, hospitals and trains deteriorate, we notice because we can see what is happening. All we tend to hear about prisons are dry statistics. Dry, but still shocking. Since 1993 the prison population has almost doubled to 85,000. Given how much crime is committed by a handful of prolific criminals, there is a strong argument for using prison to protect us from the worst offenders. But that should not blind us to the conditions behind prison walls. While the number of inmates has risen, the number of prison officers has plummeted — down by a quarter in the past six years. Violent incidents have more than doubled over the same period.

You don’t have to be a liberal extremist opposed to incarceration to see how wrong this is. If safety is so badly compromised, if about half of adult prisoners are re–convicted within a year of release, then prisons are not working. And it is the poorest members of society who have to put up with recidivist thugs and drug-dealers prowling their neighbourhoods. Those with high fences, burglar alarms and CCTV need not worry as much.

This is a crisis which demands a debate. First, just how many criminals should we be incarcerating — and what results should we demand of prisons? If we do decide as a society that we want so many people in jail, then the costs must be met head-on. Over the past two decades governments of all colours have been increasing sentences to satisfy public demands, yet they have failed to provide for the consequences. That cannot carry on.

Much more, for instance, should be done to educate prisoners and prepare them for employment when they have served their time — including the temporary release to part-time jobs of those in open conditions. That means more investment and, yes, some risk; but the results will be quickly measurable.

Then there are challenges from technology. In April, security cameras caught a drone delivering drugs and mobile phones through an open window at Wandsworth Prison. Inmates now smuggle thumb-sized mobile phones into jail up their backsides. These are freely for sale online under the name ‘Beat the Boss’: Boss being the ‘body orifice security scanner’ designed to detect concealed metal objects.

Synthetic drugs such as ‘Black Mamba’ and ‘Spice’ are also on the rise; they are far harder to test for than marijuana and cocaine, a

select for full details Justice secretary under pressure from Gove to cut prison population
Liz Truss’s predecessor says she should use her powers to release 500 prisoners serving sentences for public protection
By Alan Travis   17 November, 2016
the UK justice secretary, Liz Truss, has come under severe pressure from her predecessor, Michael Gove, and the chief inspector of prisons to take urgent action to cut the prison population.

Gove said her power of “executive clemency” should be used to release 500 prisoners serving imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences who have already served more than the usual maximum sentences for their offences.

Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, in a report on the 3,859 IPP prisoners currently held said Truss needed to take decisive action to reduce the numbers of those still in prison years after the end of their tariff.

Gove’s backing for action on IPP prisoners was made in the 2016 Longford lecture as part of a U-turn on his refusal in office to cut the record 86,000 prison population, which he now says should be reduced over time and pragmatically.

“It is an inconvenient truth – which I swerved to an extent while in office – that we send too many people to prison. And of those who deserve to be in custody, many, but certainly not all, are sent there for too long,” he said.

In particular, the former justice secretary said he had been wrong to fear that reducing the prison population would automatically lead – at least in the short term – to a surge in crime. He pointed to the reduction in the imprisonment of the number of young offenders as being matched by a fall in youth crime as evidence.

Gove’s lecture also contained an oblique attack on the government’s deep cuts to legal aid and a plea to rescue the criminal bar, where many judges train, from professional extinction.

The report by the chief inspector of prisons published on Thursday backed Gove’s demand for urgent action on IPP prisoners. Clarke said it was now widely accepted that implementation of the sentence was flawed and had contributed to the large numbers who remain in prison often many years after the minimum period laid by their trial judge.

“The justice secretary needs to act quickly to ensure the consequences of mistakes made in the past do not continue to resonate for many years to come,” he said. In office, Gove asked the parole board, which takes the release decision on each individual IPP case, to look again at whether they could increase their release rate.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the chief inspector’s report rightly highlighted concerns around the management of IPP prisoners. “That is why we have set up a new unit within the ministry of justice to tackle the backlog and are working with the parole board to improve the efficiency of the process.”

On legal affairs, Gove said the criminal bar was being squeezed to the margins. He said work was being siphoned off to solicitor advocates and by the development of an entirely new class of “plea-only” solicitor advocates who do not profess to have all the skills and competences of a qualified barrister. They were also being squeezed by legal aid payments, which is not just being cut but structured in such a way as to facilitate solicitors’ firms keeping business in-house.

“I fear that, together, alongside some of the changes made to the operation of legal aid, these developments have not worked in the broader public interest,” he said.

select for full details Virgin is recruiting new staff directly from prisons
Virgin Trains is to hold regular recruitment fairs in prisons after doubling the number of ex-convicts it employs.
By Simon Robb   12 November, 2016
The West Coast mainline operator ran a recruitment fair at Addiewell Prison, West Lothian, this week. And more will be held in other prisons across the UK every three months.

Virgin Trains employed 12 people with convictions in 2014 as part of the contract awarded by the Department for Transport. It now has 27 ex-offenders recruited through the programme.

Virgin Trains has established partnerships with HM Prison Service, the Scottish Prison Service and private prison operators – all of whom work with inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence and need jobs.

Kathryn Wildman said Virgin Trains had incorporated prison jobs fairs into its normal recruitment programme after they proved successful in finding talented candidates. She said: ‘We started this process three years ago with relatively modest ambitions. But we’ve been really pleased with the calibre of candidates we’ve managed to attract through prison recruitment events and our wider ex-offenders programme and so we’ve decided to incorporate these into our regular calendar of recruitment events.

‘This isn’t just about helping society and giving people a chance to turn their lives around. It’s hiring the best people no matter what their background is.’

The train operator has been actively recruiting people with criminal convictions since 2013 when founder Sir Richard Branson challenged Virgin businesses and the wider business community to help reduce re-offending. Scotland’s Justice Secretary Michael Matheson MSP said: ‘We are working with the public sector, including the Scottish Prison Service, and private businesses to make it easier for people with convictions to find employment.