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  2009 Prison Officer articles



Report reveals the dark cloud hanging over prison workers
BY KEELEY KNOWLES
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Concerns have been raised about the low morale of prison staff due to proposed workforce modernisation.

A report published by The Independent Monitoring Board reveals that morale among officers at Bedford Prison (pictured) has been ‘badly affected by the uncertainties over the repercussions of the changes’.

It states: “Not enough thought has been given to the effect of disrupting the working and personal lives of prison officers.” Other concerning issues highlighted includes prisoners’ property. The report says that the problem of property not following prisoners when they are being moved has returned to ‘unacceptable levels’.

It states: “The cost of pursuing these lost items together with claims for compensation must be costing the prison service enough to be able to divert funds into solving this problem.” Another concern raised is the high number of prisoners with mental health issues.

According to the information given in the report ‘more than one prisoner a month is sectioned, a number that is shockingly high’.

The report says: “It remains a scandal that prisoners with mental health issues are being remanded to prison instead of specialist units which would better deal with their problems.” However it goes on to say that the mental health team provides an ‘important service’ to the prisoners who suffer from such problems.

Other issues requiring a response include the number of mandatory and recalled lifers in the prison being far too high and problems with the visits booking line.

Positive points raised were the high standard of respect and decency shown to the prisoners by officers, quality and choice of food offered to prisoners and cleanliness in the centre having improved ‘considerably’ during the year (July 2008-June 2009).

A Prison Service spokesman said: “Ministers will consider the findings of the report and respond in due course.”


From The Times December 10, 2009
Get prisoners off drugs? Don’t be so silly
By pushing methadone to inmates, the State has become the dealer-in-chief in Britain’s jails Melanie Reid

Naive people — by which I mean most of us — struggle with the idea that prisons are awash with drugs. We struggle even more with the notion that within prisons street drugs are now topped up with the heroin substitute methadone, administered by the State along with the porridge.

Call us stupid, but we can’t quite grasp how illegal drugs can circulate within the most controlled environment in the country. Nor can we understand precisely why the authorities have taken on the role of drug-dealer-in-chief, rather than regarding a spell in jail as an ideal opportunity to wean people off drugs. But, like I say, we’re deeply naive.

Last year almost 20,000 prisoners in England and Wales, a rise of 57 per cent on the previous year, were put on methadone in jail as a form of detox. And instead of questioning the logic of prescribing addicts with an addictive substance to detoxify them, let’s just marvel that many prisoners can get their daily fix from shiny automatic methadone dispensers mounted on the prison wall.

What is so interesting about these figures is: (a) they’re astronomical and (b) they have actually provoked a row within the prevailing orthodoxy of the drugs harm-reduction industry, which believes that methadone is the one true way to God. Only non-believers, you understand, are silly enough to think that we should try to get people off drugs.

Mike Trace, a former drugs adviser to Tony Blair, and therefore an original apostle of harm reduction, complained that the huge rise was down to official attempts to “control” drug treatment. The Department of Health, he suggested, was trying to impose its policy on the Ministry of Justice. (Think of it as squirrels fighting about who supplies the nuts.) This meant, Mr Trace said, that thousands of inmates had been diverted from alternative schemes to get them off heroin, and those who wished to become drug-free were having their motivation undermined.

This was a miraculous U-turn, but it matters not. Without him, the harm-reduction behemoth rolls on, wedded to the process that says addiction should be managed rather than recovered from. This effectively means parking people on methadone, often until they die.

What began as a well-meant, compassionate, health-based policy — a practical response to a problem too big for law enforcement to cope with — is now a car crash. The State hands out opiates willy-nilly and has given up any thought of abstinence. Why? Because harm reduction is cheaper and easier, and delays any solution — which to us naive people seems the very opposite of compassionate. But who are we to know?


what's happening at Yarl's Wood 2009?

Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre

Letters: Child detention

There are alternatives to locking up children
Thursday, 17 December 2009

Mary Dejevsky ("It's not only the young who suffer", 15 December), accuses those campaigning for an end to child detention of being simultaneously guileless, cynically selective in their empathy, and avaricious. As a coordinator of End Child Detention Now – no paid staff and no interest in infiltrating anyone's wallets – might I respond to her charges?

Opponents of child detention urge the Government to look seriously at community-based alternatives. Countries such as Sweden and Canada do not have an "open borders" policy, but they manage to keep children and their parents out of high-security detention facilities.

Keeping a family of four in Yarl's Wood costs £3,640 a week. If that money was used to prepare families for their eventual return in supported community accommodation (such as the current Glasgow pilot) and to provide support and monitoring post-removal, a higher rate of voluntary returns might result—as it does in Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Even the UK Border Agency admits that detention serves primarily as a deterrent to would be asylum-seekers, and that families are unlikely to abscond.

Ms Dejevsky says that some individuals who present as minors turn out not to be. It is also the case that some detained as adults turn out to be minors. Notwithstanding that, UKBA is for no good reason detaining large numbers of children and babies, causing them significant harm.

We focus on children because they are the most vulnerable. We have seen at first hand the traumatic impact of detention on parents and children alike. Had Mary Dejevsky spoken to such a family she might not be so quick to condemn those who raise their voices in protest.

Simon Parker

End Child Detention Now, York

Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre

Matthew Norman: Locking up children shames us

The lasting damage caused at Yarl's Wood is apparently not our problem

Thursday, 17 December 2009

As the decade dwindles to its end and we await the avalanche of reviews, could there be a more heartrending snapshot of Noughties Britain than Father Christmas being turned away by guards at an immigration centre's gates?

Were it fictional, the neo-Dickensian tale of how the Rev James Rosental, clad in white beard and lugging his sack of presents for its child inmates, was denied entry to the infamous Yarl's Wood would be as sickeningly mawkish as the death of Little Nell.

The reality is more profoundly nauseating, this vignette capturing enough that is repulsive and depraved about this country to belong in a time capsule, buried in the naïve hope that a century from now our descendants will unearth it and shake their heads in disbelief that it could have happened at all.

Those guards, for instance, are employees of a private company, Serco, which is thriving regardless of fierce, sustained criticism of its running of Yarl's Wood. Only yesterday, our business pages advised that the share is a buy, such is the urge of Pontius Pilate government to wash its hands and outsource its duties to corporate entities whose sole concern is the share price.

That the police arrived to investigate the vicar's mild protests tells another familiar story in an age when heckling ministers and photographing landmarks are offences under under terrorism legislation. Later that day he was again turned away, his pre-arranged visit cancelled on the grounds that his conduct had given "cause for concern". A group of dignitaries was allowed in a while ago, it should be said, but only to inspect what the Home Office deemed suitably sanitised – a literal whitewash, assuming the new schooling area was freshly painted for the visit. Living quarters and general conditions were closed to them, however, and such secrecy covers this place that we're not even told how many children pass through it each year, let alone how they are treated. But the secrecy and the whitewash, twin guardians of Noughties governmental misdemeanour, allow us to make an educated guess.

What we know is that the children of Yarl's Wood tend to arrive there after being arrested with their parents in dawn raids. Many of us will remember momentarily semi-waking in the middle of the night at the tread of a Santa-impersonating parent delivering the stocking to the end of the bed. Here is an indecently perfect perversion of that Christmas vista. Imagine being five years old and waking in the dark to the sound of immigration officers breaking down the door, and being aggressively bundled into the back of a van.

In 2007, a family from Malawi were taken to Yarl's Wood in that manner, the mother refused time to collect life-sustaining epilepsy medication. She and her husband were HIV positive, while their eight-year-old son was expected to develop the illness too. Only the intervention of an Anglican bishop and the resultant media interest prevented him being sent back to Africa to die alone once his parents had predeceased him.


Prison officers "appalled" by budget

Date: 10 December 2009 | Leinster Express
THE PRISON Officers' Association is appalled Government's confirmation of such major cutbacks in public service pay announced in the Budget.

Prisons are one of the biggest employers and Laois with hundreds of officers based at Portlaoise's two prisons.

The prison offers say the additional pay cuts which affect Prison Officers and their families all around the country are totally unjustified - and a further penalty on those who had no hand act or part in creating the current economic problems.

John Clinton, General Secretary of the Prison Officers' Association said today.

"This announcement by Minister Brian Lenihan represents another clear and unjustified attack on our members and indeed their families. Many of our members understandably borrowed and made commitments based on income agreed with Government and now because of these unwarranted cuts by Government they find themselves in financial difficulty. Prison Officers and Public Sector Workers are now expected to shoulder the burden for the mess created in our economy by bankers and others and this is completely unacceptable," he said.

The Prison Officers' Association's Executive say they will be consulting with our colleagues in the public service and elsewhere to assess their response


Prison Service slated over suicide

John Scheerhout

December 15, 2009

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A VULNERABLE inmate found hanged in his cell was failed by the Prison Service, a public inquiry has ruled.

Bernard 'Sonny' Lodge, 28, from Miles Platting, committed suicide in Strangeways prison on the day he was due to be released from a five-month jail sentence for shoplifting.

Instead of being freed, the father-of-two was kept behind bars over allegations he had assaulted a prison officer.

Bullied

Mr Lodge, who had written letters to his family saying he was being bullied by prison officers, was found hanged in his cell at Strangeways on August 18, 1998.

An inquest in 2001 ended in uproar with the jury members alleging they had been gagged when they were not allowed to enter a verdict which criticised the prison service.

Mr Lodge's family continued to fight for justice and eventually their legal team persuaded Parliament to sanction a full public inquiry into the death.

It started last year, resumed in March and today its chair Barbara Stow delivered a damning verdict on the prison system.

She highlighted a series of 'failures', including putting Mr Lodge, who had slashed his wrists two months before he took his own life, in a cell on his own.

Unprofessional

The report also slammed one prison officer, Ronald Bowcock, who was 'provocative and unprofessional'.

Mr Bowcock, who was compelled to give evidence to the inquiry in March, denied he had assaulted and provoked Mr Lodge.

Mr Lodge's 'sense of victimisation... was not without foundation', said the report.

The inquiry report also found the prison system failed to protect Mr Lodge in his last days by ignoring warnings from his family, not putting him on suicide watch and failing to record information properly so others in the prison could have helped.


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  2009 Prison Officer articles