HARRIS AND PHILPOTT

The Daily Mail is at it again, creating ridiculous stories and reactions out of non news events.
Firstly they report that Rolf Harris was moved straight to Bullingdon Prison in Oxfordshire instead of going via Wandsworth.
Well,it is certainly wrong that any prisoner should be given any kind of preferential treatment but it certainly happens, and very regularly. In my forthcoming book A LIFE OF SENTENCES I cite several instances of this privileged allocation procedure and whilst yes, it is certainly not right, there can in Rolf Harris’s case be a very real justification.
Based on his convictions Harris is in prison parlance a ‘nonce’ and one of the worst possible kind. However,whatever his convictions the prison authorities have a legal ‘duty of care’ towards him as they do all prisners in their care. Harris will, throughout his sentence be a target as ar as the general prison population are concerned and that will obviously be in the minds of prison authorities. By moving him to Bullingdon ther will be a marginally smaller risk of him being attcked than there would have been at Wandsworth.
I’m not suggesting that it is right that Harris should be spared even a short time at a real prison like Wandsworth but he isn’t the first and he won’t be the last.
Once again the Ministry of Justice when asked for their comments hide behind the usual ‘we don’t dicuss individual cases’. Isn’t it about time that they did giving transparency to what they are doing on our behalf? Are they not civil servants, should we not be told what is happening on our behalf using our taxpayers monies?
Now to Philpott. The Mail has a story about him getting new false teeth at taxpayers expense. The Mail seem to forget that people are sent to prison AS punishment, not FOR punishment. Of course Philpott’s crimes were horrendous and of course he deserves every day of his sentence and more in my opinion. But, and it is a big but, he is still a person and is entitled to health care so why do the Mail make such a big thing of his new teeth?
It will be a great day when society generally and the Daily Mail especially realises that prisoners are people and must be treated as such. Yes, we revile them in many cases and the offences they have committed are beyond words but the bottom line is that they are still people.
When I was a listener in prison I was often asked why I dealt with nonces and suchlike and my answer is simple, who am I to judge another person? And I sick by that, no one anywhere in or out of prison is capable of judging another being, and I include our corupt judiciary.

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PRISON SUICIDES

It is reported very wiely that the numbers of suicies in prisons is spiralling ever upward.
During one of my last periods in prison I trained, and worked for a good period of time as a Listener. Listeners were prisoners selected and trained to counsel other prisoners, especially those at risk of self harm or suicide. I was very successful in that capacity a fact I state not for any form of praise but to demonstrate my credentials for making this post.
Obviously each case is the case of an individual and this is the first problem. Prisoners have never been treated as individuals, the system isn’t geared up tp do so and as the prison population continues to grow the problems is likely to grow proportionally. The number of attempted and successful suicides will continue to grow relentlessly.
Sadly the shortsightedness of the Ministry of Justice and Chris Grayling is also playing a very positive part in this increase.
Suicides are almost invariably brought on by the offender’s eeling of isolation made worse by long perds of inactivity. As a direct result of the cuts in staffing levels brought about by the economic downturd there are not enough staff in prisons to allow a normal regime with workshops beings closed, educational facilities being trimmed to the bone and association periods being almost non existent.
Then, as a final nail in the coffin Grayling bans books in prison so instea of losing themselves in a book a vulnerable prisoner has nohing at all to occupy their mind. This leaves a total void where the empty mind is attacked by desperate thoughts which instead of being addressed simply fester to breaking point and when that is reached where can the prisoner seek help?
GRAYLING AND MOJ HAVE TO REALISE THAT THEY ARE DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT IS HAPPENING!!!!!

PROBLEMS AFTER RELEASE

When someone is sentenced to a period of imprisonment that would appear to be the end of the matter. Only the offender themselves plus their family or friends have any further involvment apart of course from the statutory and voluntary support services. The assumption is that that is the end of the matter.
What is not obvious is the ongoing effects of the sentence. Once the sentence is served common sense would suggest that is the end of the matter, the sentence is served, the offender has been punished and all that remains is to get on with life.
Would that that were the case. The reality is that the end of the sentence is in fact the beginning of the rest of the offender’s future and that is fraught with problems.
The first, and most major problem is work. The difficulties encountered when seeking employment are countless but from experience I can state quite categorically, from personal experience, that one of the main prblems is in the mind of the ex offender themseves. No matter how we try to overcome it there is a very negative feeling of paranoia that no one will be interested in offering employment because of the conviction.
Certainly that is the4 case with a large number of employers, I have no statistics as to what percentage of employers adopt that stance but I would guess they are certainly in the majority. And there is no simple answer. AS general advice I would say to any ex offender applying for employment always do so on the basis that you are likely to be turned dwn because of your conviction. It won’t help in a practical sense but it will make the rejection when it comes far less traumatic.
We are often advised to put our past behind us and make a fresh start, far easier said than done. Whilst we can try our best to do so there are always going to be those who won’t let us forget.
So the reality is that whatever the nominal sentence given by the court the reality is that every single sentence is a life sentence and we have to learn to live with that fact.

DECLARING CONVICTIONS

Usually a very controversial subject, should an ex offender declare his or her convictions to a potential employer?
Whilst the employer hyas a right to ask about previous convictions+ it is a problem faced by anyone wanting to put the past behind them and make a fresh start.
I’ve been in that situation and my own experience is that if I am asked I tell the truth and say goodbye to the job. However there have also been occasions when I haven’t been asked, and on those occasions I have invariably not declared anything.
That is fraught with danger though, indeed I have served a 12 month swentence for not declaring my convictions actually having been charged and convicted with obtaining a pecunary advantage, i.e. my wages, by deception.
Obviously in an example case where a former sex offender with convictions for offences against children is seeking employment then any relevant convictions need to be declared but that is a rare example.
There are no real reasons for an employer to have the information unless it is specifically relevant to the job being sought. Why should an ex con for example be forced to declare the convictions when seeking employment as a gardener, just one example.
The whole question is one which will never be answered and my own view is that each situation, each job application is an individual matter and there can never be one simple generic answer. Always remember though the law is against you and never encourages rehabilitationj.

PAROLE CHANGES

The Independent reporst today that as a result of a Supreme Court ruling a large number of prisoners who hithertoo had parole decisions decided on paper are now to be entitled to have an oral hearing. This will trebel the number of hearings the Parole Board has to stage from 4500 a year to above 14000. The government has already given three million pounds extra to the board to cover the costs but thbboard estimate they will need more like ten million.
I’m a bit concerned by the comments attributed to Frances Crooke from the Howard League on this though. Perhaps I should make it clear that I am a very keen supporter of Howard League and of Ms Crooke but I do think on this ocasion she hasn’t got it quite right.
She says that any extra cost for the parole board would be offset against the savings if more prisoners are paroled more quickly, very sound logic. But, and a very big but, firstly the fact that an oral hearing has to be staged at all would inevitaly increase the time the prisoners has to wait for a decision and also the overall time for the parole procedures to be completed. Obviously Ms Crooke hasn’t experienced this as a prisoner, I have on several occasions and I can tell you the level of stress jumps incontrollably during that long waiting period from when the procedures at begun to when a decision is announced. Adding an extra step to those proceedings will only increase the stress and pressure on the prisoner.
Secondly I would be concerned at any attempt to expedite release by cutting corners. We have already seen over the past few months the results of pushing people through by the number of unsuitable prisoners who have ended up in open prisons before thay should. The system has to be very careful that this isn’t repeated with parole and that procedures rather than being a rehabilitative measure become nothing more than a method of reducing theprison population, that would create grave danger for society.
I am a firm believer in parole but also believe that it must only be granted to those prisoners who are shown to be ready for it and definitely not to reduce the prison population.

GRAYLING’S WEEK

What a change, a whole week without some crazy new hair brained scheme for the penal system. This week all we seem to have heard is loads of bluster and spin. Even the appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee was nothing more than the usual old excuses flowing eloquently from the Minister.

I know I am being a little unfair, after all it isn’t Grayling that is the real problem, it is the Senior Mandarins in the Justice Department. Grayling’s only problem is that he seems to be a very poor leader, in fact he appears not to have any control at all over his minions.

The MoJ is a perfect real life example of the old BBC sitcom Yes, Minister which is amusing but which is also tragic because the result, as we can all see is total chaos and disorder in a Ministry which has such a vital part to play in the running of this country.

Prison and penal affairs will by their very nature always be the Cinderella of social services, after all there are no votes in it but the reality I that want happens within the penal system has  a profound    effect not only on those involved with it but on society as a whole.

 

 

 

 

READING PRISON

Amazing MoJ logic. Chris Grayling wants exta prison spaces in the already overcrowded system and yet it is reported this morning that the empty Reading Prison is costine 20k every month to maintain. A great example of the sensible logic pervading the Ministry of Justice. When will management of that department be given over to people who apply common sense rather than nonsense? It is just ludicrous, why not refurb Reading at a fraction of the cost of a new build, recruit good POA type staff to run it, at least 5-600 places there NOT FOR PRIVATISATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!