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Sorry, can you speak up?

The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) and the Association of Members of the Independent Monitor Boards (AMIMB) have been invited to give oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday 31st January 2017.

We will all watch with interest.

Especially since neither IMB or AMIMB have a voice.

The two bodies have not conducted themselves well in my opinion and in my experience. And have been ‘at loggerheads’ with each other for years.

Lack of support they show for their members is as shocking as it is lamentable.

It’s clear that I’m far from alone in thinking this; many others know it to be true but are, for the moment anyway, unable to vocalise it publicly for fear of reprisals, similar to those dished out to me.

 

UPDATED Wed 1st Feb

Well, did you attend or watch online?

In your opinion, how did they do?

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The paralysis of too many priorities.

 

Sat immediately behind the new Secretary of State at the Justice Select Committee (@CommonsJustice) on 07 September, I registered a lot of awkwardness that was beyond mere nervousness felt by many a new joiner.

thatcher-07-sept-2016-100546

Thatcher Room, 07 Sept 2016

 

Just like Gove’s debut in front of the same Committee where he rattled on about “we’re reviewing it” (yes, I was there for that one too), Liz Truss (@trussliz) talked largely about the formulating of “plans” but on the day said nothing about tangible actions she will take.

How many more reviews do we need?

Has Truss inherited a poisoned chalice passed from one SoS to the next? Her department has a huge accumulated mess to sort out and doesn’t know what to do about it. Is she wondering what to tackle first? The paralysis of too many priorities?

Her critics say she’s doing things wrong. Look at it for yourself and you’ll see some of the priorities she is confronted with:

  • Extremism and radicalisation in prison
  • Violence against other offenders and against prison staff
  • Over population
  • Under staffing of prisons
  • Death in custody
  • Drugs and drones
  • Education and purposeful activity
  • Resettlement and homelessness on release

You would think her advisors would know what the order of priorities are. They don’t, or if they do, they obviously prefer the relative safety of “talking shop” over the tough task of taking concrete action on these priorities.

The key question people are asking is has she actually got the shoulders for the job; she has the high office and gilded robe of the Lord Chancellor but does she have the support of those working within the criminal justice system?

Soon after her appointment from Defra to Ministry of Justice, Liz Truss paid token visits to two prisons but cannot be expected to become an instant expert on the prison system.

What other mess does the SoS need to deal with?

The system of prison monitoring is in a mess. The IMB Secretariat is in utter disarray. They say they have policies and procedures but don’t always follow them themselves. For the most part, IMBs are doing their own thing. There’s no real accountability anymore. It’s a disgrace and it’s deplorable that it’s been allowed to get as bad as it has.

Faith Spear

Faith Spear

For my critique of prison reform and Independent Monitor Boards, I’ve been put through two MOJ investigations. Each one takes away a little piece of me. But for me it’s always been about the issues. That’s why they can’t and won’t shut me up.

The message of prison reform has become urgent and has to get to the top. If no one else will step up and if it falls to me to take it then so be it.

No accountability anymore? Give me an example.

You want an example? Here’s one of many: At HMP Garth, the IMB Chair issued a Notice To Prisoners 048/2016 dated May 2016 without the authority to do so, and apparently without the Board agreeing it. The Chair acted unilaterally outside of governance. I found out about it because a copy of that prison notice was sent to me as it happened to be about the article Whistle Blower Without a Whistle that I’d written for The Prison Handbook 2016 that the IMB Garth Chair was pin-pointing, (accusing me of a “rant” whilst both his prison notice and covering letter were dripping with distain).

I’m still standing by all I said in my Whistleblower article even though writing it has been at a high personal cost. In all candour, any pride I may have had in writing it has been completely sucked away from me. It’s back to the bare metal. The inconvenient truth of what I wrote remains. Readers will find that my main themes also feature prominently in the findings of the report by Karen Page Associates, commissioned by the MOJ at a cost to the taxpayer of £18,500.

An invite I received from Brian Guthrie to the forthcoming AGM of Association of Members of IMB says it all. It read:

“From the Chair Christopher Padfield
AMIMB – the immediate future
IMB needs a voice. We believe that without AMIMB this voice will not be heard. AMIMB intends to raise its voice, but needs the support of our members.
An outline plan for the immediate future of AMIMB will be put up for discussion at the forthcoming AGM (11 October 2016 at 2 Temple Place). It aims to respond both to the main needs and opportunities, and to the practicalities of the current situation.

The greatest need, as the executive committee of the AMIMB sees it, is to achieve a public voice for Independent Monitoring Boards – to let the British public know what we, as monitors, think about prison and immigration detention policy and practice in England and Wales and the impact this has on the men, women and children detained; to achieve some public recognition for the role of IMBs; in short to speak out about what we hear and see. We have urged the National Council to do this itself, but to no avail. In character, the NC propose as their contribution to the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee’s current consultation on Prison Reform, a response to a procedural question: ‘are existing mechanisms for … independent scrutiny of prisons fit for purpose?’ If the NC cannot or will not speak out, AMIMB should.”

Mr Padfield has served as IMB Chairman at HMP Bedford but to my knowledge has never been suspended pending investigation by the Prisons Minister like I was for speaking out on such things.

And therein lays the dilemma: whereas the official line is to encourage monitors to speak out, the reprisals levelled at you when you actually do are still shocking.

Is this what happens to women who use their voice?

People want you to get back in the box.
To shut up.
To go away.

The IMB doesn’t need a makeover; that would only hide most of the systemic problems behind filler and veneer. So rebranding clearly isn’t going to be the answer any more than putting lipstick on a pig.

People who think I want to abolish the IMB have totally misjudged me and the situation. I don’t want to abolish it. Far from it. I want the IMB to perform like it was set up to under OPCAT and to be all it should be as part of our NPM.

The clue is in the name: Independent. Monitoring. Board.

Have you noticed that the MOJ is haemorrhaging people at the moment?

Maybe Liz Truss could use that as an opportunity to enlist the help of those who do give a damn about the conditions in which people are held in custody and who do have a clue about strategies to stem radicalisation in prison, minimise violence, reduce prison over population, have the right staff and staffing levels, reduce death in custody, counter drones and drug misuse, revitalise education and purposeful activity, and last but not least, resettle and house people after their time in custody.
Join the conversation on Twitter @fmspear @trussliz @CommonsJustice #prisons #reform #IMB #AMIMB #SpeakUp

 

First published 17 Sept 2016.

Edited 18 Sept 2016.

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What is it about the word ‘dishonesty’ you don’t understand?

Why the debacle inside HMP / YOI Hollesley Bay IMB impacts us all.

A Guest Blog by Joseph Spear.

In the world of business, nominations for top Board positions are taken very seriously. People have to be proposed, seconded and there is a formal transparent procedure that must be followed before appointments can be made.

Faith Spear

Like a bridge over troubled water?

In clubs and associations, nominations for Board positions are also taken very seriously. Depending on the articles of association, a process is followed in a transparent way and a President or a Chair person is duly elected.

In professional bodies, nominations for Board positions similarly are taken seriously. A timely reminder is the appointment on 12 May of John Wadham as Chair of the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM).

These are the established rules of nominations.

So why then would equal weight not be given in the context of a holders of a statutory public office?

But that’s exactly what seems to be happening inside one body called the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which is meant to be the watchdog of the prison system in England and Wales.

Members of the IMB at HMP and YOI Hollesley Bay appear to think the rules don’t apply to them, taking matters into their own hands when it comes to how they treat their Chairman.

Unbeknown to the current Chairman, members of the IMB board there have gone behind their Chairman’s back, launching nominations that amounts to a coup d’état.

When the current Chairman caught wind of this complicity and divisiveness, naturally they were deeply unimpressed.

Now we all live in the real world and we all know these sorts of power struggles go on all the time. You would be forgiven for thinking this is a non-story.

Afterall, this isn’t exactly an impeachment of a nation’s president in Brazilia, this is a group of ten grey-haired people in a tiny Cat D open prison in sleepy Suffolk.

But wait.

What is remarkable about this story, and of far greater gravity than you might think, is what has also come to light since.

An email trail was leaked that showed not only the existence of Nomination Forms drawn up by the Board in anticipation of forcing out the current Chairman but also – and here’s the rub – a premeditated and deliberate intent to destroy the Nomination Forms and to lie that they ever existed.

Still think this is a non-story? Okay then, just read on.

This happening in business or in a club or association, or a professional body would be bad enough. But this happening in a Public Office, and being committed by holders of a statutory public office is reprehensible and could amount to conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Hardly a non-story now, is it?

The leaked email in question was sent from the previous Chairman to the current Vice Chair on 03 May 2016 and read as follows (unredacted):

“Nominees for Board positions. A delicate one, that was devised in the hope or expectation that Faith would resign. She has not and if she became aware that nominations had been requested, it would add fuel to the fire. But getting the process going shows our seriousness in planning for Board continuation. Might it be worth consulting John T/Alex and telling them what is in place? I suppose we could always tear up the nomination forms and pretend it never happened. Or brazen it out if everyone agrees to go ahead. Either way, Linda needs to know when to circulate the forms to all, inc Faith. Meantime, you might ask her to sit tight?”

 

Just take a moment to re-read and absorb that.

 

This in itself gives rise to further questions, for example:

  • devised in the hope or expectation that [the current Chairman] would resign…  Who devised them?
  • if she became aware that nominations had been requested….  Why act in secrecy?
  • tear up the nomination forms…  Where are these forms now and What else might have been torn up?
  • pretend it never happened…  What else might have “never happened”?

These are inconvenient questions, especially in a prison.

IMB members hold a statutory public office and moreover are appointed precisely to ensure against situations such bullying in prisons. See the 4th paragraph of this IMB website page. They are meant to be trusted by the prisoners as well as by the public to handle issues confidentially not in secrecy; they aren’t meant to be the ones doing the bullying. They aren’t meant to be the ones tearing up official paperwork or lying about what happened, are they?

Why are these people behaving like this?

This whole episode erupted following the publication of an article in The Prisons Handbook 2016 entitled “Whistle Blower Without A Whistle” which calls out a number of reasons why independent monitoring of prisons is not fit for purpose in its current form.

Anthemis Tetworth

It ain’t a Daisy either

The writer of that article was the current Chairman of the Board at Hollesley Bay IMB, but it was published under the pseudonym Daisy Mallet because, according to them, it was more about the issues than it was about the writer. And it was written in good faith, not as a personal grievance against anything or anyone.

The members of Board found out the current Chairman was the real author of the ‘Whistleblower’ article and took personal offence to one of the arguments it contained but ignored the rest. They then apparently colluded against the current Chairman, plotting to oust them from their position as Chairman in reprisal whilst maintaining a pseudo friendly front.

The pivot point arrived at the monthly Board meeting on 19th April when the current Chairman arrived as usual and started the monthly Board meeting with a short personal statement confirming they in fact did write the article and outlining the reasons why.

What ensued when the current Chairman finished their personal statement was workplace bullying on a scale never seen before in an IMB meeting. The other nine Board members, orchestrated by the Vice Chair, took turns to interrogate the current Chairman. They were each working from pre-prepared questions and had clearly all been briefed against the Chairman in advance of the Board meeting.

Whereas the current Chairman attended expecting to answer questions then move on with the agenda, nothing could have prepared them for the personal verbal attack they received from all members of the Board.

The attack lasted 50 minutes.
It was venomous.
It was brutal.

Against the odds, the current Chairman has decided to stand firm on the grounds they have actually done nothing wrong, certainly nothing so as to bring such reprisals upon themselves, simply expressing their own well-grounded and well-informed opinion in the context of an article.

The ‘Whistleblower’ article was even reproduced by the AMIBM on its own website. AMIMB is no stranger to criticising the IMB (see Independent Monitor, July 2015, Issue 116, pages 3-5 opens as pdf) but no reprisals are being levelled at them and no Chairman being removed in secrecy.

The treatment the current Chairman received on that day is currently under investigation by the Ministry of Justice. The investigator has interviewed all concerned and is due to file their report before the next monthly Board meeting of Hollesley Bay IMB, scheduled for Tuesday 17 May.

Subsequently, a senior officer of The Secretariat, a back office function staffed by salaried civil servants to support all IMBs and officed on the 9th Floor actually inside the MOJ HQ in 102 Petty France in London, took it upon themselves to telephone the current Chairman on their personal mobile phone.

In that call, which lasted 30 minutes, the Secretariat’s senior officer warned the current Chairman that the Minister would take a dim view of making public the leaked email trail, speaking as if they knew the mind of the Minister without even consulting them.

The current Chairman, quite understandably, took that verbal warning as even more pressure being applied on them to coerce and, ultimately, cause them to shut up and to go quietly.

Tellingly, the current Chairman has seen neither hide nor hair of the Area Representative for the National Council, the body which coordinates all IMBs. Not so much as a call or an email from the Area Rep to offer advice, support, or even to arrange a “local resolution” involving all the parties.

How strange.

That should have been the very first course of action, at least according to the IMB’s own protocols in cases of such disagreement at Board level.

Yet the Area Rep has had ample communication with the current Vice Chair and with the previous Chair, as a separate email trail clearly testifies. Moreover, so has the president of the National Council and the Head of The Secretariat.

It would seem that the degree of complicity and dishonesty is spreading from a localised level inside the Hollesley Bay IMB right to the heart of The Secretariat and National Council itself.

Or perhaps it is the other way round?

At the time of writing, Faith Spear is the current Chairman at Hollesley Bay IMB and intends to remain in office this year.

The situation continues.

 

 

Joseph Spear is married to Faith Spear.

 

Footnote from the author:

“You’d expect me to speak up for Faith because she’s my wife and because it’s the right thing to do.

If like me you’d also like to express support for Faith Spear, please feel free to share this blog using these Twitter hashtags:  #SpeakUp #GoodFaith #whistleblower #prisons

Thank you.”

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