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Over 60,000 allocated visits in prisons by the IMB

Did you know that there are between 60-65,000 allocated visits by the IMB to Prisons and Immigration Removal Centres each year?

This allocation is dependent on the money available for expenses such as travel and subsistence. But that is not the actual number of visits.

I can reveal to you for the first time that since April 2016 HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay, an open Cat D prison, only achieved 58% of its allocated visits.

That cannot be effective monitoring and yet the MoJ has repeatedly told me that effective monitoring is going on there. Really?

How many more prisons do not satisfy their allocations?

If the projected percentage of allocated visits turns out to be 58% in terms of actual visits across the custodial estate then monitoring in YOIs, HMPs and IRCs is dangerously low. It also means that this part of the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) is dysfunctional.

The IMB is very topical on Twitter now and that’s not just because of my story.

There are many vacancies on boards from Cat D open prisons to closed and remand prisons. It’s not a glamorous job, you need passion, determination, time, and a true interest in the welfare of prisoners and the mechanisms of the prison estate. Oh and you won’t get paid, there are no guarantees that your voice will be heard and there is a lack of support from IMB Secretariat. If you can get beyond all that, apply.

Some IMB members only visit wings to retrieve applications from the IMB boxes and perhaps to speak to those that have asked to see them. But if the IMB members are regarded by prisoners as practically useless,  having no influence and are part of the MoJ then what are tax payers paying for?

Annual Reports

Every IMB is required to write an Annual Report. However, by the time it is published it is so out of date that it precludes any chance of swift meaningful action to resolve issues and will be filed away to collect dust just as previous years.

Am I being harsh? NO.

I have spent hours and hours preparing, collating, and writing Annual Reports. I was determined that the 2015/16 Annual Report for HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay would be different, that it would not be cut and paste as previous years. But there will be no Annual Report for 2015/16. I don’t even know where all the preparations went it was abandoned when the HBIMB ambushed me on 19th April and ostracised me in reprisal for speaking out for reform.

I recently learned that HMP Doncaster didn’t publish an Annual Report and it does not even have an IMB board. When the Chair left the board followed and it then had to rely on members from other prisons dual boarding.

So how many other IMB’s are suffering from similar dilemmas?

Updated 07 March 2017

Its even worse at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay than I revealed when I posted this blog on Sunday.

Information made available to me show new figures for the actual number of visits is even lower.

Allocated visits were 354 actual were 204. New figures allocated visits 354 actual were 196. 

Just 55%, Lousy performance means that when monitoring is not effective it places people in custody and people who work there at higher risk.

 

 

 

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This is not a game; prisons reform is essential

Now the debacle inside HMP / YOI Hollesley Bay IMB has a Government Minister involved.

On 26 May 2016, Prisons Minister Andrew Selous (Twitter @AndrewSelous ) wrote to me by letter to inform me he had decided to suspend me. You can read his letter for yourself here.

Letter Selous to Spear 26 May 2016

I reflected carefully on what he said and the next day wrote a letter of reply back to him. You can read my letter to Mr Selous for yourself here.*

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD :   Letter Spear to Selous 02 Jul 2016 public

LetterSpearToSelous

 

Don’t shoot the messenger

It has already been established that I needed no permissions to write about prison reform in The Prisons Handbook 2016, neither did I need any permission to speak to the media (see 1st and 2nd bullet points about ‘East Anglian Daily Times‘ and ‘Inside Time‘).

The reply to a request under the Freedom of Information Act to MOJ by Mark Leech, publisher of The Prisons Handbook 2016, makes that point abundantly clear. And in so doing I think answers the pretexts cited by Mr Selous in his justification for suspending me.

As a public official I acted in the public interest.

When Mr Selous “shot the messenger” he also shot himself in the foot.

The treatment I am currently receiving from Ministry of Justice is wearing very thin on me, frankly. Nonetheless, I remain level-headed and undeterred from speaking up when it comes to prison reform. This is not a game; prison reform is essential, overdue and a cause which the public cares deeply about.

Faith Spear

Faith Spear

I look forward with great interest to receiving the reply from Mr Selous along with the copy of the report he received from The Secretariat.

In the meantime, uppermost in my mind is the key issue of what monitoring is taking place in HMP and YOI Hollesley Bay?

If you are concerned I’d recommend you contact Mr Selous to ask the question. You can also contact Dr Therese Coffey MP (Twitter @theresecoffey) if you live in the constituency of Suffolk Coastal where Hollesley Bay is located.

Assuring ongoing independent monitoring is surely an vital operational issue that Mr Selous must prioritise finding a solution to, probably before going out on his EU Referendum circus campaign.

*yes, I know, the letter carries a July date instead of June. Typo was mine but other than my home address it is unredacted. Warts and all. 

Blog last edited: 08 June

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Why this Daisy is no shrinking violet!

A situation update for those of you closely watching this debacle.

Firstly, thank you for the many, many messages of support.

Two HBIMB members resigned this week and at the monthly Board meeting yesterday I was the only one present. Sure, four Board members did email in their apologies  – all within 10 minutes of each other – and two others decided not to contact me.

Faith Spear

How many daisies can you see in this photo?

One HBIMB member in particular is incredibly hostile towards me and, again, I am being told I brought it on myself.

I don’t understand why they are so blinkered; this job needs people who look at the bigger picture.

But I have assured the Governing Governor of HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay that independent monitoring will continue to be done.

At the moment, I am awaiting the outcome of the Independent investigation by the MoJ into how I was treated at the Board meeting on 19th April.

Last week, we had the Secretary of State for Justice addressing the Governing Governors’ Forum.

Today we had the Queen’s Speech (see paragraphs 21-23 on prison reform) and the publication of Dame Sally Coates’ report Unlocking Potential: a review of education in prison.

Prison reform is front and centre of the political agenda. There’s no better time.

So why is it that the IMB is so reluctant to move on, to become more relevant and to have a stronger voice?

I certainly don’t regret making a stand, I did nothing wrong, but it has been and still is at great personal cost.

The situation continues.

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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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