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Has prison reform become a humanitarian issue?

Think carefully – why would people who have been released from prison want to be integrated back into a society that thinks it’s okay for them to be locked up for 23 hours a day, with little nutritious food, lack of education, virtually no purposeful activity, squalid living conditions, unsafe, rife with drugs and violence, where staff struggle to maintain order, where corruption, suicides, self-harm and unrest are all increasing, where budgets are cut and staff numbers reduced.

Surely it’s time we asked why?

I think it’s because prison reform should not be just a political issue.

Regardless of who the Secretary of State for Justice is, or who the Prisons Minister is, or what political party they are from, prison reform should not be contingent on who is at No 10, it should be happening anyway.

It has become a humanitarian issue.

Faith Spear 7741 600px

Nominee for The Contrarian Prize 2017

I want to get things done.

I’ve had some prison Governors and Officers talk to me about prisoners and – honestly – I cannot even repeat the words that came out of their mouths.

And yet I’ve had other prison Governors and Officers confide in me about the growing concerns they have for people in prison.

On Friday 28 April, I learned that I was named a nominee of The Contrarian Prize 2017. It’s a prestigious prize for those who have shown independence, courage and sacrifice. I didn’t apply for this or seek the nomination, it found me. And I’m deeply grateful for it.

My fellow nominees are a formidable bunch and we’re all Contrarians in our own way. In my case, I wasn’t afraid to speak the truth to those in power, talking about the criminal justice system in the public interest. Doing so came at a huge personal cost including a face-off with the ‘goliath’ of the Ministry of Justice.

I’d like to use this nomination to propel and advance the issues I’ve been talking about. If it means we can see change and real prison reform by people seeing it more as a humanitarian issue then it has been worth it.

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Contrarian Prize 2017 shortlist announced here

The Contrarian Prize seeks to recognise individuals in British public life who demonstrate independence, courage and sacrifice.

Now in its fifth year, it aims to shine a light on those who have made a meaningful contribution to the public debate through the ideas that they have introduced or the stand they have taken.

Ali Miraj (@AliMirajUK) is the founder of the Contrarian Prize.

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Independence Day?

independence-day-image-c-

Credit: 2016, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation via IndieWire

 

 

Firstly, thank you once again for the very many messages of support. Very grateful for each and every one of those tweets, texts, emails, letters and coffees.

Current state of mind: I’m not angry at the moment, just bemused.

Let me explain…

I was emailed by the Head of The Secretariat of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) with a copy of my suspension letter from Mr Selous and an offer of a chat about it.  That was thoughtful.

On 02 June, I replied. Okay, admittedly at the time I was shocked and more than a bit miffed about what looked like a two-faced approach; on the one hand the Minister suspending me for my behaviour and on the other being offered a cosy chat with the Secretariat.

Anyway, on 07 June I received an email reply, not from the IMB but from the Deputy Director Offender Policy Team at Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

It’s that email exchange which bemuses me. Can anyone tell me why exactly MOJ staff is answering emails that were addressed to the IMB?

That shouldn’t be happening, should it?

Although the admin for IMB and admin for MOJ is co-located in offices in Petty France, London, the two organisations are entirely separate. Aren’t they?

So why is MOJ staff seeing emails to IMB at all? Are emails sent to IMB Secretariat being auto-forwarded to MOJ, or are inboxes being shared, or intercepted somehow? And are emails sent to MOJ seen by the IMB Secretariat?

What a conundrum.

Answers on a postcard please, probably best to address it to the Secretary of State for Justice actually, as Mr Gove will need to pay attention to this even if he is busy with Brexit.

 

In suspense

While we’re thinking about a potentially glaring lack of independence of IMB Secretariat, not merely these emails, let’s also think about the suspension decision itself.

Is it really normal practice for those subject to a complaint to be suspended?  If it is then why were none of those I complained about also suspended pending the outcome of the investigation I asked for?

It would be useful to know who actually makes the decisions on such a suspension?  Yes, of course I realise it is the who Minister signs it off, but who wrote the letter for Mr Selous to sign?

Are you wondering when the investigation that Mr Selous requires will start?  So am I. No date has been given.

And when will a copy of the report by The Secretariat be forthcoming? Since the report is on me, I am named in it and no Government restriction applies to such a document, I believe I have the right to see it, don’t I?

 

Mothership

Okay, so the movie metaphor is a little light-hearted but there’s a very serious point I’m making here.

The public want to know where independence comes into it if, in reality, the IMB mothership is actually being remote controlled by civil servants on the MOJ payroll.

Or would it be more authentic to drop the word “independent” and just call it the Monitoring Board, and stop pretending it’s independent when it clearly no longer is.

Whatever we decide to do, we have to move at a far quicker pace to make monitoring fit for purpose, to improve on our National Preventative Mechanism and to restore public trust in prisons.

 

My grateful thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation via IndieWire for graphic image used in this blog. By the way, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ (PG-13) is due for release in the UK two weeks from today, on 23 June 2016.  No kidding!  Pure coincidence.

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The rise and fall of the prison population!

Prison population figures continue to fluctuate. The latest figures show an increase of 80 in the last week, an increase of almost 800 since the beginning of the year yet a decrease of 3,159 in the last 12 months.

I have just read an interesting report recently published in France on ways to fight against prison overcrowding. Two important points mentioned were:

  1. Consider imprisonment as ultima ratio in criminal matters
  2. Use, if necessary, a system of numerus clausus to solve prison overcrowding until 2017, then prevent its reappearance

I wonder if Chris Grayling has any thoughts on this?

Raimbourg, D and Huyghe, S (2013) Ways to fight against prison overcrowding. Report of 23 January 2013. [Online]. Available at
http://www.cepprobation.org/uploaded_files/France_Report-on-Prison-Overcrowding-2013.pdf [accessed] 26 February 2013

Steady on!

According to the Guardian, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has admitted his plans for the wholesale outsourcing of the probation service will not lead to an overnight reduction in stubbornly high reoffending rates but said he hoped it would lead to a “steady year-by-year decline”. Is he implying that the problem lies with the Probation Service, or is he throwing out the baby with the bath water? If private companies and voluntary sector organisations are invited to bid for these services then would it be a free for all, or would it be a post code lottery? http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/09/chris-grayling-probation-privatisation-reoffending