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Please leave a message after the tone…

I have been waiting eagerly for more news as to how the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) would operate ‘indirect monitoring’ of prisons and places of detention as it had stated on its website on 30th March 2020: “This is a fast-moving situation…” but there has been nothing for 4 weeks.

When a new hotline initiative was first mentioned by the National Chair in an update on the IMB website it claimed:

“We are in discussion at a national level with specialist contractors about the possibility of freephone lines to enable applications using in-cell telephony and the additional telephone capacity proposed by the Prison Service”

Seeing the headline on their website this morning, “Independent monitors launch new hotline for prisoners to report concerns during pandemic”, I was relieved. That is until I read the detail.

A few things about it stood out to me.

First, this hotline will only be available to 13 prisons, around 11% of the entire estate.

The prisons taking part are Wayland, Pentonville, Lewes, High Down, Berwyn, Woodhill, Eastwood Park, Bronzefield, Durham, Buckley Hall, Swinfen Hall, Onley and Elmley.

The hotline will be part of a new pilot scheme running for 6 weeks.

Ten thousand prisoners will be able to call for free from a phone in their cell or a communal phone.

That’s a start, but what about accessibility to the IMB in the meantime for the other seventy one and a half thousand people in prison?

Lines will be open, with a voicemail service, from 7am-7pm seven days a week.

In other words prisoners will not actually be able to talk to someone; it’s an answerphone and their message will be recorded.

Second, the actual process.

The prisoner’s concerns will be passed on to the relevant board, who will respond through the ‘email a prisoner’ service, or through the normal IMB routes or the IMB clerk.

It doesn’t say who will pass on the prisoner’s concerns and to the relevant Board. Presumably a member of staff will have to listen to the message and then write out the complaint/concern and send it to the relevant Board via email. Replies from IMB to the prisoner will then go through the ‘Email a Prisoner’ service.

Incidentally, the ‘Email a Prisoner’ website states:

“We are sending your messages to the establishments daily, as normal, but please note that prison staff are very compromised at the moment, so there may be instances where messages and replies are unfortunately delayed”

I cannot see how using an already saturated system will be particularly efficient.

Moreover, giving staff an additional task of transcribing the messages and sending them to the IMB would not be seen as a priority.

Even using the IMB clerk, which I’m aware happens in some prisons, is not the best way as they are HMPPS staff. In fact I know of one IMB Board where the clerk was closely related to one of the Governors at the same prison.

Like calls to the Samaritans, these calls will be confidential, and not recorded by HMPPS

Third, how can these recorded calls ever be considered confidential?

A prisoner telephones the hotline and has to leave a message on an answering service as the hotline is unmanned. The prisoner will have to leave personally identifiable information: their full name, their prisoner number and the name of the prison they are in. No mention is made in the announcement as to where these recorded calls are stored or for how long, nor who has access to them.

Someone has to relay these to the relevant IMB Board which means either sending a copy of the digital recording or transcribing them. Either way the confidentiality which should exist between a prisoner and a Board member is broken and trust is compromised.

Once the message is in the hands of the relevant IMB Board, assuming it reaches the correct one first time and does not go astray, the IMB must then find the information and respond to the prisoner.

The reply from the IMB to the prisoner must be made via the ‘Email a Prisoner’ service, which as everyone knows is a web based email service that depends on a member of the prison staff logging in and printing off to hardcopy all the individual messages sent to prisoners.

This step breaks for a second time the confidentiality that should exist between a prisoner and the IMB Board. Please don’t tell me that messages arriving for prisoners are not read by staff.

One more point worth making here is that only 9 out of the 13 prisons in the pilot have in place the ability for prisoners to reply back to messages from the IMB using the ‘Email a Prisoner’ platform. In other words, there will be 4 prisons where prisoners will have to start the process all over again should the response from the IMB not answer their concerns.

(Immigration detainees can already email IMBs directly which surely must be a much easier solution, and far more likely to be confidential as well as quicker)

Whereas it is only a pilot and teething troubles will naturally be ironed out, this system is fundamentally flawed from the beginning.

For it to have any credibility in effective monitoring the prisons in England and Wales the IMB must urgently rethink what it considers to be acceptable ‘indirect monitoring’.

Update: A short message I received from Sarah Clifford, IMB Head of Policy and Communications:

Hello Faith – Just wanted to clarify that the IMB freephone pilot is a live service, staffed eight hours a day by IMB members with voicemails as a back up. I have added a note to the IMB website announcement to that effect: https://www.imb.org.uk/independent-monitors-launch-new-hotline-for-prisoners-to-report-concerns-during-pandemic/. Many thanks.

This is incredible that this clarification was needed. This should have been on the website from the start without myself having to point it out in a blog. There was an uproar when I copied the IMB plans straight from their website. There was no hint at all that it would be a live service, staffed eight hours per day by IMB members. This was an essential point that was ommited.

Lets hope the IMB itself becomes a little more transparent and accountable.

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Just how ‘independent’ is the Independent Monitoring Board?

For many years I have struggled with the concept of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) being actually independent.

This is an organisation which was based at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) HQ, Petty France for many years, but now shares open plan offices in a Government Hub at Canary Wharf alongside HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), Parole Board for England and Wales and the Lay Observers Secretariat.

The introduction of IMB’s new Governance structure, where the role of President was replaced by a Chair and an additional layer of management, has failed to persuade me otherwise.

Dame Anne Owers, formerly Chair of The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and prior to that Chief Inspector of Prisons (2001-2010), took up the role of National Chair of the IMB in November 2017.

We appear to differ on the definition of independence. Or do we? Across a committee room in the House of Lords, she and I exchanged glances as soon as the word “independence” was mentioned. I get the impression she knows it’s not.

Does it matter that the IMB is not independent?

It unquestionably matters because an application to the IMB requires a response within a certain time frame from an “independent” voice. But as the IMB is a department of the Ministry of Justice any problems or issues highlighted cannot be dealt with in a proper manner if they are basically monitoring themselves. The phrase “marking their own homework” comes to mind.

Is this the reason why the IMB does not have any real powers?

The IMB was established by statute (Offender Management Act 2007, Section 26), unlike the National Chair or the Management Board, neither of which are statutory entities. IMB responsibilities within prisons are set out in Section 6 of the Prison Act 1952 (as amended), Prison Rules Part V 1999, and Young Offenders Institution Rules Part V 2000.

In addition, IMB responsibilities in the Immigration Detention Estate (IDE) are set out in Section 152 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Detention Centre Rules Part IV 2001 and the Short-term Holding Facilities Rules Part 7 2018.

In Summer 2019, MoJ and IMB co-produced a 23-page document “Protocol between The Ministry of Justice as the department and the Management Board of the Independent Monitoring Boards” A copy is available via this page of the IMB website.

This is where it gets interesting.

This protocol was drawn up by the MoJ and the Management Board of the IMB, setting out the role of each body in relation to the other. Furthermore, it sets out the responsibilities of the principal individuals running, sponsoring and overseeing the IMB Secretariat.

At this point, it’s relevant to look at the IMB structure:

  • First, we have the National Chair: Dame Anne Owers, appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice (Ministerial appointment) and a non-statutory public appointment

  • Second, there is the IMB Management Board, appointed by the National Chair which sets out the overall strategy and corporate business plans for the IMB (Protocol, p. 2: 1.3)

Both work with and through a regional representative’s network also appointed by the National Chair, providing support and guidance to the IMB.

  • Third, we come to the IMB Secretariat, a team of MoJ civil servants providing the IMB with administrative and policy support. This team is tasked by the National Chair and Management Board

It is the National Chair, Management Board and regional representatives that have the responsibility for the operation of this protocol. Yet with all the effort in its production this protocol does not confer any legal powers or responsibilities (Protocol, p.2: 1.6).

This protocol is approved by the Permanent Secretary of the MoJ, who is Sir Richard Heaton, and the sponsoring Minister. It is signed and dated by the Permanent Secretary (i.e. Sir Richard Heaton) and the National Chair (i.e. Dame Anne Owers).

But why should the independence of the IMB, the National Chair and the Management Board be of paramount importance? (Protocol, p.4: 3.1)

Let me try to answer this succinctly.

The IMB is part of the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), designated by the Government to meet the obligations of the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

To be part of the OPCAT, it is necessary to be independent (Part I, Art 1; Part II, Art 5.6; Part IV, Art 17; Part VII, Art 35).

NPMs are required to be functionally and operationally independent. Therefore, the IMB is required to be functionally and operationally independent.

Yet:

  • IMBs are sponsored by MoJ

  • National Chair is a ministerial appointment

  • IMBs receive funding through the MoJ and the Home Office

  • MoJ is responsible for ensuring the use of funds meets the standards of governance, decision-making and financial management, as set out in Managing Public Money 2013 revised 2018

  • The head of the IMB Secretariat accounts to the Principal Accounting Officer (PAO) for the appropriate use of resources

  • The PAO is the Permanent Secretary of the MoJ (Sir Richard Heaton) and is responsible for ensuring that IMB meets the standards set out in Managing Public Money

  • MoJ has appointed a sponsorship team

  • The sponsorship team is drawn from the Sponsorship of Independent Bodies Team in the MoJ’s Policy, Communications and Analysis Group. Its policy responsibilities are to act as the policy interface for the IMBs and assurance responsibilities are to act as a “critical friend” to the IMBs

  • The Head of the IMB Secretariat is a civil servant and employee of the MoJ and has accountability for IMB finances

In conclusion

It appears throughout this document that the MoJ exerts operational and functional control of the IMB. If that is the case then it is not independent, cannot call itself “Independent” and questions should now be asked concerning its membership of NPM and OPCAT.

IMB is not some vanity project for Ministers to appoint people to and to dismiss people from. Neither is it an arms-length body of any central Government department to sponsor in a whimsical way for its own ends.

 

Related Links

Protocols:

MoJ and HM Inspectorate Probation Download PDF
20 pages
Dated: 17 Apr 2018
Signed: Heaton 17 Apr 2018 and Stacey 02 May 2018
Published: 17 May 2018

MoJ and PPO Download PDF
19 pages
Dated: 01 Mar 2019
Signed: Heaton 20 Feb 2019 and McAllister 27 Feb 2019
Published: 12 Mar 2019

MoJ and IMB Download PDF
23 pages
Dated: 25 Jul 2019
Signed: Heaton 11 Jul 2019 and Owers 25 Jul 2019
Published: 14 Aug 2019

MoJ and HM Inspectorate Prisons Download PDF
24 pages
Dated: 10 Oct 2019
Signed: Heaton 30 Sep 2019 and Clarke 14 Oct 2019
Published:

Can you see the common denominator between all these protocols?

NB. The Protocol between MoJ and HMI Prisons was promised by the Ministry to the Commons Justice Select Committee back in March 2016.

 

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This article was first published in Converse, November 2019 print edition and The Prison Oracle on 14 October 2019.

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The continuing IMB dilemma of Independence, Effectiveness, and Impact.

My response to Dame Anne Owers

As it’s Independence Day (USA) I thought it would be fitting to take a few moments to consider the independence of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) which operate in every prison and detention centre in England and Wales.

Yes, I have mentioned it before, once or twice.

Pages 4-6 of the June edition of ‘Independent Monitor’ the journal of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards (AMIMB) carries an article bylined to the National Chair of the IMB, Dame Anne Owers. The article sets out her thoughts on the current state of the IMB’s and her vision for their future.

It focuses on the new Governance structure highlighting that it must enhance

  1. The Independence of IMB’s
  2. The Effectiveness of IMB’s
  3. The Impact of IMB’s

 

Independence

When a National Chairman has to say “It is important to be clear what we are independent of, and what we are independent for” it should immediately ring alarm bells. For an organisation that has existed since April 2003, surely this should have been established and implemented years ago.

She continues: “The IMB’s as a whole need to be, and to be seen to be, independent of the departments that sponsor them”.

So, by her own admission they are not independent then?

How an organisation with its headquarters on 9th Floor, Orange Core, 102 Petty France, London can purport to be independent is frankly astonishing.

When I have sent emails to the IMB Secretariat it has been the MOJ that have responded, and vice versa. Talk about living in each other’s pockets.

This has been my argument for a couple of years.

And another gem:
“…we are developing a framework agreement with the Ministry of Justice, to clarify our independent role, our relationship with the sponsoring department and ministers…”

What! after 15 years?

Effectiveness

“Independence is an important touchstone for us all. But it exists for a purpose: to ensure that there is effective monitoring that has an impact on the conditions, treatment and outcomes for prisoners and detainees”

We have all seen the state of the prisons in England and Wales, the squalor, the fact that they are unsafe for both staff and prisoners and we have now have 11 prisons in special measures.

What does this say of the effectiveness of the IMB?

It is well documented in the public domain in reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in local and national press, TV documentaries, hidden camera exposés, oral and written evidence given to various Select Committees, etc. that there very clearly is a unfolding humanitarian crisis in our prisons.

On the IMB website it states that for members “Their role is to monitor the day-to-day life in their local prison or removal centre and ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained”.

Proper standards of care have not been maintained. Proper standards of decency have not been maintained.

This means that the IMB has comprehensively failed in its purpose.

The IMB is not some vanity project for Ministers to appoint people to and to dismiss people from. Neither is it an arms-length body of any central Government department to sponsor in a whimsical way for its own ends.

IMB is part of the United Kingdom’s National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), created to meet the obligations of The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). This is an international human rights treaty designed to strengthen the protection of people deprived of their liberty.

https://www.nationalpreventivemechanism.org.uk/opcat/opcat/

When will the IMB be brought to account for being ineffective and not fulfilling their statutory requirements to protect people deprived of their liberty?

Impact of IMB’s

This week in Court No 1 at the Royal Courts of Justice, the IMB will come under the spotlight of the judiciary. The case is: R (Faulder and others) v Sodexo Limited and the Secretary of State for Justice.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has provided evidence as this case raises vital concerns about the state’s ability to monitor private prisons.

It’s CEO, Frances Crook, in her witness statement considers the monitoring of private prisons by Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), volunteer members, and the official watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP).

Omissions characterise many IMB Annual Reports thus giving an unsatisfactory view of the prison estate in England and Wales. I have already written extensively on this.

I agree with Dame Anne that the IMB has increased its public profile. However, it has not increased its impact; recommendations and points for improvement contained in IMB reports are still routinely ignored. And by virtue of their frequency, being annual, the reports are already wildly out of date at the time of publication.

This is a far cry from real time information Dame Anne aspires to. And a far cry from the level of impact a body of monitors needs to have, especially given the state of the prisons in England and Wales, worsening by the day.

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.

 

 

 

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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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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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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