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 However, by the time it is published it is so out of date that it precludes any chance of swift meaningful action to resolve issues and will be filed away to collect dust just as previous years.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

 

 

 

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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