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More chance of finding a PokemonGO than finding transparency at IMB and MOJ ?

Yesterday, Friday 15 July, I was emailed by Saffron Clackson, Head of the IMB Secretariat with a letter from her to me explaining my right to information under two separate requests: the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). She explained what was being made available to me today was under the Data Protection Act.

Attached were 4 separate pdfs containing the “submission” by her department, the IMB Secretariat, to the Prisons Minister Andrew Selous, subject: Conduct of Chair at Hollesley Bay IMB, which resulted in Mr Selous signing a letter (dated 26 May 2016) to suspend me as Chair of IMB Hollesley Bay pending investigation.

Initially I felt encouraged by this trickle of information after my countless requests for it. That was until I opened each pdf in turn only to discover HEAVILY REDACTED pages.

DOWNLOAD THE COMBINED PDF Faith Spear DPA response 15 July 2016 pp.1-4

 

I have little commentary to make at this time other than to say that I’ve been kept waiting six weeks for this. It could have been made available in under 48 hours unredacted.

Those who have been following this situation will appreciate how pathetic a response this truly is. Barristers may take a different view.

Those unfamiliar with this situation will find all this equally bizarre.

What possible use can be made of documents such as these which have been, at the taxpayer’s expense, so heavily redacted by expensive lawyers working as salaried civil servants at the MOJ.

At a time when our prisons are under so many challenges, why on earth don’t they reinstate Faith Spear and let her get back to her work as a monitor whilst all this gets sorted out?

Tend to agree. I do want to be reinstated. I’ve said so several times. Based on my direct experience, Hollesley Bay is very likely not being properly monitored at this time. The next Board meeting is scheduled to take place next Tuesday, 19 July but it currently hasn’t sufficient numbers of inducted and trained Board members to even make a quorum let alone to chair a Board meeting.

I wrote to Dr Thérèse Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal (in whose constituency Hollesley Bay is located) about these serious concerns; she’s been kind enough to acknowledge and to suggest I next contact my own MP.

Smokescreen

For me, being sent heavily redacted pages simply represents yet another example of how the MOJ play for time and try to grind you down in the hope you will shut up, lose interest and go away.

And because I’ve learned the MOJ is logging all my social media content, please note, for the record, I have absolutely no intention of shutting up, of losing interest or of going away.

The suspension, obstructions and kerfuffle serves as a very convenient smokescreen for the IMB Secret-ariat (sic), trying desperately to insulate itself from the critique I included in my article “Whistleblower Without a Whistle” published in The Prisons Handbook 2016.

As for the MOJ, it has totally lost sight of the issues I raised in that article because the Secretariat has done such an neat little stitch-up job on me and had obviously bamboozled the Prisons Minister into “shooting the messenger”; I doubt very much he even knows my name let alone why he suspended me from HBIMB.

Honey, I’ve shrunk the facts

Turning to the heavily redacted pages, I can just about recognise the words from my past colleagues at HBIMB whose venom towards me knows no bounds. For example, on the the top of page 3 it states:

“Overall, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Faith may have committed “gross misconduct” according IMB complaints policy.”

Really, what do they hope to gain in claiming that? Could it be they wanted to deflect the public’s attention and the press’ scrutiny away from their own dishonesty?

Most of them resigned soon afterwards anyway, thinking that in so doing they would be absolving themselves of responsibility for their own complicity whilst in public office.

That’s where any gross misconduct is to be found, right there.

Unlike them, I have done nothing wrong, and certainly did nothing wrong in writing that Whistleblower article; the MOJ conceded that much to the editor of The Prisons Handbook 2016, Mark Leech (@prisonsorguk), in their response to a FOIA request he submitted off his own back.

Bullying

It is very clear now to everyone that neither the IMB Secretariat nor the MOJ takes workplace bullying seriously enough, or at all.

I still haven’t been sent the unredacted report written by MOJ investigator Sandra Marcantonio to the IMB Secretariat.

And I still haven’t been advised of  the deliberations of the panel appointed to decide on that report, or the date they meet, or what their names are.

Is it because they feel that I don’t count or I’m not important? Or is it because they don’t want to recognise that workplace bullying occurred for fear of setting a precedent and opening the floodgates to other complaints?

Either way, bullying in prison remains a big issue. A really big issue.

Remember, the bullying I encountered on 19th April 2016 took place inside a prison, in HMP & YOI Hollesley Bay, at an IMB Board Meeting.

Oh and whilst we’re on that subject, unlike every board meeting I chaired, nobody can find any minutes of that meeting.

Independence Day?

Nigel Newcomen CBE, the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman, is well aware of who I am and needs no prompting. On 05 July after he gave oral evidence [watch] to the Justice Select Committee, he spoke with me about a meeting he had with John Thornhill, President of IMB, back in February 2016 questioning whether the IMB monitors if recommendations from the Ombudsman are being followed by prisons (refer to Official record, Q62 from Marie Rimmer MP).

He said he has even perceived a lack of independence in his own department (Official record, Q87 from Chris Elmore MP), underlining once again in my opinion that perhaps the biggest issue confronting the in-coming Secretary of State for Justice, Elizabeth Truss (@trussliz), is that the MOJ has everyone involved in prisons in a tight headlock, resisting reforms.

So what hope do I have of changing anything, or of being reinstated, or of my call for prisons reform even being heard?

Watch this space.

The situation continues.

 

Photo: Ministry of Justice MOJ 102 Petty France by Steph Gray via flickr

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I used to be ‘IN’ but now I’m ‘OUT’

An antidote to the EU Referendum.

The nation goes to the polls today to determine whether we Leave or Remain, but that’s all I’m saying about the European Referendum. You can think of this post as an antidote to all the drivel you’ve heard, from both sides of the debate it has to be said. The claims, the counterclaims and the half-truths we’ve all heard uttered sometimes with spectacular bravado.

There’s a micro- In or Out conundrum going on over here in the East of England, coincidentally not far from the most easterly geographical point of the UK to continental Europe.

Let’s talk about In or Out of prison.

Faith Spear

“I will not stop. I will not be silenced. I want to be reinstated”

I used to be ‘IN’

There’s truth in the well-used idiom “with power comes responsibility”. The right of access all areas within a prison is one of those situations to which this applies. I never took it lightly. Having keys to the prison seems to be a thoroughly abstract concept for many, but as a public official appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice to monitor that’s exactly what you have. You’re appointed to be the eyes and the ears. And to record what you see and what you hear around the prison you monitor.

This isn’t some fanciful hobby for those with a lot of time on their hands. Long the brunt of jibes about beige Volvos, tweed twin set and pearls, being an independent monitor should not be a country club. This is the sharp end of monitoring how a nation treats those in its custody. And it requires people who have the big picture as well as an eagle eye for the detail. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve heard a lot. And as a monitor I only write what I see and what I hear. No spin and no opinion. Just the facts.

Remembering how thrilled I was to be accepted onto the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) when I first started. I absorbed the training, passed induction and quickly found my feet performing monitoring visits as part of the team rota. As a member, I derived considerable satisfaction from thinking that what I was doing was making a difference. It had to make a difference; there was no salary for the work so the only payback was the job satisfaction. And make no mistake, monitoring done properly is real work.

As a Vice-Chair, I served a frequently absent Chairman as if I were their very own personal assistant. It felt like it at times, especially the Saturday evening calls to my home number or the Sunday-for-Monday interruptions. My network became the area Chairs in other prisons. My responsibilities expanded and I took it all on board, in part relishing the challenge. Yet there were some niggles creeping in, as I was required to shoulder the thick end of the workload without being empowered with the authority to do much about any of it.

On one occasion I recall being put firmly back on my box by the then Chairman. “How dare you say you’re the acting Chair. You’re my Vice-Chair, not the acting Chair” they said, speaking down at me like an intolerant owner upbraiding a truanting cocker spaniel. Bit rich really, given that the then Chairman was the one for whom I had covered no less than 162 days absence in a single calendar year. Yes I kept a record! (as I told you, monitors record exactly what they see and what they hear, and tend to notice when the Chair is away for 44% of the time).

Believing the best and hoping it wouldn’t last, I went along with it. I wouldn’t go along with it now. Nor will I ever again in the future. I don’t recall many, if any, occasions I felt truly supported by them.

In retrospect, it’s a bit sad really, don’t you think?

When the time came, I embraced the opportunity to serve the Board as Chairman only after I was sure I was ready to fulfil the role and could gather dependable people around me. These positions are never ones to grasp at.

A colleague agreed that if I was willing to serve as Chairman then they would step up as Vice-Chair. Despite commitments running their own business the Vice-Chair was incredibly supportive in every way the past Chair wasn’t able to be. Or didn’t wish to be. And so it was from January 2016, following nominations the previous October, we set to work and gelled like dream team.

And together we worked hard to build the team around us. Sacrificing time from other priorities to come in to the prison often when it was inconvenient, why, because it just had to be done. These are the sort of things they don’t tell you about when they pitch volunteering to you. But we did it anyway, and cheerfully for the most part; it’s what you make if it.

Mentoring volunteers was very enjoyable but it took on dimensions I never thought would be part of the remit, for example, teaching an IMB member how to use a computer mouse for the first time in their lives, let alone the depths of Quantum, the NOMS secure intranet (Gawd bless it) or the CJSM email system (don’t get me started on that one).

More than matching time volunteered on monitoring with time volunteered on Chairman’s responsibilities (yes, even Chairs should perform monitoring visits), I expanded on my knowledge of the criminal justice system through taking up invitations to visit other prisons. I wanted to learn as much as I could about every category of prison and see for myself the conditions for those held in custody in those places, and better understand what monitoring looked like for them.

GrimondFM4

Grimond Room, 16 March 2016

Additionally, to learn more on policy, I became a frequent visitor at the House of Commons Select Committee on Justice (Twitter @CommonsJustice) where I could see, hear and meet those giving oral evidence. I learned to fine tune my own sense of scrutiny, making less hasty judgements and leaping to conclusions without having first studied the facts.

I read widely on the subject of justice, even calling into The Institute of Criminology and the Cambridge University Library on occasions to check for myself the validity of references being cited in some of the material I was consuming. (The Tea Room there is as much an eye opener as the Rare Books section; you get to talk and make friends with rather influential and interesting people over a cuppa).

In short, I was fortunate to gain a well-informed view of the big picture and a well-grounded understanding of how that applied to specific areas, including monitoring.

As my understanding grew, very obvious holes in the system began to make themselves clear to me, making them compelling enough for me not to look the other way.

As I monitored, I looked and listened. As I worked, I saw. As I visited, I heard. As I studied, I realised. And as I realised, I knew – I knew that what I was seeing and hearing and learning was not all it is cracked up to be.

So I wrote, firstly about topics that caught my attention and my responses to them and then about good practice and about areas for improvement. Whereas these first appeared only in blog format now my opinions have been published in The Prisons Handbook 2016, the definitive guide to prisons in England and Wales for over 18 years.

Just imagine my amazement when, having gone beyond the call of duty and having delivered all this into a Board I thought I had alongside me, an ambush was set for me on 19 April 2016 for which nothing could have prepared me.

I’ve written before about this awful episode and yes, regardless of what may have been claimed by others, I have had to call it what it was, workplace bullying (remember, as a monitor I only write what I see and what I hear, no spin). Suffice to say it has become a tipping point in more ways than anyone would have anticipated.

But now I’m ‘OUT’

Suspending me pending an MOJ investigation is what the Prisons Minister decided to do when he received a report from The IMB Secretariat about me. I’ve no idea what was in that report; I’ve not been given sight of it and although I’ve asked for a copy, nothing has been forthcoming. Despite what the Minister himself wrote, I have now been told it is not a report, but a submission from The IMB Secretariat, and legislation has been quoted to try and prevent me from seeing it.

Barred from stepping foot on the prison estate without prior appointment and vetting, the system has spat me out. Where once there was free movement anywhere inside, now I’m bouncing off the perimeter unable to enter let alone monitor.

The story is not quite finished and I’m not leaving it there.

There now seems to a “war of attrition” but I’m not playing those games. Information about me is being withheld despite my requesting unredacted copies of it from the Minister and the MOJ, and they are trying to keep me in the dark.

I want to be reinstated.

The second letter went in to the Prisons Minister on 17 June. I’ve asked the Minister to reinstate me.

But I’ve also asked the Prisons Minister eleven questions which you the public have a right to hear from him on. Refer to page 2 and page 3.  If he doesn’t reply to me, perhaps he will reply to you. Write to him and press him for answers on what’s happening with Hollesley Bay monitoring. Don’t accept “stock answers” copied and pasted into pre-templated letters; demand the facts in a personal letter from the Minister not his staff.

DOWNLOAD : Letter Spear to Selous 17 Jun 2016 public

LetterSpearToSelous17Jun2016

 

It’s not about me. It’s always been about the issues

And the issues I raised in my original article published in The Prisons Handbook 2016 have never been disputed by the Minister or by the Secretary of State, yet seem to be enough to turn my fellow board members hard-fast against me, to raise the hackles in the IMB Secret-ariat (sic) and to cause a thunder storm inside the MOJ.

Of course I do want the personal cost I’ve paid, and that my family has paid with me since 19 April, to amount to something.

I don’t want to be a name that meant something to a handful of people once then was quickly forgotten or surreptitiously ‘air-brushed’ from record.

Being reinstated would mean the Board can get on with the vital job of monitoring, becoming a watchdog again, and being in the heart of the action to realise prison reform.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
BREAK GLASS

In all candour, I’m so fearful that the net result of my speaking out in good faith will leave me at a massive disadvantage and consequently damage any prospects I might have had to find employment in anything related to the justice sector. Outside again, with a reputation on a par with the zika virus and with my self-esteem around my ankles tripping me up when trying to move forwards from here.

But my biggest fear of all is that nothing will change for those already in the sector.

Not calling out issues means no change for salaried civil servants spending immensely valuable time just going through the motions at taxpayers’ expense.

Keeping quiet on issues means no change for prison Governors with the Inspectorate breathing down their neck every so often without monitors there to provide real checks and balances.

Not calling out issues means no change for members of IMBs everywhere whose well-meaning sense of duty and willingness to volunteer is privately despised and whose voice is muffled by a dysfunctional Secretariat which is anything but independent.

Keeping quiet on issues means no changes to a pointless National Council whose nameless and faceless structure smacks more of a secret society with a presidency that’s widely regarded as irrelevant and a President even the public regard as yesterday’s man.

And whilst all that turbulence goes on inside the MOJ, not calling out issues means there’s no change for people in custody. In paying their “debt to society” through loss of liberty they also pay perhaps a higher price than most people imagine, banged up for 23 hours a day in institutions which for the most part are understaffed, unfunded and underperforming.

Penal facilities which neither correct, rehabilitate nor reduce reoffending are, in my considered opinion, facilities that should be the most closely monitored facilities of all.

I believe in monitoring.
And I want to be reinstated.

I want to be ‘IN’ all over again.

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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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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