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As the second anniversary rapidly approaches of the disciplinary hearing I stood in front of in Petty France, my heart tries not to sink.
Yes, I am still banned from being a member of the IMB, just over three years to go.
I am often asked if I would want to join again, I can honestly say in its current form, no, not at all. I want to see a monitoring board that is truly independent not just in title but in actions, the prisoner’s perceptions and their Annual Reports.
I miss the work, it was work to me and I took it seriously even though the Governor once said, “you don’t work here, you are a volunteer” This kind of attitude stinks and shows how little he regarded the IMB.
Even now many IMB members face opposition from their boards when they stand up and challenge the “but we always do it that way” brigade. It’s not good enough.
I recently chatted to an IMB member who recognised me and wanted to meet and was keen to explain that she had tried to implement some of my suggestions, such as out of hours visits. But that hadn’t gone down well with her board, apparently nothing happens outside of office hours in a prison and there’s nothing to see, therefore, IMB members are not needed. A short-sighted response. I have heard it before and I’m sure I will hear it again.
My article for the Prisons Handbook 2016 is just as relevant today as it was two and a half years ago when it was first published. There are still the same questions and very few answers.
Although the new Governance structure appears to be a re-package concept with little bite, there is a hint of optimism.
I haven’t given up, I haven’t disappeared into one of the many cracks of the Criminal Justice System, I am aware that some would want that to happen. Too bad.
I am very much alive and kicking.
I have a voice and I use it.
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
- The Independence of IMB’s
- The Effectiveness of IMB’s
- The Impact of IMB’s
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?
“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.
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.
This month marks one year since I sat in front of a disciplinary hearing at Petty France.
I had stood up and spoken out publicly on the state of our prisons and the state of the Independent Monitoring Boards that has a statutory role within each prison. Some may think I was too severe, and undermined the work that was done by volunteers. Others praised me for being brave enough to speak out as they were too fearful to face the consequences themselves.
I spoke from my experience and I spoke the truth. Seriously, the IMB is a shambles for the main part, a weak voiceless organisation that purports to be independent. Yes, there are some serious members that care about their role but blink and you will miss them! It’s not independent by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a department of the Ministry of Justice based at the MoJ headquarters Petty France.
I didn’t have to appear at the disciplinary hearing, the MoJ/IMB could have made a decision on my future as a Chairman of an IMB without my presence. I was determined to be there and try to uncover the ridiculous allegations against me. What a farce it was. I had been suspended from my role for 8 months and during that time was investigated twice by the MoJ.
During the investigation, I learnt that the article I wrote “Whistle blower without a whistle” in the Prisons Handbook 2016 was not an issue with the IMB Secretariat. The problem was that I spoke to the press. I was interviewed by my local paper ‘East Anglian Daily Times and by the ‘InsideTime’ prison newspaper. Suddenly my story was not only out in the open but was in every prison across the country.
Then came the prejudicial character assassination by both MoJ and IMB. I had struck a raw nerve. Three years previously the MoJ had commissioned Karen Page Associates to review the IMB. Conclusion was the IMB needed root and branch reform. They were so right, each board operating as a separate entity. There was nothing earth shattering about by article, I raised similar points to the review so why did the MoJ/IMB try to shut me down and silence me?
I believe it was a campaign initiated by a member of my board who had the audacity to send in additional material to the disciplinary hearing as he was scared that the decision would go in my favour and that I would reveal what was really going on in the IMB. It was rejected of course.
I didn’t realise that when you needed support or help in situations you faced as a member of an IMB it wouldn’t be available. There is so much I could say but basically the care team made up of members around the country that you could approach for support and guidance had been disbanded. So where difficult situations arose I was on my own.
Entering the hearing I was faced with a couple of familiar faces. The first panel member was on the executive committee for AMIMB. The same association that without permission had taken part of my article and printed it in their magazine and sent it to their members. So, no impartiality there.
I realised the MoJ had decided to change the terms of reference for the investigation without informing me, is that right?
The investigation was as a result of being suspended yet the direction and conclusion of the investigation had changed. I also found out the MoJ had been watching my every step for months and had a list of what I had said and when. Boy they were determined to silence me. I requested notes taken during the hearing and was disappointed but not surprised that so much that I had said was missed out. I don’t know what so-called “evidence” was sent to the Prisons Minister everything was done behind closed doors. They had made up their minds, nothing I could say or do would change that. Just as in the beginning of their campaign against me I knew there would not be fairness. Ironic that the IMB strapline is “Monitoring fairness and respect for those in custody”
Trying to silence me didn’t work
Since the hearing and at every opportunity without my hands being tied anymore, I have spoken out for positive change in the Criminal Justice System both locally and nationally.
I have met some amazing people, visited excellent schemes within prisons and worked with those I admire for their stand.
In trying to silence me the IMB/MoJ have given me a voice, a National voice. As I have said so many times before, I have never tried to raise my personal profile, for me the priority has been the issues I have raised. If you knew me you would understand this.
There have been so many that have walked beside me over the past year, some I have laughed with and some cried with. We have encouraged each other, we have shared our stories. I thank them all.
I am stronger now than I was a year ago and even more determined to play a part in the change that is needed within the Criminal Justice System.
I feel proud to have been nominated for the Contrarian Prize for 2017 and thank you to Ali Miraj and the judges for considering me for this prestigious prize. My congratulations go to Professor Patrick Minford for winning the Contrarian Prize 2017.
This is the Mission statement for her Majesty’s Prison Service for England and Wales:
“Her Majesty’s Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release”
I’m sorry but this is nonsense
- The reality is that on average there is a suicide in prison every 3 days
- Violence is on the increase
- Self-harm is on the increase
- Drugs are everywhere.
- Prisons are overpopulated and under staffed.
- Many prisoners are locked in their cell for up to 23 hours per day with little to do and little to eat.
Our prisons are in crisis but reform is taking too long. It has become a humanitarian issue.
Yet, for speaking the truth to those in power for prison reform I was bullied, ostracised, suspended and investigated by the MoJ for misconduct.
Despite a prejudicial character assassination against me, continuing to speak out for prison reform and for speaking to the press was, according to the MoJ, gross misconduct so the Prisons Minister dismissed me from the Independent Monitoring Board for 5 years.
I haven’t finished yet I’m just getting started. I assure you this I am not shutting up and I am not going away. I will put this nomination to work immediately by using my voice as a Contrarian to assure reform in the Criminal Justice System.
I’m not here to join the debate I’m here to change the debate…that’s what Contrarians do!
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.
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?
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.