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This morning I was pleased to attend the Justice Select Committee meeting. It was the first one with Rt Hon Michael Gove MP being called as a witness in his new role as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
The session was recorded on video. Watch it here.
Getting down to business
After an exchange of pleasantries and mutual congratulations on appointment, the committee set about putting forward questions on important issues such as safety in prisons, rehabilitation, absconds from Open Prisons, court closures, and court and tribunal fees. This was good to see; Select Committees sit to scrutinise Government policy and progress.
This Justice Select Committee meeting came just a few days after the publication by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales’ Annual Report 2014-15, in which Open Prisons have been highlighted once again.
On the same day as the HMIP Annual Report, Nick Harwick also published the unredacted version of the report on Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) featuring three high profile cases of prisoners who each committed awful crimes whilst out on ROTL has challenged the current risk assessment within prisons.
The cases of Ian McLoughlin, HMP Springhill, Al-Foday Fofanah, HMP Ford and Alan Wilmot, HMP North Sea Camp were highlighted by Hardwick of where those on ROTL committed the same offence as they were sent to prison for in the first place, giving rise to questioning on whether there is ‘Rehabilitation’ in prison.
You can read the report here.
This was raised by Philip Davies MP when asking Mr Gove “what are you doing to protect the public from these future awful consequences?”
His reply was “…transfer to open prison should only follow an appropriate risk assessment.” He then added …”there will always be cases where there are individuals even if they have committed very serious offences may be suitable for a transfer to an open prison. Each case has to be judged on its own individual merits”. However, the underlying message was that public safety is paramount.
It was clear that Mr Gove was new to the job, there were many err and ums in his answers, but he did assure the committee that he would be happy to return when he had reviewed various aspects within the justice system.
So will I.
From 1st November there has been a change in the Incentives, Earnings and Privileges (IEP) system within the prison estate (Ministry of Justice, 2013a; 2013b). How individual prisons will be able to make sure all prisoners comply will be interesting to follow. The 3 categories of basic, standard and enhanced will from now on be stricter and for those not on enhanced ROTL will not be possible. Therefore, for open prisons where rehabilitation through outside work is the norm, if those on enhanced do not fulfil the criteria they will likely be downgraded to standard.
This potentially will leave many prisoners with nothing to do during the day and bored prisoners are not good for any prison. If there are large quantities of prisoners which should under the new rules be moved to standard then how can they be managed? Likewise if prisoners are downgraded to basic, suddenly they will not only have to wear prison clothing which believe me is something to be desired but will have their TV’s taken away.
Grayling has said that under the new policy, the lack of bad behaviour would not be enough to earn privileges; instead inmates would have to work actively towards rehabilitation and help other prisoners (No Offence, 2013)
But then some say why should they have a television? But where do you draw the line on punishment? Each prisoner is still a person and there should be a measure of consideration placed on each one. What has wearing a uniform, well jogging trousers and sweatshirts, got anything to do with punishment for an offence. It’s not like the city where suits are the normal attire. Next prisoners will be wearing striped outfits or ones with arrows on. Time for a change surely! Let’s stop wasting time money and energy in making prisoners look uniform and get down to addressing real issues such as reducing the prison population.
The Maidstone Prison incident this weekend (BBC, 2013; BSkyB 2013) shows that there is unrest within; let’s hope this will be the exception rather than the norm in the future. Can this be linked to the regime changes introduced by Mr Grayling?
No Offence (2013) Male prisoners to wear uniforms and be banned from watching television. [Online]. Available at <http://www.no-offence.org/entry.php/533-Male-prisoners-to-wear-uniforms-and-be-banned-from-watching-television> [accessed 02 November 2013].