Some extracts from professionals, and a space for comments about the criminal justice system and the book.
If you’ve worked within the criminal justice system, or you’ve read the book and want to make a point, then please feel free to leave a comment below or e-mail Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The whole system, the whole attitude, is geared to get the bastards in, lock them up and make our job as easy as possible. Education? Yeah, we’ll give you classes, but there’s a resentment attitude with some of the officers because some of the men become more educated than them, so a lot of them have this inferiority complex or feel threatened, and that brings out a passive-aggressive attitude. I remember one of the men doing A’ Level Business Studies, a young black man who was part of the gang culture, quite aggressive at times, even in the classroom. I’d worked on strategies, how to handle him and develop a good rapport, and he got an A grade. I went on the wing and asked an officer to take me to his cell so I could give him the good news. The officer’s reaction was obscene, I couldn’t believe it. He opened the cell door and I told the man who was overjoyed. But the officer’s face went red with anger, and he said something like, it’s a waste of time, why should he get all this attention and education? All of the officers weren’t like that, but a good number were. The good officers were mostly the older ones, who knew the value of rehabilitation. Maybe life had mellowed them out as they’d got older.
Eighty percent of prison officers are good people. Ten percent come in as good people, get pips on their shoulders and become bad. The other ten percent are simply spoiling for a fight. They know they can legitimately get hold of somebody, punch somebody, and they can cover it on a piece of paper and get away with it. These officers are in the minority but we know who they are. If there’s an incident and you’re on with someone, you’ll know how they’re going to react. I get called names because I’d rather stand sideways and have a chat with someone than jump on them. If a prisoner is getting hold of me, or having a go, another prisoner will likely come up and say, he’s alright, leave him alone. But others, they’ll just close the door and let them crack on. But why go into work and punch somebody when there’s ninety-four others on the wing that know you’ve done it? It’s ridiculous. Some staff won’t even talk to me. I was friends with one on Facebook, then there was an incident and I refused to involve myself because it was wrong. He deleted me as a friend and wouldn’t talk to me again, even at work. But if something kicks off on the wing I can’t distance myself from it. If a prisoner’s banged up or taken back from his visit early, he won’t have a go at me less because of who I am, but he won’t punch me, whereas he might somebody else. I still get the verbal, but maybe next morning he’ll say, sorry boss, I was out of order. And at the end of the day, I want to walk through Tesco and not have somebody hit me over the head with a bottle because of what I’ve done three years ago. There are times you have to get your hands on, of course there are, but I’m not a fan.
I’ve looked at prison records from 1978 to 2014 and there has been an upwards trajectory of self-harm and suicide. And staffing levels may be an issue, but it’s not the driver, because during that time they’ve gone up and down. What’s more important is what staff do, and although there will be critical thresholds of staff levels needed, simply getting more staff in, as the union recommends, won’t see suicide and self-harm reduce. Rather than recruit 2,500 prison officers, I’d recruit 2,500 allied health professionals, that would be my approach. I don’t see it as a helpful approach to put more prison officers in. I don’t see care and control as mutually exclusive categories in the way they’re presented. If we care about others, we’re more likely to listen to them and do what they want.
Nobody told us why we were losing officers. Nobody explained things to us. We were never in touch with other privatised prisons. You just worked things out for yourself. Training was done at HMP prisons at first, but now, to save money, they do it at the prison gymnasium. Everything’s about making money. We were audited and given eighteen months to turn it around or we’d lose the contract to HMP, so they must have pulled it back a little. But when the Prison Inspectorate come in, they have four officers on the wing, it’s all very sly. After they’ve gone, it’s back to two. At lunch time, one officer goes for the trolley and you’re on your own on the wing. Imagine something kicking off? You don’t stand a chance. Now they’re employing young kids, eighteen, nineteen year olds, who have nothing about them, no life skills, who are easily influenced to bring phones in, drugs in, money in, whatever. And that’s the sort of people they’re employing, because in twenty years, anybody who was any good and wanted a job in that prison has been and gone. It’s got that ridiculous with staff, you never get regulars on the wing now, you get people who work in healthcare come and help you for two hours. You’re left on the wing with no radio, people in your face saying they’re gonna do this and that to you. Honestly, it’s unbelievable. And some of these lifers have nothing to lose, they could take you in their cell, never to be seen again.
The Probation service I joined said my role was to be the human and compassionate face of the criminal justice system, and my task was to balance the needs of justice alongside the welfare needs of the individual. Now the service I joined was confused over which should take precedence, but would at least recognise that a lot of the time the best way to manage risk and meet the needs of justice, is actually to address the welfare needs of the individual. We’ve lost sight of the notion of individuals, and the recognition that if you don’t accord someone some sense of individual dignity they will tend to behave and respond to you in an undignified way. So the service I joined was quite right on, but the service I’m part of today is not. There’s been a lot of erosion of those values, in service delivery and especially in employment and recruitment. Nobody will say that. Nobody will say we’re no longer committed to excellence. Nobody will say we’re no longer committed to providing the best service we can, to courts or institutions, or to the individuals we’re entrusted to work with on behalf of the community. But we’re into expedience. We’re into the shortest distance. We’re into paying lip service. I don’t want to sound bitter, twisted and cynical but sometimes I am. I’m very disappointed with the leadership of the Probation Service. I feel hugely let down over Chris Grayling’s dismantling of rehabilitation, and absolute horror at the erosion of values.
I don’t go into work every day thinking I’m under threat, even though I was left in the education block with twelve prisoners, but I know for a fact, because I’ve been told, that if something was to happen, it would be cheaper for the governor to pay out compensation than provide protection to stop it happening. There’s simply not the money. They look at figures instead of people. There’s only two workshops out of eight running now, because in education alone we’ve had twenty-five staff leave in one year, and twelve of those were workshop. And rather than men being put into classes they should be in, they put them in wherever there’s a space. So they go into induction and it all looks great on paper, they have an interview with the national careers service and are told, these are your options, what do you want to do? Nine times out of ten they’ll want workshops, waste management or a cleaner job, none of them will mention English, Maths or IT. But because those classes are the only ones they don’t need extra security checks for, whereas they do for workshops because of the tools, and the governor wants them all out their pads doing purposeful activities, they turn up at the class and say, I didn’t put down for this. The prison’s created some words for it. You have to say, this is a ‘route-way’ because English and Maths will help you in the workshops, so you’re in here until a space becomes available. And it very rarely does, because they haven’t time to check, and new people come in and if there’s a space, they get it. Then our men get disgruntled and kick off and you end up putting them out. You spend your whole lunch doing Information Reports, because you can’t get them out of your class unless they’ve had three of them, and so you have to suffer them in the meantime. And if you do get them out, they’re only out for two weeks and then they’re back and nothing’s changed.
Psychology have far too much power. They should have some power, and what they say should matter, but from my experience of twelve years inside a high security prison, what they say is almost always geared to work negatively, and it’s done by labelling, by a short sighted and limited mode of taking in how a prisoner is behaving. They’re not getting a complete picture, in fact they’re often getting a false picture, and the men are very aware of this and they’re working things all the time, to their advantage. And when I say this, I mean in terms of not wanting their sentences to be longer, or them to be penalised in any way, when actually, they weren’t doing anything wrong. And actually, some of the things could be viewed as positive moves. Honest. Psychology? Such a waste of money and funds. Psychology’s main success is ensuring those with the worst personality problems, that are a threat to society, are kept inside and given some kind of treatment, so that’s protecting the public. But in the majority of cases, psychology fails.
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