Following Ken Clarke’s announcement that he intends to cut the prison population, governors, probation officers and others appear to be falsely assessing prison risk levels of those in custody amid fears of job losses and prison closures. The result of this war with government ministers responsible for the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is that many prisoners are being held in ‘high’ and even ‘maximum security’ prisons when they could be housed at lower cost elsewhere.
While the cost of custody to the taxpayer continues to spiral upwards, those in charge appear to be more interested in protecting budgets and jobs. Governors and senior prison staff, as well as senior civil servants, know full well that Mr Clarke’s cuts could very well mean job losses and the closure of some prisons; something that the Prison Governors Association (PGA) and the Prison Officers Association (POA) both commented on following Clarke’s announcement following the last general election.
If the Justice Secretary is successful in his attempt to cut costs and improve rehabilitation, there would be less need for prison spaces, prison staff and probation officers who work in prisons. Those running the system appear to have responded by inflating prisoners’risk levels, keeping lower risk prisoners in high security establishments and ensuring that certain types of offender, regardless of the level of their offence or likelihood of escape, are categorised as ‘high’ risk.
Meanwhile, the costs of keeping people in custody overall continues to rise. There are currently 4 types of prison in the UK (categories A, B, C and D), each graded according to its level of security. Prisoners too are categorised as either A, B, C or D category prisoners, generally according to the risk that they might pose to the public were they ever to escape.
Category A prisoners are the most expensive to hold, apparently because of the extra staff and security deemed necessary. It is obviously true that some prisoners are undoubtedly dangerous, are often sentenced to life imprisonment and need to be accommodated in prisons that makes escape impossible whilst hopefully engaging in rehabilitation.
Category B prisoners are supposedly a step down from the above but this analysis is deeply flawed. For example, all ‘local’ prisons are Category B establishments, although some also have a Category C wing. When someone is remanded in custody, for any offence, they are automatically categorised as a ‘B cat’ prisoner, even if their offence is very minor. In the same cell, there may very well be someone who has committed a serious offence that could result in a very long, or even a life sentence.
How can it be that two prisoners who are at the opposite ends of the ‘risk scale’ can both be housed in the same prison, on the same wing and even in the same cell?
This kind of situation arises from the instruction from the governor that new inmates must be written up as ‘B cat’ until more is known about them. Given that 45% of those remanded in custody are eventually acquitted of their offence anyway, there is clearly something very wrong with the reasoning of the governor concerned or, worse still, with that of the civil servants responsible for issuing the instruction to the governor in the first place.
Of course, if there were less ‘B cat’ prisoners, less staff would be required and some wings and perhaps whole establishments could be closed or made smaller. Not something that those who work in prisons ever want to hear.
Certain alleged offenders are always – and often wrongly – categorised as ‘high risk’. The obvious example is sex offenders who for ‘political’ reasons are nearly always remanded in custody and are classified by probation officers as being ‘high’ risk before trial, after trial and even after release.
These offenders can for example spend 10 years in prison yet, according to the sages of the Probation and Police services, their risk will be the same when they come out as it was when they went in, a terrible indictment of the service that is responsible for their rehabilitation. They are usually only made ‘C cat’ or ‘medium’ risk prisoners towards the end of their sentence and if it is long enough.
This late re-categorisation is often because many of the necessary courses and programmes – which are very expensive and not necessarily effective but do keep people employed – are only available in C category prisons or, in a worst case scenario, because the Prison Service does not want to be seen to be releasing a B or ‘high’ category prisoner into the community when the offender must be released at the end of their term in custody.
Frequently, where an offender has been recalled for an alleged breach of licence, they are held as a ‘high’ risk prisoner with all the expense that incurs, only to later be released by the Parole Board when the recall, instigated by the constantly risk averse Probation Service, has been found to be unjustified in the first place following a very expensive oral hearing.
TheOpinionSite.org even knows of one case where a sex offender was packed off to HMP Frankland maximum security (A Category) prison and was told on arrival that he would be there for at least 4 years before he could be moved. 11 months later he was in HMP Maidstone, a C category, medium risk establishment.
The reason for his move to HMP Frankland was later discovered to be that he had been making life difficult for the governor at HMP Elmley, a local B category prison in Kent. As punishment, he had been moved to the Category A prison – even though he was a category B prisoner who was then downgraded within the first year to category C.
Often, initial risk assessments on offenders will result in them being inappropriately placed in higher category establishments. As anyone who has seen one will know, a probation officer’s ‘pre-sentence report’ (PSR) will often exaggerate all negative points, ignore any positive attributes and nearly always recommend a disproportionately long sentence to the judge who, for fear of criticism, plays along, only to find that the sentence is later reduced on appeal, the appeal having been funded at the taxpayer’s expense.
Prisoners are sometimes ‘ghosted’ out of a prison in the middle of the night, only to find that they are being moved to another high security prison, even if their risk level does not justify it. The prisoner has no choice, cannot appeal and very often is not even told where he is going until he is nearly at the gate of the new establishment.
All of this false manipulation costs enormous amounts of money; money that is often being wasted in order to keep governors, civil servants, prison staff and probation officers in a job when it could be better spent on the homeless, the poor, the sick or the disabled.
How much money are we talking about?
The latest available figures (available from the MOJ website http://www.justice.gov.uk/) for the overall annual cost of keeping a Category B prisoner is £34,359 and for a Category A prisoner it increases to an astonishing £64,052. The reason for this extra £30,000 per prisoner is the cost of extra staff and security measures considered necessary in high and maximum security prisons, often referred to as ‘dispersal prisons’ and the running of the ‘High Security Estate’ in general.
An example is the maximum (category A) security prison HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire. Figures published this month show that in August 2011 there were 613 prisoners held there. This was made up of 149 Category A prisoners (very high, maximum risk), 446 Category B prisoners (high risk), and 18 who had not yet been sentenced. This means that the Prison Service is spending an unnecessary £30,000 or so a year on each of at least 446 prisoners. That works out at a staggering £13,380,000 a year at just one prison alone.
This appalling waste of public money is echoed daily in ‘local’ prisons where ‘B cat’ prisoners are unnecessarily detained instead of being moved to cheaper, ‘medium’ security C category establishments. Prisoners are often moved on, not to where they should be but instead to wherever there happens to be a space – and when there exists an excuse to move them.
However, even with all this manipulation of the system by those with vested interests, TheOpinionSite.org believes that the real reason for this horrendous waste of public money is simply that Britain sends far too many people to prison in the first place. It is after all a fact that the UK imprisons more of its people than any other country in Europe and has more offenders serving some kind of ‘life’ or ‘indeterminate’ sentence than all the other EU member states put together (Source: European Commission).
Therefore, the real causes are very much political, not judicial. They are driven by MPs looking for cheap votes and ministers who want even more power. The trouble is, now that the money has run out, rather than reduce the numbers of people being sent to prison in the first place, the government is having to cut the money spent on those already in custody and that has upset those who work in the system who can see their self-serving empires crumbling on a daily basis.
This constant ‘war’ does not help anyone. The myths put out by the tabloids that prisons are ‘holiday camps’ are simply untrue and are designed to sell papers, not tell the truth. Prisons are terrible places. They are corrupt too and often, establishments themselves will leak information into the public domain if it results in maintaining or increasing the number of staff employed. Probation officers do the same if it is in the interests of ‘the service’ and some staff will do it just for the money paid by the tabloids.
The PGA response to the government’s comment, “Prison System is broken?” was as follows and can be read on the PGA website: www.prisongovernors.org.uk
“Instead of criticising the service Ken Clarke should be attributing praise to a service that is already stretched. He should not forget that the government and in real terms the public can only be provided with the level of service that they pay for and Governors can only supply what they are funded for.”
In a sense, the PGA is quite correct but their response would have more credibility if it were not for the fact that many of those in the prison system will do anything to keep their jobs, including cheating on prisoner classification, in order to maintain staff levels and keep establishments open.
TheOpinionSite.org therefore suggests that the government should go through all the sentences recommended for every crime and get rid of any custodial sentence that is unnecessary, reduce to a sensible level those that are left and have the courage to face down the tabloid newspapers, lobby groups, charities and all the other money-hungry groups that exist only because a corrupt system allows them to make money from a fraudulent and ever-expanding criminal ‘justice’ system.
We realise that this could take some time, given that we have a Parliament that does nothing other than produce more and more Law and more and longer sentences for more and more new offences. Nevertheless, it would be time well spent – unlike the money that is leeched from taxpayers on a daily basis and spent on hiding the iniquities of a prison service not fit for purpose.
It is indeed a great hypocrisy that those responsible for locking up alleged criminals should themselves be engaged in activities that in some cases may very well be described as being ‘criminal’. All the time that situation persists, more taxpayers’ money will be wasted – along with countless lives and the futures of those who could, if given the chance, contribute to society rather than cost it a fortune.