Welcome to payment by results, a system whereby private companies undertake to complete a task, within the justice system, for which they will only receive payment if they achieve results.
Firstly this looks just like an existing system in new clothes. Some years ago it was decided that senior managers were not running prisons properly. KEY PERFORMANCE TARGETS were born. This method, much like payment by results, expected that certain targets were met before the government released money for the prison to operate for another year. The devil is always in the detail.
Mandatory Drug Testing is the system that chooses prisoners at random to be vigorously tested for drugs in their system. Drugs in prison are a problem so it was decided to use the KPT system to reduce drugs in prison. The powers that be set a target of no more than 10% of prisoners failing an MDT as a KPT.
Pay attention at the back.
May I introduce “Old Fred”. He is not a real person but he represents a type of prisoner found in every establishment. “Old Fred” hates drugs and everything about them so naturally he and his like are tested for drugs fairly regularly under the MDT system and the prison meets its 10% KPT and gets paid for another year. You’re shocked? Get over it, things get much worse.
Managers are now aware that the most important thing they can do with their day is to chase KPT’s and ensure that the prison gets money for next year. Is there a cost? Yes, these managers should be running the prison not scribbling rubbish on dry marker boards but who cares about running a prison … We’re meeting our KPT’s what can possibly go wrong?
Buckets and Mops
A colour code is used for mops and buckets, green, blue and red equipment ensures that a toilet mop will never be used in a food prep area. Perfect sense.
Some idiot decided that a Key Performance Target would be that only red mops would be stored in red cupboards, blue in blue, green in green etc.
Now may I introduce you to the bizarre world of Stores. The first thing a stores manager ever said to me was “Stores are for storing, not for issuing”. The most wonderful thing a stores manager ever said to me was “we ordered 100 red mops, 100 blue mops and 100 green mops but we received 300 green mops, you’ll have to get on”. Next day a clipboard appeared at the wing gate and standing behind it was a Governor. He saw Green mops in the toilet areas, green mops in the kitchen areas and green mops on the wing floor. He exploded and had a small emotional meltdown. Ten cons tried to stifle laughter and KPT’s destroyed what little credibility that man had.
Payment by results and KPT’s are an admission that the world is a complex place, far too complex for most of us but rather than do nothing…. we’ll do something odd.
Prison Healthcare departments are brilliant, let me explain;
In the community, any doctor will tell you, they have a core group of drug related patients who attend and try to extort medication. These people are drug dependent and look to their local GP for top-up meds such as pain relief or anti depressants. The same patients will also often be on methadone and some will be using street drugs. This lifestyle makes the patient vulnerable to a spell in prison.
On arriving in prison the first stop is healthcare. Much is made of the bad back or depression and the prisoner will often have a list of medication he currently gets from his doctor on the outside. The prison doctor will generally declare the patient fit and not in need of further meds.
All hell breaks loose.
Alarm bells are pushed and the prisoner struggles with up to three prison officers like a professional wrestler. He then starts a losing battle with the system. A drug user in a normal GP practice who turns up demanding additional medication is probably one in a couple of hundred patients. The doctor tries hard but with time constraints will often give in to some if not all of the demands. In prison this type of patient is one in three and the system is in place to deal with the drama. The lengths prisoners will go to are amazing, rooftop protests, food refusal, assault and seg are most common but eventually they get on the methadone programme, reduction not maintenance, they do their rattle and take one of two routes.
They get off the gear or they use the heroin available in prison with all the appalling consequences that brings.
Working solidly within this chaos are the brilliant doctors and nurses of the prison healthcare department. They say no on a daily basis, they are threatened and sometimes assaulted. They stand in front of people who have made some bad life choices and tell them the bad news, the consequences. On top of this healthcare are pulled in to every prison operation to observe, cell extractions, rooftop protests, self harm incidents, removals to segregation are all attended by healthcare.
The mental health side of their workload is large and growing. From clear mental illness to subtle personality disorders healthcare are in attendance. They talk to and support people who have almost no perception of reality as I know it then feedback to me in a way I understand.
Lastly gallows humour. You want a guaranteed good night out on the piss with great company?Healthcare……………..Want to know where to be told the best jokes? Healthcare………….Want to know who’s gossiping about you and what they’re saying? Healthcare………….. What’s the diagnosis Nurse? “There’s not a pill big enough.”…………The most committed chainsmoking cigarette addicts, Healthcare
If you know someone who works in a prison healthcare department buy them a drink, smile at them and make sure they are OK. You know one of the hardest working people in the country.
One might reasonably expect that a secure place like a prison would be free from drugs. This is not the case, all drugs are available in prison and most assaults and violence are a direct result of this fact.
To understand why prisoners blame the service for making them drug addicts’ let me first explain the testing regime and the prisoner perceptions of it.
Two types of drug tests are carried out in prison;
VDT Voluntary Drug Test
A VDT is a test that is conducted between the offender and the prison by agreement. A prisoner may make a choice to not partake in drugs while in prison and the VDT system will randomly test them and document the results. The offender can then produce the results as proof of their abstinence from drugs at, for example, a parole hearing.
MDT Mandatory Drug Test.
The MDT is a compulsory test, which can be administered to any prisoner at any time. The prison service expects that every offender has no contact with illegal drugs during their prison sentence. An MDT is a urine test which checks for various drugs. Failing an MDT will generally result in 28days added to an offenders sentence.
Why then do these systems result in offender’s accusing the service of making them drug addicts? It is generally believed among offenders that cannabis will show on a test for up to 28 days. Heroin, on the other hand, will only show for three days, that is to say that your body will filter out heroin in three days.
Offenders therefore argue that the system encourages them to take heroin because it’s filtered out of their system quicker than marijuana and they are therefore less likely to fail an MDT and have days added to their sentence.
The option of not taking drugs is always presented by officers and of course many prisoners get through their sentence without taking drugs at all.
Prison Officers understand right and wrong, Legal Representatives understand winning and losing. Discuss.
“Gov, how can you do this job?”
Many years ago a Headteacher said to me “fundamentally, people are good” and it’s turned out to be true. Strangers I’ve met throughout my life have been given the benefit of the doubt and mostly come up trumps. I believe you should be able to lean a bike against a shop window and find it there when you come out. Your car should have as many windows in it as when you parked it and your house should not have to be like Fort Knox to keep burglars out. I agree with the laws of this country, including the right to be free from sexual or physical assault. If you cross these laws you will go to jail and I will lock the door every night with a clear conscience.
“What about those who are innocent?”
I don’t know who they are. It’s not easy to get in to prison, if anything most people should go to prison long before they get their first sentence but the bottom line is, I don’t meet many people that claim to be innocent. Of those who claim innocence most are arguing that the exact conviction is wrong. Yes, they were there and involved but the exact conviction is wrong. Unlucky kid.
“What if they’re mentally ill?”
Difficult, I am aware of quite a number of prisoners whose mental health behaviour has been interpreted as criminal because the other option of using a Section of the Mental Health Act to hold then assess is no longer available due to resource issues. If this response was used against you it might take the following course. You’re having dinner with friends in a lovely restaurant when an ulcer in your stomach bursts. You wretch and spray some blood from your mouth. Instead of an ambulance, the police turn up and arrest you for criminal damage to the restaurant carpet and you go to prison. Replace ulcer with mental health problem and you have the mental illness route into custody. So how can I lock them up? It’s easy, most people in this situation are homeless when not in prison so its good to give them 3 meals and somewhere warm to be. Also, behind the illness is the personality and I’m lucky enough to be working with some people who are frankly a bit of a laugh. I’m working to try and ensure they don’t hit the streets on release so it’s not ideal but it’s moving on.
“I told that idiot on the switchboard I’d be here at 10 now where’s the prisoner?”
Most of my dealings with legal representatives come when I supervise legal visits. The quote above was fairly unusual in its rudeness but fairly common in reflecting an underlying attitude of mild contempt from legal reps to prison officers. One of the reasons for this is simple. Prisoners often portray officers as brutal violent thugs when in conversation with Legal Reps. I know this because they will go for the double whammy and speak of officer brutality in a loud voice to gain lawyer sympathy and officer anger. The drip drip of prisoner accusations is never balanced with any conversations with officers therefore the view of officers becomes negative.
Legal representatives have no moral compass at all.
Before you jump all over me hear me out. Appearing in court is a process devoid of morality. Has the prosecution got a case? Can they present it without falling into a trap? Was the investigation conducted properly? Was the evidence handled properly? Is this the correct charge? Is the paperwork complete and legal?
I suggest, for the purpose of this discussion, that Legal representatives adopt a position of neutral morality for their job. You don’t ever ask if this defendant is a danger to society because it’s not your job. Sometimes, legal people go into an area akin to hell. Rape victims being grilled in the witness box for hours in the hope they disintegrate as a person or the Dowler family being put on trial in the faint hope that Bellfield might see their resolve weaken and he gets away with murder. I’m not saying that I see an alternative but I am saying that as a prison officer I have a clear moral compass while as legal representatives you don’t have that luxury and I wonder what that does to you, how you manage the problem or indeed if you think there is a problem at all.
The big debate within the prison service today is privatisation of prisons or prisons for profit.
Two reasons are given for this practice, to reduce re-offending rates, and cost.
Cost is today’s issue and what a prisoner costs society every year should be an easy and accurate business but no, this is far from true.
I am most indebted to a fellow tweeter for this link, it’s a parliamentary business publication where Sadiq Khan asks Crispin Blunt how much each prisoner costs the public purse per annum. I’m not saying it was buried but it was the question just before the Werrity questions earlier this year. I will challenge these figures but first I must excuse myself from becoming too public.
On remembrance day I tweeted this;
Prison_Screw Prison Officer
Today I also remember those my family lost in 2 wars fighting for freedom to speak Yet I sit behind a nom-de-plume, wary of the authorities.
This sticks in my throat but until further notice I will not be identifying myself.
The cost issue.
I know how much my prison costs to run, exactly how much. It includes education, maintenance, food, officer wages, civvy wages, laundry, landscaping, everything every last nut and bolt. Things are so tight that kitchens will cook exactly the number of meals as we have prisoners. If food gets spoilt there is nothing to replace it and I’ve lost count of the times a prisoner has stood in my face, furious that he has no food, it’s not his fault and I can do nothing about it. I’ve had a daylong obstacle course to get hold of a packet of j-cloths missing from our wing order. The financial squeeze has been here for 18 months or more.
Imagine my surprise to find in the parliamentary answer that my prison is being shown as costing a bit under £10,000 PER PRISONER MORE to run than in reality. This has the effect of suggesting that we cost about £5million more to run than we do. Based on this incorrect information politicians will offer private companies large amounts of public money to run prisons. We will be tied-in to contracts that have few penalties for poor performance and in reality little in the way of expectations from the private provider.
Cynics among us will look to the SERCO shares held by so many MP’s. Public money injected into SERCO increases the share price and injects money into the pockets of shareholders.
We can’t have a debate about private prisons vs public prisons unless;
“Figures” are replaced with “facts”
and politics and dogma are replaced with informed debate and common sense.
Idiots guide to making money from drug addicts in prison.
Some will say this is a cynical view of privatised drug services in prison. The bottom line is that to make a profit from drug users in prison no actual drug addicts get helped because they are complex, needy and addicted often with a history of failing to get away from the drug culture. They can be helped but it’s hugely expensive, much more expensive than the government is prepared to pay so let’s not take that risk. Always remember that the addicts family, those he loves and who love him, have failed to get him off the drugs so a smiling drug worker twice a week for an hour each time followed by a bit of a course is unlikely to do much better.
Private drug agencies in prisons are businesses, they are duty bound to read and understand a set of criteria published by the people who pay the bills, in this case HMP on behalf of the government of the day. The rules of this game are simple and easy to understand.
Establish who are the prisoners with a drug history.
Provide them with a course to stop them taking drugs.
On release from prison monitor them for a specified period of time to ensure they are drug free.
If successful send a bill to the government for a large amount of public money.
1) Finding the right prisoners with a drug history is crucial to the business being successful. Attend the wings and speak to the prison staff, you are looking for sensible middle aged guys with a nice little Death by Dangerous Driving conviction or Fraud. Once found invite them for an interview. You are looking for a drug history so don’t be put off. “Are you taking drugs?” “No” keep going, keep talking to them. Eventually they will tell you about a party they attended in Neasden in 1988 where they smoked some marijuana and didn’t like it. Go to the paperwork and tick the box entitled “Drug history established”
2) Advise the prisoner that you will be putting him on a drug awareness/ reduction course. Tell him how this will be seen positively by the parole board and will help him get the earliest possible parole date. Tell him he just has to pass the course and you will help him to progress through his sentence. Make sure he understands two things, firstly that his successful participation in the course will significantly help his ambition for an early release. Secondly while nobody expects him to pretend he is a drug addict, any mention that he really never takes drugs will be “unhelpful”.
3) Assuming the prisoner successfully completes the drug course he will eventually be due for release so get fully involved in his release plan. Be sure to demand regular piss tests (drug screening tests) during the licence period and make sure everyone knows you want to be copied into the results. Be a snooty pain in the arse (optional) which might help avoid the difficult conversation when prison staff tell you they don’t consider this prisoner has any drug issues.
4) With the prisoner drug free for the duration of his licence you can now issue a hefty bill to HMP and the government. Don’t forget to send the statistics to the politicians who will happily stand up in Parliament and promise that hardened drug users are getting off drugs due to the private drug initiative set up by them blah blah blah ……
The people I feel sorry for in this mess are the publicly funded drug counselling teams (CARAT Teams) who are presently working with actual drug addicts in prison and because of their hard work and dedication is occasionally having an actual success. Their statistics don’t shape up to the sham statistics of the private sector and are being used to “prove” how badly we need private companies.
IPP A view from the landings.
IPP Indeterminate for Public Protection.
From an officers point of view this is a nightmare situation. Give a prisoner a life sentence with a low tariff (often under two years) and almost no way of securing a route out of prison. Add to this the propensity of IPP prisoners to have mental health issues or “personality disorders” and the fact that nearly all IPP prisoners drift wildly over tariff, the result is conflict. Lashings of it.
I have acted as personal officer to a number of IPP prisoners but I’ve only seen one move on. He had no discernible mental health issues, he found out what he needed to do, got his head down and got it done. He was released near tariff. This strategy is wildly out of reach for most IPP prisoners.
Being blunt about IPP sentences it seems that a persons mental health issue will reflect itself in their crime. Levels of violence will be excessive or bizarre, crimes themselves will be unusual or odd. A feature of the IPP prisoners I have dealt with is how very few crimes have a profit or monetary gain ambition. Most prisoners tell of very dramatic situations, fake guns, fire, hostages, churches, fear and attention. Very few speak of robbery or theft or money.
You can’t speak of IPP sentences without mentioning Joseph Hellers book, Catch22. I am reminded of one particular incident in the book that relates so closely to IPP.
“If you want to see the base Major you may wait in his waiting room only when he is not in his office. When the Major is in his office you may not wait in his waiting room to see him.”
The Catch22 for IPP prisoners runs something like this;
“You will be considered for release when you have completed certain courses and shown acceptable behaviour. The courses don’t run anymore and the secret behaviour passwords are Not Mentally Ill Anymore”