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History > 2008 > UK > Prison (I)



Prison works.

So why won't we admit it?

If the crime rate really is falling,
there's a simple explanation.

We are locking up more criminals


July 18, 2008
David Green
From The Times


Should we believe the crime figures? Confidence in the Government is now so low that few people are prepared to take any official figures on trust. If it were true that police recorded crime really had fallen by 9per cent and crime measured by the British Crime Survey really was down by a tenth, the Government would deserve a little praise.

But it is not just a question of trust. By increasing the prison population the Government has been doing the right thing. However, it feels rather shame-faced about that increase and rarely makes the connection between lower crime and more prisoners. But there are two reasons why increasing the prison population will reduce crime - incapacitation and deterrence. First, prison incapacitates offenders. When they are in jail they can't break into your house, steal your car or stab your teenage son. Secondly, if word gets around among criminals that there is a bigger risk of going to jail, it has a deterrent effect. The more certain the chances of punishment, the more criminals will think twice.

When Tony Blair took office in 1997 there were about 61,000 criminals in jail. The latest figure is 83,575. How many crimes would have been committed if those 22,000 additional offenders had been at large?

The best evidence comes from a Home Office survey in 2000. Offenders about to start a prison sentence were asked how many crimes they had committed in the previous 12 months. The average was 140 crimes a year and, for those on drugs, 257. The Government has been trying to limit prison to the most serious offenders and we know that the majority of prison inmates have a drug or alcohol problem. The average today is, therefore, likely to be nearer 257 crimes than 140.

If we take the lower figure, incapacitating 22,000 criminals who would have committed 140 crimes a year prevents more than three million crimes. If they were all drug users the figure would exceed five million.

Could the increase in the prison population from 2006-07 to 2007-08 explain the fall in crime over the same period? Police-recorded crime fell by 476,900 offences.

Between April 2007 and April 2008 the prison population increased by 1,843. If the annual offending rate was 140, then 258,000 crimes would have been prevented. If the additional prisoners were all serious offenders, as the Government claims, then 473,000 crimes would have been prevented.

Sheer coincidence? Despite its bashfulness about prison, the Government plainly does not think so. It plans to increase prison capacity to 96,000 by 2014, despite the squeamishness of Lord Hurd of Westwell in a letter to The Times yesterday.

When he was Home Secretary from 1985 to October 1989, Lord Hurd set out to reduce the prison population and presided over one of the most rapid increases in crime yet. There were 46,800 prisoners in 1985 rising to 50,000 in 1988 as judges responded to the crime wave. Instead of backing the judges, Lord Hurd cut the prison population so that it fell to 45,600 soon after he left.

Crime under the British Crime Survey rose from 12.4 million offences in 1985 to more than 14 million in 1989, and police records show an increase from 3.6 million in 1985 to 4.5 million in 1990. Some people never learn.

The Government has lost confidence in itself to such an extent that it does not know how to claim credit for an effective policy when it has one. It should be shouting aloud that “prison works”. Instead it talks of releasing prisoners early, puts pressure on judges to hand down lenient sentences and acts as if it thinks that criminals prepared to stick a knife in someone will be deterred by a visit to the local A&E.

But what about those crime figures? Should we find the 10 per cent fall reassuring? Crime is historically high at about ten times the rate in the 1950s. True, during the 1990s it got up to about 12 times the 1950s figure. A fall is a fall, but we have still got a long way to go and not just by comparison with more than 50 years ago.

Police records throughout Europe reveal that England and Wales had the second-highest crime rate out of the 37 countries in the 2006 European Sourcebook of Crime, compiled by an international team (including the Home Office) under the auspices of the Council of Europe. In 2003, at 11,241 crimes per 100,000 population, our rate was more than double the average of 4,736.

Moreover, the Government does not really believe its own figures. Today's crime figures mention that 2.7 million fraudulent transactions were recorded on UK-issued cards in 2007, an increase of a fifth in one year, according to the organisation that handles payments. But how much fraud appears in police figures?

Total fraud and forgery was down by 22 per from 199,700 in 2006-07 to 155,400 in 2007-08. The more you look into the figures the more one doubts them. But they are the best we have and should not diminish the credit due to the Government for pursuing a policy of “prison works”.

David Green is the director of the think-tank Civitas

    Prison works. So why won't we admit it?, Ts, 18.7.2008, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article4353433.ece






Muslim gangs 'are taking control of prison'


Sunday May 25 2008
This article appeared in the Observer
on Sunday May 25 2008 on p1 of the News section.
It was last updated at 00:03 on May 25 2008.
The Observer
Jamie Doward, home affairs editor


Prison officers at one of Britain's maximum security jails are losing control to Muslim gangs, according to a confidential report obtained by The Observer. An internal review of Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire warns that staff believe a 'serious incident is imminent' as several wings become dominated by Muslim prisoners.

The report, written by the Prison Service's Directorate of High Security, says there is an 'ongoing theme of fear and instability' among staff at Whitemoor, where just under a third of the 500 prisoners are Muslim.

It claims: 'There was much talk around the establishment about "the Muslims". Some staff perceived the situation at Whitemoor had resulted in Muslim prisoners becoming more of a gang than a religious group. The sheer numbers, coupled with a lack of awareness among staff, appeared to be engendering fear and handing control to the prisoners.' The situation has become so acute that white prisoners are routinely warned about the Muslim gangs by staff on arrival.

The report says that apprehension about Muslim prisoners has potentially damaging consequences and is in danger of 'leading to hostility and Islamophobia'. It serves to highlight the growing concern about extremist activity in the UK's jails. The Home Office is concerned that young male prisoners are being radicalised by Muslim gangs and that the prison system is becoming a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda sympathisers. Similar problems have been experienced at Belmarsh prison in London and Frankland in Durham. A number of high-profile al-Qaeda sympathisers at Frankland have been moved as a result of increased tensions within the jail.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said she was alarmed at the report's findings. 'The difficulties of running a high-security prison such as Whitemoor cannot be underestimated, but much of what this internal report uncovers is extremely disturbing,' she said. 'It is vital that the problems uncovered at Whitemoor are addressed as a matter of urgency.'

The report was commissioned partly as a response to the deaths of five prisoners at the jail within 12 months. Muslim prisoner support groups have also complained that Muslims are suffering harassment from staff. Recently a number of Whitemoor staff have been suspended on unrelated corruption charges.

The tense stand-off between staff and prisoners is causing problems, the report warns. 'Staff appeared reluctant to challenge inappropriate behaviour, in particular among BME [black and ethnic minority] prisoners for fear of doing the wrong thing,' the report states. 'This was leading to a general feeling of a lack of control and shifting the power dynamic towards prisoners.' It adds: 'A wing itself felt particularly unstable with a general lack of confidence among staff.'

The emergence of gang culture in Whitemoor has alarmed some prisoners. The team that compiled the report found that over the Christmas period the segregation unit was full as inmates sought refuge from the gangs over debt problems and drugs.

Henry Bellingham, the Conservatives' shadow justice minister, who has raised concerns about the running of Whitemoor in parliament, said he welcomed the report. 'However, I'm very concerned about some of the findings,' he added. 'They point to a systematic breakdown in the chain of command. It's in everyone's interests that these problems are sorted out soon. Whitemoor holds some of the most dangerous prisoners in the country.'

In recent months the Prison Service has unveiled a series of initiatives to combat extremism in the UK's jails through the supervision and monitoring of imams and better training for staff. 'It is vital that prison staff are equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure they have the confidence to identify and challenge behaviour that is of concern,' said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice. 'A programme of work is planned at Whitemoor to increase mutual understanding between staff and prisoners, including a development day for staff on the Muslim faith, focus groups in which staff and ethnic minority prisoners will discuss prison community issues, and diversity events.

'The prison will continue to work closely with the Prison Service's Extremism Unit and the police to monitor and assess issues around extremism, and work will be undertaken to examine the management of gangs and terrorist prisoners within the prison.'

    Muslim gangs 'are taking control of prison', O, 25.5.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/may/25/prisonsandprobation.ukcrime






Almost 3,000 children now held in custody


Saturday, 19 April 2008
The Independent
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent

A drive to cut the number of children behind bars in England and Wales – the highest in western Europe – has failed.

The Youth Justice Board (YJB) has missed its target to reduce by 10 per cent the number of youngsters in custody between 2005 and 2008, it will announce later this month.

The board had aimed to lower the juvenile prison population in England and Wales from 2,676 in March 2005 to 2,408 by last month, appealing to youth courts to use community sentences instead of custody.

Instead the board has presided over a rise of 8 per cent over the period, with the numbers of youngsters in custody reaching 2,883 by February.

The YJB says it can cope with the high numbers of juvenile inmates, but admits the total is expected to climb higher by the summer.

Penal reformers reacted angrily to the disclosure, and warned that imprisoning youngsters was counter-productive as three-quarters of them went on to reoffend.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, accused the board of acting as an "extension of the prison service".

She said: "The YJB's turn-key mentality has overridden any attempt to grapple with youth crime issues beyond managing the movement of children within the juvenile estate. Hence they've not just failed to meet their targets, but actually seen things get worse."

Enver Solomon, deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College, London, blamed the rise on the "criminalisation" of children by police who – under pressure to meet targets – handed out cautions and penalty notices to teenagers for relatively minor offences.

"This is a black mark against all the Government has achieved and the investment they have put into the youth justice system," he said. About twice as many children are jailed than in Germany, which has a bigger population, and four times as many as in France.

One reason is that the age of criminal responsibility is 10 in England and Wales, lower than anywhere else in western Europe, apart from Scotland, where it is eight.

Another is that the rapid rise in the number of anti-social behaviour orders being handed to children means there is greater risk they will get caught up in the criminal justice system.

More than 80 per cent of the youngsters given custodial sentences are sent to youth offender institutions, which are run by the prison services.

The rest are held in secure training centres, privately-run units aimed at rehabilitating vulnerable youngsters, or secure children's homes run by local authorities.

The United Nations condemned Britain's record on young offenders three years ago, but since then the situation has further deteriorated. Rod Morgan resigned as the YJB's chairman last year with a warning that youth custody services were on the brink of crisis and that targets for bringing offences to justice were having "perverse consequences".

A spokeswoman for the YJB said: "The law makes it clear that for young people under 18, custody must be the last resort, but sentencing decisions in individual cases are a matter for the courts.

"The Youth Justice Board believes there is scope for reducing the use of custody and is working with sentencers to achieve this."

She said the 10 per cent target had been an "aspiration" that underlined the board's commitment to reducing use of custody. But she said its success largely depended on a range of factors that were outside the YJB's control.

    Almost 3,000 children now held in custody, I, 19.4.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/almost-3000-children-now-held-in-custody-811779.html






Prisoner seriously assaulted every 45 minutes in Britain


Monday, 3 March 2008
The Independent
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent

One serious attack takes place every 45 minutes in the overcrowded jails of England and Wales as prison staff struggle to cope with soaring levels of violence. Ministry of Justice figures reveal the number of assaults on prisoners by cellmates have rocketed from 1,790 in 1996 to 11,826 last year, a rise of 561 per cent in just over a decade.

The total has risen every year since the mid-1990s, and an inmate now faces a one in eight risk of being attacked by another prisoner in a year. The figures do not include the hundreds of attacks on prison officers a year.

They underline the crisis gripping the country's jails, which are currently holding a record total of 82,180, more than 150 prisoners above their official "operating capacity".

The Conservatives will pledge today to increase the number of prison places by 5,000 as part of a package of measures to tackle prison overcrowding. David Cameron, the Tory leader, launching a green paper entitled Prisons with a Purpose, will outline the plans to fund the extra places from private-sector money raised by selling off out-dated prison land and buildings for redevelopment. He will stress that the Tories will not release prisoners early, shorten sentences or fetter judicial discretion.

Nick Herbert, the shadow Justice Secretary, will say: "Under Labour, reoffending by criminals has risen, jails are in crisis and over 18,000 prisoners have been released early on to the streets. A new approach is desperately needed."

Under the Tories, jails would focus on rehabilitating prisoners before and after their release, he said. "By driving down re-offending, we will break the cycle of crime and make Britain a safer place."

Penal reformers said the increase in violent attacks in prisons was inevitable given the rising tensions causing by crowding more offenders into cramped conditions often far from their homes. Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "It would be grotesque if this level of violence became accepted simply as normal. As we see numbers in prison rise, and constructive activity decline, it should be of no surprise that assault rates have climbed so steeply."

Jenny Willott, a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on justice, who obtained the figures, said: "The Government's addiction to criminal justice legislation has left our jails packed to the rafters.

"Prisoners are kept in ever closer proximity, hard-working prison officers are stretched even further and the inevitable result is an increase in violent behaviour. Ministers must realise we cannot build our way out of the current prison crisis."

Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, is considering further emergency steps to ease the pressure on jails. The ministry is refusing to rule out any option.

One possibility is that the "end of custody licence" scheme, under which non-dangerous offenders are released from jail up to 18 days early, be further extended. Or he could opt for a one-off "early executive release" of thousands of low-level offenders. He has already announced that 11,000 foreign nationals currently in jails will have their sentences, reduced by nine months rather than the current four and a half months.

    Prisoner seriously assaulted every 45 minutes in Britain, I, 3.3.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/prisoner-seriously-assaulted-every-45-minutes-in-britain-790475.html






Overcrowded jails 'at panic stations'


Sunday February 24 2008
The Observer
Jamie Doward, home affairs editor
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday February 24 2008 on p2 of the News section.
It was last updated at 01:55 on February 24 2008.


Britain's overfilled jails are at 'panic stations' as they lurch from crisis to crisis, the chief inspector of prisons warns in an Observer interview today that will make uncomfortable reading for the government.

At the end of a week in which the prison population rose above the critical 82,000 mark for the first time, Anne Owers said she was not sure how long the system 'can contain this kind of huge pressure'.

'It's very bad,' Owers said. 'As you hit each new peak, the prison system is bumping against a new crisis. For the last six months we've been looking at a system that moves from panic stations to just about containing crisis.'

She warned that disturbances within the prison system were rising as a result of overcrowding. 'My impression is the level of incidents in prisons is increasing - an indication of a system operating too near to the knuckle,' she said.

Owers normally confines her comments to her annual reports, but her decision to speak out reflects the level of concern about overcrowding. 'Prisoners are getting very frustrated; staff are struggling to survive the day. That's not a good recipe for running prisons. It's a very risky situation.'

She was scathing about the current situation, signalling that it was the fault of successive ministers. 'You wouldn't start from here if you wanted to create a decent prison system,' she said. 'This is a result of decisions taken - or not taken - a long time ago.'

The frank comments by the government-appointed Owers reflect growing concerns that the situation in Britain's jails is out of control. The Conservatives' prisons spokesman, Nick Herbert, said her comments should be a wake-up call for the government. 'Jack Straw [the Justice Secretary] must come to parliament tomorrow to explain how he is going to deal with this crisis of the government's own making and what provision he has made for emergency capacity,' Herbert said.

The prison population normally falls over the half-term period, when fewer judges are sitting. But it has risen for two successive weeks, leaving Straw forced to make a coded appeal to magistrates to consider alternatives to jail sentences.

Straw's dramatic intervention suggests the government has at least in the short term ruled out expanding the use of early-release schemes for prisoners, something it introduced last year in a bid to alleviate overcrowding. He suggested instead that magistrates hand down more non-custodial sentences.

But that call has prompted anger in certain quarters. 'We see big problems with provisions for both the prison and probation services,' said Cindy Barnett, chairman of the Magistrates Association. 'We already use community penalties far more than custody.'

The Probation Service warned that it did not have the resources to handle a sudden influx of offenders if they are diverted from prison to community sentences. 'Both probation and prison are full,' said Harry Fletcher of the probation officers' union, Napo. 'Unless the government finds funds to support probation and prisons, sentencing will be completely undermined.'

Experts suggest it is only a matter of time before the government is forced to release more prisoners early.

    Overcrowded jails 'at panic stations', O, 24.2.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/feb/24/prisonsandprobation






1.30pm GMT

16,000 prisoners freed early, ministry reveals


Thursday January 31, 2008
Guardian Unlimited
Haroon Siddique and agencies

More than 16,000 prisoners have been freed early - including 3,000 guilty of violent crimes - under a government scheme to cut jail overcrowding, the justice ministry revealed today.

The figures show 301 crimes were committed by prisoners released under the scheme between its introduction last June and last December.

Of those released, 215 have reoffended and 117 former inmates are on the run after defying orders to return to jail.

The end of the custody licence scheme creates a presumption that prisoners serving between four weeks and four years will be released 18 days before the end of their sentence.

The shadow justice secretary, Nick Herbert, said early release had "put the public at risk" but failed to deal with prison overcrowding, which he blamed on a refusal to build more jails.

He said the government had created "more than 300 unnecessary victims of crime". "They should have been protected by the criminal justice system but have been let down by Labour's incompetence," he said. "This early release scheme must be scrapped immediately and sufficient prison places provided so that public safety comes first."

The figures show that 71% of those released early were serving sentences of six months or less.

    16,000 prisoners freed early, ministry reveals, G, 31.1.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/crime/article/0,,2250010,00.html






1.30pm GMT update

PM steams ahead with plan to build 'Titan' prisons


Wednesday January 30, 2008
Guardian Unlimited
Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent


Gordon Brown confirmed today that the government would go ahead with plans to build new 2,500-person "Titan" jails in spite of criticism from the chief inspector of prisons.

The prime minister spoke just a few hours after the justice secretary, Jack Straw, appeared to suggest that the government was having second thoughts about the initiative.

In her annual report, published today, the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, criticised the proposals for Titan jails unveiled last year. She said building Titans would be "flying in the face of our, and others', evidence that smaller prisons work better than large ones".

Asked about her remarks, Straw told the Today programme: "We are not definitely going to go ahead with them. That's the default setting. But we want to wait and see what people say."

At Prime Minister's Questions, the Conservative Shailesh Vara suggested that Straw's words were evidence of "a Titanic U-turn".

However, Brown insisted that the construction of three Titan jails would take place. "We will go ahead with these prisons following the consultation that [Straw] said would take place," he told MPs.

In his earlier interview, Straw said he did not have planning permission for any Titan jails and it was never his plan to build "large warehouses as they have in the US and France".

Instead he was interested in bringing together smaller prisons into a "single administrative unit". This was happening on the Isle of Sheppey, where three small jails were combining, he said.

"What we are aiming to do is ensure that within a complex of a large establishment you have what amount to a number of smaller discreet prisons. And because they can benefit from the economies of scale on back-office administration, better healthcare and security, you've got more money, not less, to put in," Straw said.

Straw denied the prisons were full. He said there were currently 1,200 spare places, that an extra 1,000 spaces would be available before April, and an extra 2,600 by the end of the year.

He said he sincerely hoped prison overcrowding wouldn't get to the point where he had to release more prisoners early. But he refused to rule out the idea completely.

Straw said Owers' report acknowledged prisons were "better places" than they were 10 or 15 years ago, and that re-offending rates were "improving".

    PM steams ahead with plan to build 'Titan' prisons, G, 30.1.2008, http://politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/0,,2249048,00.html






Jailing mothers 'damaged a generation'


Wednesday, 30 January 2008
The New York Times
By Sarah Cassidy


Around 18,000 children were separated from their mothers by imprisonment every year, Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green said, adding that the high level of custodial terms was damaging the prospects of a new generation as well as being a burden on the taxpayer, who will have to foot the bill for the damaged children.

According to a report by 11 Million, the commissioner's organisation, many women are being imprisoned for minor offences at the expense of their children's wellbeing. The report, which will be published tomorrow to coincide with a debate in the House of Lords on the plight of women in prison, concluded that the treatment of mothers by the judicial system needed a radical overhaul.

Sir Al said: "Nobody in their right mind would think it is in a child's best interest to be born in prison or spend their early years there. There is a societal issue at stake about the best way to deal with women offenders. There is a need to achieve a balance between the use of prison to address crime and keep society safe and, on the other hand, to do whatever is best for highly vulnerable women in view of their role in bringing up the next generation."

Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons and now an independent peer, will call for the establishment of a women's justice board, warning that the prison system was "designed by men for men" and is failing women prisoners.

There are just over 80,000 prisoners in UK jails, 4,300 of whom are women. Around a third of women prisoners have children under five. Some children are adopted, others are cared for by their father or another relative and some will be placed in care until their mother is released, or sometimes longer.

But children of jailed mothers more likely to be convicted of a crime and to serve time on probation than other children. They are also three times more likely to display antisocial behaviour and suffer mental health problems in later life.

Very few of the women had committed offences that made them a danger to society, the report said. Women were being jailed unnecessarily for minor offences, doing great damage to their children.

The report called for mothers who commit non-violent crimes to be allowed to serve their sentence in a community-based unit .

It recommended that probation reports assess the impact on a female offender's children before their mother is sentenced, and called for government research into the impact on children of being separated from their mothers.

Research suggests babies can suffer severe psychological damage if they are separated from their mothers between the age of six months and four years.






Behind bars: the figures

18,000: The number of children who are separated from their mothers by imprisonment each year.

9: The percentage of children who are cared for by their fathers while their mothers are in prison.

5: The percentage of women prisoners whose children remain in their own home once their mother has been sentenced.

1 in 3 Women prisoners are single parents.

66: The percentage of women in prison who have dependent children under 18.

1 in 2: Women in custody have suffered from domestic violence.

1 in 3: Women in custody have suffered sexual abuse.

    Jailing mothers 'damaged a generation', I, 30.1.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/jailing-mothers-damaged-a-generation-775591.html






Prisoners 'to be chipped like dogs'

Hi-tech 'satellite' tagging planned in order to create more space in jails

Civil rights groups and probation officers furious at 'degrading' scheme


Published: 13 January 2008
The Independent on Sunday
By Brian Brady, Whitehall Editor


Ministers are planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails.

Amid concerns about the security of existing tagging systems and prison overcrowding, the Ministry of Justice is investigating the use of satellite and radio-wave technology to monitor criminals.

But, instead of being contained in bracelets worn around the ankle, the tiny chips would be surgically inserted under the skin of offenders in the community, to help enforce home curfews. The radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, as long as two grains of rice, are able to carry scanable personal information about individuals, including their identities, address and offending record.

The tags, labelled "spychips" by privacy campaigners, are already used around the world to keep track of dogs, cats, cattle and airport luggage, but there is no record of the technology being used to monitor offenders in the community. The chips are also being considered as a method of helping to keep order within prisons.

A senior Ministry of Justice official last night confirmed that the department hoped to go even further, by extending the geographical range of the internal chips through a link-up with satellite-tracking similar to the system used to trace stolen vehicles. "All the options are on the table, and this is one we would like to pursue," the source added.

The move is in line with a proposal from Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), that electronic chips should be surgically implanted into convicted paedophiles and sex offenders in order to track them more easily. Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is seen as the favoured method of monitoring such offenders to prevent them going near "forbidden" zones such as primary schools.

"We have wanted to take advantage of this technology for several years, because it seems a sensible solution to the problems we are facing in this area," a senior minister said last night. "We have looked at it and gone back to it and worried about the practicalities and the ethics, but when you look at the challenges facing the criminal justice system, it's time has come."

The Government has been forced to review sentencing policy amid serious overcrowding in the nation's jails, after the prison population soared from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today. The crisis meant the number of prisoners held in police cells rose 13-fold last year, with police stations housing offenders more than 60,000 times in 2007, up from 4,617 the previous year. The UK has the highest prison population per capita in western Europe, and the Government is planning for an extra 20,000 places at a cost of £3.8bn – including three gigantic new "superjails" – in the next six years.

More than 17,000 individuals, including criminals and suspects released on bail, are subject to electronic monitoring at any one time, under curfews requiring them to stay at home up to 12 hours a day. But official figures reveal that almost 2,000 offenders a year escape monitoring by tampering with ankle tags or tearing them off. Curfew breaches rose from 11,435 in 2005 to 43,843 in 2006 – up 283 per cent. The monitoring system, which relies on mobile-phone technology, can fail if the network crashes.

A multimillion-pound pilot of satellite monitoring of offenders was shelved last year after a report revealed many criminals simply ditched the ankle tag and separate portable tracking unit issued to them. The "prison without bars" project also failed to track offenders when they were in the shadow of tall buildings.

The Independent on Sunday has now established that ministers have been assessing the merits of cutting-edge technology that would make it virtually impossible for individuals to remove their electronic tags.

The tags, injected into the back of the arm with a hypodermic needle, consist of a toughened glass capsule holding a computer chip, a copper antenna and a "capacitor" that transmits data stored on the chip when prompted by an electromagnetic reader.

But details of the dramatic option for tightening controls over Britain's criminals provoked an angry response from probation officers and civil-rights groups. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "If the Home Office doesn't understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don't need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass.

"Degrading offenders in this way will do nothing for their rehabilitation and nothing for our safety, as some will inevitably find a way round this new technology."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said the proposal would not make his members' lives easier and would degrade their clients. He added: "I have heard about this suggestion, but we feel the system works well enough as it is. Knowing where offenders like paedophiles are does not mean you know what they are doing.

"This is the sort of daft idea that comes up from the department every now and then, but tagging people in the same way we tag our pets cannot be the way ahead. Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me."

The US market leader VeriChip Corp, whose parent company has been selling radio tags for animals for more than a decade, has sold 7,000 RFID microchips worldwide, of which about 2,000 have been implanted in humans. The company claims its VeriChips are used in more than 5,000 installations, crossing healthcare, security, government and industrial markets, but they have also been used to verify VIP membership in nightclubs, automatically gaining the carrier entry – and deducting the price of their drinks from a pre-paid account.

The possible value of the technology to the UK's justice system was first highlighted 18 months ago, when Acpo's Mr Jones suggested the chips could be implanted into sex offenders. The implants would be tracked by satellite, enabling authorities to set up "zones", including schools, playgrounds and former victims' homes, from which individuals would be barred.

"If we are prepared to track cars, why don't we track people?" Mr Jones said. "You could put surgical chips into those of the most dangerous sex offenders who are willing to be controlled."

The case for: 'We track cars, so why not people?'

The Government is struggling to keep track of thousands of offenders in the community and is troubled by an overcrowded prison system close to bursting. Internal tagging offers a solution that could impose curfews more effectively than at present, and extend the system by keeping sex offenders out of "forbidden areas". "If we are prepared to track cars, why don't we track people?" said Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Officials argue that the internal tags enable the authorities to enforce thousands of court orders by ensuring offenders remain within their own walls during curfew hours – and allow the immediate verification of ID details when challenged.

The internal tags also have a use in maintaining order within prisons. In the United States, they are used to track the movement of gang members within jails.

Offenders themselves would prefer a tag they can forget about, instead of the bulky kit carried around on the ankle.

The case against: 'The rest of us could be next'

Professionals in the criminal justice system maintain that the present system is 95 per cent effective. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is unproven. The technology is actually more invasive, and carries more information about the host. The devices have been dubbed "spychips" by critics who warn that they would transmit data about the movements of other people without their knowledge.

Consumer privacy expert Liz McIntyre said a colleague had already proved he could "clone" a chip. "He can bump into a chipped person and siphon the chip's unique signal in a matter of seconds," she said.

One company plans deeper implants that could vibrate, electroshock the implantee, broadcast a message, or serve as a microphone to transmit conversations. "Some folks might foolishly discount all of these downsides and futuristic nightmares since the tagging is proposed for criminals like rapists and murderers," Ms McIntyre said. "The rest of us could be next."

    Prisoners 'to be chipped like dogs' , IoS, 13.1.2008, http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article3333852.ece






Overcrowding blamed for 37% rise in suicides
among inmates in 'failing' prison system

· Tories accuse government of mismanagement
· Ministers say shared cells can help reduce self-harm


Wednesday January 2, 2008
Will Woodward, chief political correspondent


Penal reform campaigners and the Conservatives last night blamed the government for a 37% increase in suicides in prison, attributing it directly to overcrowding. Figures released by the Ministry of Justice showed there were 92 apparently self-inflicted deaths among prisoners in England and Wales in 2007, compared with 67 in 2006.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the rise was "the human cost of the prisons crisis". But the Ministry of Justice claimed that overcrowding could help prevent suicides because lonely prisoners placed in shared cells gained from "someone to talk to".

The rise in numbers comes after two years of falls: there were 78 suicides in 2005 and 95 in 2004.

"The Prison Service has taken great strides in suicide prevention in recent years but it is all for naught when the system is on its knees with record overcrowding," Crook said. "When government ministers consider the shame of our failing prison system, a system currently facing 3% budget cuts despite the fact it is expected to house more people than ever before, the deaths of these 92 men, women and children should sit uneasily on their consciences."

The rise in the prison population, partly caused by an increase in mandatory sentencing, forced the government last year to trigger Operation Safeguard, housing inmates in police and court cells. Later, more than 10,000 prisoners were released early to relieve strain in the system. The prison population was 80,707 at the last count, on December 21 - just 1,048 short of "usable" capacity.

Juliet Lyon, of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Far too many people with serious and enduring mental health problems are held in custody, which, despite the best efforts of prison staff, can only make their illness worse."

Nick Herbert, the shadow justice secretary, said the figures were "a terrible indictment of the government's mismanagement of the prisons system". He added: "Ministers ignored repeated warnings about inadequate prison capacity, they allowed the jails to become ever more overcrowded, and these tragic deaths are the inevitable and avoidable consequence."

But a justice ministry spokesman said: "A high proportion of prisoners arrive in prison with known factors that we know increase the risk of them harming themselves. However, there is no agreed evidence that overcrowding exacerbates levels of self-harm in prison. In fact cell sharing is a known protective factor against suicide. The doubling up of an at-risk prisoner with a cellmate can help reduce feelings of loneliness and provide both with someone to talk to."

Phil Wheatley, the director general of the Prison Service, said his staff "continued to make strenuous efforts" and it was critical that the service remained "focused in this key area".

A cross-departmental review by the former Home Office minister Lord Bradley into how more offenders with severe mental health problems might be diverted from prison is due to report this summer. The prisons minister, Maria Eagle, is also considering a request to beef up the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody.

A justice ministry analysis shows big rises in deaths among vulnerable people, including young offenders, remand prisoners, foreign nationals, and lifers. The most recent death recorded was Joker Idris, an 18-year-old from Sudan, who was serving a year for criminal damage and carrying an offensive weapon. On Christmas day he was found hanging in his cell at Chelmsford prison in Essex.

About a fifth of the deaths recorded did not result in a suicide verdict or open verdict at an inquest. But the figures show all deaths "where it appears that a prisoner has acted specifically to take their own life". The Howard League said that in 2007, 21 of the 88 inmates who died up to December 21 were being monitored on suicide watch. Belmarsh, Holme House, Leicester and Wandsworth jails each had four suicides, and nine other prisons had three each.

The ministry said 130,000 prisoners went through the system a year, and about 1,500 a day were assessed as at particular risk. More than 100 were resuscitated after self-harm and many hundreds more had been helped "by the care and timely interventions of staff".




Custody deaths 2007

There were 92 self-inflicted deaths in prison in 2007, 25 more than 2006, according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice. A breakdown of the deaths by category shows they included:

84 males (up 20 on 2006)

8 females (up 3)

7 young offenders (up 5)

1 juvenile (up 1)

4 indeterminate sentences (up 2)

18 other lifers (up 12)

23 foreign national prisoners (up 17)

90 occurred in public prisons and 2 in contracted prisons

Overcrowding blamed for 37% rise in suicides among inmates in 'failing' prison system,
G, 2.1.2008





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