Monday, January 16, 2012

Prison Staff Gagged

I have a nasty habit of working from first principles, despite the fact that it can cause difficulties for everyone else - and myself. But if a position is right, then it's right. Which leads me to the improbable position of complaining about the gag placed on prison staff under the Rules.
"Rule 67 - Communications to the press.
(1)   No officer shall make, directly or indirectly, any unauthorised communication to a representative of the
press or any other person concerning matters which have become known to him in the course of his duty.
(2)   No officer shall, without authority, publish any matter or make any public pronouncement relating to
the administration of any institution to which the Prison Act 1952 applies or to any of its inmates."
Much though it may grieve me, I have to say that this is outrageous censorship. The same arguments that I make for myself to blog apply equally strongly to prison staff. If the aim is to generate debate and to better inform, then prison staff should have the same opportunities to do so as I do. It is strange to realise that, just this once, I am in a better position under the Rules than my keepers!
Whilst I don't know of any prison officer who blogs - even anonymously - there is a public forum run by screws over at prisonofficer.org.uk. Staff post under pseudonyms and no one seems to care about this pretty blatant breach of the rules.
The position should be regularised and the Rules revised. Prison staff should be able to blog within the confines which apply to me. That is, not to identify particular staff or prisoners, to avoid sensitive security issues, and not call for perpetual riots - or the staff equivalent.
It is grossly unfair, and detrimental to the debate, that I am able to share my perspective of prison with you but that staff are prohibited. Granted, they are privy to sensitive information and I am largely not, but this should not be a bar to responsible blogging.
Censorship is a particularly corrosive evil that fosters ignorance and lethargy, both of which are inimical to a vibrant civil society and particularly poisonous in the field of criminal justice. I reject it on fundamental principle. This applies most strongly, if possible, to views with which I completely disagree. Only through the open clash of opinions can true thought be advanced, only when the most repellent of ideas are dragged into the light can they be truly examined and dissected.
Needless to say, I fully expect to disagree with any perspective of prison broadcast by prison staff. Not out of pique, but because our experiences would be so different. Despite this, even because of this, the debate would be better if I was accompanied by a blogroll of staff and other prisoners.
Is the Prison Officers Association going to take up this cause for their members..?

7 comments:

  1. There is one such anonymous blog - http://prisonscrew.wordpress.com/

    It's fairly good, I think; I generally don't approve of blogging anonymously, which can often be used to hide the identity of someone spouting views they know to be unacceptable (eg. here: http://inspectorgadget.wordpress.com/), but perhaps the reason for the anonymity of Prison Screw is the rule you mention in this post.

    I am not aware of any other similar ones.

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  2. In almost every contract in the private sector confidentiality is expected from the employees about corporate matters. This is not true for the customers. So I think this asymmetry is nothing special.
    I enjoy reading you blog and wish you all the best.
    M from germany

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  3. But in the above example the confidentiality is to protect revenue by preventing competitors gaining an advantage. There is no such need within the prison service and I suspect the rule exists purely for reasons of arse covering.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Ben's position here. We seek out those who think like us and it is all too easy to walk into an echo chamber of your own views and stop listening to the alternatives. I would certainly welcome access to other perspectives.

    Dear prison officers, we would love one of you to take your courage in both hands and start blogging anonymously.

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  4. You only have to have a little mooch about at prisonofficer.org.uk. to realise that a dedicated blog from a serving officer would be a far better option.

    The site is littered with prisoners real names. This, at best, - must be illegal, and at worst, very dangerous (on many levels) for the cons concerned.

    Personally, I think it's worrying that those who are incarcerated are having their personal details bandied about on the net willy-nilly - by those doing the incarcerating.

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    Replies
    1. To be fair to the mods on that site, there is a real effort to stop people doing that. But how can you, really? Forum mods can't be there every minute of every day checking every post. And it isn't only the cons who are put at risk when officers do that, not by a long shot.

      But yes, I agree, a dedicated blog by a single individual would be much better - apart from anything else, I lack the patience to trawl through hundreds of threads looking for interesting tidbits and a blog brings some organisation.

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  5. The truth is that prison officers don't need to blog to get their points across. They have a much better and far more lucrative method, one that reaches far more people and regularly ends up on your breakfast tables - tabloid and local newspapers.

    Journalists all over the country have their pet 'sources' who either slip them unsolicited 'news' stories about the latest manifestation of the supposed 'holiday camp culture' within prisons in return for the odd brown envelope of readies or are kept on a retainer as a go-to source when some celebrity prisoner ends up in their nick or the editor needs a nice juicy quote for their latest prisons-related hatchet job.

    The question is, are these people any different from the screws that supplement their income by smuggling the odd bit of contraband into prison? And how often does one find one of them, having released/sold confidential information covered by the Data Protection Act, in court facing prosecution? (NB: prison officers also have to sign the Official Secrets Act but are technically only punishable under it if any information that they release leads to the commission of a crime.)

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    Replies
    1. But this is precisely why a blog *is* needed - to get at that alternative perspective without looking at it through the filter of the press. I'm pretty sure we are being just as unfair to screws as to cons when we interpret the stories in the tabloids as being a meaningful representation of their opinions.

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