Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Money in Prison

People - by which I meant, free people - were always bemused that prisoners need money. After all, isn't everything laid on by the State? Aren't the taxpayers lavishing Playstations, trainers and TV's on prisoners? Um, no.

Prison provides the basics. After that... Imagine a simple thing, such as writing a letter. That requires pen, paper, envelope and stamp. Call that lot £2 (although its more...). If you want to use the payphone to talk to your wife and children? That's 9p a minute. TV's? Rented, a quid a week. Clothing...a biscuit...nail clippers... The list is a long one, mostly comprising those small items we out here use and dispose of with barely a conscious thought. For the interested, the full list of what prisoners are permitted is contained in (and found by searching for) PSI 13/2013. (Which is Prison Service Instruction Number 30 of 2013).

Such lists of privileges (now coyly called "facilities") have existed for decades, although in pre-Grayling times it was far more flexible and differed vastly from prison to prison. But always, prisoners had to find the money to buy any of these items.

Under the IEP Scheme - the bureaucratic framework in which privileges are "earned" - it was originally envisaged that the better the prisoners behaviour, the more positive and productive he was, then the better the regime he lived. Alas, within moments of this scheme being unveiled in 1995, the Prison Service realised that there was very little it could actually offer. By default, then, the IEP Scheme became a way for prisoners to spend their own money to buy privileges they had "earned" through good behaviour.

Let us briefly glimpse Grayling's largess. Bear in mind this is prisoners money, not State money. For Those on Basic - (officially) prisoners with poor behaviour - get to spend the grand sum of £4 of their own money per week.

Those on Graylings new privilege level can run wild with £10 per week. This is the Entry level. Every prisoner must begin on the Entry level, living a highly restricted regime for the first two weeks. Even remand prisoners - the putatively innocent. Amongst the deprivations are being compelled to wear prison uniforms. By the way, no extra money was given to Governors for these uniforms (and over 80,000 people a year move through the gates), they have to find the money for crappy mauve tracksuits by cutting other parts of their budget. During a period of several years where year on year cuts have already being demanded. The justification for the Entry level regime appears to be nothing more complex than vote grubbing.

Those on Standard level can spend £15.50 per week of their own money. And those on the highest privilege level, Enhanced, can spend £25.50.

The iniquity of this scheme is that it essentially forces prisoners to reward themselves for their good behaviour. The prison gives pathetically little. Compounding this is the reality of prisoners poverty - most criminals are feloniously rubbish; many prisoners simply do not have this money to spend. It is possible for a prisoner to have exemplary behaviour but still live a more meagre prison life than a man on Basic, simply because he doesn't have the money to reward himself.

I try to imagine being a new prisoner. Hoiked from Court to the prison, dehumanised, undergoing the cold bureaucratic mortification of "Reception", shovelled into a uniform a thousand people have previously worn, and told that - if you happen to have it - you can spend £10 over the next 7 days. Most people would want to contact their family. Phonecalls. At 9p a minute. See how far ten quid goes when you are trying to hold together the remnants of your previous life. And for those saying "So what? Scumbag convicts", then bear in mind the prisoners family, their children, are innocents. And if the family falls apart, the demands upon the social services, education and benefits system increase. As does the odds of reoffending - future victims. We are not merely talking about a few pennies; but what can be done with them, what they mean.

The rate of suicide has increased. Why? Who knows. What I do know is, taking people from the Court, shell shocked, vulnerable, and then subjecting them to a harsher more restricted regime purely for votes is a dangerous gambit.

Oh, and Playstations? Only available to those whose behaviour has earned them the highest level of privileges. They must save up their money to buy it. And nothing more advanced than the original XBox or Playstation 2. Just to clear up any other idea the tabloids may have given...

Money. Prisoners do actually need it.

11 comments:

  1. One thing about entry level. If a remand prisoner attains enhanced status, under these new rules, if he is then sentenced, I believe he gets 'entered' again at entry level - even in the same prison.

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    1. You are quite correct about Entry Level and remand prisoners under PSI 30/2013. Those who are remanded for long periods of time can progress to Enhanced level without too much problem as long as they don't accumulate IEP warnings. You then get access to higher rates of private cash via your spends account - up to £51.00 for Enhanced remands and £47.50 for Standard remands. However, if you get convicted... then you lose everything (including all your private clothing, DVD player, musical instruments etc etc) and go back all the way down to Entry level and £10 per week private cash. It's a bit like IEP Snakes & Ladders...

      What isn't clear to me yet is whether newly convicted prisoners who return from court to prisons where they have been remands have to hand out all their in-possession Enhanced prop (DVD players and civvy clothes) and then have to start buying again from the catalogues from scratch, or whether all this private gear is then placed in their stored prop until they reach Enhanced level again when it can be re-issued in possession. I'd be interested to hear whether anyone has info on how prisons are handling this issue.

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    2. @Anon 5.15 Interesting point. I'd argue that being discharged to Court is NOT being discharged from custody, so the prop should be stored and if needed re-earned rather than re-bought.

      I gather HMPS is taking the view that the removal of privileges under Grayling's new scheme doesn't lead to compensation for the removed goods.

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    3. HMPS definitely take the view that the new National Facilities List does not give rise to any compensation issues. At my last prison (hopefully!) - a D-cat - PSI 30/2013 came into operation on 1 November 2013 and overnight practically every winter coat held in legally in possession became contraband (black, hooded, padded, lined, etc, etc). Since stores had no HMP fleeces in stock, and none were due until March 2014, we managed to persuade the acting No 1 governor - a decent enough bloke who hated Grayling with a passion - that there should be an 'amnesty' period of three months to allow prisoners to exchange coats (via visits or ROTL) or to purchase new ones on Day Release, without having to use the approved catalogues. In fact, every single coat available from the catalogues at that time would have failed to meet to new Facilities List specifications.

      However, it was clear that no compo would be payable in any circumstances, even if existing prop held in possession had been previously approved prior to PSI 30/2013 coming into effect. This particular D-cat had been very lax about hooded clothing and black items, so massive amounts had to be handed out or signed off prop cards and thrown away. Loads of other items were affected... digital alarm clocks, for example, are now banned. To be honest, it was a chaos and that was in an open prison. I imagine that things were even more messy in the closed estate.

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    4. I've recently launched a new Blog about prison life in the UK from the perspective of an Insider and peer mentor who was recently released. One of my main aims to is answer specific questions and to attempt to dispel at least some of the common myths about prisoners and prisons in the UK. You might be interested to take a look as I deal with the IEP system and its implications for prisoners: http://prisonuk.blogspot.co.uk/

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  2. The idea of working hard, saving up and buying things like normal, law abiding citizens seems a totally alien concept to prisoners. Its so much easier to go out and steal somebody elses.

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    1. @bigmacc
      Yea, because all thieves do is steal. All day, every day. Always. Seriously - I expected better.

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    2. And no one who is not in prison ever steals anything! You are either a full-time thief or a decent hard - working person; there are no grey areas. Sigh.

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  3. Treatment of unconvicted remand prisoners in England and Wales has been a scandal for years, but the situation is getting worse. Around 10 percent of adult prisoners are actually on remand, yet in practice they are treated as badly, or worse, than convicted prisoners even though they are not supposed to be in custody as a punishment. At both B-cats I served in during my sentence remands were treated exactly like convicted prisoners, regardless of the Prison Act and Prison Rules. They were always denied civvy clothing on reception and were put into grays.

    HMP Lincoln in 2012 - among the worst - refused to allow remands private clothing until they reached Enhanced level on the IEP system, even though this breached both the Act and the Rules. Moreover, remands were always forced to share cells with convicted prisoners and were threatened with the Block if they complained. They were also routinely forced to work, even though this also breached the Rules.

    The main problem is that remands, especially first timers, rarely know the rules and simply comply. This is great for operational purposes, but drives a coach and horses through the legal divide between unconvicted and convicted prisoners. Hopefully, someone who has been on remand for a stretch and then gets acquitted will take on the MoJ and NOMS about these abuses.

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    1. @Anon 6.03 HMP rel;ies heavily on the fact Remands often know bugger all about the Rulers and usually have little interest in going to a paper-war during their short stay.

      Remands have always been neglected and given the worst regime, illegalities included. No remand should ever have to EARN privileges. If they are a discipline problem, there is the disciplinary system. That a remand can earn Enhanced privileges but on conviction have to be placed on Graylings Entry level reeks of sheer malevolence.

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  4. Petty theft is nothing really, just pay back the cost of the stolen item. However, serious fraud is a different matter and should carry the same tarif as murder

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