Sunday, August 15, 2010


Somehow, in the last year I have managed to overlook explaining to you the mechanism that determines our daily quality of life. This is the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, the IEPS.

Prior to Michael Howard putting this boot on our throat, we were afforded all privileges automatically, with bad behaviour seeing them removed via the formal disciplinary process, adjudications.

Howard reversed the system and added a nasty twist. Now we have to earn privileges by adhering to a "compact". These are explicitly not "contracts" as they are not legally binding, the prison service being extremely wary of being sued for failing to deliver their part.

These are broad behavioural standards, nothing particularly onerous. The greater our compliance, the more privileges we are afforded. Everyone begins on the Standard level. We can be busted down to Basic, or advanced up to Enhanced.

The influence of the IEPS is total, it determines every aspect of our lives from time out of cell, wages, visits, TV...all rests on our IEP level.

Many of you will be thinking this sounds more than reasonable. Well, yes and no. Mostly no. Because the IEPS creates a secondary, unofficial disciplinary system that places immense power in the hands of individual wing staff and without any practical safeguards.

Compare these events. If I leave my rubbish bin overflowing on three occasions, a screw could charge me each time with an offence of not complying with "any rule or regulation", i.e. to keep a clean cell. I would be presented before the governor at a formal hearing with legal safeguards. The Governor would probably hit me with a small fine, a couple of quid and a flea in my ear.

Alternatively, the screw could issue me with an IEP Warning on each occasion. Three of these in any three months leads to me being dropped a privilege level, to Standard. There is an appeal, but these are pointless.

On being dropped to Standard - which lasts a minimum 3 months - I would lose £2 a week on my wages, £10 a week on the amount of money sent in I could spend, and the number of visits I could receive from family is halved. That’s a loss of £144 and 6 visits, on the whim of a screw with the hump for not emptying a bin.

Legally and officially, the IEPS is not a disciplinary system but an administrative one. That it can savage our quality of life with no real safeguards against abuse is why staff prefer using the IEPS to the formal disciplinary system.

One particularly wicked aspect to the IEPS is that it ties in with Sentence Planning and Offending Behaviour Programmes. If you are recommended to do OBP and refuse, you cannot reach the Enhanced level. The sting comes for those who are wrongly convicted and protesting their innocence. Many of these refuse to undertake courses which require them to admit their guilt.

Not only are these people in prison for a crime they did not commit but, no matter how perfect their daily behaviour, they labour under a reduced quality of life for protesting their innocence.

Earning privileges is arguably fine in principle. In its operation, though, it is a scheme riddled with injustice and a perfectly crafted tool for staff to bully prisoners.


  1. Sounds utterly dire, i wouldn't last 10 seconds in the nick. What some people, many people even don't realize is how surviving these awful petty and brutal regimes in prison can massively build a persons character; they say 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger', Ben must be bionic in his character!

    Seriously though prisons are a way of keeping us all in line, the regimes are cruel and unnecessary. We all fear it, I know I do, and I wonder how I would ever cope if I ever got sent down.

  2. Quite so, Sophie J. I've often wondered that -- and not got as far as Ben, I'm afraid.