Monday, January 31, 2011

Whining Screws

If there is one of the many whines that perpetually emanate from the Prison Officers Association that get my goat, it's the one about how dangerous their job is. It's a Big Fat Lie. There are dozens of jobs which are more dangerous.
And should I ever get the chance to nail one of the POA leaders in public, one of the first questions I'd ask is this: How many screws have ever been killed by cons? And how many cons have been killed by screws..?
And here's a thing. The Ministry collect the stats on how many cons assault staff. They know how many cons assault other cons. But they don't collect the figures for how many staff assault cons.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sanctity of Life and Hypocrisy

If you or I had an elderly relative who we decided had a crap quality of life, and we shoved them in the attic to die of thirst and hunger, the end result would be a Life sentence for murder.
But if that elderly relative was in hospital and the Doctor decided they had a crap quality of life, they can order the withdrawal of "treatment". "Treatment" includes food and water, and the old geezer dies from dehydration. That's deemed to be okay.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Why is it that whenever politicians and the media take a swipe at prisoners, they always manage to refer to murderers, rapists and paedophiles?
As - together - this lot comprises the minority of prisoners, is this demonising or just pathetically lazy characterisation?
Oddly, the terms "fine-defaulter" and "petty shoplifter" make much rarer appearances in the debate. How strange...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The People's Will - Never.

At present, the nearest we get to any sort of ballot is to chose various prisoner-representatives. These tend to form a committee that I dismiss as the "pots and pans" committee, as it is limited to discussing issues of absolutely no importance. It's not as if managers actually want our views on anything, after all.
Even so, I take a robust and immovable stance on prisoner-reps. Reps should be elected by their peers. Only Reps whose existence rests on that constituency of peers can begin to be trusted to represent prisoners' views.
Management here at Shepton have a different view. It seems that a junior Governor-in-Training (GiT) can discern the "will of the people" far better than we can, and he gets to pick who our representatives will be.
Obviously, prison managers are known for voluntarily facing prisoners who have a mouth and an independent brain...Only kidding.
P.S. Guess who won the last time we were allowed to elect our own representatives...?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Unholy Alliance

Labour tries to play to the populist gallery by opposing the prisoner vote in Parliament. Tory Eurosceptics rebel against their Govt in the hope of provoking a crisis with European institutions.
Is anybody going to deal with the actual issues? And will prisoners be quiescent in the face of being treated with such crass contempt?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The interview that never was.

I'm reading the current issue of the Prison Service Journal - as you do - and I was annoyed before I'd even got past the contents. Usually only the Daily Mail can bug me that much, that fast.

The source of my discontent? The current PSJ is a Special Edition focusing upon "Where does the prison system go from here?" In a time of significant economic and political change, a worthy question to explore.
And explore it does, through a series of interviews. It has the Chief Executive of NOMS, the head of the Prison Reform Trust, the Inspector of Prisons, the head of the governor's get the idea. It includes all the main players, except one rather important constituency - prisoners.

As the whole point of imprisonment is "prisoners", it may have been instructive to ask a prisoner to take part in these interviews. That it didn't occur to the Editorial Board to reach out to one of us speaks volumes.
What really astounded me was that every one of the 9 interviewees managed to answer the question, "How do you think the actual prisoner experience has shifted in recent years?" Only one of the interviewees had spent so much as an hour behind a locked door, and his view was instructive. But the others? How dare they claim to be able to understand the prisoner experience?

Reams are written about prisoners, our society, order, control, rehabilitation, security... We are the nexus of a vast industry, a huge socio-political effort - and yet we are ignored. Oh, there are nominal pronouncements that claim managers are interested in our views but honestly, they don't give a damn. They know it, and we know it.

And not for the first time, I pin my flag to this mast - that significant change within the prison system rests in the hands of prisoners. And the danger is, in ignoring us in this debate, then the methods of change prisoners adopt may not be ones acceptable in polite society.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"What, with these feet?!"

Norman Stanley Fletcher, that perpetual con, trying to blag the prison Doctor into giving him decent shoes in the first episode of Porridge, while simultaneously disavowing homosexuality.
Many a truth is woven within the fabric of comedy, and Fletcher's exchange with the Medical Officer is a classic. Not only as a comedy sketch, but as a reflection of the essentials that form part of our dealings with the MO.
The Medical Officer - nowadays a contracted GP - is one of the few gateways that prisoners can try to exploit in order to gain some small advantage or benefit above the herd.
A new mattress? Wide-fitting shoes? A proper chair? An unusual diet? An excuse from work? All lay within the domain of the MO. And the wordly-wise con will try to blag his way from the first moment. Hence Fletcher's complaints about flat feet as soon as he lands at HMP Slade. His previous experience shows!
Of course, there are those whose complaints and maladies are quite genuine. But any medical condition which leads to some perceived benefit, such as comfier shoes, will doubtless be faked by some chancer.
This places the MO in a difficult position. Is he dealing with a genuine complaint or a faker? The historical method of weeding out the later is to treat every con as if he was lying through his teeth, and see who gives up and who ends up at deaths door.
With the dismemberment of the Prison Medical Service in favour of NHS treatment, we had hoped that this malign and mistrustful view of prisoner-patients would wither. To some extent it has, but not completely.
When you go to see your GP, does she assume you are lying? If you require pain relief, is it prescribed? Because these are pretty fundamental to any medical service worth its name. But despite our healthcare now being provided by the NHS, nurses who are based within prisons find it difficult to avoid being contaminated with the attitudes of the screws - that is, anti-con.
This sometimes shows up in small ways. I recently overheard a nurse phoning a hospital outside regarding two appointments. Both times, she referred to the men as 'prisoners'. Not patients, prisoners. As that's an irrelevant consideration for arranging appointments, that merely reflected how that nurse perceives us -prisoners first, patients second. And prisoners come with baggage - such as an assumption that we are invariably lying.
At the grand age of 45, I have had prescription strength painkillers (i.e., anything above Ibuprofen) issued to me by the MO a total of four times in my adult life. Four. Either I am a medical marvel, obscenely healthy, or prison medics really don't like issuing painkillers. I lean - heavily - towards the latter.

This is one of the difficulties facing the MO. Even if they completely avoid being contaminated by the prisons attitudes of prisoners, they then have two other hurdles to negotiate. Firstly, the attitudes of nurses, the permanent staff in the healthcare wing. It is a regular event that some prescription or other is questioned by nurses, mostly prescriptions for the more effective drugs. "Oh, I don't think the Doctor should have prescribed these...". Cynical as I may be about the Medical Officer, they do have the benefit of 8 years medical school and the letters MD; it's not for nurses to question.
The second hurdle for the GP to navigate around is the Formulary. In brief, there is an official presumption against giving strong medications - especially painkillers - to prisoners. Ibuprofen is King in prison healthcare, and it's a cynical truism that Paracetamol can be used to cure anything up to and including cancer.
Fletcher didn't manage to get his shoes from the MO. And he'd have had as much chance as the rest of us as getting decent painkillers.