Unlike Disney World – its fictional counterpart where dreams really can come true – Grayling World is the sort of nightmarish place where strange and unexpected things can happen, most of them nasty, brutal and unpleasant. It is peopled with odd characters in gray suits who spout trite slogans and who will try to convince anyone who listens that black is white and that the moon is made of green cheese. In short it is a dysfunctional fantasyland where nothing is really as it seems at first glance.
|Not Grayling World|
Today’s gala performance of the star characters from Grayling World – Chris Graying, Andrew Selous and their trusty sidekick Mike Spurr – during the Parliamentary Select Committee on Justice session certainly didn’t disappoint – unless, of course, anyone was really expecting an honest appraisal of the current crisis in our prison system. That was really never going to happen, but the questioning of the sinister ministers and their chief prisons wonk from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) by committee members has merely served to confirm that the trio are completely out of their depth.
With its characteristic level of administrative incompetence, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) even managed to serve some of its paperwork on the Justice Committee members late – the night before the actual hearing, in fact. Despite a surprisingly mild rebuke from committee chairman Sir Alan Beith, who observed that this was “not satisfactory”, Mr Grayling seems to have been oblivious to the impression given that either the MOJ is inept, or else shifty in its attempts to thwart the members of the committee from actually analysing the paperwork ahead of the session.
|Held in contempt?|
Much of the Lord High Chancellor’s own performance was taken up with his repeated assertions that his plan to ‘reform’ probation is going well. He pointedly evaded the direct question about disciplinary action against Probation Service whistleblowers, but did confirm that he intends to go ahead with his plans regardless of the pending judicial review brought by NAPO, the probation officers’ trade union. It’s always good to hear that the head of the judiciary has such open contempt and disregard for the rule of law and the High Court.
When it came to prison issues, he was equally uninformative. Asked about transferring foreign prisoners back to their countries of origin, he confirmed that this can often be painfully slow because other states don’t want these criminals back. You don’t say. Who knew? Still, credit where credit is due and no doubt the committee members were delighted to hear that the government has signed an agreement with Albania (population 3 million), even if the process to repatriate its nationals from our prisons remains extremely cumbersome and subject to local court approval. Sounds like at least the Albanians still believe in the rule of law.
|Any more guinea-pigs?|
At almost every turn ordinary words seem to have taken on sinister connotations in Grayling World. For example, the rapid rise in prison suicides over the past year was, according to ‘Crisis’ Chris a ‘blip’. Now, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a ‘blip’ is defined as: “an unexpected, minor, and typically temporary deviation from a general trend”. It’s a bit like listening to some insane boffin in a B-rate horror movie lightly dismissing the incidental deaths of his human guinea-pigs. Horrific stuff. These are human beings – someone’s son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister – who have taken their own lives, often in utter despair and misery, while locked in a tiny concrete box on Mr Grayling’s watch.
Mr G’s inane explanation for the 69 percent year-on-year rise in suicides in prison (as of end March 2014) was that the suicide rate among young men is higher than it was a generation ago. Of course, his argument disappears in a puff of logic the moment it is remembered that we are dealing here with a rapid rise – that shows no sign of falling again – over a very short period. Actually since the Ministry of Justice imposed its latest round of budget cuts, as well as the highly punitive policies contained in its revised Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system which was implemented in September 2013.
While the underlying suicide figures a generation ago might be relevant to long-term trends, it certainly doesn’t explain why more prisoners have killed themselves since Team Grayling set out deliberately to make everyday life in the nick as intolerable and draconian as possible. To be honest, I’m actually surprised he didn’t take credit for making life in prison so awful that it is driving vulnerable or mentally-ill prisoners to suicide. As George Orwell observed so succinctly in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces.”
|Chocolate choice of cons|
Prison overcrowding wasn’t blamed on over-zealous magistrates banging people up for stealing a bike, or pinching a dozen Toblerone bars… or any of the other idiocies one sees in our lower courts on a daily basis. Nor was any mention made of the terrible and completely discredited Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) which has left thousands of prisoners facing years of imprisonment beyond their minimum tariffs (some of which were a matter of months). No, it was all the fault of the late Jimmy Savile because the prisons were now full of sex offenders. Silly us, we should have seen that one coming a mile off.
The fact that 900 additional sex offenders are now in the system doesn’t even start to explain the overcrowding or the historically high prison population that hovers around the 86,000 mark. How about all those extra convicted terrorists who are being banged up or numerous terrorism suspects held on remand? No mention of them or of the rising number of people being imprisoned for shoplifting food to feed themselves and their families, many of whom have been ‘sanctioned’ by having their benefits stopped for months – a fair few of whom are now on prison wings.
|Chris Grayling: not an empty seat in the House|
The removal of the most powerful independent voice from the top of HM Inspectorate of Prisons is part of a wider process of crushing all forms of dissent. When it comes to ordinary mortals speaking out on the subject of prisons, the Grand Poobah and ‘Lord High Everything Else’ seems determined to silence any form of divergence from the MOJ party line that there IS NO CRISIS.