Super Prisons: Saving Money But At What Cost?



‘For all the advances we have made, and are making in education, we still, every year allow thousands more children to join an educational underclass-they are the lost souls our schooling system has failed. It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells’
– Michael Gove

285, that’s the number of exception reports submitted by government run secure training centres concerning warning signs or serious injuries ,detected during or following the use of physical control in these units ,between 2006 and 2011, on average that works out to 57 incidents a year.
111, that’s the number of incidents of physical restraint per month, in privately run secure training centres, from 2011-2012.
68 per month, that’s the number of incidents of physical restraint which result in injury. These are just the facts I’m quoting here mind,I may need to resort to more emotive language later, but let us continue.

In the financial year 2012-2013, 19,140 prisoners were forced to share a cell designed for one person. A further 777 prisoners were made to sleep three to a cell, in cells designed to accommodate only two prisoners.
The worse affected prison? HMP Wandsworth, followed by Altcourse, Doncaster, Birmingham, Pentonville, Preston, Manchester, Nottingham, Durham and Elmley.
17%, the percentage by which prison officer numbers have dropped in four years. 20,000, the totalnumber of prisoners kept in overcrowded conditions between 2012-2013. So you have a toxic combination of prisoners who didn’t want to be in prison in the first place, kept in cramped conditions, closely overseen by demoralised prison officers who are overstretched because they’re understaffed.

Chris Grayling’s solution to all the statistics? ‘A reconfiguring of the prison estate’ the shutting down of four prisons, HMP Blundeston, HMP Dorhester, Northallerton and Reading prisons. Thus increasing the number of slashed ‘unstrategic and uneconomic’ prison places from 2,800 to 4,200 and in the process reducing the overall prison budget by another £30million a year. A 2,000-place prison is to be built in Wrexham, North Wales and a second ‘super-prison’ may very well be built in the south east. Secretary of State for Wales David Jones has greeted this news with ecstatic approval listing the many commercial benefits that will accrue to Wrexham as a result of one of the UK’s first ever super prisons being located there. Others have been less enthused and here’s why.
Professor Andrew Coyle, a former Governor of Brixton prison has argued that
‘There is clear evidence from the chief inspector of prisons that prisons should ideally hold no more than 500 prisoners in order to function at their most effective.Going beyond that number pretty much amounts to warehousing.’

Imagine an environment in which there are low numbers of experienced prison officers due to Ministry of Justice lay-offs and a large number of experienced
prisoners. An environment in which prisoners who have been wrongly categorised could pass under the radar, until they either harm themselves or assault another prisoner and where once they are referred for help they may find themselves caught up in a vast back log of similar cases. Imagine a regimen which sees a sudden upsurge in prison numbers, because this is after all a ‘super prison’ and it can therefore take the extra capacity; then imagine the resultant problems as levels of sick leave increase amongst the staff who are hardly ‘super-human’. Imagine a situation in which only 10% of prisoners have been allocated a ‘plan’ detailing the steps the prison intends to take in rehabilitating them and eventually getting them ready for a return to some sort of viable existence in the outside world, that excludes the need to committ crime. If you think that this is an exaggeration then read the report written on HMP Oakwood by an independent monitoring board appointed by the Ministry of Justice. The largest UK prison built so far it was originally supposed to house 1,600 prison inmates, it now houses 1,800, a number that the prison staff were never expecting to have to cope with.
‘Say you need 3,000 staff for a super prison. Where do they come from, does it plough jobs into the community or does it become an almost single employer?’ asks Paddy Scriven, general secretary of the Prison Governors Association. And she’s right to ask, for the prospect of one entire section of society becoming entirely reliant upon the incarceration of another section of that same society in order to earn its bread and butter, is disquieting to say the least.

Grayling has come up with a superbly cost-effective way to resolve the increasing cost of UK Prisons, but at what cost to those prisoners relocated vast distances to prisons which their families can’t afford to visit. A story comes to mind of a young man who, on being released from a prison some considerable distance from his community , found that he had missed his baby son being born. His anger was so great, that he committed a series of offences which quickly landed him back in prison. Privately run super prisons may cost society less financially but one wonders about the human cost.


Durand Academy Part 3 : Libel With A Vengeance



Durand Academy Boarding School The Vision

“Now I’ve visited other urban academies where discipline has driven up results. It’s not what’s radical about Durand. Once Martin got the structure right in the classroom, he started work on the physical structure. He sold off the playgrounds.
‘We still have playgrounds. But yeah, I built flats on some of them. And a swimming pool. And a
flood lit pitch.’
This is how he built his dream. To be a developer of dreams he became a developer of property. He started, on school land,a thriving accomodation business and a swanky gym that is shared between students and the fee-paying public. This is what has paid for two beautiful swimming pools (all children from age of four upwards get an hour’s instruction a week); the loveliest most well-appointed classrooms; and extra teachers to halve class sizes in lower streams.”
– Helen Rumbelow (Political Journalist for the ‘Times’)

A brand new middle school building, smaller class sizes, increased teacher support, and property developments that have helped to fund the next stage of the Durand Academy’s development. Without a doubt Sir Greg Martin deserves all the praise heaped upon him by both the parents, Mr Clegg and Michael Gove. True, there has been an NQT drop out rate of 40% (in the past), conflicts with Lambeth Council (the libel action was suspended in 2010 after the Auditor offered an unreserved apology for his e-mails),and even conflict with disgruntled NQTs (and their parents), but all of that according to Ofsted is in the past. And Mr Martin is now free to proceed unimpeded with the next stage in his plans, a state funded boarding school. Oh there may be shivers running down the spines of those educationalists who believe that the whole point of Public Sector Schools, is that they impart a quality education, whilst in no way resembling elitist (divisive?) independent schools. But that is because their ideas are firmly fixed in a past where doors could be left unlocked when you went shopping, and policemen roamed London streets armed only with truncheons.

What could be more ‘innovative’ than a state funded boarding school run by a cutting edge academy for urban kids from one of London’s most deprived boroughs? Bussed in each Sunday evening, they’d be immersed in a tranquil, thoroughly academic atmosphere, in which a cultured, culture of learning would be assiduously encouraged. And all of those external influences for which Lambeth is apparently famous (drugs, guns, knife crime) excluded, freed from the socio-economic shackles of Lambeth, these children would realise their potential more fully than might be the case were they to be educated at one of the twelve secondary schools Lambeth Council is able to provide. Say, for example, Dunraven High School (rated outstanding by OFSTED, GCSE pass rate in 2012 – 73%) or
La Retraite RC Girl’s School ( rated outstanding by OFSTED, GCSE pass rate in 2012 – 74%) or perhaps even the London Nautical School, which shares the same GCSE pass rate as Park Campus, Lambeth’s Secondary Pupil Referral Unit (55%, the national average is actually 58.2%).

The percentage pass rates of Lambeth Schools are in the main, above the national average and would compare very favourably with the performance of schools in say, West Sussex, the neighbourhood in which Mr Martin intends to build his new school, with the help of £17m worth of taxpayer’s money as approved by the Department for Education.
Now, although the Durand Academy project has been lauded by some ‘as a wonderfully ambitious attempt to give children from one of the most deprived parts of London an Eton-style education’ others have been less enthused.

In June, the National Audit Office criticised the Department for Education for committing £17m of the taxpayer’s money to the project without sufficiently assessing the risks. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking & Havering and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, also wrote a letter expressing her concerns to the parish council. They in turn made it clear that though the project was well-intentioned, they found it hard to understand why the Department for Education, should elect to build a brand new secondary school for Lambeth school children in West Sussex, when there were 9 secondary schools in Lambeth
(with a pass rate of between 60-70%), capable of providing a ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ education for the self same students.
On this occasion both the National Audit Office and Margaret Hodge were fortunate. Mr Martin elected to reprimand them both by way of a written letter expressing his disappointment at their lack of enthusiasm and setting out his proposals,reminding them both that the school had already self-funded itself to the tune of £8m. What Mr Martin failed to explain in his letter was why he felt the need to set up a secondary boarding school when there appears to be so little wrong with the quality of secondary education in Lambeth(according to OFSTED).
Perhaps the answer lies with Mr Gove, who has frequently stated that his intention is to produce an education system that will not only equip students to excel at university, but will also provide the next generation of skilled workers.
With that in mind one wonders what he and his department are doing to ensure those 41.7% of students who don’t excel academically, are able to receive the kind of vocational training that will equip them to take their place as skilled workers in the modern world.