Ranby jail reduces population after inspectors’ warning over ‘legal highs’

Emergency action has been taken to reduce the population of a Nottinghamshire jail by 120 inmates because it was in danger of being overwhelmed by a destabilising surge in the supply of “legal highs”.

The immediate temporary reduction in the 1,000-strong population in HMP Ranby followed a warning during an official inspection of the jail during August and September last year where many of the men are serving long sentences for serious offences.

Martin Lomas, the deputy chief inspector of prisons, recommended the emergency action saying staff at the jail needed to regroup in the face of a surge in the availability of new psychoactive substances – legal highs – in the jail and because it was struggling to cope with its dual roles as a working and resettlement prison.

Nearly 60% of prisoners told the inspectors that it was easy to get drugs inside the jail: “Health services were at risk of being overwhelmed by the need to treat the most seriously affected,” said the inspectors in their report on Ranby published on Thursday.

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“As we walked round the prison, we saw a number of prisoners who were clearly under the influence of new psychoactive substances; some had been left with other prisoners to check they did not deteriorate because there was no available health care services or other staff to do so. In addition to the health consequences, the trade in new psychoactive substances was leading to high levels of debt and associated violence.”

The inspectors say that the drugs problem at the jail was on top of “an already dangerous mix” of high levels of frustration caused by the lack of work in some of the workshops which meant too many inmates had too little to do and were bored.

They found that safety was a major concern with a much higher than normal level of violent incidents: “In one incident, a group of prisoners muscled into a wing office to take back a ‘throw-over’ package of drugs that had just been intercepted by staff,” the inspectors report. There had been four self-inflicted deaths at the jail since April and a further death which is being treated as homicide, they added.

An extract from the full article which may be read in The Guardian 2015

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Prisoner ‘force-fed legal highs’ and filmed by jeering inmates as he rolls around in agony

A prisoner out of his head on legal highs rolls around in agony on a filthy jail floor as inmates film him on an illegal mobile.

The lag rocks helplessly back and forth in a violent seizure, seeming to drift in and out of consciousness. But his fellow convicts just laugh.

One man, sensing potential disaster, shouts for him to “breathe”.

But there are no prison staff in sight, and the man – believed to have been force-fed the drugs – is clearly in deep distress, robbed of all dignity.

The shocking clip obtained by the Sunday People highlights security failings in Britain’s creaking prisons system and the epidemic of new super-strength drugs flooding our jails.

A source said: “These are really ­unpleasant scenes. This is supposed to be a secure jail. To see a situation like this unfold is nothing short of a disgrace.”

The inmate filmed on a smuggled ­camera phone had taken a so-called legal high, a psychoactive substance.

These drugs, sold under street names like Spice and Black Mamba, mimic the affects of cannabis but are far stronger.

They are freely sold on the web in Britain as research chemicals using a “not for human consumption” loophole, for as little as £8.49 a gram.

But they are worth far more in jail, and are more easily smuggled in ­because sniffer dogs ­cannot detect them.

Our footage was shot at HMP Onley in Rugby, Warwicks.

A source claimed the man was deliberately forced into overdosing on the drug as a punishment by fellow cons.

Prison Service officials have repeatedly refused to give an account of what happened leading up to the man’s collapse, or say what treatment he ­received afterwards.

Horrified, a source passed the clip to the Sunday People, fearing nothing was being done to check the ­escalating ­problem of legal highs.

The source said: “The incident took place in a hallway adjacent to the cells on one of the wings. Apparently a few of the inmates are gang members and deal with legal and illegal drugs.

“The inmate on the floor allegedly owed money to these members. As he was unable to ‘pay’ he was ­subjected to ­physical abuse. This included ­being forced to ­swallow drugs till he overdosed and ­unfortunately he had a seizure.

“Other inmates tell him to breathe and throw water on him but no attempt to call staff is made, so ­officers are not present. Nothing is done to ­prevent this type of bullying so less prominent inmates are treated like this to teach them a lesson, or just for kicks.”

The source added: “It’s just completely wrong that this can happen.”

It is not known why the man in the video had been imprisoned.

Category C Onley is home to 720 lags, mainly from London jails who are nearing the end of their sentences. Some 75 are recovering addicts held on K wing.

Andrew Neilson, campaigns director of prison reform group the Howard League said: “If this video and the alleged circumstances behind it are genuine I think it does underline vividly the degree to which these new psychoactive ­substances are a scourge in ­overcrowded and ­under-resourced prisons.

“We offer legal ­representation to young people in prison and we’ve heard from them about ­incidents of ­violence and bullying that underpin the trade in legal highs.

“We’ve been told of prisons where people are ‘walking around like zombies’ because there’s so much Spice available and of ­ambulances arriving on a daily basis to take prisoners to hospital after they have a fit.

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“It only takes a couple of prison ­officers to be escorting a prisoner to hospital that may mean a whole wing has to be locked down so prisoners are not able to leave their cells.

Substance abuse expert Huseyin Djemil said legal highs were rife behind bars ­because jails typically use testing kits which detect only traditional street drugs likeheroin and cocaine .

And he warned inmates were being used as guinea pigs by jail dealers before selling on drugs more widely.

Mr Djemil said: “There are so many incidences of people using legal highs in prison and having an adverse reaction they are now taking precautions by trying it out on other people and this could be one of those incidents rather than it being a punishment or a laugh.

“Sick as that is, it could have been tested out on this person before they sell it to others.” He added: “If you forget the drugs for a minute you’ve got a group of lads ­potentially filming in a prison.

“So not only can they not stop the drugs getting in, they can’t stop the phone ­getting in and it seems as though there are not enough prison officers to catch them filming. They weren’t exactly being quiet. They’re kind of failing on a number of levels.”

“The impact is shocking, with violence, addiction and deaths becoming more common. There is no quick fix – but by working with prison security, ­developing testing and providing ­rehabilitation we can tackle this major problem.”

A Ministry of Justice ­spokesman said: “We took immediate action after this incident came to light in July 2014.

Extract from an article printed in The Mirror 2015

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Tony Blair admits he is baffled by rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn

Tony Blair has said he is struggling to understand the appeal of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn because both are hampered by “the question of electability”.

The former British prime minister, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, admitted that he is finding it hard to grasp popular movements in both Britain and the USfavouring mavericks who will “rattle the cage” and which reflect a loss of faith in the progressive centre.

In a joint interview with the Guardian and the Financial Times in Washington, he emphasised that Americans must make their own decision but made clear his scepticism about Sanders, the leftwing senator whose challenge to wealthy eliteshas energised young supporters.

“It’s very similar to the pitch of Jeremy Corbyn,” Blair said. “Free tuition fees: well, that’s great, but someone’s going to have pay for it. An end to war, but there are wars.” But not wars with quite the ramifications of the Iraq war eh Tony?

Inequality is now killing middle America

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This week, Angus Deaton will receive the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.” Deservedly so. Indeed, soon after the award was announced in October, Deaton published some startling work with Ann Case in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – research that is at least as newsworthy as the Nobel ceremony.

Analysing a vast amount of data about health and deaths among Americans, Case and Deaton showed declining life expectancy and health for middle-aged white Americans, especially those with a high school education or less. Among the causes were suicide, drugs, and alcoholism.

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America prides itself on being one of the world’s most prosperous countries, and can boast that in every recent year except one (2009) per capita GDP has increased. And a sign of prosperity is supposed to be good health and longevity. But, while the US spends more money per capita on medical care than almost any other country (and more as a percentage of GDP), it is far from topping the world in life expectancy. France, for example, spends less than 12% of its GDP on medical care, compared to 17% in the US. Yet Americans can expect to live three full years less than the French.

For years, many Americans explained away this gap. The US is a more heterogeneous society, they argued, and the gap supposedly reflected the huge difference in average life expectancy between African Americans and white Americans.

The racial gap in health is, of course, all too real. According to a study published in 2014, life expectancy for African Americans is some four years lower for women and more than five years lower for men, relative to whites. This disparity, however, is hardly just an innocuous result of a more heterogeneous society. It is a symptom of America’s disgrace: pervasive discrimination against African Americans, reflected in median household income that is less than 60% that of white households. The effects of lower income are exacerbated by the fact that the US is the only advanced country not to recognise access to health care as a basic right.

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Some white Americans, however, have attempted to shift the blame for dying younger to African Americans themselves, citing their “lifestyles”. It is perhaps true that unhealthy habits are more concentrated among poor Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are black. But these habits themselves are a consequence of economic conditions, not to mention the stresses of racism.

The Case-Deaton results show that such theories will no longer do. America is becoming a more divided society – divided not only between whites and African Americans, but also between the 1% and the rest, and between the highly educated and the less educated, regardless of race. And the gap can now be measured not just in wages, but also in early deaths. White Americans, too, are dying earlier as their incomes decline.

This evidence is hardly a shock to those of us studying inequality in America. The median income of a full-time male employee is lower than it was 40 years ago. Wages of male high school graduates have plummeted by some 19% in the period studied by Case and Deaton.

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To stay above water, many Americans borrowed from banks at usurious interest rates. In 2005, President George W. Bush’s administration made it far more difficult for households to declare bankruptcy and write off debt. Then came the financial crisis, which cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes. When unemployment insurance, designed for short-term bouts of joblessness in a full-employment world, ran out, they were left to fend for themselves, with no safety net (beyond food stamps), while the government bailed out the banks that had caused the crisis.

The basic perquisites of a middle-class life were increasingly beyond the reach of a growing share of Americans. The Great Recession had shown their vulnerability. Those who had invested in the stock market saw much of their wealth wiped out; those who had put their money in safe government bonds saw retirement income diminish to near zero, as the Fed relentlessly drove down both short- and long-term interest rates. With college tuition soaring, the only way their children could get the education that would provide a modicum of hope was to borrow; but, with education loans virtually never dischargeable, student debt seemed even worse than other forms of debt.

There was no way that this mounting financial pressure could not have placed middle-class Americans and their families under greater stress. And it is not surprising that this has been reflected in higher rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide.

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I was chief economist of the World Bank in the late 1990s, when we began to receive similarly depressing news from Russia. Our data showed that GDP had fallen some 30% since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But we weren’t confident in our measurements. Data showing that male life expectancy was declining, even as it was increasing in the rest of the world, confirmed the impression that things were not going very well in Russia, especially outside of the major cities.

The international Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, which I co-chaired and on which Deaton served, had earlieremphasised that GDP often is not a good measure of a society’s wellbeing. These new data on white Americans’ declining health status confirms this conclusion.

(An extract from The Guardian Newspaper 2015)

Yes, it’s possible to be a supreme holy figure yet still know what you are talking about regarding the Climate

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When Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment earlier this month, he faced some criticism from people who said religious leaders do not have the correct expertise to speak authoritatively about climate change.

Acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is not one of those people.

On Tuesday, the author and host of the late-night talk show StarTalk tweeted that despite being a religious figure, Pope Francis is more than qualified to talk about scientific issues. In a series of tweets, Tyson noted that the Vatican Observatory employs dozens of scientists who inform the pope on issues like climate change.

“Yes, it’s possible to be a supreme holy figure yet still know what you are talking about regarding the Climate,” he tweeted.

This isn’t the first time a scientist has spoken in defense of the pope. Independent climate scientists who reviewed the encyclical following its publication found little to argue with in terms of its scientific language.

During that review, Rutgers University professor of environmental sciences Anthony Broccoli said the Pope’s status as a religious leader had nothing to do with whether he could get the science correct.

“Pope Francis doesn’t have to be a scientist to arrive at these conclusions,” he told ThinkProgress at the time. “All he would have to do is consult the extensive reports on climate change that have been written by the world’s climate scientists in a process organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These reports have been written to inform policymakers and stakeholders about the state of the science and they are a reliable source of information.”

Aside from having a cadre of scientists by his side, Pope Francis has his own science background, achieving a technician’s degree in chemistry before becoming a priest. Indeed, in his latest encyclical, Francis stressed that religion and science can enter into an “intense and productive dialogue with each other.”

Tyson seems to agree with that idea, too. Last year, while hosting the show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Tyson drew attention for his implications that faith can help science blossom by producing “fantastic, world-changing ideas.“

Extracted from ThinkProgress On-Line

There Goes That Same Old Tired Refrain…

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, will go on trial in Lille on Monday accused of pimping, in a case that threatens to expose the double life of the politician once tipped to be the next president of France.

The court is expected to hear how, while in Washington holding the most senior economic job in the world, Strauss-Kahn had group sex with prostitutes brought to him in Europe and the US, organised by French businessmen friends who wanted to curry favour with the man they thought would one day lead the country.’

– The Guardian (2 February 2015)

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Yes folks (disinterested yawn), the former chief honcho of the Inter-Monetary Fund, is to be put on trial for allegedly being a pimp. Please remember that I’ve said ‘allegedly’ for one could hardly describe his former day job as a high grade variant of ‘pimping’. Not unless you examine the IMF  & its Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) through the lens of some of its ‘prone’ victims. In Zambia, the imposition of SAPs lead to a significant drop in girls’ enrolment in schools and a spike in “survival or subsistence sex” as a way for young women to continue their educations, one wonders if perhaps Mr Strauss-Kahn was dropped off there briefly in 2011,on his way to the Sofitel Hotel in New York. 

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In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) IMF loans paved the way for the privatization of the country’s mines by transnational corporations and local elites, which forcibly displaced thousands of Congolese people in a context where women and girls experience obscenely high levels of sexual slavery and rape in the eastern provinces.This would hardly have been considered a significant concern to a man who, we are told, was known by his own political ‘gang’ (the Socialist Party) to be a notable womaniser, fond of ‘imposing’ his attentions on younger, less powerful, less influential women.

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One might even have defined these women as a little emotionally high strung, if not unhinged (should the occasion have called for it). Yes, one might even have inferred that such women, desperate in the extreme, might be prone to lying and thus require a little personal ‘Structural Adjustment Policy’ that might induce them to remain silent (see Nafissatou Diallo, former New York hotel maid for further details). No matter, for when it comes to this former IMF head the world has grown wiser. Here now stands a man on trial for ‘aggravated pimping’ in Brussels, Paris & Washington, in France.

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As for the IMF itself, with the electoral victory of Syriza, Greece’s winning smile and supine subservience have all but evaporated. Greece’s new government have politely declined to renegotiate with the EU-IMF ‘troika’. They have refused to continue to follow policies that enabled the EU-IMF to cripple them as a nation, they want their decency and dignity back from an organisation whose moral compass is such, that they once recruited a prolific, forceful, womaniser, to be their head.

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As was the case with Jimmy Saville, Peter Hame, Cyril Smith, and countless other profligate ‘degenerates’ we are forced to repeat the same old, tired old, done to death refrain. Associates knew about their proclivities, associates who considered themselves to be honourable men, why therefore were these abusers of the vulnerable not prosecuted sooner if at all?