Impressive new entrance (Winson Green) and corporate/political rhetoric: fearful reality
After a series of violent incidents in recent months at HMP Lewes and HMP Bedford, four wings at HMP Birmingham in high-security Winson Green, had to be sealed after disturbances broke out. About 260 prisoners were involved.
Despite the record of G4S, which now runs five prisons in the UK, management of this prison was handed over to the private sector company in 2011. Unions opposed the deal which reduced staff numbers and pay rates.
So many public sector officers had to be drafted to ‘manage’ the Winson Green ‘dispute’ that control had to be transferred to the public sector HM Prison Service.
There have been sharp cuts to prison staff numbers as part of the 2010-15 coalition’s austerity drive even though the prison population has doubled since 1993 to more than 85,000. There are now 65 assaults behind bars every day and in the year to June, assaults on staff jumped 43% to 5,954, with 697 recorded as serious.
Yesterday former Conservative Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove appeared to have a change of heart. His words, reported in a recent speech, were: “I am convinced that we cannot provide the effective level of rehabilitation we need for offenders without either increasing expenditure significantly or reducing prisoner numbers overall, because overcrowded prisons are more likely to be academies of crime, brutalisers of the innocent and incubators of addiction rather than engines of self-improvement.”
Just Solutions International, the commercial wing of Britain’s Ministry of Justice, has been selling ‘expertise’ to oppressive regimes including Oman and the Saudis. It was established under Mr Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling in 2013, assisted by ‘professional services network’ PwC but Michael Gove, Minister for Justice, has now closed it amid criticism that it was selling prison expertise to countries with poor human rights records.
Corbyn, “but why on earth was it set up in the first place?”
A few days ago, Hencke reported that Jeremy Corbyn had challenged David Cameron to explain why the British government could not cancel a contract with the Saudis to provide training for their prison system – just as it was about to execute a teenage dissident and crucify him (below right).
Jeremy Corbyn had written: “Will you step in to terminate the Ministry of Justice’s bid to provide services to the Saudi prisons system – the very body, I should stress, which will be responsible for carrying out Ali’s execution? . . . Ali’s case is especially urgent – the secrecy of the Saudi system means that he could face execution at any time, and even his family may only find out after the event. There is therefore no time to spare in taking this up with the Saudi authorities, if we are to prevent a grave injustice.”
In his conference speech, addressing Cameron, Corbyn added: “And while you’re about it, terminate that bid made by our Ministry of Justice’s to provide services for Saudi Arabia – which would be required to carry out the sentence that would be put down on Mohammed Ali al-Nimr.”
Though it was alleged that the government would face punitive penalty clauses for cancelling the contract, less than two days afterwards, the minister retracted this explanation, admitting that no financial penalties applied and Parliament had been given “incorrect information.” He had to “apologise unreservedly” in a letter to the MP, Nigel Huddleston, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire.
The critical factor: HMG’s broader engagement with Saudi Arabia
Hencke had highlighted the real reason they did not cancel in a Tribune article; in the words of Andrew Selous, the junior minister at the Ministry of Justice: “The critical factor was the strong view from across Government that withdrawing at such an advance stage would harm HMG’s broader engagement with Saudi Arabia.
Michael Gove’s finer hour
The withdrawal follows the Times reports of a cabinet rift on the issue: Michael Gove, the justice secretary, wanted to pull out of the deal, saying the government should not be assisting a regime that uses beheadings, stoning, crucifixions and lashings to punish its citizens. The Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had warned that cancelling it would not be in the national interest as it would make Britain appear an untrustworthy ally – and No 10 had agreed, the paper reported.
David Hencke adds that Lord Falconer, the shadow Lord Chancellor, has reported this to the National Audit Office – because Just Solutions International.deserves a thorough financial examination. He gives credit to lawyer David Allen Green – known as Jack O’Kent on Twitter- who has assiduously followed this issue. He can be followed on the JackofKentblog which carries an account with snapshots from the Times article.
Nicholas Watt and Alan Travis in the Guardian report, “Corbyn responded to the cancellation saying: “David Cameron has been shamed into a U-turn, a strong message to repressive regimes that the UK is a beacon for human rights and that this contract bid is unacceptable in the 21st century, and would damage Britain’s standing in the world on this terrible contract, but why on earth was it set up in the first place?”