Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.

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Thursday, 26 September 2013


There are three constituent parts of any criminal justice system, the process of catching suspected offenders, charging and convicting them in the courts and incarcerating them in prisons. The first two components consist of many people with corresponding checks and balances to ensure justice is done with fairness to all and is seen to be thus done. However when it comes to the running of prisons in general the governor is "king" and almost but not quite an absolute monarch. Controversy erupts from time to time when it is revealed that governors have supreme  power and are using that power to release prisoners far sooner than anybody had authorised.

If prison governors are "kings" then prison warders are the "nobles" and as we learn in history kings and nobles were often in conflict as to where the power would lie. In prison it is forbidden for inmates to possess or use mobile phones, drugs, or to use networking sites. So there is no drug problem in jails.....? no criminal activity involving mobile phone contact between convicts and the outside world.....? And  of course using Facebook and similar sites is forbidden so nobody in prison does it......?

It has been said by many with knowledge that the Prison Officers Union is the last bastion of left wing union extremism where union power and not the management is in control of the work place.  Similarly it has been said that whilst drugs are illegal if they were totally excluded from jails there would be serious riots with the result that to a certain extent a blind eye is turned to the illegal supply in prisons. If using Facebook is contrary to prison rules how does a dangerous inmate access it without the knowledge of those paid to keep him secure and out of contact with the public at large?  With the government`s intention to ban smoking by all within a prison`s gates should we be grateful for its benevolence in trying to wean offenders from that most deadly weed?  The Prison Officers Association has been in the vanguard of those seeking a smoking ban in prisons. The Association is of course in favour of all the other restrictions mentioned above but its members seem a tolerant lot to the transgressors  and it`s easy to understand why; those incarcerated for long hours in overcrowded cells need little to change them from docile dependent individuals to angry aggravated  resentful objectors to their situation.  Cigarettes, for those addicted, in addition to being a currency in prison allow a sense of satisfaction when that craving is assuaged.  Take away that small amount of pleasure to be substituted by nicotine patches and it is not unlikely that life will become more intense for warders and negate any benefits accruing from the removal of secondary inhalation of nicotine.  

But governments of the current colour and that previous seem to operate as if by mantra. Human Rights law being applied to army personnel in a war situation appears to be totally incongruous. And applying a no smoking philosophy in line with current legislation on the tobacco habit in prisons is as surely a recipe for disaster as was the coalition`s West Coast rail contract, its contract for courts interpreter services, its proposed “pasty tax”, its proposed forestry sell off and a dozen other U turns.

If prisons are being run for the benefit of a quiet life for their employees as a first consideration and the protection of the public as a second I find this whole process of a smoking ban difficult to understand.

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