Corruption in British prisons

Corruption runs through British institutions as we’ve seen time and time again – the expenses scandal involving members of Parliament; the illegal acquisition of confidential information by national newspapers; bad practices by British drug companies; the banking scandal and the astonishing revelations of the police withholding and changing documentation in relation to the Hillsborough disaster are just a few examples.

Amongst the many allegations of corruption and bad practice relating to the National Health Service, one relates to complaints that the NHS was ‘condescending’ towards grieving relatives who alleged neglect, and even concealed wrongdoing from them. These findings are very similar to the problems faced by prisoners in Her Majesty’s Prison Service, from where this letter is being written.

The complaints I’m referring to have nothing to do with the ones you read about in national newspapers, relating to food or TV etc. I am talking about an institution that manipulates both prisoners and those entrusted to enforce good practice such as HM Inspectorate of Prisons and, it must be said, it manipulates them excellently. The following examples are not exhaustive, but relate to some recent incidents in Full Sutton.

1. In Full Sutton – as in all dispersal prisons – prison officers incite prisoners to fight each other. This has led to gang fighting where prisoners have suffered life-threatening injuries. In return, officers turn a blind eye to the incidents, or even help those they egged on to transfer to other prisons.

2. The indiscriminate use of Security Intelligence Reports (SIRs) by officers on selected groups of prisoners. Such negative references can hold back progression through the system and delay release. This use of SIRs is a new technique, adopted by some officers, which means the old technique – of officers beating prisoners up – occurs less frequently, especially when they can simply get the prisoners to fight amongst themselves.

3. Officers and management conspire to conceal wrongdoing by their own members – for example, where assaults by staff are captured on CCTV the tapes mysteriously ‘disappear’. Or a group of officers will conspire to victimise a particular prisoner to provoke a reaction, thus leading to warnings, nickings or segregation for the sake of ‘good order and discipline’ – a practice that is allowed to flourish and could not do so without the tacit approval of management.

Targeting ‘extremism’ –who benefits?

Religious discrimination is rife. The media, of course, always makes much of prisoners convicted under the Terrorism Act, so that any incident involving violence whether inside or outside the prison is somehow linked to ‘extremism’. This and the willingness of people to believe the lies reflect an awakening of prejudice which shows its ugly face ever so often, as with the recent spate of attacks against Muslims and mosques – and is bound to be taken advantage of by opportunists. Such opportunists exist everywhere, including here at Full Sutton, where no distinction is made between Islam and extremism. For example, anyone who shows an interest in Islam or goes further and decides to convert, is ‘approached’ to establish whether they came under any form of bullying or coercion. This show of concern is not extended to anyone showing an interest in any other religion. Nor is there any concern as to whether the individual feels more intimidated about practising their new religion freely precisely because of the approach of these self-styled ‘protectors of justice’.

My major concern here relates to the incentives offered to some such prisoners to encourage them to make a complaint. One incentive can be a move to a Category B prison or anywhere the prisoner requests, within reason. As one would expect, some have seen this as too good an opportunity to miss. This gives an artificial impression of forced conversions in the prison system and leads to a whole raft of other measures such as close monitoring of prisoners whom they’ve decided are the agents of these ‘forced conversions’; restriction of movement; using behaviour ‘compacts’; segregation under ‘good order and discipline’ and so on.

Meanwhile, the beneficiaries of false allegations are many –the incentivised prisoner himself, prison officers with bigoted views who abuse their authority to stifle any progress Islam brings; prison governors who request more government funds to suppress extremism; the tame imams who receive funds and backing from the authorities thus securing their position; the press who constantly look for negative news about Islam and who have jumped on the fictitious ‘Muslim Brotherhood Gang’; the police and intelligence services whose finances and power have increased substantially while the secrecy that shrouds their work allows wrongdoing to go unchallenged; the government itself, which regurgitates the same old story regarding ‘extremism’, allowing it to deflect criticism from its own mire of scandals.

Rangzieb Ahmed, HMP Full Sutton

Since writing this article, Rangzieb has been moved to HMP Frankland in Durham.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

 

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