Letter to David Gauke MP

Open letter to David Gauke MP, Secretary of State for Justice

To the  Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon David Gauke  MP

Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ          
                                                                                  15 May 2018
Ref: Letter before Legal  Action

Dear Secretary of State for Justice

Prison is not the place to dump women with mental health disorders. We are asking for your urgent intervention to look at the contracting and the delivery of the mental health contracts meant to provide services to women in prison on which £500m is spent, annually. 

We are not human rubbish and we are concerned by the lack of agenda or direction evidenced by the MOJ for decades. The women’s strategy that was meant to be launched 2 years ago has clearly stalled completely and been pushed into the long grass. The entire prison reform agenda has fallen of HM Government’s agenda because of a lack of bandwith following the Brexit vote and the legislative flux ever since.

We write to you as 130 women in prison directly affected by the lack of mental health support who are suffering from known mental health disorders. Some of us are serving very long sentences and will leave prison completely unrehabilitated , with exacerbated mental health conditions and greater PTSD. Far too many of us were victims of crime including sexual abuse and domestic violence  by men before we came to prison and now we stand accused as perpetrators and criminals. The Government’s own  Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 to 2020  is being ignored when it comes to vulnerable women in the criminal justice system.

We are sending you a copy of our report Beyond Reason, via the local MP for HMP Drake Hall, Sir Bill Cash. We hope you will read it and act with urgency on the harrowing experiences described herein. Sixteen women have killed themselves in 2017 because the environment is intolerable, bullying by staff and inmates is rife, drugs and weapons abound. There is no rehabilitation program, just the perceived management of risk by a probation service that is broken and not fit for purpose.

The plan for 5 smaller women’s community prisons has been abandoned, money for the derelict wings at HMP Drake Hall was taken away so women continue to live in rat infested accommodation that is not fit for humans and should have been redeveloped years ago. This cannot continue. 

Judges are repeatedly ignoring sentencing guidelines. The courts’ Public Sector Equalities' Duty  when it comes to vulnerable or protected groups, and the Mental Health Act might as well not exist. Millions of pounds are spent of taxpayers’ money on court ordered forensic reports, purportedly for the purposes of guiding a judge about the best and most desirable disposal for a convicted woman’s case.  However these are being ignored by judges  and women are sent to prison where they receive little or no help and support for mental health conditions with which they have been diagnosed. 

We have obtained through Freedom of Information Requests details of the contracts to provide mental health services by some of the biggest contractors within the justice-health sector. Mental health treatment in prisons is essentially nonexistent, and most alarmingly, the Government does not seek any measurement of outcomes or success etc from the providers yet almost £500m is being spent on these services. Women can’t access these services. Of particular concern within these contracts are:

·         There is no accountability, no supervision, no benchmarking and no monitoring of these lucrative contracts. 
·         There are no minimum contractual requirements for  levels of staff allocated within a prison to provide mental health services, or even for minimum qualifications held by these staff
·        There is no minimum service level requirement for the number of hours or the type of of therapy to be delivered. 
·         There are no minimum requirements for staff to meet concerning experience or independence.

The public is paying for a provider, the provider is not providing a service.  CNWL NHS Foundation Trust have contracts worth in excess of £20m but cannot disclose how many hours of therapy it is meant to deliver within its contract, or how many professionals are employed at each establishment. Their claim that the contracts do not require them to provide minimum hours or describe what type of therapy should be delivered within an establishment, is at best alarming and at worst neglectful and inefficient contracting.

Health care is contracted to Care UK at HMP Drake Hall, however the mental health team at HMP Drake Hall which is run by Inclusion, part of South Staffs and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust has not had a clinical psychologist forensic lead for the last 2 years, for the 4 prisons contained in Lot 2 of the Staffs prisons clusters. This includes HMP Drake Hall, 2 Youth Offender  Institutions and one prison that houses sex offenders.  They have not been able to recruit for this post for the two years they have had the contract, yet they are able to continue to run the contract and claim payment for services they are not providing. 

They are also funded to provide a Personality Disorder Clinic at HMP Drake Hall but they don’t.  HMP Drake Hall flaunts its much vaunted trauma informed and Enabling Environment quality assurance marks, but we assure you these are wholly undeserved and we have asked the NHS and the Royal College of Psychiatrists to remove these assurances because they are not representative of what life is like at Drake.  There is daily, frightening  violence and self harm and witnessing these, with no support or supervision causes prison staff and prisoners to suffer secondary trauma.

We are seeking the support of peers and supportive MPs and campaign groups and charities,  to join forces and demand change. Now. We are specifically asking you to consider and respond to the following:
HMP Drake Hall
  • Immediately implement a gender and trauma informed approach to all women prisoners , using properly tested and proven methods, not perversions of trauma informed approaches and  cheap shortcuts.
  •  End the current prisoner lead Trauma Informed training funded by Lady Edwina Grosvenor’s One Small Thing Initiative unless it can be properly implemented with supportive officers, who are trained in trauma counselling. The current short cut is damaging and causing more harm.
  •  Shut down the derelict wings at HMP Drake Hall , Plymouth and Richmond. They are filled with damp, rats, asbestos and are not fit for human habitation. They have rats in the walls and need more than new carpets and a coat of paint. We have asked Staffordshire County Council  to condemn them immediately

  • To begin a release program immediately to reduce the number of women in prison from 4000 today to 400 in 2020
  • To take the commissioning and delivery of health and education  contracts out of the MOJ, Dept of Education  and the NHS and to transfer the responsibility for these contracts to government auditors overseen by the NAO
  •   To set up government owned and operated education and mental health services for the delivery of services to women in prison and to implement  their delivery through state run organisations such as Government Mental Health Services, government education providers etc
  • To make governors personally accountable for deaths in custody or in the few weeks post release from custody, and to introduce a new criminal offence of death by dereliction  of statutory duty / responsibility
  • To make governors personally accountable for lack of rehabilitation or opportunities within their prisons to work on offending behaviour through pro social upskiling, and in relevant trades
  • To ensure  that all prison staff are educated to a minimum degree level qualification
  • To ensure that prison officers are psychologically screened and risk assessed for harmful behavior towards women prisoners and that they receive appropriate support to deal with secondary trauma and fatigue in their roles as First Responders
  • To ensure that all prison staff and civilians working in prisons are properly trained in a  trauma informed approach
  • To begin a government wide review of all underused or empty properties that could be re-rolled as smaller community prisons or diversion centres for women who pose no risk to themselves or the public, if incarceration is deemed necessary for treatment purposes, and to provide the infrastructure for a credible and properly tooled women’s liaison and diversion service
  • To remove the existing directors of the Women’s Estate, and the existing permanent secretaries, and the director of Health for Justice  who are not committed to change or reform. Their methods are repeatedly damaging women and therefore damaging society

  •     To introduce mandatory community sentences, for all women convicted of non-violent offences, through the implementation of a credible and properly resourced national  liaison and diversion  services
  •      To undertake a review of the training that  all judicial post holders have to undertake on mental health and domestic violence, to make yearly refresher courses on these topics mandatory and to increase training in gender awareness and the needs of women in the criminal justice system
  •      To roll out an inclusion program to induct more women and BME judges as a percentage of the judiciary which is more representative of the population, not endless Eton mess
  •      To make the recommendations within sentencing reports by forensic experts and probation officers binding on courts
  •     To ensure that all judges undergo proper training concerning domestic violence, gender differences and the effects of custody on women and trauma

Mental Health

  •  To order an immediate Health Needs Assessment at every prison, so that the service that is contracted is what is really needed, locally
  • To immediately suspend the current process of tendering for the mental health contract for prisons pending a review by the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee to ensure value for taxpayers’ money
  • To order a review of the MOJ contracts which are  be let and all existing contracts, to be undertaken  by independent auditors (not the big 4) to prove that these contracts provide value for money, clear and open accounting processes and are fit for purpose to ensure that contractors are competent  to provide the services they propose to provide
  • To appoint a Mental Health Ombudsman with legal powers to stay proceedings (as in the Administrative Court)  if a defendants’ rights are not observed under Articles 3, 5 and 6  and the Equal Treatment Bench Book
  • This Mental Health Ombudsman  to ensure the rights of a defendant from arrest through conviction and sentencing, to ensure that a defendant receives the right protection and treatment she needs to ensure that she is supported to desist from crime, and to commit to treat women with a holistic approach to address specific issues in her life

  •       Provision within the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill for women who have been victims of crime who are later convicted of crimes,  for sentencing purposes, so a Judge is fully aware of the facts of the woman’s background and history and how it may have impacted upon her offending behaviour
  •       To institute a new process for holding judges accountable for sentencing decisions and for a woman’s rehabilitation if he decides to sentence her to custody, to ensure that one person is responsible for ensuring that women are offered and can access mental health services
  •      To set up specific mental health and domestic violence aware tribunals to deal with these issues where they arise in criminal proceedings and to transfer criminal cases into these tribunals if DV or mental health has been identified in the pre trial hearings / processes

We call your attention to the final chapter of the report called The Legal Framework which describes the violations of domestic, international and European law being breached by the Ministry of Justice on a daily basis.  We don’t intend to allow this ongoing massacre of the prison service and our lives to continue.  Please revert within 28 days of the date of this letter with exactly what the Ministry of Justice plans to do to reduce the numbers of women in prison, to create an effective liaison and diversion service and to ensure mental health services and training of prison staff and above all else, the judiciary is updated and fit for purpose.

In the event we receive no response,  we  are advised by a large London law firm that we have locus to bring domestic proceedings against the MoJ and possibly a case in the international courts of the UN, concerning HM Government’s abject disregard and ongoing failure to attend to the crisis in the women’s prison estate, which is a breach of international law, conventions and agreements.

In spite of the government’s rhetoric about parity of esteem, mental and physical health equivalence of care in the prisons, we believe the general law abiding public would be disgusted and ashamed if they knew what the appalling conditions to which women in prison are subjected , in breach of our most basic human rights. This is not Tehran, this is 21st Century England.

We trust that our concerns will be dealt with expeditiously and with the gravity they merit.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Farah Damji
For and on Behalf of
The Drake Hall Prison Reform Group

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