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July 26, 2007

When the School Inspectors come to Prison - writer-in-residence Emily Kingham is hit by a wall of futile bureaucracy

Posted by Emily Kingham

Last week the School Inspectors came to the prison in which writer-in-residence Emily Kingham works. They did not like what they saw.

I was reminded of Gogol's The Government Inspector last week when Ofsted inspectors and some other, more general type of inspector, came to inspect the prison. The vagueness of their job descriptions - they didn't know who was employing them because of the recent compartmentalisation of the Home Office - seemed perfectly to illustrate the futility of bureaucratic attempts at imposing order on chaos. When systems are imposed on individuals, rather than taking individuals into account, chaos will not be channelled but it will be swamped by paperwork.

In his play, Gogol ridicules the bureaucracy of the Russian government under the tsar as a thoroughly corrupt system. Universal themes of human corruption and the folly of self-deception are explored by Gogol and witnessed in action by myself in my work at this prison. My conclusion is this: the governors of this prison are obsessed with targets; tied into these targets are financial bonuses.

The conclusions of the inspectors went roughly along the same lines. The prison was found to be "inadequate" and "unsafe". The Learning and Skills provision was found to be "inadequate".

Instead of ensuring that a full complement of officers are on duty at all times, Governor Number One has spent a fortune on building a new visitors' centre, a new super-enhanced wing and a new education block. All well and good, but everyone in the prison suspects the only reason he did this was to make himself "look good". Once he had achieved this goal, he insisted that the education block be occupied by teaching staff. This was before the teaching staff had received sufficient training to teach and given that the new block was half a mile away from the education centre, communications, access to materials and colleagues, etc. have been difficult to say the least.

I was employed, briefly, by the education department to "deliver" a course in journalism. Before I did this, I had to "map it across" - the course, that is - to "key skills". I think key skills are something to do with listening, reading, speaking, writing and adding up. Maybe subtraction as well.

All this involved paperwork that I was supposed to undertake in my own time. First, I had to list each "module" of each workshop, for example reading a newspaper article, and then note down which key skills this module exercised, i.e. reading, writing, adding up, etc. I also had to record the aim of this exercise, the result of this exercise and how I would be "facilitating" it. This might mean writing down "supporting the learner in reading", or some such nonsense.

I then had to complete Individual Learner Plans for each "learner". This in a local prison where you don't know who is going to turn up to your class until they are there in front of you. Apart from the Scheme of Work (SoW!), and the ILP, I then had to complete something called a Differential plan - which takes into account students' varying needs - such as being a Muslim or being dyslexic, and how my lesson plan reflects those needs and their, wait for it, "diversity".

So that's a SoW, an ILP, a lesson plan and a Differential. Once the students had turned up, I had to complete two different registers in two different buildings half a mile apart - one for the "education provider" (what used to be called an FE college) and one for the prison - still called a prison - but for how much longer? And what name will they come up with for that? Offender Management Unit? Both institutions want the numbers of students attending each course recorded (do they get bonuses for this?), as well as the numbers who didn't attend, how long they attended, how long they didn't attend. I'll tell you something now: all my key skills were used up, and I hadn't even started the lesson.

I left when a woman from the education provider came to the prison to teach the staff about SmaRT and DaR. Do not ask me what these acronyms stand for - I gave up at the mere mention of them.

This lament is intended to convey the futility of bureaucracy and the blindness of those who work in Education and the prison service. Also, with two paymasters - an education provider and a prison - the pressure on staff is almost unbearable, and the paperwork takes on Gogolian levels of ridiculousness.

Back to the Government Inspectors: they found that the prison was "an unsafe environment", that bullying was rife between management and staff and staff and prisoners - and that they themselves felt physically unsafe as they carried out their inspection. They noted that prisoners at Reception were being subjected to Control and Restraint techniques without being "nicked"; that is to say, officers are using violence on prisoners on the slightest provocation and then not reporting the incident because the provocation hardly existed in the first place.

All this is due to understaffing. The understaffing is due to the fact that the governor has overspent his budget and now cannot afford to staff his prison. The bullying is due to the fact that the governors of this prison are intellectually and managerially out of their depth. Just as acronyms are all the education managers have, rules are all the prison managers have. They need these systems to make them feel they are in control. These systems are obviously not working. The governors use a military model because they feel safest when there are strict rules with which to chastise people. They deal with their insecurities by finding fault in those lower down the food chain. The frustration filters down until we get officers abusing prisoners, and prisoners abusing each other.

At this point, I would like to blow my own trumpet, but I think this is a case in point. I received a favourable report from the inspectors. So did other privately employed individuals operating within the prison. Individuals such as myself cut through the layers of bureaucracy; we are more fluid and more present at the coal face. We respond to the needs of individuals. The inspectors recognised that whatever I had achieved I had done so by dint of my own individual efforts. When I am confronted with obstacles ("Oh no, you can't do that," says the inevitable officer shaking his head and scratching his chin) I come up with solutions or a change in tactics. When negotiating a rigidly structured environment, one must be flexible, and dare one say it, imaginative. There cannot be a systematic approach that fits all individuals however many acronyms educationalists come up with.

I'm sure there is a lesson in here somewhere. Just don't ask me to do a scheme of work.

Emily Kingham is the pseudonym of a writer-in-residence at a Category B prison in South East England. She is a writer and journalist. To read Emily Kingham's previous columns on prison life see Notes from a Prison.

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Chapter 16 of Robert W. Schoenfeld's delightful book, The Chemist's English is entitled That fellow acronym he all time make trouble. Now jumi tufela know, he also makim heap big trouble in haus yu putim badfela him no makim bagarap outside!

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at July 30, 2007 03:04 PM

I have read all of Emily's notes and has taken me quite sometime to catch up and have read them with great interest.
I spent over twenty years in prison, until my retirement, and have seen the service go into regression.
At one time Officers had respect for management as most recruits were from the forces and moving from one discipline service was natural progression, and most Governors were Officers from the forces.
So we had respect from the governors and we had respect for them and that respect was also repeated from the officers to the prisoners and believe it or not the prisoners had respect for us.

About ten years ago things started to slide, when the government had a change in recruitment policy, they wanted to change the image of the Prison Service, make it more of a caring service, soften it up a bit.
They stopped mainly recruiting from the services and adopted a local recrutment policy, (lowered the standards).
Along with this came the softly, softly approach that they wanted to give the prisoners. The caring Prison Service?
Great for the prisoner.
This of course had a knock on effect for all.
The Governors would constantly override and undermine Prison staff, which led to rife bulling between prisoners and the overall effect was that the Prison in which I was serving had six suicides in one year from bullying, they even named a special until for bully's after one of the prisoners who had comitted suicide because of pressure from these bully's.
Just before I left the service, the bullying was still going on, this was coming from the Governors of the prison, down to the staff, which in turn came down to the prisoners.
When management were challanged in the form of grievances. The Area Manager released a statement to the effect that it was 'Robust Management'. (Verbal & mental bullying I call it).
So I think that the inspectors are right and if the Service is never going to sort its management out, they will never stop the bullying in Prisons between staff and prisoners and the prisoners themselves.


Posted by: Andy Mack at August 7, 2007 04:28 PM
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