Date of writing : 12/04/2014
There is unrest. The regime has changed. Not as in what happened in Iraq – although there are those who would be pleased to see the Governor on the scaffold – but as in a change of daily routine. A notice was posted with the somewhat oxymoronic title ‘Long-term Temporary Arrangements’, citing staff shortages and the odd and ambiguous phrase ‘deployment problems’. Management speak. Of course all this could possibly mean is less time out of our cells, and more time on ‘bang-up’. A cursory inspection of the schedule confirms this unfortunate first impression.
The most obvious change is that evening lock-up has moved forward an hour, from quarter past six to quarter past five. Aside from this, there are now also two mornings and one afternoon of complete lock-down for those not in work or education. There are numerous other shufflings to irritate and confuse, but most are minor in comparison to the evening lock-up change. An hour may not sound a great deal, but it was probably the most important hour of (relative) liberty in the day.
Many here are in full-time work, or at least otherwise meaningfully occupied during the majority of the day. This means out at 08:00, back about 11:15, lunch around 11:45, lock-up 12:15 to 13:45 (good time for a nap, if so inclined), straight off to work again, back 16:15, dinner about 16:45, and lock-up for the night at 17:15. Assuming everything goes according to plan (which is far from common), this leaves two half-hour gaps for pretty much everything else: showers, cell-cleaning, socialising, and importantly, phone calls. Aside from the fact that these windows are short and frequently curtailed, many people in the real world are not at home during the day. There’s not much point trying to call someone with a 9-5 job at a quarter past four. By removing the post-dinner hour they have removed our chance to use the phones at what used to be their peak time of popularity.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with paragraph 6.10 of PSI 49/20112. No? Well, surely you know about the PSO/PSI system detailing the rights and responsibilities of inmates and the institutions housing them? No? Well, I suppose that’s hardly surprising as they’re apparently kept in a basement at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory marked ‘Beware of the Leopard’. In the last few months I’ve been doing what I can to gather the more useful of these documents. This involves leafing through an out-of-date and frequently inaccurate paper index listing only their titles, and sometimes not mentioning which have been cancelled and replaced by others. I then need to note which it is I think I’m looking for, and try to be nice enough to an overworked but thankfully tolerant librarian that she’ll consider printing them for me. Perhaps two weeks later, I’ll get a copy that may or may not be what I was looking for, and occasionally bears no relation whatsoever to the document I requested. Current thickness of the pile is 1¾ inches. I have read them all, and have a steady stream of people borrowing them or asking which chapter and verse to quote in their complaints.
Back to the point. The aforementioned paragraph states ‘The time available for using the phones must not normally be less than two hours each day’. Being in italics, this is a mandatory requirement. If I were being generous, I could say that the periods 11:15 to 12:15 and 16:15 to 17:15 added up to that. However, as these windows are often squeezed, and there are also two meals to be consumed in this time, I’d say this is not really meeting the requirement in anything but the most cursory of ways, even on a good day. Not that anybody here is very specific about demanding their statutory entitlements when they climb onto the netting between floors and refuse to go back into their cells. They’re mostly just miffed they’ve lost an hour, and that things are generally sliding into disarray due to a lack of staff.
There have been several sit-outs in the last week, with people occupying the netting, damaging CCTV, or otherwise being large-scale disobedient. There was a hostage situation on D Wing involving two inmates, although they couldn’t agree on which of them was the captor and which the captive. While passing E Wing on Thursday I saw one guy being carried away by four officers during a protest that had already been going on for several hours. Sadly, when anything significant like this happens, we tend to get locked down as our wing staff are drafted in to deal with it. The question of course is – what would happen if several wings decided to do it at once?
We’ve made local news a number of times, with officers urging a re-think on staffing levels, and warning of dire consequences if things continue to escalate. In a way, I’m hoping things get worse – an opinion openly shared by some officers here – so that the Government takes notice and brings staffing back up to a manageable level. As it stands, basic procedures are not being followed, applications are going unanswered, systems are breaking down, and getting anything done is an uphill struggle against a lack of available staff time, and apathy and low morale in the ranks. Mistakes are being made, and important things are being messed up, including inmates’ medication and treatments.
Most officers and inmates agree that something has to give. I just hope whatever it is happens fairly soon, rather than things continuing in gradual decline until someone finally decides too many things/people have slipped through the cracks. Meanwhile I’ll continue my war of attrition on its many fronts. Maybe I’ll eventually get those CDs I ordered – via the correct, and fairly long-winded, ordering process – but that Reception decided I could not have because ‘they came through the post’ … as opposed to via carrier pigeon, I suppose. Maybe the Wing Governor will eventually let me order a guitar, as he said he would two weeks ago. Maybe someone will ultimately accept I’m correct in my assertion that the Local Facilities List contravenes the mandatory provisions of PSI 30/2013 in 28 places. Until then, I suppose at least it keeps me busy.