Outside the MoJ itself, there is universal agreement that the main cause of the crisis of violence, drug taking and self harm in our prisons was the cut in front line staff of nearly 1 in 3 made by the lamentable Grayling, coupled with loss of experienced staff and cuts in pay that made subsequent recruitment and retention much more difficult.
Tory Ministers have taken great pains both to refrain from claiming that the cuts had no effect, or stating catgeorically that the causes lay elsewhere, though the lamentable Grayling seemed to suggest that new drugs, gang culture, more serious offences and maybe the wrong sort of snow were the real causes and cutting staff had been a thoroughy brilliant wheeze on his part.
The figures from Scotland seemed to bear out the non Grayling view: the data, some years old, showed that there had been no cuts in staffing and that levels of assaults and self harm barely rose.
But the very latest data from Scotland via FoI show a very different picture. Staffing hasn't changed much but self harm and violence have nevertheless soared, just as in E and W. (Note that the definition of self harm changed in 2017, but the trend before and after that date is unmistakably sharply upwards.)
Note: assault and self harm rates show % change on 2013 base, on rt hand scale.
Indeed, when one plots trends in the two countries together, the similarity is striking. We started earlier, south of the border; but we have ended up in much the same place. The politics plays out differently, but then we dont have in Scotland a Left Opposition anxious to blame Govenrment for the sins of austerity, nor for that matter an Inspectorate with the same power to issue an Urgent Notification.
One must therefore revisit the explanation for the crisis south of the border. There seems now more force in MoJ's argument that it was not just, or even primarily, the staffing cuts that caused our crisis. The fact that the crisis hit our private prisons just as badly, thugh few of them experienced cuts in staffing, also points the same way.
Still, it would be entirely counter-intuitive to believe that removing 1 in 3 front line staff, inlcuding many experienced middle managers, and making recruitment and retention much more difficult, can have had no effect. That maybe has a bearing on the difference in timing. Or did the new drugs just take longer to reach Scottish prisons?
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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