UK: Hewell Prison the worst in Britain – Murder, suicide, blunders and escapes

15 February 2015
Reblogged from: Birmingham Mail
Written by Nick McCarthy

Redditch jail comes in for heavy criticism following catalogue of catastrophe

Campaigners have branded a crisis-hit Midland prison as one of the worst in Britain.
HMP Hewell, on the outskirts of Redditch, has been hit by rocketing death rates and chronic overcrowding.

It is the prison where evil Leo Barnes managed to hang himself last month – in the middle of his trial for the murder of helpless pensioners Cynthia Beamond and Philip Silverstone.

But that was just one of a catalogue of problems at Hewell since it was officially opened on June 25, 2008.

There have been suicides, blunders, escapes – and even a MURDER.

In fact, the Howard League for Penal Reform has recorded one murder and four suicides at Hewell in the last 12 months alone.

And the charity has revealed that Hewell was running at more than 25 per cent above its capacity in November – the same month a scathing report was published following by HM Inspector of Prisons.

The report found that the use of force at the prison was increasing, 40 per cent of cells were overcrowded, and almost one in five prisoners had developed a drug problem whilst behind bars.

Read the rest here.

California organizations outline smart, safe prison population reduction strategies

by Emily Harris
Via the SF Bay View
June 18th 2011

Oakland – In response to the May 23 Supreme Court ruling on California prison overcrowding, a statewide alliance of over 40 organizations known as Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is pushing the state to take up a number of strategies that would make substantial reductions in the prison population while potentially freeing up billions of dollars for programs and services devastated by California’s budget crisis.

CURB, which works to both shrink California’s prison population and end costly prison and jail construction, released “The Budget for Humanity” in March of this year. “The Budget for Humanity” outlines a series of smart and safe strategies that California could push forward to reduce the prison population in compliance with the Supreme Court decision. These strategies include:

– Reforming drug sentencing laws by making possession of small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
– Eliminating return-to-custody as a sanction for administrative and technical parole violations.
– Making low-level, non-violent property offenses misdemeanors instead of “wobblers” which can be charged as a felony.
– Repealing or amending the three strikes law so that the second and third strike must also be classified as “serious or violent.”
– Providing education and/or job training to every person in prison.
– Expanding “good time” credits.
– Providing independent community-based drug, mental health treatment and reentry services to people coming home from prison.
– Releasing or discharging all people who are terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated by expanding medical parole and utilizing compassionate release.
– Releasing elderly prisoners.
– Paroling term-to-life prisoners who are parole eligible.
– Amending or repealing juvenile life without parole convictions
– Releasing people who are “mentally ill” to community-based mental health treatment programs.

CURB points out that most of these strategies have been safely and sustainably implemented in other states across the U.S. Additionally, CURB’s Budget for Humanity argues vehemently against jail and prison bed expansion to address overcrowding. CURB calls prison and jail construction a “false solution” to the Supreme Court ruling and continues to criticize the billions of dollars of prison construction spending authorized by California’s controversial AB 900 lease revenue bond.

To view CURB’s 50 ways to reduce the number of people in prison in California visit http://curbprisonspending.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/50waysCurb.pdf.

Emily Harris is statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). She can be reached at (510) 435-1176 or emily@curbprisonspending.org.

PA considers using closed mental hospitals for prisoners

HARRISBURG – Turning closed or partially-used state mental hospitals into state prisons to hold inmates with mental health issues is an idea being kicked around by House lawmakers.

The House Judiciary Committee is exploring whether it makes sense to transfer an estimated 20 percent of the 51,000 state prison inmates with mental health issues from prisons holding a general population to facilities that were once part of an extensive network of state-run institutions for the mentally ill and mentally retarded.

Committee members are pursuing this idea as an alternative to the state corrections department’s plan to transfer 2,000 non-violent state prison inmates to medium-security prisons in Virginia and Michigan for several years.

The department is undertaking the out-of-state transfers to ease overcrowding while three new medium-security prisons are built in Fayette, Centre and Montgomery counties.

There is concern among members that the department’s estimate that the plan will cost Pennsylvania $62 per day for each transferred inmate is too low. This would amount to an estimated $135 million for three years.

The corrections budget could top $2 billion for the first time in fiscal 2010-11, said panel chairman Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Reading, at a meeting last week. While lawmakers have not traditionally challenged corrections spending requests, the continuing fiscal problems facing state government will put a spotlight on any agency seeking large increases, he added.

“We will all be looking to save costs,” Caltagirone said.

Removing 8,000 to 10,000 inmates with mental health issues from the general population could serve as a safety valve to overcrowded conditions, he said.

The state Department of Public Welfare operates three units for inmates with mental issues at Torrance, Warren and Norristown state hospitals. Inmates go to these facilities by order of sentencing judges. A specially trained staff runs the units.

Pennsylvania has closed and downsized many of its state mental hospitals and mental disability centers during the past three decades and placed many former residents in community-based care and living programs. Reusing some of the aging buildings at these facilities would involve environmental remediation work with asbestos removal and security upgrades.

One of the first state mental hospitals to face closure, Retreat in Hunlock Creek, was converted to a state prison for general population inmates in the 1980s.

The corrections department places inmates based on sentencing orders from trial judges, spokeswoman Susan Bensinger said. Therefore, changes in sentencing policies would address the issue lawmakers have raised.
http://citizensvoice.com/news/state-considers-plan-to-transfer-prison-inmates-1.567502

Posted by lois at January 25, 2010 01:14 PM

Are elderly prisoners really a threat to public safety?

Nursing homes with razor wire
Are elderly prisoners really a threat to public safety?
By David Fathi
LA Times
December 23, 2009

Sometime in the 1970s, the United States began a love affair with incarceration that continues to this day. After holding nearly steady for decades, our prison population began to climb as criminal justice policy took a sharply punitive turn, with the massive criminalization of drug use, “three strikes” laws and other harsh sentencing practices. More people were going to prison, and staying there longer. By 2005, the prison population was six times what it had been in 1975.

One little-known side effect of this population explosion has been a sharp increase in the number of elderly people behind bars. According to the Justice Department, in 1980 the United States had about 9,500 prisoners age 55 and older; by 2008, the number had increased tenfold, to 94,800. That same year, the number of prisoners 50 and older was just shy of 200,000 — about the size of the entire U.S. prison population in the early 1970s.

People age 50 or 55 may seem a bit young to be classified as elderly. But because their lives have often been characterized by poverty, trauma and limited access to medical care and rehabilitative services, most prisoners are physiologically older than their chronological age would suggest, and more likely to have disabling medical conditions than the general population. One study cited by Ronald H. Aday in his 1994 article in Federal Probation concluded that the average prisoner over 50 has a physiological age 11.5 years older than his chronological age.

With 1 in 11 U.S. prisoners serving a life sentence — in some states, the figure is 1 in 6 — it’s no surprise that the number of elderly prisoners is skyrocketing. In 2007, the New York Times profiled then-89-year-old Charles Friedgood, a New York state prisoner who had served more than 30 years of a life sentence for second-degree murder. Although he had terminal cancer and had undergone several operations, including a colostomy, he had been denied parole five times before being released in 2007. Friedgood at least had the opportunity to apply for parole; in some states, parole has been abolished, and a life sentence means exactly that.

Being in prison is hard on anyone, but the elderly face special dangers, particularly if they are ill or disabled. Some have complex medical and mental health needs that prisons are ill-equipped to handle. Many prisons are not accessible to persons with mobility impairments; for them, bathing, using the toilet or even getting in and out of their cells can be a difficult, dangerous challenge. And older prisoners are more likely to be robbed, assaulted or otherwise victimized.

Some states have so many elderly prisoners that they have built special facilities to house them. Several years ago I visited the Ahtanum View Corrections Center, Washington state’s prison for the elderly. Everywhere I looked were aged, frail, disabled people, some of whom could barely move without assistance. The prison’s webpage helpfully points out that a volunteer clergy team is available to assist prisoners with “end-of-life issues.”

The main justification for incarceration is to protect public safety. But it’s hard to see the public safety rationale for keeping so many elderly people in prison.

It’s even harder to understand the economic justification. Incarceration is expensive — about $24,000 per year for the average prisoner, according to a 2008 Pew Center on the States report. Keeping someone over 55 locked up costs about three times as much. Given that criminal behavior drops off dramatically with advancing age, this is a major investment for very little return.

As the United States faces its worst fiscal crisis in decades, many states are taking a hard look at their prisons, which consume a large and increasing portion of state budgets. As part of this long overdue re-examination, lawmakers should ask whether so many elderly people really need to be in prison and whether the state should be in the business of operating nursing homes with razor wire.

David Fathi is director of the U.S. division at Human Rights Watch.

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-fathi24-2009dec24,0,1216548.story