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Expel foreign crooks? No, we’re far too nice

Tom Stacey, a prison visitor for 30 years, says that jails devote scandalous resources to ‘diversity’. No wonder the Home Office has so little time to manage deportations

19 May 2006

12:38 PM

19 May 2006

12:38 PM

Tom Stacey, a prison visitor for 30 years, says that jails devote scandalous resources to ‘diversity’. No wonder the Home Office has so little time to manage deportations

Political defenders of Charles Clarke insist it’s unreasonable to expect ministers to be acquainted with ‘every nook and cranny’ of the department they are responsible for, especially one as cumbrous as his. It’s hardly his fault, they say, that 1,023 foreign prisoners were freed without being considered for deportation.

And true enough that the Home Secretary cannot be familiar with everything that’s going on. He’s only human. One aspect of the Prison Service that he may not be familiar with is the earnest, not to say saintly, work done by governors and warders to ensure that foreign criminals leave prison feeling thoroughly at home there, not despite their foreignness but because of it.

Forget deportation. The large London penitentiary where I have been a prison visitor for three decades has established, at New Labour’s behest, an elite team of warders and probation officers who, in their own words as displayed on notices all over the prison, are ‘passionate about Diversity and Equality’.

These officials make up the ‘Diversity Team’, and most of the 130 or so penal establishments in England and Wales have set up their equally devoted teams, all committed to making our foreign national offenders snug and valued in Blighty, at least for the time being. The Diversity Teams are naturally proud of their role in life, which they describe in laminated notices wherever there is space on the prison’s walls. The Diversity Team’s notice in my prison is worth quoting in full:

‘Our aim,’ it announces to all who can read English, ‘is to provide information, advice, support and guidance to the senior management team, staff and prisoners, thus ensuring HM Prison –— provides an effective professional and responsible service in this area.

‘We will act as a local focal point for issuing, developing, implementing and monitoring policies in the field of Diversity.

‘As the catalyst for Diversity, we will assist the senior management team in ensuring HM Prison –— lives up to its commitment to embrace and value Diversity.’

This notice is followed by a declaration from the prison governor himself: ‘I will oversee all matters relating to Diversity. The Diversity Team and I will work closely to ensure HM Prison –— is a working environment that promotes and encourages good working relationships.’

Naturally enough, each member of the Diversity Team has his or her specific function for his or her diverse charges. In my nick there’s a team leader (a black woman) called ‘Diversity Manager’, another black woman called ‘Equal Opportunities Officer’, a third called ‘Foreign Nationals’ Co-ordinator’, a white woman called ‘Administration Support’, and a chap called ‘Disability Liaison Officer’. That must all be pretty reassuring if you are a benighted foreign national in the clink. True, there may not be an actual Diversity Team member explicitly allocated to help you to disappear into the community rather than face deportation — a ‘Deportation Evasion Co-ordinator’, for example — but you’re nonetheless getting a feel of where the heart of the system lies.

The annual Diversity Awards dished out by the Home Office to Diversity Teams from all over the country (at a national ceremony held at the London School of Economics) actually have an award category called ‘Innovation: an area which is often neglected’. I hope Mr Clarke won’t mind if I suggest a new award in the category: ‘Advice on How to Disappear into the Community at End of Sentence’.

The fact is that the Prison Service has the strangest priorities. A few weeks ago my jail was shown by Channel Five’s MacIntyre Investigates to have punished no fewer than 170 prisoners for possessing drugs and 230 for having illegal mobile phones in 2005; to have had more than 100 drug parcels lobbed in over walls; and to have saved the careers (on the insistence of the Prison Officers’ Association, the unreformed warders’ union) of various named warders known to have smuggled in drugs and alcohol and sold favours to prisoners. Plenty has been going wrong, in other words: more than enough to keep prison staff busy, you might think. So it makes one gulp to see so much time and effort devoted to feelgood pap.

The inner surfaces of Britain’s prisons these days are plastered with boastful notices signed by the governors and other key members of staff. It’s all part of the national spin culture. Anti-bullying, belief in visits, the right to harvest benefits — they all get their space. Here’s a notice on race that has appeared in my nick:

‘This prison does not tolerate any form of racism or unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, culture, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability or any other improper grounds.

‘Our policy is one of race equality and diversity, celebrating diversity of different cultures and beliefs.’

The notice carries the facsimile signatures not only of the governor but the deputy governor, the governor’s adviser on diversity, the acting head of operations, the head of learning and skills, the head of finance, the head of estates, the head of resettlement, the head of the safe prison team, the head of health services, the foreign nationals co-ordinator, the chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, the head of psychological services, the head of human resources, the race relations liaison officer, the chaplain, the functional manager and the assistant race relations officer.

Live and let live by all means. But do we have to ‘celebrate’ everything we encounter? I have confronted some decidedly weird beliefs, cultures and orientations from around the world in this particular prison, the ‘celebration’ of which would have the parents in my street keeping their children firmly indoors if engaged in the neighbourhood.

The nine aims which follow the declaration on race come as a bit of an anticlimax. Three of the less riveting are:

‘To promote and develop training programmes to include training and any other related training’ [sic];

‘To audit and oversee the implementation of all national, local and statutory policies in respect of Race Relations’; and

‘To ensure that all those who work, reside in, or visit the prison are given all reasonable means to make use of the facilities provided.’

You can see how taxpayers’ money is being spent at a time when ‘lack of resources’ is cited as the main excuse for the foreign prisoners scandal. You can see why members of Mr Clarke’s Prison Service are too busy to talk to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. And you can also see how they might consider that they had wasted their time — having devoted so much care to foreign nationals while they were behind bars — if they were actually deported on their release.

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