Farah Damji

TERROR IN OUR MIDST

Watching micro news clips of the horror of the terror attack on London Bridge and continual security breaches has reinforced what I already know to be true. I know how hard it is for prisoner to be granted RoTL or release on temporary license, from prison to attend such events, how hard it is for charitable organizations and other NGOs to secure venues, funding and the goodwill of someone in HMPPS HQ, to allow such an event to take place. In the immediate aftermath, RoTL will be restricted again and the Ministry of Justice will try and shift the mystical process of risk assessment to the small charities, struggling to work in the rehabilitation sector. It is already happening. Who is really responsible for the assessment of risk and reoffending in a former prisoner now on license in the community and why are they failing? John Crilly, the hero prisoner who attacked the terrorist with a fire extinguisher is back in closed conditions. Ex Prisoner rehabilitation will falter, again.

Usman Khan had an exclusion zone and was wearing a GPS location tag, monitored by failed security company, G4S, who were given this contract earlier in 2019, very quietly. His request to attend the Learning Together 5 year anniversary would have been put to MAPPA, the Multi Agency Public Protection panel responsible for monitoring the most dangerous ex prisoners, in the community. It will have been risk assessed by specialist police officers and permission will have been given, you would have thought, after careful consideration. Operation Jigsaw and VISOR, a specialist public protection application to monitor the most dangerous and sexual and violent offenders would have been aware of these requests. How did all these public protection agencies fail him, fail the public? We have learned recently that Usman Khan begged to be deradicalised while still incarcerated, and was not given the opportunity. The terror attacks, the murders that resulted as a direct result of oversight then become the State’s responsibility. Yet more blood on the hands of the British Security Services.

I was recalled to prison for tweeting complaints about National Probation Services, It took me 15 months to secure an oral hearing before the Parole Board, and once it finally went before a panel of consisting of a solicitor and a psychiatrist, I was granted immediate release and the Parole Board panel declared it was an unlawful recall.. The panel did not believe that I am a risk of harm to the public, they called the Offender Manager, in the community and the Offender Supervisor at HMP Downview “not credible in their evidence.” They did not demonstrate in their evidence how I am a huge risk of psychological harm to criminal justice professionals and said that recall had not been justified and that it was clear that the reason I had been recalled was because NPS did not want to be scrutinised and that I was , despite their best efforts, allowed to complain.

NPS did all it could to try and block my release, after the panel’s final decision, even pretending that a complaint about the OM was a breach of proposed license conditions, and this was irrefutable evidence that I would not keep to the new license conditions, which are basically a gagging order. The Parole Board chair from my oral hearing was having none of it.

NPS got their gagging license conditions in, namely that I can’t mention by name any HMPPS staff or write their names in any form, and that I must say nothing derogatory or rude about them. I have asked a High Court Judge to look at this license condition, because it is self serving and again, is an attempt by NPS and the Ministry of Justice to avoid any scrutiny. The MoJ has to respond to my application for Judicial Review in the Birmingham Admin Court by 6 January 2020.

What is it,then, that makes my tweets so dangerous that they land me in prison for 15 months, with every agency in the MoJ and Home Office tripping over itself to find ways they can try and arraign me in more proceedings in the latest alleged infraction, real or perceived?

The issue is that there is no real leadership in the Ministry of Justice and as a Department, it has suffered 40% cuts in real terms, more than any other department, with six Secretaries of State for Justice in just 6 years. It appears to be a poisoned chalice. Then there was Chris Grayling, who seems to create his own private Sarajevo, into whichever department he is parachuted. His flagship policy was to part privatise probation services, once held in the highest esteem, so that those considered most dangerous or high risk would continue to be managed and supervised by NPS and those considered low and medium risk would be managed by new private Community Rehabilitation Companies.

These reforms were resisted, alas they happened and all the worst predictions of what might happen to people in the community managed by the CRCs has sadly crystalised into reality. People are the collateral damage of ill-thought out policies, attempting again, to shift the burden of responsibility from the State to the private sector, for the management and monitoring of some very vulnerable and damaged people, who have ended up in prison, who need support and active engagement, not sign-in booths and faceless nameless services. The Rehabilitation Revolution was in name only, and it led to a hemorrhaging of talent and experience from NPS and report after report was scathing and highlighted the risk to the public.

Risk is not static, it is transactional and fluid. The ending of a relationship, the death of someone in your support network, divorce, homelessness, losing a job can switch, in a second, the state of mind of an ex prisoner on license in the community from being low risk to suddenly presenting as high risk.

I am classified as high risk and continue to be managed by MAPPA 3, which controls and regulates every action and decision I want to make. I have to declare if I am in an intimate relationship, or developing one; if I am going to be away from one of my two address, one in Birmingham and one in London, where I am meant to be sleeping, for even one night; be of good behaviour; allow my phone to be interrogated; seek permission if I want to start employment, paid or unpaid, and not keep more than one phone number. MAPPA micromanage every aspect of my personal life. How then did Usman Khan slip through the net? I can’t take a breath without informing my Probation Officer ( I deplore the term Offender Manager, more pathologising by consent from the era of Michael Spurr. Khan was managed at MAPPA 2.

I met many Muslim women in prison who had served long sentences and had committed serious crimes. One was a fundraiser for Jihadi activity in Syria, another had stabbed an eminent MP. None of these women were receiving any kind of deradicalisation programs, or mental health interventions. They were told they were basically beyond rehabilitation and were released without any support or adequate monitoring. The police miss every opportunity to try and engage, Police Liaison Officers in prisons are unreachable and don’t not appear to be part of the risk management process, in that they do not act on live information or prison security issues.

The issue of terror and the imminent release of increasingly radicalised prisoners , in prisons, is a ticking timebomb. Tick tock. It is just a matter of time until the next mad act of irrational violence and horror on the streets of London takes place. And then, again, we will hear all the same platitudes.

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