Monday, May 16, 2011


It must be stated that the quality of Jersey convicts is rising.
Now that we have a Jersey lawyer, an accountant, police officer and teacher at La Moye we only need a States Member to almost complete the set of incarcerated professionals. No doubt Stuart will soon fill the latter vacancy and we might even have a senior Magistrate there in the near future.

At least the image of being a prisoner is no longer that of the hapless recidivist, working class proles who deserve to be locked away for ever.

It’s a bit like when Dr aka Lady Isobel Barnett – the middle class darling doyenne of BBC chat shows and panel games in the 1956s and 60s – was convicted of shoplifting. She had (from memory) been a lay magistrate at a time when hangings and beatings were still much favoured punishments. Nobody suggested that a good thrashing or hard labour would do her good on “Any Questions” as a result of her conviction, although she had been a regular panellist.

Those with long memories will also remember that she committed suicide soon afterwards in 1980 by immersing an electric heater in her bathwater.

So when the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel met today to discuss the proposed Repatriation of Prisoners (J) Law with Minister Le Marquand and his team the subject was treated with a some degree of compassion – although not much in-depth knowledge.

Human Rights features now in a way that was never heard of in Lady Barnett’s time but it is still a bit of an add-on. Not an integral part of the whole punishment /rehab package and more of an irritant to be dealt with rather than an aid to justice and fairness to be grasped with enthusiasm.

Today’s Scrutiny team was sadly depleted to just Deputies Le Herissier and Macon so was barely quorate. Deputies Tadier and T. Pitman were absent but not audibly excusé. But it did not matter since this was not really a “fully fledged Scrutiny Panel” at all – rather (as Dep Le H explained) it was just a “little hearing” and the duo would draft a “little note” for those that might be interested.

As always, the suggestion that there might be Human Rights implications was more concerned with nastiness in other places. We could not send prisoners to places where they might be tortured!
The fact that Jersey’s prison has been subject to several critical reports by HM Inspectorate of Prisons over recent years was not mentioned. Nor was the Council of Europe “Torture Committee” visit and report of 2010, yet, there are plenty of potential Jersey violations yet to be dealt with there.
Also, the Panel was, as always, not allowed to see what advice had been given by Jersey’s Crown Officers to the Minister - although he clearly had the AGs written opinion in front of him at the table and was quoting from it!

In fact, it soon transpired that the bottom line was the bottom line.
The primary purpose of the whole “repatriation” exercise was a cost-saving exercise and although the dreaded words “Ozouf and “CSR” (if that is a word) were not actually mentioned - w e all knew that it was really about saving 10%....

The notion that there are 49 prisoners from the UK currently at La Moye just screams “savings potential” to an accountant like Ozouf and “repatriation” has all sorts of emotive and ancient cost reduction – even generating - potential. It was the same motivation that transported many thousands of prisoners from the UK to America and Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Of course, some were sent from Jersey too and the memory of shipping destitutes and undesirables out on the next boat is still a live part of the Jersey heritage.

Unfortunately, even if there were no difficult Human Rights obligations to comply with now – the simplistic cost saving aims hardly added-up.
Reducing the population of the Jersey prison actually adds to the problem because a whole wing needs to be shut in order to sack any staff at all and that creates special problems of its own.
A prison that accommodates just 200 or so inmates cannot provide all the range of specialist facilities that are needed in the 21st century. This becomes more difficult with even fewer prisoners. Thus, the human rights violations and other inadequacies are increased by reducing the population. Trained staff could be needed in a hurry if Jersey accountants and lawyers suddenly started to copy-cat the crimes of those already imprisoned. Prison buildings have to be kept ready too – just in case….so the savings are more theoretical that actual and many prisoners from the UK, Poland or Portugal have strong Jersey links and would be exempted (on human rights grounds) from repatriation at all.

Put simply, Jersey prison needs more inmates – not fewer, if it is to address human rights issues or provide proper 21st century standard facilities on an economically sound basis.
[Perhaps this is the diversification that Ozouf and Co is seeking – why not turn La Moye into a revenue earning prison by importing criminals. Jersey’s very own Devils Island! There could be a huge airport traffic/tourism surge too….?}

Also, there are unknown numbers of Jersey prisoners in other jurisdictions who might be entitled to transfer to La Moye. Whilst they might be able to speak Jerriaise and make a Jersey milk-can in the prison workshops – they could also be in need of specialist care or treatment which La Moye cannot provide.

Unfortunately, it transpired (after some prompting from yours truly) that Jersey has not even yet managed to agree upon a repatriation policy with Guernsey or the Isle of Man or the separate parts of the UK (Scotland, Ireland and England) which will be compatible with their own prison/punishment variations or of Jersey’s own weird parole practices. Although there is a “dialogue” going on with the UK Justice Department trying to produce a special “bilateral agreement” – nobody at this Panel meeting could explain what it was!

Besides which, countries in the EU such as Poland - and doubtless others – have opted out of the existing agreements within the EU (which do not apply in Jersey anyhow).
So, even if Jersey does manage to negotiate an international agreement – it will be full of holes and the Minister had little idea about the implications for places further afield such as Indonesia or Thailand….it sounded like Freddie Cohen will have his work cut out there for many years to come, waving Jersey’s International profile flag.

Ian Le Marquand explained that a much simpler cost saving measure could be achieved by putting two prisoners in a cell, and he did not know what the term “temporary return” meant in the draft law. Also, he was a bit vague about prisoners from other jurisdictions who could return to Jersey before their Jersey sentences were completed - if they had been granted more favourable terms or an amnesty elsewhere - or about prisoners’ rights to vote.

Sadly, he had given up trying to revive the proposed reform of Jersey’s own parole system and sentencing policies.  These had been kicking around for decades but had evidently encountered the granite wall that is tradition in this Island and he had no inclination, time or energy to tackle them before October. Although this package was the impediment against administering much of the proposed Repatriation Law – there was the familiar hint of a higher presence in a red robe that was not in favour of change here.

So, although La Moye prison is currently starved of funds and struggling to provide adequate facilities and re-training/education services, or segregation on the basis of age, gender or vulnerability – the government demand is to reduce costs further.

Of course, the radical solution might be to look at ways and means of not sending so many people to prison at all ( and Jersey usually tops the international jailing  league) but that would require a more resolute and structured Scrutiny panel review.
Certainly it is not something that could be dealt with over a leisurely hour’s chat, one morning, during an Election Year. This proposed Law is clearly only half-baked….