The criminal justice system in the North East is in chaos because of an “ideologically driven” drive to privatise public services and a series of “botched and expensive re-organisations”, a peer has warned.
Lord Beecham, the former leader of Newcastle City Council, hit out at the Government’s changes in a House of Lords debate.
He highlighted the Journal’s report that there had been a massive increase in the number of people representing themselves in family law courts, thanks to cuts in legal aid – leading to lengthy delays.
The proportion of North East parents attempting to make do without a lawyer in court has leapt from 34% to 53% of litigants since the removal of legal aid from family lawyers in April 2013. It means that proceedings are delayed as judges attempt to explain how the law works to parents.
And local law firms warn that parents taking part in child custody cases, and other cases involving the welfare of children, are failing to explain their case properly to courts.
Lord Beecham urged the Ministry of Justice to act. He said: “As many of us warned, the cuts in legal aid are having a serious effect on family and especially child-related proceedings.
“The Journal newspaper reported on Saturday a rise of 61% in people representing themselves, with the predictable result of serious delays.”
He also highlighted the riot in a North East prison which saw 50 inmates take over a wing at HMP Northumberland in March.
One inmate has written to prisoners’ magazine Inside Time to claim the riot was down to frustration at staff shortages which had put a stop to some workshops.
Lord Beecham pointed out that the prison, previously known as HMP Acklington, was run by a private contractor.
He said: “Also in the North East we have had the experience of a prison riot at the newly privatised Acklington Prison where 130 staff left, about a third of the total.
“The prison is now managed by Sodexo, one of those oligopolies assumed by the Government to be capable of running any public service.”
And the Labour peer, who led Newcastle City Council from 1977 to 1994, attacked proposals to split up the probation service.
Regional probation services will be replaced by a national service responsible for “high risk” offenders while private firms will run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which manage lower risk offenders.
The Northumbria Branch of trade union Napo, which represents probation officers, had written to the Ministry of Justice to raise concerns about “job security, workload, increased management spans, reduced support from human resources and especially the transfer of cases and the split between risk categories,” he said.
“They are worried about the risk to public safety as a result of the split and point to bureaucratic delays in transfers, with existing users being transferred and high risk offenders going to new officers.”
And Lord Beecham warned that outsourcing of child protection services could cause further problems.
He said: “The Government launched a consultation, lasting all of six weeks about plans to permit local authorities to outsource children’s social services to the likes of G4S and Serco.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 10 June 2014
Socially, the dual strategies of exalting consumerism and increasing control have been central to the neoliberal project. Consumerism and control can be viewed as opposite sides of the same coin. People are encouraged to aspire to ever greater levels of conspicuous consumption, modelled after the lifestyles of a celebrity elite that is plastered all over the media and broadcast into everyone’s living room. Shopping, which was once a means to an end, has been transformed into the UK’s favourite leisure pursuit. At the same time, however, more and more people are excluded from the workforce (sometimes forever) by the movement of industry to areas of cheaper labour, and many others are stuck in low paid work with no prospect of advancement. Large portions of the population are only able to achieve the widely advertised ‘ideal’ lifestyle through illegal means. A highly unequal, consumer-oriented society entices people to break the law, which was illustrated dramatically by the riots in London and other English cities over the summer of 2011
Neoliberalism requires expanded mechanisms of social control to police the lawlessness and social fragmentation that its policies produce. Levels of imprisonment have been rising in many western countries, reaching staggering proportions in the United States in particular.
In 2011, 0.7% of the US population were in prison, with 2.9% in prison, on probation or parole. Among African Americans, almost 7% of adult men were in prison, and one in three African American men can expect to go to prison during their lifetime. ‘In the US’, comments David Harvey, ‘incarceration became a key state strategy to deal with the problems arising among discarded workers and marginalised populations’. Rates of imprisonment in the United Kingdom have also been rising, almost doubling since the early 1990s.
The dual drive to increase consumption and control the casualties of wealth redistribution is bolstered by modern, individualistic notions of mental wellbeing and mental abnormality. Even before the age of ‘neurobabble,’ ideas like ‘mental illness’ located problems with behaviour and emotions within the individual, usually in a defective brain, but sometimes in subconscious mechanisms or defective cognitive structure.
In this way the complex nature of how people relate to each other and to their environment was dislocated from its social context. In recent years, almost all human activity has been claimed to be explained by neuroscience – from economics to the appreciation of literature. These ideas sit well with neoliberal thinking, with its emphasis on the individual and its distaste for ‘society’.
The concept of mental illness is useful partly because it provides a conveniently elastic justification for control and confinement to complement the criminal justice system. Once someone is labelled as sick and needing treatment, almost anything can be justified. As soon as the bizarre, disturbing and occasionally disruptive behaviour we call mental illness is attributed to a brain disease, its origins and meanings no longer have to be understood. It simply has to be corrected, with drugs or Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) or whatever else it takes. Normal considerations of the autonomy of the individual can be dispensed with. ‘Health’ trumps freedom in mental health law.
Neoliberal policies breed communities that no longer have the resources or the motivation to accommodate difference. As people are increasingly displaced from family and friends, as social support networks collapse and as work becomes casualised, the social integration that helped some people withstand emotional pressures in the past is often no longer available. Psychiatric facilities are in demand to manage the consequences, and the language of mental illness enables this to be done without revealing the social breakdown at its root.
In England, over 50,000 people were forcibly detained in a psychiatric institution during the year leading up to April 2013, which was 4% higher than the figure for 2010-2011 and represents an increase of 14% since April 2007. This is despite strong financial and political incentives to reduce the use of hospital beds.
The idea that mental disturbance is a disease that is easily amenable to treatment has also enabled the extension of control out of the hospital and into the community. In 2008, a ‘Community Treatment Order’ (CTO) was introduced in England and Wales that allows patients to be treated against their will while they are living outside hospital, even if they have no ‘symptoms’ at all. The orders do not require that people have a history of violence or suicidal tendencies. A CTO can be made simply on the basis that, without treatment, the person presents a risk to their own ‘health’.
When they were introduced, it was estimated that approximately 450 CTOs would be applied per year. In fact, over 6000 were made in a year and a half to April 2010. The use of these orders continues to rise, with a 10% increase during the year between April 2012 and April 2013. Community Treatment Orders almost always stipulate that the individual has to receive drug treatment that they do not want and do not like. Potentially, someone can be forced to receive these mind-altering chemicals for the rest of their life, even if they have full capacity to make decisions about their treatment.
As well as helping the prison system to deal with the fallout of neoliberal policies on individual stability and community cohesion, the more mundane medicalisation of unhappiness has also bolstered the neoliberal project. The promotion of the idea that depression is a common medical condition caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals has helped displace responsibility for suffering and distress away from the social and economic arena onto the individual and their brain. The mass prescription of antidepressants reinforces the idea that it is individuals who need fixing, but psychological solutions, such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), can also perpetuate this way of thinking.
Some of the reasons so many people are currently identified as depressed likely stem from the same factors that have led to the rising prison population – that we are encouraged to want what we cannot easily get.
Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman talks of how consumerism is driven by producing and maintaining feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. People cannot be allowed to feel satisfied. There must always be a lingering discontent to drive people to consume more, coupled with the fear of becoming a ‘failed consumer’. Yet, for many, work has become increasingly pressurised, insecure and unrewarding and as demands for increased productivity and efficiency increase, more people are excluded from the workforce through sickness, disability or choice
Debt, as well as crime, is used to fill the gap between aspiration and income. But with debt comes stress, anxiety and feelings of vulnerability and loss of control. There are so many opportunities to fail, and ‘success’ is ever more improbable.
The proliferation and expansion of mental disorders creates myriad possibilities for failure. As varying moods, inadequate attention and excessive shyness are pathologised, more and more people are encouraged to believe they need to get themselves ‘fixed.’
Just as cosmetic surgery promotes the impossible ideal of eternal youth, so mental health promotion increasingly suggests there is a perfect state of mental health to which we all need to aspire, and which we need to work on ourselves to achieve. People are encouraged to exist in a perpetual state of frustration and disappointment with themselves, looking ever inward so they do not think to challenge the nature of the society they inhabit.
Ideas about the nature of mental health and mental abnormality are intrinsically linked to the social and economic conditions in which they emerge. Neoliberalism and its ‘no such thing as society’ champions have helped to produce a biological monster that subsumes all areas of human activity within a neuroscience paradigm and, by doing so, banishes the philosophical tradition that acknowledges human experience as irreducibly social. We can only begin to challenge this impoverished view of humanity when we understand its political functions and the ends it serves.
The psychological is political!
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Why It’s Now So Dangerous to Protest by Alison Banville (BSNews Editor)
In early 2011 I wrote a piece for the New Statesman about Mark Kennedy, the undercover policeman who had infiltrated an environmental group even forming a relationship with a female member. I addressed the question some had asked – why would so much time and effort be spent on a bunch of ‘tree-huggers’?:
‘All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.’
This is the crux of the matter: profits. Nothing can be allowed to threaten them, not least peaceful people who simply want a just world and who are providing ordinary folk with the dangerous example of a life not ruled by the Holy Commandments of ‘consume, comply, conform’. That is why the gentle ‘tree-hugger’ is considered an enemy of the state, and will be treated as such. The state will also employ any and all measures to ensure that peaceful and LEGAL protest becomes a move too costly for any ethically minded person to contemplate.
Below I present the case that the UK government, in collusion with the criminal justice system and the police, has already embarked upon a deeply corrupt, systematic campaign to ensure that eco-activists (and animal rights/arms trade activists etc) will be too fearful to claim even their most basic civil liberties for fear of the dire consequences others have already experienced:
The case of undercover cop Mark Kennedy’s infiltration of an environmental campaign group has led commentators, including myself, to highlight the worrying way in which the police appear to be defending corporate interests rather than the public’s.
As George Monbiot points out the role of ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, in running the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which managed Kennedy, should be scrutinized, especially in light of the fact that the former operates as a private limited company so that it is not accountable in any meaningful, democratic way.
It is right that we should question the apparent use of our police as a private protection force for corporations, but there is one sinister development that has been missed in this debate, and that is the subversion of the law in order to specifically convict campaigners participating in activities which threaten corporate profits. What is this subversion? It is the use of the charge of ‘conspiracy’.
Monbiot unwittingly touched on this when he mentioned that twenty of the people Kennedy reported on to his superiors were ‘convicted on the desperate charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass.’ But George was mistaken in thinking that this was simply the result of the police and Crown scrabbling around for any old charge that would secure a guilty verdict – that would have been bad enough. No. This was, in fact, part of a very deliberate and traceable strategy that has been used in recent years to deal with ‘problem’ movements of which this was just the latest example. The ‘conspiracy’ tactic is a weapon, sharpened and wielded in order to weaken those groups most effective in challenging powerful corporations. And what’s more, it has been used successfully against perfectly peaceful campaigners:
Sean Kirtley was jailed for four and a half years in 2008 on a conspiracy charge. He was part of an anti-vivisection campaign against animal research company Sequani. Sean carried out no violent act; he used no intimidation; it was never suggested that he had conducted himself in anything other than a completely peaceful manner at all times and, as far as Sean was aware, he had kept scrupulously within the law. But because he had updated a website with perfectly legal information, and because he had attended wholly legal demonstrations he was convicted of ‘conspiracy to interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research facility’ under Section 145 of the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). Is that clear? – it was possible in this country for someone who hadn’t actually behaved illegally to be imprisoned for years because his lawful behaviour amounted to a ‘conspiracy’. Ingenious!
There was no outcry about Sean’s sentence because a reporting ban was slapped on the trial – and even if publicity had been allowed well, he’s just one of those ‘extremists’ isn’t he? To hell with justice. During the trial ‘evidence’ was presented to show how Sean and his co-defendants (all of whom were acquitted) had planned (legal) protests – the very act of planning to demonstrate being portrayed as somehow illegal. In fact, a host of totally lawful behaviour was offered to the jury as evidence of conspiracy.
Thankfully, after a campaign to free him, Sean’s sentence was overturned on appeal but he had already lost a year and a half of his life. After release, he reflected on the conspiracy charge saying, ‘the final nail that was hammered into the prosecution’s ‘argument’ was when they could not name anybody that I was supposed to have conspired with, so my conviction was quashed there and then….I did often ponder in those small hours in my various cells in various prisons who I may have conspired with – Jesus? The Holy Ghost? Superman?’
We might also reflect for a moment on the mindset of those who were happy to see Sean rot in jail for four and a half long years.
Footage of people at various legal protests has also been used in other cases to accuse them of being ‘lead conspirators’. In this way, it becomes dangerous to engage in lawful protest for fear of being convicted – which is exactly the point. Because to stifle dissent is the overarching aim here while police and politicians pose as neutral supporters of the right to protest. This is why in the recently collapsed Ratcliffe Power Station case the authorities waited to arrest 114 people in a Nottingham school when they had Kennedy’s information (him being a major architect of the plan) much earlier. Far better to deter a large group from political action than just a few.
Danny Chivers, one of the defendants confirms this also pointing out it was ‘the biggest pre-emptive environmental protest arrest in British history, and the starting point for a truly bizarre sequence of events involving a ‘conspiracy to commit trespass’’.
Here he nails the importance of the conspiracy aspect adding that ‘while Aggravated Trespass is a minor crime normally dealt with by a magistrate, anything involving Conspiracy has to go in front of a jury at the Crown Court’. This is the appeal of the charge for those employing it – it not only requires that no discernable offence actually be committed, it ensures a longer sentence which, in turn, acts as a deterrent. For the corrupt state fearful of the power of direct action – what’s not to like?
Chivers gives mention too to the draconian bail conditions given to those arrested preventing them from engaging in any LEGAL activities related to their cause. Again, this reflects the tactics tried and tested first on the animal rights movement, and this is significant because the thorough demonization of this latter group has meant there has been a fatal lack of scrutiny of its treatment at the hands of the police and justice system which has allowed individuals such as Kirtley to suffer serious miscarriages of justice. Crucially, it has also emboldened the police in their efforts to apply these same corrupt methods to the environmental movement because, in the eyes of the authorities, the two pose exactly the same threat. To misquote Martin Niemoller’s famous verse:
‘first they came for the animal activists…..’
The gullibility of the public on this issue must be replaced with a vigilance determined to protect the rights of every fellow citizen. Justice is for everyone or it ceases to exist and only an alert and watchful people can protect it, as John Adams knew when he said that ‘liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.’
Because the truth is, a covert game is being played with protest groups in this country which requires that the general population (and media) readily believe the propaganda of establishment voices. This game has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the public and everything to do with protecting corporate profits. It must be exposed because those who are happy to see our legal system subverted and fundamental liberties sacrificed are the real danger to any free and civilised society. And that’s no conspiracy theory.
Source – BS News 18 Feb 2014