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A conversation with Terry Waite

I’m fulfilling something that has been on my wish list for over 20 years… meeting Terry Waite.

Many years ago, as a young Mum, I was eager to find something more substantive to read than Fireman Sam. I borrowed ‘Taken on Trust’ from the library and was riveted by his harrowing story of being a hostage.

Reading about Terry Waite re-ignited my preference for non-fiction and individual’s personal journeys. What stood out to me was his resilience and courage but so did his humanity and his deep faith.

I’m not familiar with the layout of Westminster Abbey and certainly not the Cloisters. Many people who enter are tourists fascinated by the scale of this architecture which commemorates the births, deaths and marriages associated with it. But not me, not on this occasion.

Walking towards my destination, I am suddenly aware that Terry Waite has been a part of my own journey. I say that because the inhumanity that he endured for 5 years mainly in solitary confinement had a lasting impact on me and still today raises many questions, such as:

Why do we put the vulnerable in isolation in our prison system?

Why do we as a society accept it as an inevitability for some?

I’m clutching my copy of his new book ‘Solitude’ where he explores various accounts by those he has met on his travels of being solitary.

Just checked my watch, I’m early, I’m usually early.

Peeking through the Cloisters, there is an immaculate quadrangle where the grass is surprisingly green and a small water feature bubbles away and a fresh breeze bringing a well needed respite to the heat and humidity of London.

Even the event organiser’s choice of location spoke to me of hours and hours of quiet contemplation.

Taking our seats, we were reminded that this was the route historically used by monks from their dormitory to the refectory and this site has always been “a place of power” and a “place of faith”. It’s humbling.

“I witnessed those killed before my very eyes”
“When law and order break down, all hell breaks loose”

These were some of the first words Terry Waite said as he stood to address the audience. He was dressed in a simple pale blue shirt, black trousers, cream linen jacket and a blood red tie. At 6’7” Mr Waite’s command presence was even more imposing than the ancient wooden doors framed by the solid stonework behind him.

Taken on Trust

“If someone turns to the Church for help regardless of whether the Church can help them, the Church should help them”.

He was deeply sincere.

He went on to explain his experience immediately before and at the point of being taken hostage in Beirut, January 1987.

He came face to face with hostage takers and knew he was facing the possibility himself of either being killed or captured. Trust between himself and the captors broke down. Being alone, not knowing and the uncertainty brought feelings of anger towards himself and anger towards the captors for breaking their word, having promised safe conduct.

He recounts his own experience of torture, mock execution and hours of interrogation whilst being shackled by his hands and feet to a wall.

Solitude

With no companionship and extreme isolation, he found a deeper form of solitude and counselled himself to do two things:

“Live each day at a time, as it comes. Live for now”
“Try and take it as an opportunity to take an interior journey, get to know yourself better”

Endeavouring to find inner harmony he began to write in his head.

“Pools of solitude and places of solitude help you to get to know yourself better and in so doing you are able to have a deeper understanding of others”.

Without a hint of arrogance and self-effacing I found Terry Waite’s words to be profoundly challenging. What he said and the way he said it drew a sharp contract to a society which is generally irreligious, insular, and impatient.

He concluded his talk with the following, poignant words:

“The power of compassion is greater than the power of evil in this world”

Terry Waite then took a few questions, including one from me, where I asked for his views on solitary confinement in prisons in England and Wales with an authoritative voice and immediacy his answer to me was beyond dispute “it is cruel and must be stopped immediately”.

In a personal conversation afterwards, Terry Waite was kind enough to sign my copy of ‘Solitude’, a gift to me from SPCK.

 

~

Why rehabilitation is important for society

 

FMSpear 2 BBC News 960px x 300px

Society puts people in prison and expects them to reintegrate after their sentence and not reoffend. But recidivism is high because often the root cause of offending is not addressed.

Rehabilitation can be described as restoring, rebuilding, or repairing and in the context of those that have spent time in prison a means of re-joining society and hopefully being accepted, but that’s not always the case.

But what if they don’t want to be “rehabilitated” or don’t see the need for it? This is when questions arise such as:

Can true rehabilitation exist, if so what does it look like?

Does ‘rehabilitation’ force a way of life onto people that we deem ‘acceptable’?

Does our lifestyle fit the mould that we expect of those that have offended and ‘need to be rehabilitated’?

We must ask ourselves if we really want to give people a 2nd,3rd…chance or whether we as a society are too punitive to allow people to move forward with their lives.

So, society can and does hinder rehabilitation by placing certain requirements upon those that have broken the law that may not be relevant and therefore putting unnecessary pressures on them.

What we as part of society expect, could we even live up to and could it be said we are setting people up to fail so we can say “I told you so”?

It is too easy to recall over minor issues such as lateness to appointments or forgetfulness when we all fall foul of these from time to time. Making those expectations so high we could almost see rehabilitation as a form of control or conformity to a norm that many would not recognise.

For some picking up where they left off is not an option due to the nature of the crime, family circumstances or health.

But if we build a barrier to those who pose no threat to society which prevents them from re-joining their work sector then are we continuing to punish?

I have seen the crushing stigma that many live under on release; the failure of a system that is meant to be there for them beyond the gate, the lack of accommodation, the difficulties of finding work, the list goes on.

Recently David Gauke the Secretary of State for Justice said:

“…I want more employers to look past an offender’s conviction to their future potential.

How do we do that?

Well, we do it by working more closely with employers, so they open their eyes to the benefits of hiring ex-offenders…” 

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/from-the-wings-to-the-workplace-the-route-to-reducing-reoffending

Sounds all well and good, however, the stigma of a criminal record can be a barrier to even getting an interview. As Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock states:

“The current criminal record disclosure has multiple, harsh consequences and damaging effects on individuals, in particular it deters people from applying for employment and for those that do apply it brings high levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of shame and stigma. It acts as an additional sentence that often runs for life. It desperately needs reform”

https://twitter.com/unlockcharity/status/1008633161478176769

Is it time for society to think differently towards people who find themselves in prison and as Erwin James (The Guardian, 2013) succinctly wrote:

“…however unpalatable it may be to some, the fact is prisoners are still people, and if we want them to have any respect for society when they get out we need to be mindful of their dignity as fellow human beings” (Erwin James, The Guardian 2013)

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/01/prisoners-are-our-future-neighbours-so-is-rehabilitation-such-a-dangerous-idea   

 

first published on http://www.raggeduniversity.co.uk 

The continuing IMB dilemma of Independence, Effectiveness, and Impact.

My response to Dame Anne Owers

As it’s Independence Day (USA) I thought it would be fitting to take a few moments to consider the independence of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) which operate in every prison and detention centre in England and Wales.

Yes, I have mentioned it before, once or twice.

Pages 4-6 of the June edition of ‘Independent Monitor’ the journal of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards (AMIMB) carries an article bylined to the National Chair of the IMB, Dame Anne Owers. The article sets out her thoughts on the current state of the IMB’s and her vision for their future.

It focuses on the new Governance structure highlighting that it must enhance

  1. The Independence of IMB’s
  2. The Effectiveness of IMB’s
  3. The Impact of IMB’s

 

Independence

When a National Chairman has to say “It is important to be clear what we are independent of, and what we are independent for” it should immediately ring alarm bells. For an organisation that has existed since April 2003, surely this should have been established and implemented years ago.

She continues: “The IMB’s as a whole need to be, and to be seen to be, independent of the departments that sponsor them”.

So, by her own admission they are not independent then?

How an organisation with its headquarters on 9th Floor, Orange Core, 102 Petty France, London can purport to be independent is frankly astonishing.

When I have sent emails to the IMB Secretariat it has been the MOJ that have responded, and vice versa. Talk about living in each other’s pockets.

This has been my argument for a couple of years.

And another gem:
“…we are developing a framework agreement with the Ministry of Justice, to clarify our independent role, our relationship with the sponsoring department and ministers…”

What! after 15 years?

Effectiveness

“Independence is an important touchstone for us all. But it exists for a purpose: to ensure that there is effective monitoring that has an impact on the conditions, treatment and outcomes for prisoners and detainees”

We have all seen the state of the prisons in England and Wales, the squalor, the fact that they are unsafe for both staff and prisoners and we have now have 11 prisons in special measures.

What does this say of the effectiveness of the IMB?

It is well documented in the public domain in reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in local and national press, TV documentaries, hidden camera exposés, oral and written evidence given to various Select Committees, etc. that there very clearly is a unfolding humanitarian crisis in our prisons.

On the IMB website it states that for members “Their role is to monitor the day-to-day life in their local prison or removal centre and ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained”.

Proper standards of care have not been maintained. Proper standards of decency have not been maintained.

This means that the IMB has comprehensively failed in its purpose.

The IMB is not some vanity project for Ministers to appoint people to and to dismiss people from. Neither is it an arms-length body of any central Government department to sponsor in a whimsical way for its own ends.

IMB is part of the United Kingdom’s National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), created to meet the obligations of The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). This is an international human rights treaty designed to strengthen the protection of people deprived of their liberty.

https://www.nationalpreventivemechanism.org.uk/opcat/opcat/

When will the IMB be brought to account for being ineffective and not fulfilling their statutory requirements to protect people deprived of their liberty?

Impact of IMB’s

This week in Court No 1 at the Royal Courts of Justice, the IMB will come under the spotlight of the judiciary. The case is: R (Faulder and others) v Sodexo Limited and the Secretary of State for Justice.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has provided evidence as this case raises vital concerns about the state’s ability to monitor private prisons.

It’s CEO, Frances Crook, in her witness statement considers the monitoring of private prisons by Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), volunteer members, and the official watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP).

Omissions characterise many IMB Annual Reports thus giving an unsatisfactory view of the prison estate in England and Wales. I have already written extensively on this.

I agree with Dame Anne that the IMB has increased its public profile. However, it has not increased its impact; recommendations and points for improvement contained in IMB reports are still routinely ignored. And by virtue of their frequency, being annual, the reports are already wildly out of date at the time of publication.

This is a far cry from real time information Dame Anne aspires to. And a far cry from the level of impact a body of monitors needs to have, especially given the state of the prisons in England and Wales, worsening by the day.

StandOut: Giving prisoners another chance

I am relieved that the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke has at last addressed some of the fundamental issues that prisoners face; job opportunities can be scarce and are often limited on release from prison.

His speech at the Education and Employment Strategy Launch at HMP Isis on 24 May 2018 entitled “From the wings to the workplace: the route to reducing reoffending” stated that the first step is education.

I have noticed prisoners are invariably portrayed in the media as those having a low IQ and a high percentage with a reading age of an 11 year old. Yet, what they don’t report on is that there are intelligent prisoners, having skills that could benefit other prisoners and need something worthwhile or in other words purposeful activity to do whilst in prison.

I once spent time talking to two prisoners, both were sentenced for fraud and both were so bored. They didn’t want to retrain in bricklaying or painting and decorating or learn how to clean different types of flooring! They wanted to use their brains, but prison and especially resettlement prisons do not cater for that.

The second point David Gauke raised was moving from jobs on the wings to jobs in the workplace. Unfortunately, there are not enough links with the outside community, and too few businesses are willing to give prisoners another chance, but without a fresh start it is impossible for them to be reintegrated back into society.

For some picking up where they left off is not an option due to the nature of the crime, family circumstances or health.

But if we build a barrier to those who pose no threat to society which prevents them from re-joining their work sector then are we continuing to punish?

On the Unlock Opportunity, David Gauke continued to say:

“…I want more employers to look past an offender’s conviction to their future potential.

How do we do that?

Well, we do it by working more closely with employers, so they open their eyes to the benefits of hiring ex-offenders.

Our New Futures Network will do just that. It will create stronger links between prisons and employers, championing prisoners and acting as a broker between prisoners and employers.”

I am encouraged by this, but I feel there is something missing.

Does departure from a society that has basically forgotten your worth expect a re-introduction without barriers?

Those that have served a prison sentence often have a loss of confidence, self-esteem, and motivation, which can make the job market difficult to access.

Any course that can help navigate and offer guidance for this can only be a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to HMP Wandsworth to attend the celebration of trainees completing the StandOut course by a friend Penny Parker.

Wandsworth Prison by Derek Harper CC BY-SA 2.0 geograph 1030498 450px

Photo: HMP Wandsworth by Derek Harper CC BY-SA 2.0

It is designed to equip people with the tools and skills to gain employment using coaching techniques to build self-confidence and self-esteem, to raise aspirations and motivate trainees to release their potential. This is done by challenging mindsets and attitudes, encouraging teamwork, leadership and developing communication skills.

Straight away I could see such a great rapport between the attendees and the trainers and for a moment I forgot I was in a prison. The celebration was a way of giving the men a chance to have their say and receive encouragement through positive recognition.

One attendee commented:

“I learnt resilience, learnt about the skills I already had. I feel like have been rehabilitated and that I have the tools to make it”

Each attendee, some with more confidence than others stood up in front of us and shared what the course had done for them. It was then the mentors turn and each described how they had witnessed the attendees moving forward week by week, celebrated their strengths and instead of just shaking their hand and giving out the certificates they paused and gave each one a challenge.

It wasn’t a well done pat on the head and then let’s move on to the next. It was a way of helping each one progress to the next stage in their journey.

The second and third stages of StandOut are the continued support (essential) through one-to-one coaching until release from prison, and then on a voluntary take-up basis, for as long as each trainee wishes after release.

I will finish on this StandOut story:

Ryan completed the first ever StandOut course in Wandsworth HMP in March 2017. He had been persuaded to come along to the course by a friend and wasn’t entirely sure what he was signing up to. His family kept his incarceration a secret from everyone and when he would call his mother would say he was calling from university. Ryan had never had a job before.

Ryan quickly began to engage with the StandOut course, enjoying the challenges of presentations, mock interviews and writing his CV and disclosure statement. He also grew in his desire to take responsibility for his choices and became determined to make positive steps when he returned home.

Once released things weren’t immediately straightforward for Ryan. A lead with an employer who had promised him a role ended in a dead end and despite showing initiative and determination he also failed his first attempt at his CSCS card.

However, Ryan was determined to prove his resilience and kept on pushing doors. All the time he was in contact with StandOut, asking for advice and keeping them informed.

We recently spoke to Ryan and he has now secured not one but two jobs. He is working as a courier and has also secured a job as a concierge. The concierge job was given to Ryan partly because he had the guts and honesty to hand the interviewer his disclosure letter. Ryan is now enjoying getting up at the same time as the rest of his family and joining them as they all leave for work

 

Ministry of Injustice?

 

102 Petty France London 18 Apr 2018 9398 700px

This week marked a very important milestone in the Criminal Justice System of England and Wales. On the evening of the 18th April a ‘Vigil for Justice’ took place outside 102 Petty France headquarters of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). This uprising came from members of the establishment; Barristers were protesting. It signalled the transition from people being unhappy about, but living with, a broken legal system to people being unhappy, but vocalising their unhappiness, about it.

This week also marked a very important milestone for me. Two years ago I vocalised my unhappiness too. I attended the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) monthly board meeting as the Chairman ready for a productive meeting with my colleagues when I encountered a carefully planned ambush. In that meeting I was required to give a statement confirming I was the author of the MOJ/IMB exposé “Whistle-Blower Without A Whistle” an article about the consequences of its poor governance which I had written for The Prisons Handbook 2016.

Today I have decided to make available my personal statement – word for word as delivered – which, until now, has never been shared publicly:

 

Statement from Faith Spear

Tuesday 19th April 2016

Please note: This statement is for the board only and has not be sent to any third party in part or as a whole.

 

“You will by now be aware of the lead Editorial bylined to Mark Leech and the article, which was dubbed as the special IMB exposé “Whistle-Blower Without A Whistle”  bylined to Daisy Mallet, IMB Chair.

They have been published online at http://www.prisons.org.uk, they have been publicised on the social media channel Twitter @prisonsorguk and will soon to be published (on May 1st 2016) as part of a bound hardcopy in The Prisons Handbook 2016: Eighteenth Edition by Prisons.org.uk Limited. It’s a substantial work of reference with 1, 200-pages and a distribution circa 11,000 copies ISBN-10: 0957209851.  ISBN-13: 978-0957209855

Before going to print both the Editorial and the special IMB piece were sent to and read by Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who has written the foreword to the book, to Andrew Selous MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice, and to every member of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee.

In addition to that, on April 6th both articles were emailed to all IMB Chairs, all members, Clerks, the National Council and the Secretariat, by Billy Prendergast, IMB secretariat alongside a covering letter from John Thornhill (IMB President) without my prior knowledge.

These two articles tackle reforming the IMB and its governance.  This makes them relevant for today’s Board meeting as we are focusing on governance. But they are also relevant to this Board for a second reason.

It was on Friday April 1st that the managing editor of The Prisons Handbook, Mark Leech, invited me to contribute a written piece to The Prisons Handbook 2016. He had read some of my work on prisons and thought I might have a view point that would interest the readers. He invited me to contribute a personal opinion piece to the debate towards improving the Independent Monitoring Board.

I accepted Mr Leech’s invitation and drafted a piece which he sub-edited. In fact my first draft took me just 2 hours because I already knew what I wanted to say. Anyway, there were several iterations back and forth. I was able to correct what I had personally written, to accept or reject the editor’s suggestions and to add or remove supplementary text in order to arrive at an opinion piece. I submitted my final version and it was accepted on April 6th.

The views expressed are my own private and personal views. Exercising my right of free speech, they are given as a private individual, an unpaid volunteer, appointed as an individual by the Secretary of State to be an IMB member.

The views are not given on behalf of this Board, the IMB, the National Council, the Secretariat, this prison, the MOJ or any other organisation or person. They are mine and mine alone.

My views are expressed in the hope of seeing much needed change. These are my own personal views and experiences, and I was not speaking on your behalf.

I get asked to contribute written work some is for academic journals some is for blogs. Those who know me know that I am interested in the bigger picture. I saw this as an opportunity to express my views to a wider audience within the Criminal Justice System. You know that I travel and visit other prisons, this piece is not a critique of Hollelsey Bay; it deals with the wider picture that I see across the prison estate in England and Wales.

Now, turning to one specific point, I fully understand concerns that some of you may have over the publication of this opinion piece, especially perhaps the paragraph on page 22 of the book in which I refer to recruitment of members to this Board. I wrote:

The consequence of the somewhat pathetic process is that I now have to steer certain members into their role when they are really hard work, and simply not suitable. On paper my Board is short of members, but in reality I just cannot face another recruitment campaign, so I try and build the team as best I can.

This reflects my opinion of the process of recruitment, not on you as individuals. If I had to initiate another recruitment campaign this is what would happen. It is not what is happening now, I am amazed at the enthusiasm I have seen from all the new members on our board and I feel we have a good team, and I really do appreciate you all.

There are other elements of the article that due to misinterpretation have been distorted and as a result may cause offence. This was never my intention and if it has caused any of you distress of any kind then I am truly sorry.

I have been asked why I did not send the draft to the board for editing. The draft of the article was not submitted to you in advance for review or approval because it is my own view.  

If you had reviewed and approved it would become the view of this entire Board. It isn’t. It is my point of view, and I’m not asking for you to agree with it.

My sincere hope is that each one of you continues the important work we are doing here. Monitoring is very important. My aim is to continue to serve as Chair of this Board.  We have much to do.

If in the light of the publication of this piece, and of the statement I have just made, your view of me has changed and you find you that you have questions about my ability to continue as Chair, you are free to express those views now.”

 

Several months later I learned from the MOJ that a draft copy of this statement had been circulated without my authorization to every member of the Board, which meant that they knew what I had planned to say and had ample time to collaborate and to commence their character assassination against me.

This set in motion a chain of events, including bullying, ostracization, suspension pending investigation, two investigations by the MOJ, and a disciplinary hearing at Petty France, which ultimately led to me being fired from my role as Chair by the Prisons Minister and banned from holding any role in the IMB for a period of five years.

 

Photo courtesy of @PrisonStorm

The State of our Prisons: England

Faith Spear at desk bw 450px

My general take on prisons are that they are warehouses for the vulnerable.

Whatever happens in society is transferred to prisons, so if there is a problem with drugs on the outside there will certainly be a drug problem in prison. High walls, barbed wire and security is no real barrier. Bullying through debt is rife and so is corruption.

If you mean state of prisons as the fabric of the prisons then many are in disrepair. Neglect has come from outsourcing the maintenance to private companies and backlog of jobs even minor ones have had a detrimental effect on those that reside and work within the prison walls. I have seen vermin, rubbish thrown out of cell windows and food left to rot there. I have seen fire doors that are rotten and would provide no safety in the case of a fire.

Prisons are badly maintained often outdated and can be a fire hazard. So why do we continually fill them up? We knowingly put people in conditions that are not fit for habitation.

Prisons create more homeless individuals, more poverty and more mental health issues and they breed criminality.

Prisons have been underfunded for years and with cut backs year on year situations are only going to get worse. But as we have seen recently in the government there is a constant change of Ministers responsible for our prisons. This movement does not bring stability.

I don’t believe the Government when they say that loss of liberty is the punishment. No, once in prison you are punished, crammed into a room with another for up to 22 hours or more, eating beside your toilet with often the bare necessities. Little or no contact with the outside world.

Slave labour, I witnessed dismantling of DVD’s and CD’s for hours on end (Whitemoor), sewing wash bags and towels (Norwich), assembling poppies (Ford) all mind numbing and boring. Lack of use of any skills that they already have or have acquired within is farcical.

Punishment in prisons was a physical punishment but now it has become a mental torture. Lack of purposeful activity has stripped many of any hope for the future. Short sightedness on behalf of the Government is bringing the whole prison estate to its knees. Benchmarking, loss of experienced staff, under-investment has all resulted in volatile prisons where safety and security for staff and inmates alike is compromised. It’s like a ticking time bomb.

Incidents in prisons are now almost common place, but are lessons being learnt?

Society puts people in prison and expects them to reintegrate after their sentence and not reoffend. But recidivism is high because often the root cause of offending is not addressed.

I saw many with mental health issues that were not dealt with, I saw young men frightened, I witnessed the bullying and intimidation. In various prisons, I sat in on SMT meetings, case meetings, adjudications, equality meetings, security meetings etc. I listened to the way some Governors and Custodial Managers spoke about those in their prisons and wondered how they got to their positions.

There is a lot of unrest

Prisoners complained about:

  • discrimination and equality
  • unhelpful staff with even the most basic request
  • not enough food, especially amongst the young men
  • boredom
  • too far away from their family for visits
  • restricted regimes
  • missing property when transferred from one prison to another (this is a very big issue)
  • being bullied and getting into debt
  • loss of hope

I want to try to bring some sort of balance

I have visited prisons with excellent initiatives for example I have been to Thameside prison twice, the first time with a former prisoner, now author and an actor from Eastenders. The second time was with Sir Lenny Henry. Both these events were organised by Neil Barclay a friend of mine who is the Librarian & Learning Lead and a Butler Trust winner. He plans these guests to help inspire the men.

I have been to HMP Oakwood and spent a day observing the Chrysalis Programme designed to provide a guide for change that goes beyond rehabilitation, and into engagement and re-integration. It is a Personal Leadership and Effectiveness Development Programme aiming to stimulate inmates thinking, attitude, social capability, and capacity.

Family days at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay were fantastic with staff providing food and activities for children and adults. Team games, craft and sports were all laid on bringing much needed family time.

~

 

The State of our Prisons: WALES Overcrowded. Understaffed. Underfunded.

Mr David TC Davies (Twitter @DavidTCDavies), Conservative MP for Monmouth and chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, has launched an inquiry into prison provision in Wales. At the moment, there are no facilities for women yet there are proposals for another “Titan” prison in South Wales at Baglan.

Let’s look briefly at the record

Faith Spear at desk colour 450px 

HMP Swansea, HMP Parc and HMP Cardiff rank amongst the worst prisons in the UK.

All have serious problems with prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, suicides, overcrowding and drugs. Here are some statistics:

Swansea: 80% of prisoners are in overcrowded cells. On arrival at the prison 53% have a drug problem and 32% have an alcohol problem.

Parc: this prison is ranked 111th place out of 117 in England and Wales. In 2017 there were 881 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 1451 incidents of self-harm.

Cardiff: 64.5% of prisoners are in overcrowded cells. There were 220 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in 2017.

Usk/Prescoed: There is no full-time health care provision at either prison, concern by IMB of frequency of ‘lie downs’

If South Wales is serious about a new super prison it should first take a long look at what’s happened in North Wales:

Berwyn, the flagship of the MoJ which opened in February 2017.

Despite being Europe’s second biggest prison, with a capacity of more than 2,100, up to July of last year the £212m facility was less than a quarter full – with just over 500 inmates being catered for. By November there were 800 men.

Digging a little deeper, we find:

  • HMP Berwyn received 319 complaints from prisoners February to September 2017.
  • There were 219 complaints about the living quarters in the first seven months and 31 complaints about the quality of the food.
  • There were 4 complaints about prisoner-on-prisoner violence or assault compared to 50 lodged by prisoners alleging abuse or assault by prison officers.
  • Five of the alleged assaults were passed to North Wales Police for investigation, no action was taken over any of them.
  • Ministry of Justice revealed that 376 items were confiscated from prisoners between its opening in February and October last year.
  • 30 unspecified weapons, 56 items relating to drug paraphernalia and 34 mobile phones were among the items found in the possession of prisoners.
  • Other items confiscated include 21 debt list items, 66 lighters, 17 USBs, 26 vaping objects and 10 chargers.
  • There were also a number of items described as “miscellaneous” that were confiscated by prison officers.

 

So, whether prisons are new, old, Victorian, large, average size, have highly respected Governors or frankly those that should not be there (believe me I’ve met both!), it makes no difference as they all have similar issues to contend with:

Overcrowded. Understaffed. Underfunded.

To alleviate this prison crisis, we need fresh approaches in order to:

REDUCE the population: send fewer people to prison for non-violent offences

INCREASE the use of community orders

CUT the number of recalls

DEAL with indefinite sentences IPP’s convert to fixed length sentences?

FACILITATE prison release, therefore reduce self-inflicted deaths and reduce self-harm

REFORM prison estate and ensure all facilities are decent

SHARE best practice

INVEST in the long term and DELIVER in the short term

ADD more mental health facilities

The list can be endless and will depend on whether we see the purpose of prison as punishment, rehabilitation, both of these or a form of social cleansing.

Only last September, Lord McNally said in the House of Lords debate on prison overcrowding:

“We therefore have to understand the debate today which will be overwhelming in favour of sensible reform still has to pass that test of how we get a Secretary of State, a Prisons Minister and a Prime Minister who are willing to drive through reforms”

But that’s not the end of the story

We need a change in public attitude and that can only come from being informed and educated and not continually having issues covered up and hidden, the brushing under the carpet syndrome. There must be transparency.

We then need investment in life after prison in the provision of a home, a place of work, training or education and a reduction of the stigma in having a criminal record.

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