Busy London streets
I made my way out of the crowds towards my destination: The National Portrait Gallery, London.
Although this will be a time to indulge my love of Art, I’m actually here to interview rather than be an interviewee.
I arrived early and found a quiet(ish) corner of the café to collect my thoughts, helped enormously by the Earl Grey tea and slice of orange and polenta cake.
Two days previously I attended the Koestler Art exhibition on the South Bank entitled “Another Me”
I prefer to visit alone; I don’t want other people’s initial reflections to become mine. For me it’s not just the pieces of art that can stop me in my tracks but the titles of the pieces. This year I discovered “Stand Alone”, “Consequences”, “Innocent Man” and “Woo Are You Looking at?”.
From matchsticks to J-cloths, from socks to gold leaf such variety of materials, such ingenuity.
But the question that stayed in my mind was:
“Are these exhibits examples of escapism or expressionism?”
I made my way up to the large information desk at the National Portrait Gallery and sat patiently awaiting my guest.
Ten minutes later, he arrived looking rather bemused at my choice of venue to interview him.
Erwin James followed me up a flight of stairs where we slowly wandered around looking at portraits of people, from HM The Queen to Zandra Rhodes and every conceivable individual in between.
Trying to get my bearings, we turned a corner and entered the Statesmen’s Gallery, lined on each side by a series of white marble busts on projecting plinths in between painted portraits. It looked outstanding.
At the far end hung a portrait painting of Dame Christabel Pankhurst by Ethel Wright (oil on canvas, exhibited 1909), militant Suffragette, persuasive speaker and effective strategist. Erwin and I stood and pondered.
In one of the rooms off this gallery we found a bench, sat down and started to talk. Straight ahead was a significant portrait, covering a large part of the wall, entitled:
The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari
Faith Spear: When you look at that picture what does it tell you?
Erwin James: There are people who care about people that others don’t care about. This lady cared for the wounded she didn’t care about the war, she cared about people.
FS: How does it make you feel when you see that?
EJ: My experience of prison was that occasionally, more than occasionally there are people who care about people, about the wounded people in our prisons who need assistance, it’s a challenge for any community or society to think that we should care or help those that have hurt us. But she cared about everybody.
FS: Do paintings like that inspire you?
EJ: I found paintings in prison. I did an Arts degree and I was given this folder of great art; I had never had access to art or that sort of thing, ever in my life until I went to prison. I found art through the Open University.
I have never seen this painting before if I’m honest, but it tells us, “this lady, she doesn’t care who you are. She just wants to heal you.” The Onlookers: What are they thinking, should we help this person? There’s hesitance, others are standing away, observing. But you can’t hesitate or observe when people need help. My feeling about our attitudes to prisoners is that’s it’s a challenge to help people who’ve hurt us but if we don’t help them, they are going to hurt more people. When I look at that painting, I promise you some are taking advantage of the crowd.
FS: That’s interesting “taking advantage of the crowd”
EJ: We do that in our society now, longer prison sentences…we deserve a prison system that hates the crime, perhaps hates the criminal but for Christ sake give the prisoner a chance. That’s my philosophy really.
We slowly moved from room to room admiring and yet questioning the art we saw. Both of us were struck by a painting of Henrietta Maria (1635) and our hidden thoughts became open dialogue
EJ: Look how attractive we are, look how wealthy we are, look how amazing we are
FS: Always trying to prove something
FS: Is that because people can’t accept who they are?
EJ: People seem to want to portray an image that is more than what they are, that is exactly what these people did
FS: It’s not just status is it?
EJ: Status, its look at me, look at us, all the poverty in the country when she was painted.
The poor people, we always looked up to the people doing well, we always aspire to be like them
FS: Always looking down on those that are not doing so well?
EJ: I don’t know why because we are all trying to get up that ladder
FS: Do you think we fall into the trap that we don’t actually accept people for who they are?
EJ: Well we are not sure who they are, all we know is we think we know who we are we want to be better versions of ourselves come what may
There are many self-portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, some more obvious than others.
FS: With a self-portrait you are not necessarily portraying the real you
EJ: No, you are portraying what you want the world to know about you. As a writer I am the same, I’m exactly the same, I want the world to know me through words because the world sort of knew me through the courts through prison through prosecution
FS: So, do you think you were trying to re-invent yourself
FS: But then that is saying previously that wasn’t the true you
EJ: Yes, that wasn’t the true me
FS: Do you think that this is the true you now, what you are doing now?
EJ: Yes, before I became who I think I am, I’m not perfect by any means, but I am my own person and I think lots of people go through life thinking, well is this me? I’m born into this way of living but gradually you think did I decide this. Other people decide our lives and what prison gave me was the freedom to choose my own, if that makes any sense. But even though I am a million miles away from perfect, I am a real person
They all portray dominance over everyone else. The whole purpose of art in these ages was to say look at us, we dominate you – and then the dominated looked up and said, “we are so pleased to be dominated by you”, we didn’t know then that any of us could be dominate and dominated we didn’t realise then before mass education, we didn’t understand that we can all be people with education with skills and abilities
We walked up to level 2, not knowing what to look at first. We entered a small room.
FS: Do you see that painting over there of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, with his books showing he is an educated man, well in fact, a poet?
EJ: Books for the educated people? No. books are for everyone, to me Faith, books are a great leveller. If you can read, you can be a King.
By this time, I needed to sit down; juggling bag, jacket, notebook, pen and phone was getting problematic. I found a wooden bench in one of the corridors and with phone at the ready I continued my questions as we sat down.
FS: One thing I am always amazed at in an art gallery is that everything is categorised, often by year, era or by event. Everything is numbered. And there is a lot of security. When you come into an art gallery you are watched by cameras everywhere.
Everything is numbered, everything is categorised exactly the same as it is in a prison.
How did it feel to be categorised and given a number?
EJ: That is a really good question.
Well I was categorised; I was a Cat A prisoner for 5 or 6 years. The system categorises you and gives you a number. I hated my prison number. I was in Devon driving down a lane and I saw a signpost for the B73…, arghhhhhh! That’s my prison number!
It was awful, I had forgotten it, forgotten it purposely. When you are categorised and given a number you become labelled, you’re not human you’re a prisoner. But thank god there are some amazing people that work in prisons who want you to be human. For various reasons you end up there, they work there, and they are there to help you to become like them. Thank god for that. Without those people I would never be here I would never have made it. Teachers, psychologists, probation officers some prison officers…
FS: But when people are reduced to a number do you think that is degrading?
EJ: Well I think the danger Faith, you are asking me something quite profound here, because the danger when we do that, we detach people psychologically from our community. Now prison is detaching. You did harm, you caused pain, grief etc, but what we do with that in our prison system is that we detach further psychologically so the people in prison psychologically don’t feel part of society. Don’t feel part of the community, there’s no sense of wanting to come back.
I want to do some good when I come back, but mostly we don’t want them back. But actually, there’s so many people that do come back do good but it’s the physiologically detachment that presents danger from the released prisoner.
As Erwin is a writer, I wanted to probe a little more into different aspects of his life.
FS: For someone who is setting out on a journey as a writer what advice would you give?
EJ: Well what I would say is first and foremost is tell your truth. But first, you have got to find your truth because if you don’t know your truth you will never be able to share that truth. So, there are a couple of things: have discipline, have courage because when you put your truth out there you are going to get people who hate you and your truth. You need to have courage and be bold, but as long as you know your truth you will have a significant number of people who will accept that. Whatever the obstacles whatever the challenges you just keep going.
I decided to probe a little deeper too.
FS: What makes you laugh?
EJ: You will be amazed how many people in prison laugh, it’s a funny thing in jail you laugh at the most banal things.
FS: But what makes you laugh now?
EJ: My great granddaughter she makes me laugh. “Grandad, grandad look at the chickens” she chases chickens and I run after her and I’m laughing like hell and then she catches a chicken. Then she chases the ducks.
I do laugh but I am a very serious thinker, but I laugh when she laughs, its infectious. I feel safe to laugh with my great granddaughter.
FS: Is that because you are not being judged?
EJ: In the public if I am laughing, I feel awful because there are people grieving because of me. Even in jail I was scared to laugh sometimes because it looked like I didn’t care about anything.
FS: What makes you cry, do you cry?
EJ: I cried a long time ago in prison when I came to terms with what I had done with the effects on victims’ families of my crimes. I didn’t cry before that.
What makes me cry now? A good drama where there’s an amazing writer who brings the human condition into our living rooms and shows us how weak, strong, dominant, how we are as humans.
That makes me cry.
My final question was about what others say.
FS: What is one of the most memorable statements about yourself?
EJ: The best thing that’s been said of me, that I am really proud of, I do school talks. I was in a school in Southampton a few years ago, the Headmaster said afterwards:
“It was one of the best talks we have had all year and, for some, will be an abiding memory of school.”
It was time to switch my recorder off, I took in a last view of this amazing gallery and headed outside for some air. After a refreshing drink we said goodbye and I headed for the tube.
What an interesting conversation.
Erwin James is editor-in-chief of ‘Inside Time’, the national newspaper for people in prison and the author of ‘Redeemable: A Memoir of Darkness and Hope’.
Photos: Copyright © FM Spear. All rights reserved.
How/why did your involvement in the CJS come about?
I turned down my place to study for a degree and instead moved from Lincolnshire to Essex at the age of 19. My first “proper” job was in admin with NACRO in Colchester. I worked primarily in wages and finance. At that point NACRO provided 6 months work placements in painting and decorating or in gardening teams etc for those who had just come out of prison. I heard amazing stories from those men and some brought newspaper cuttings to show me of their various escapades, including a headline “Most wanted man in Britain” They made me laugh and some made me shed a few tears. But for me I had many questions that were never answered.
What happens after 6 months?
What about their families, how can they support them financially?
Was this really a way for integration back into society?
Why is only manual labour available?
I helped set up and train staff for a new branch of NACRO and then moved on to work in Finance for the NHS. However, I believe a seed was planted all those years ago.
Fast forward 25 years, I was accepted into University. I became a full-time student studying Criminology with 2 kids at school, 1 at college, a part time job and my husband working full time and studying also, I embarked on a very busy 3 years of multi-tasking!
For my first presentation I chose to speak on Women in prison and the Corston report, I researched thoroughly but was marked down because no one was interested in prisons and especially not women in prison, it was deemed not an exciting enough subject. Great start. My next presentation was about Restorative Justice and yet again I was questioned as to why I was interested, one lecturer even said, “What’s that?”. A pattern was emerging of my interest into those within the CJS and those that had been released increased. I was not put off and in my 3rd year the title for my dissertation was: Restorative Justice: Is it delivering strategic change in England and Wales or just a cost cutting exercise by the Government?
To understand the significance of Restorative Justice I arranged interviews with experts in the UK, NZ and USA, even Howard Zehr widely regarded as the Grandfather of RJ agreed to help. I consumed document after document on RJ and was a frequent visitor at the Cambridge University Library, floor 6 (those stairs almost killed me!) and the Institute of Criminology Library.
I graduated with an honours degree in Criminology and looked for my next step.
I joined the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay and in just three years became the Chair.
I wrote about the things I saw and heard but what I didn’t expect was what happened next. I was confronted with a prejudicial character assassination brought against me, a fight to clear my name, being investigated twice by the Ministry of Justice, called in front of a disciplinary hearing in Petty France and the involvement of not one but two Prison Ministers. I felt that I was on my own against a bastion of chauvinism. Not the last bastion of their kind I would come across. Welcome to the IMB!
My continuing journey can be found in my blog: The Criminal Justice Blog www.faithspear.wordpress.com
Because my story is fairly unique it has been covered by BBC News, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Suffolk, 5Live, LBC as well as National and Local newspapers, law journals and online publications etc.
Religion is clearly important to you, what role does God play in your life?
I remember going to Chapel with my grandparents as a young child and hearing my Dad and Grandfather sing the old hymns with deep sincerity. Christianity has always been part of my life. My faith in God has often been tested.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
I often say I’m a Mum first, always have been always will be. My husband and my kids are the most important people in my life, I have a great relationship with them all. They understand who I am and what motivates me to do what I do. They understand the bigger picture and that for me it is a cause and not merely a job. That in itself I realise is exceptional and I find I am continually grateful because I know that the level of family support I have is sadly not available to everyone. I can’t do this stuff on my own. They are also aware of the work I do behind the scenes and the many hours of support I give freely.
What role, if any, has luck played in your life?
Things happens for a reason, we don’t always know or understand the reason why. We all have issues to face and hurdles to climb and times of joy and celebration. Luck doesn’t fit in my life at all.
Not only have you been a source of inspiration to me in certain areas, I have also seen you inspire others and would like to know who inspired, or inspires you and why?
A few years ago, I wrote a journal article with a friend of mine, Dr David Scott about a remarkable woman, Lady Constance Lytton, commemorating 100 years since her book Prisons and Prisoners was published. In it she presented one of the most significant challenges to 20th Century anti-suffrage politics. Her book is a harrowing personal account of her four prison sentences as a militant suffragette. It is also a compelling insight into the mind of a young woman consumed by a cause which would prove to be instrumental in prison reform and votes for women, as well as tragically being a contributory factor to her death. My inspiration, which comes from her being consumed by a cause, makes me wonder if that is still possible. This wasn’t a phase she was going through or a pastime, it was a lifestyle.
I admire her courage and determination. I see this in so few people but when I find it, it is unmistakable. Let me give you an example, Tracy Edwards MBE. At the age of 26 she was the skipper for the first all-female crew for the Whitbread Round the World Race. It is not so much the fact that she sailed around the world, although that in itself is remarkable, but it is the reason why that I find compelling. She said “First time in my life I stood up for something I believed in” I have met and chatted with Tracy, she is an inspiration to me without a doubt.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment and/or achievement is?
I think that my greatest accomplishment is staying true to myself, maintaining integrity and not bowing to pressure to conform.
In terms of my greatest achievement let me give you a couple of examples. First, being nominated for the Contrarian prize 2017 especially when you realise the key criteria that the judges look for are Independence, Courage and Sacrifice.
Second, last year I was deeply moved and excited to learn that I had been counted as one of the 100 inspirational Suffolk women alongside people such as Dame Millicent Fawcett.
As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
On one of my visits to the House of Parliament I took time to seek out one of the most outspoken MP’s known for saying it as it is. I sat down next to Dennis Skinner and asked him a very simple question. I asked, “How do you get heard in this place?”. Mr Skinner looked me straight in the eye and offered me advice I will never forget. With his characteristic directness, he said, “You have to be seen to be heard”. I’ve taken his advice and applied it to all I do. This has not come naturally to me as people who know me will tell you.
Everybody wants to have their say and everyone has an opinion. But there is a big difference between those who say their piece ad nauseum and those who have something to say.
In one sense all that people have heard from me so far is simply learning to overcome the barriers of not being heard. When I have learned enough then I am sure I will have gained the clarity with what I have to say.
If you were given the prisons and probation ministers role, what changes would you make?
I would scrap the titan prison building programme and instead invest in smaller local units, making families more accessible and start to break down the barriers between those in prison and those on the outside.
I would encourage industry to step out of their comfort zone and give more people with convictions a second chance. To remove the stigma of a criminal record so that it is not forever hanging around people’s necks. We are a deeply divided and hurt society that is full of prejudges.
I would ban all industries within prisons that do not provide purposeful activities and a decent wage. People need to be work ready on release with housing and job options already in place. Families should be able to stay together and be supported, children should be prioritised.
I would make sure everyone working within the CJS were trained sufficiently for their roles and supported in their jobs.
As a prisons minister you can only change what is in your field of influence to change. In other words, you need to be precise, you need be pragmatic and you need to learn whose advice you can trust. Then act on it.
One of my priorities as Prisons Minister would be to take advice to demonstrate better things to invest in. Diversion, or Restorative Justice or Community.
Put money into early years, into youth etc.
We have to stop this madness of believing that we can change people and their behaviour by banging them up in warehouse conditions with little to do and not enough to eat and sanitation from a previous century.
As Prisons Minister I would initiate change that would lead to every prison Governor carrying personal accountability for the way they run the prisons they are responsible for. It’s not their prison, its ours and they must run it properly, giving people in their care decent conditions and personal dignity regardless of what crime the courts have sent them to prison for. The moment Governors carry that personal accountability is the moment you will see astonishing changes in HMPPS.
I will ensure under performing Governors leave the service and are not continually rotated around the prison estate or promoted to more senior positions. They have to know the weight of the accountability they carry.
Finally, what are you hopes and aspirations for the future of the criminal justice, and also for you?
Transparency and Accountability should underline every decision made. No more carpets where issues are swept under. No more excuses for the crisis within the system. We talk too much, we deliberate too much and have too many committees. There are too many roundtable events, conferences, discussions where everyone is saying they are experts yet so much remains the same. We produce too many reports, reviews and paperwork that gets filed away. Now is the time for action, for investment in people and for priorities to change. Lets just get on with it and stop competing and instead work toward a common objective, such as drastically reducing the prison population
In the next five years, I will continue to speak up truthfully and will add my voice to the very many voices calling for change. I will support policies introduced by the current Prisons and Probation Minister or by their successor where those policies do bring about real change. However, I shall not hesitate in bringing a strong critique where those policies gloss over the hard questions or where they shirk the implementation of measures for real reform. I will finish on this:
Vision is often personal, but a cause is bigger than any one individual
People don’t generally die for a vision, but they will die for a cause
Vision is something you possess, a cause possess you
Vision doesn’t eliminate the options; a cause leaves you without any options
A good vision may out live you, but a cause is eternal
Vision will generate excitement, but a cause generates power
[Adapted from Houston (2001)]
The Wales Governance Centre, a research centre and part of Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics undertakes innovative research into all aspects of the law, politics, government and political economy of Wales.
This week they released a report: Sentencing and Imprisonment in Wales 2018 Factfile by Dr Robert Jones
Before looking at this report, lets put things in context by referring to the first unannounced inspection by HMIP of HMP Berwyn in March 2019. Here it is reported that “impressive” support procedures are in place for new arrivals. Positive note. However, use of force was considerably higher than at similar prisons and 1 in 4 prisoners (23%) told HMIP that they felt unsafe. Alarm bells?
Below are the four tests when inspecting a prison, Safety, Respect, Purposeful activity and Rehabilitation and release planning. Not the best outcome for the first inspection.
Safety: Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test.
Respect: Outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against this healthy prison test.
Purposeful activity: Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test.
Rehabilitation and release planning: Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test.
HMP Berwyn prison has only been open just over 2 years, hasn’t reached full capacity and has its 3rd governing Governor.
Now let’s look at some of the facts revealed that are not easy reading
The number of self-harm incidents
2017 = 231
2018 = 542
Self-harm incidents rose by 135% in 2018
Rate of self-harm: (48 per 100 prisoners)
This is what the Government website states:
“Self-harm may occur at any stage of custody, when prisoners are trying to deal with difficult and complex emotions. This could be to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension or aggression. Sometimes the reason is a mixture of these. Self-harm can also be a cry for help, and should never be ignored or trivialised” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/suicide-self-harm-prevention-in-prison
This is what the HMIP report states:
“The strategic management of suicide and self harm required improvement. Strategic meetings were poorly attended and too little was done to analyse, understand and take action to address the causes of self-harm. Most of the at-risk prisoners on assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management did not feel sufficiently cared for. ACCT documents required improvement, and initial assessments and care plans were weak”
Yet below are more uncomfortable facts showing that this prison is not just dangerous for prisoners but for staff too. Nothing to celebrate here.
The number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults rose by 338% in 2018
Rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults: (20 per 100 prisoners)
The number of assaults on staff at HMP Berwyn increased by 405% in 2018
Rate of recorded assaults on staff (18 per 100 prisoners)
You would think that a new prison would have a security department second to none, with little chance of items being brought in. Yet these figures show that weapons, drugs, alcohol and tobacco are increasingly being found. Some may say hats off to the staff for finding these items, but really there’s still no cause for celebration…
The number of incidents where weapons were found in prison, years ending
March 2017 = 1
March 2018 =25
March 2019 Berwyn = 138
The rate of weapon finds (11 per 100 prisoners) year ending March 2019
This was the highest rate per prisoners in all prisons in Wales, astonishing. Serious problems with security.
The number of drug finds at HMP Berwyn increased by 328% in the year ending March 2019 (prison population increased by 67% during this period)
The rate of drug finds (16 per 100 prisoners)
Where are the robust measures to stop drugs coming into the prison?
The number of incidents where alcohol was found in HMP Berwyn years ending March
2017 = 0
2018 = 21
2019 = 146
Alcohol finds at HMP Berwyn rose by 595% (prison population increased by 67% during this period)
Rate of alcohol finds (12 per 100 prisoners) year ending March 2019.
Yet again the highest rate of alcohol finds in all the prisons in Wales
The number of incidents where tobacco was found in HMP Berwyn years ending March
2018 = 20
2019 = 61
Rate of tobacco finds (5 per 100 prisoners)
The prison is covered in photos of Wales and the countryside, everywhere you look there is a motivational quote, there are flowers, bees, greenhouses yet one in 4 prisoners didn’t feel safe.
Comfy chairs in reception, pretty pictures, colourful décor does not appear to contribute to the safety of HMP Berwyn.
Motivational quotes such as “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows not the flower” means nothing if a quarter of the population feel unsafe.
Prisons can be austere places, drab, filthy, old and not fit for purpose. But here we have a new prison with serious problems. There can be no excuse that these are teething problems, we are talking about peoples lives.
Remember the Berwyn Values?
V = value each other and celebrate achievements
A = act with integrity and always speak the truth
L = look to the future with ambition and hope
U = uphold fairness and justice in all we do
E = embrace Welsh language and culture
S = stick at it
Is this just a marketing ploy, designed for a feel-good factor, making us all think that the money spent on this Titan prison was worth every penny?
Independent monitors have praised the work of staff at HMP Berwyn describing their efforts to establish a new prison as a ‘considerable achievement” (Recent comment by IMB) After this shocking report, what will they now say? Or will they remain silent?
I don’t doubt there are some hard working, diligent and caring staff. In fact, I met some on my visit last year. But when the prison opened in 2017 over 90% of staff had never worked in a prison before. When you have prisoners arriving from over 60 prisons all with different regimes, you find they have far more experience of the prison estate than the majority of prison officers.
But more worryingly is that the Government is continuing with its programme of building new prisons. A new prison will be built in Wellingborough as part of the Government’s Prison Estate Transformation Programme. I’ve read gushing articles on how this prison will benefit the community etc, similar to when HMP Berwyn began construction. Just like HMP Berwyn there are many promises and opportunities, but theory and practice can be a million miles apart.
Is whistleblowing a band wagon to jump onto?
Usually you don’t suddenly wake up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to be a whistle-blower”. The negative connotations surrounding whistleblowing such as being an informant, betrayer, or even a backstabber is not something to aspire to.
Yet, these descriptions cannot truly explain why there are those in the minority that will put their head above the parapet, will risk their reputation and often lose their job through speaking out.
So, have we become largely a society that will cower rather than stand up, do we lack courage or integrity or both?
Fear of reprisals can cause us to retreat, to stay silent but in so doing are we not being true to ourselves. It takes more than just determination to be vocal about issues you are passionate about. Unfortunately, when living in such a punitive society, the norm is to shut people down rather than to listen.
Having sat at an employment tribunal with an experienced Prison Officer listening to their case of dismissal, my thoughts were not that they wanted revenge, not at all. I saw passion, I heard a very determined individual with a story that has affected not only their work, their life but possibly their health too.
It’s too easy for society to ignore the reality in our prisons in England and Wales, where violence, instability and a lack of investment over decades has reduced them to warehouses of the vulnerable. Numerous are inhumane and on the point of crisis.
Equally, let’s not point the finger at those that want transparency in the Criminal Justice System, instead we should push for accountability and not lose sight that one day those in prison may be a loved one or will become our neighbour.
Time to stop shooting the messenger
Recently I met Michael Woodford, the inaugural winner of the Contrarian Prize and former CEO of Olympus who exposed a $1.7 billion fraud at the heart of Olympus and was sacked for doing so. He had more than most to lose by speaking out.
According to: https://www.gov.uk/whistleblowing
“As a whistleblower you’re protected by law – you should not be treated unfairly or lose your job because you ‘blow the whistle’.
You can raise your concern at any time about an incident that happened in the past, is happening now, or you believe will happen in the near future”
But is this really so?
It also states:
“You’re a whistleblower if you’re a worker and you report certain types of wrongdoing”
But what if you are a volunteer?
Yes, you work and often very hard, but where is the protection mechanism?
In my experience, being a volunteer for many years offers little protection especially when dealing with the Ministry of Justice. Even going through the “normal” channels produces little response. Suddenly people become hard of hearing, blind to what is happening all around them and stick their heads in the sand.
I’m not like that, I am very aware of many untold stories and issues within the justice system.
I put my head above the parapet once, I have no regrets even now still living with the consequences.
I would do it again.
And plan to do shortly!
We have heard from the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke and the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart that we need to get back to basics where prisons are concerned. HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay is no exception.
Reading through the latest Inspectorate report shows clearly that only 15 of the 30 recommendations from the previous inspection in 2014 have been carried out. Should alarm bells be ringing?
There are four tests for a healthy prison
- Purposeful Activity
- Rehabilitation and release planning (previously Resettlement)
Comparing the two latest reports, I noticed that some aspects once regarded as a safety issue are now a respect issue such as basic living conditions and making available a court video link. Probably why the recommendations in that category has fallen from 9 to 4. Looks good on paper but you have to read between the lines.
Four years ago, there were no recommendations for purposeful activity yet this time there are 5. From making sure prisoners get impartial careers advice, to providing detailed and constructive feedback on practical work to help prisoners improve, to ensuring that those engaged in prison industries are able to study and achieve qualifications related to their job. The answer is in the name “Purposeful” activity not just something to pass the long often monotonous days.
Surely these are basics of an open Cat D prison and is HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay failing?
It is worrying that there are many arriving at the prison without an up to date risk and needs assessment. Likewise, is the number of prisoners sent back to closed conditions, approx. 15 per month with some decisions not clearly evidenced.
And yet there are those that are released with little or no sustainable accommodation and this isn’t sufficiently monitored by the CRC’s.
With only one mental health staff, weak public protection procedures and with already 10% presented as medium or high risk to children there needs to be some serious changes before the planned arrival of those convicted of sex offences.
“New prisoners who potentially posed a risk to children were not always promptly assessed, and contact restrictions were not always applied in the interim”
There are so many issues to flag up:
“The anti-bullying representatives’ role was unclear, poorly advertised and lacked formal training”
“The strategic management of equality was less well developed than at the time of the previous inspection. There was no local equality and diversity strategy and the equality action plan was limited. There were no specific consultation groups running for prisoners with protected characteristics, other than the equality action team meeting”
The latest report shows increase in drug misuse with prisoners moving away from new psychoactive substances (NPS) and that cannabis was now the preferred drug. In addition the use of cocaine and steroids was an emerging problem.
Can HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay adapt to the changing needs and problems?
Let’s hope we are not seeing the gradual demise of this prison.
Recommendations 2018 inspection
- All use of force incidents should be scrutinised by senior staff to ensure that force is only used as a last resort.
- Body-worn cameras should be used during all use of force incidents.
- Risk assessments to determine if a return to closed conditions is necessary should be multidisciplinary and should show sufficient exploration of all relevant factors relating to the risks presented.
- Decisions to use handcuffs should be based on an individual risk assessment. (Repeated recommendation 45)
- The negative perceptions expressed by some prisoners that a small number of staff were punitive in their approach towards them should be explored and addressed.
- Basic living conditions on the Bosmere unit should be improved to ensure decency, including refurbished and well-maintained showers.
- Prisoners’ views about the quality of the food should be explored in greater depth and, where possible, changes should be made to increase their level of satisfaction.
- The issues with the prison shop should be resolved, so that prisoners receive their correct order.
- A court video link should be available. (Repeated recommendation 3)
- The prison should routinely consult prisoners in the protected groups to ensure that their concerns and needs are identified and, where possible, addressed. (Repeated recommendation 25)
- Managers should consider both local and national equality monitoring data, and address inequitable outcomes.
- Reasonable adjustments for prisoners with disabilities should be swiftly completed. These prisoners should have access to practical support, such as a buddy scheme, which supports them in their day-to-day life at the prison
- There should be a regular health care representative forum to inform service developments and enable collective concerns to be addressed.
- There should be regular, systematic health promotion campaigns delivered in conjunction with the prison.
- Prisoners should have timely access to optician and dental services. (Repeated recommendation 68)
- There should be a memorandum of understanding and information sharing agreement between agencies, to outline appropriate joint service working on social care.
- Prison managers should ensure that they have accurate information on the education, training or employment that prisoners enter following their release, so that they can evaluate and monitor fully the impact of the curriculum on offer.
- Prison managers should ensure that prisoners receive impartial careers advice and guidance when they arrive at the establishment and throughout their time in custody, so that they can plan their future after release more effectively.
- Prison and People Plus managers should ensure that vocational tutors provide detailed and constructive feedback on practical work, to help prisoners to improve.
- Prison and People Plus managers should ensure that vocational tutors challenge prisoners to achieve high standards of professional workmanship that meets commercial expectations.
- Prison managers should ensure that prisoners engaged in prison industries have an opportunity to study and achieve a qualification related to their job.
Rehabilitation and release planning
- Visits provision should meet demand.
- Prisoners on resettlement day release to maintain family ties should not be required to be collected and returned by family members in a car unless the risk assessment suggests that this is necessary.
- The prison’s needs analysis should make full use of offender assessment system (OASys) and P-NOMIS data, in order to identify and address gaps in provision.
- Prisoners should only transfer to open conditions once a full and up-to-date assessment of their risk and needs has been carried out.
- There should be sufficient places available in Bail Accommodation and Support Service accommodation to allow prisoners to be released on home detention curfew on their eligibility date.
- Meetings to discuss a prisoner’s suitability for open conditions should be multidisciplinary. Decisions to return prisoners to closed conditions should be clearly evidenced and defensible.
- For prisoners returning to closed conditions, recategorisation to C should be supported by clear evidence.
- The prison should undertake a comprehensive analysis of needs, to establish the range of offence-focused interventions required.
- The community rehabilitation company (CRC) should monitor the number of prisoners released to sustainable accommodation (12 weeks after release), to understand the effectiveness of provision.
- The CRC should ensure that interviews to review resettlement plans are conducted by a trained member of staff.
Recommendations 2014 inspection
- Recommendation: The Bosmere unit should be upgraded or replaced with permanent accommodation
- Recommendation: OASYs and ROTL procedures should be sufficiently rigorous to ensure risks to the public are effectively managed.
- A court video link should be available.
- Prisoners should receive a private first night interview with a member of staff.
- The prison should investigate prisoners’ perceptions about safety and address any concerns raised.
- The safeguarding adults framework document should be finalised and staff should understand safeguarding procedures for adults at risk.
- Decisions to use handcuffs should be based on an individual risk assessment.
- The drug strategy action plan should be updated, inform developments and detail lines of accountability.
- The controlled drugs administration room should be more welcoming and security arrangements should be in line with what is required in open conditions.
- The shower areas in the Stow unit should be refurbished.
- Staff and personal officers in the Bosmere unit should check on and interact with prisoners in their care.
- The EAT should investigate when monitoring data consistently suggests inequitable outcomes for minority groups.
- The prison should routinely consult prisoners in the protected groups to ensure their concerns and needs are identified, and where possible, addressed.
- Suitable adapted accommodation should be available for prisoners with disabilities.
- All staff should have regular managerial and clinical supervision, as well as appropriate continuing professional development underpinned by a current performance appraisal.
- There should be sufficient clinical rooms to provide a comprehensive service and all areas, including the dental suite, should comply with infection control guidelines.
- Triage algorithms should be available to ensure decisions made are consistent and appropriate.
- Prisoners should have timely access to optician and dental services.
- Prisoners should have access to pharmacist-led counselling sessions, clinics and medication reviews.
- The dental service should be informed by an up-to-date needs assessment.
- Custodial staff should receive regular mental health awareness training.
- Self-catering facilities should be improved, particularly for prisoners on long or indeterminate sentences.
- There should be no administration charge for catalogue orders.
- Formal supervision should be provided to all OSs.
- Sentence planning objectives should be specific and focused on outcomes.
- All prisoners should have planned case management meetings with their OS proportionate to their risk and needs. Meetings should be recorded.
- When prisoners are returned to closed conditions there should be a clear record of who made the decision and the rationale for it; re-categorisation from D to C should only take place if there is clear evidence that this is required.
- The content and information on the virtual campus should be reviewed to ensure it is relevant for prisoners looking for work on release.
- There should be robust discharge planning processes in place to ensure continuity of care.
- The prison should develop a strategic action plan that aims to ensure all prisoners have the opportunity to stay in contact with family and friends.
The year 2018 was historic for many reasons not least because it saw the first statue of a woman placed in Parliament Square, London.
More so its message, marking a pivotal moment in social history, with “Courage calls to courage everywhere”
And for me personally, I can look back on a year of Exploration, Celebration and Collaboration.
I traveled many miles in 2018 including two trips to Wales.
I was delighted to be invited to the Welsh Assembly, the Synedd, Cardiff in January to sit on a panel after the screening of the Injustice Documentary.
The whole subject of injustice was brought home though an introduction to Michael O’Brien jailed for 11 years for a murder he did not commit.
One woman at that event stood out for me, Claire Melville, who has since become a source of great encouragement.
My second trip to Wales took me north to Wrexham where, at the beginning of August, I visited HMP Berwyn on the invitation of the Governing Governor, Russell Trent. I have already written about my experience in a previous blog.
However, my visit and subsequent write-up caused quite a stir as within a week Russell was suspended from his duties and not just the media but trolls on Twitter had a field day.
The BBC and Channel 4 contacted me to ask if what I wrote was “the cause”. I raised some important points concerning the design and build of this “Titan prison” a flagship of the Ministry of Justice, which I sincerely hoped would be the last.
I made the most of my time whilst in the area and met with Erwin James (InsideTimes), had dinner with Arfon Jones (Police and Crime Commission for North Wales) and a working lunch with Keith Fraser, (retired Police Superintendent and Clean Sheet Ambassador). It was an enlightening few days to say the least.
I have had many reasons to celebrate in 2018, let me share some of them with you.
As the two-year anniversary of my article ‘Whistle-blower without a whistle‘ published in the Prisons Handbook 2016, approached, I was informed that the 2018 edition had been dedicated to me.
That was quite something as my original article upset those who walk the corridors of power in the Ministry of Justice, challenged the Independence of the Independent Monitoring Board and involved not one but two Prisons Ministers.
But the celebrations didn’t end there.
2018 has been a celebration of women; 100 years since women were given the vote and 100 years since the first women MP.
In July I was named one of the 100 Inspirational Suffolk women from the past and present day alongside many amazing women including Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett GBE campaigner for women’s suffrage. It is the statue of Millicent Fawcett which can be found in Parliament Square.
What an honour and a privilege to be recognised alongside women like that. And yes, I did make a big song and dance about it, why not. Who wouldn’t?
Then in September I received an email out of the blue from Brad Jones, Editor, EADT and Ipswich Star (Archant), which said:
It is 100 years since women won the right to vote, and to mark this anniversary Archant Suffolk, which publishes the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star, launched a very special project.
We asked the public to help us choose Inspiring Women of Suffolk…
I am delighted to say that you have been nominated and chosen as one of our Inspiring Women of Suffolk…
It was the public that chose me, and I am so grateful for everyone that voted.
I even celebrated the birthday of HM the Queen with members and guests of the National Liberal Club at a champagne reception on the invitation of my friend Trevor Peel.
What a highlight to discuss the criminal justice system with MP’s, an Ambassador and even a Royal Navy Admiral.
Isn’t it strange how talking about celebrations brings out the good, the bad and the ugly in people.
Social media is no exception.
Consequently, I have had to put up with a barrage of abuse from people. They have never met me, don’t know me but time after time they target their rancour at me. I know I’m not the only one under fire.
In November, I was invited by the Fawcett Society to Portcullis House for an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to celebrate 100 years of Women MP’s. How appropriate then that during the question and answer slot the main topic was abuse on social media and how women should not expect it, or accept it.
For many years I have been concerned about the lack of opportunities within prisons to educate, train and equip individuals on release.
People with a criminal record are immediately penalised in the job market regardless of whether they have the relevant skills; it’s an uphill battle.
So, you can imagine my delight when in March I was invited on to the Board of trustees of Clean Sheet, a charity with one simple purpose – to offer people with convictions the hope of a better future by finding real, permanent employment.
Clean Sheet’s Annual Review took place at the House of Lords attended by Rory Stewart MP OBE.
In April, I took up my usual seat behind people giving evidence at the Justice Select Committee.
Once the formalities of the meetings finish, the room usually empties very quickly and ministers hurry back into the corridors and disappear. But not this time.
After giving evidence, just weeks into his new job as Prisons and Probation Minister, Rory Stewart hung back, so I stood up and shook his hand.
“I thought I would introduce myself, I am Faith, Faith Spear”
“Yes, hello Faith, I follow you on Twitter,” he said
“It would be good to meet sometime,” I added
“Let’s do it now,” he replied
Slightly gobsmacked, I followed him out of the room where he was met by his entourage and those wanting to ‘have a quick word’.
“I’m with Faith” he said as we started walking down the corridor. He gave me his full attention.
We went into the atrium of Portcullis House, found a table and talked together. It was a productive conversation and we agreed to keep in touch.
As a year celebrating women, my list would have to include Sarah Burrows (Children Heard and Seen). In March, I attended an event in Oxford at Sarah’s invitation ‘What would it be like to have a parent in prison?’
The event displayed incredible art work from their competition judged by Daniel Lee and Korky Paul, who wrote and illustrated the book ‘Finding Dad’, and Sir Trevor McDonald OBE, newsreader and journalist.
A moving short film was screened made by a young man Luke and his mentor about having his father in prison, including an interview with, Ralph Lubkowski, then Deputy Governor of HMP Leicester.
I had the pleasure of having dinner at ‘Malmaison’ Oxford with Ralph, Sarah and all the judges. Sarah seated me next to Sir Trevor and we exchanged thoughts and experiences with each other about prisons.
A week later, I was discussing women in the Criminal Justice System at the House of Lords at the invitation of the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek Bishop of Gloucester and the Rt Hon the Baroness Jean Corston.
I remember a time a couple of years ago, when I was sat in the Central Lobby at the Houses of Parliament talking to Dennis Skinner MP. I asked him:
“How do you get heard in this place?”
He looked me in the face.
“You have to be seen to be heard,” he said.
This is one of the reasons why you have seen me in so many diverse places:
In Westminster Hall listening to David Lammy, at the RSA listening to David Gauke, taking part in panels such as at Warwick University with SafeGround and Sheffield Hallam Uni, having discussions with leading Professors, Criminologists, PCC’s, at Police HQ’s, at roundtable events with the Criminal Justice Alliance, in Westminster for the Children’s Inquiry Report launch with Volteface, at the Parmoor and Longford Lectures and why I accept invitations to Prison Reform Trust wine receptions and listening to Lady Hale at the Fawcett Society lecture at the Royal Society.
I’m told some of my critics accuse me of being a ‘social climber’. Nothing could be futher from the truth.
If you don’t understand the issues, and unknown to the very people who can change things, how can you play a part in the solutions?
My part is: I ask questions
Some find that uncomfortable
I will continue to ask questions
In the last year I have seen first-hand how our Criminal Justice System can be an unjust system, I have seen how it breaks people, distresses children and separates families. I have seen inhumane conditions in prisons, I have spoken about it on the radio and television and I have written about it.
I have also spent time with victims and, yes, shed many a tear for them and with them.
Yet in 2018 I have also seen some good practice in purposeful activity, having sat in prisons at award ceremonies, having had guided tours of prisons by Governors, having eaten at restaurants within Prisons.
In all these places I have sensed optimism, hope and met those that believe in doing all they can to help with rehabilitation and re-integration.
Among the most inspiring women I have met is Khatuna Tsintsadze, Prison Programme Director for the Zahid Mubarek Trust. We worked together again this year and I have learnt so much from her, including human rights, equality and discrimination.
And finally, in this blog I wanted the last words to come from three people who have met me for the first time in 2018. I hope this will unpick some of the myths as to who I am and what matters to me.
“I first got to know Faith following her visit to HMP Berwyn, and the tour of our Prison Industries operation.
My first impression was one of her passion and conviction for getting to the real core of how we were working with the men to deliver real life work and training opportunities and asking specific questions – really emphasising that she had the best interests of the prisoners at heart. We rarely meet people that spend time engaging at this level whilst on a ‘guided tour’.
Subsequently I have had the opportunity to engage with Faith on a number of levels and have found her to always be absolutely trustworthy, insightful and generous with her network and her time.
She is not afraid to challenge the status quo, often attracting those that criticise her belief in wanting to make the CJS a better environment for its employees and those in its care”
Kelly Coombs, Co-founder Census Group
“I am drawn to people who are prepared to push boundaries in order to achieve change. Not rule breakers, but rule questioners. People who are not afraid to ask difficult questions but who are also prepared to help with the hard work needed to address the answers they might find. With this in mind, it was with no little amount of excitement that I met Faith Spear last year. Our areas of interest sit alongside each other yet might be a million miles from one another. Both feed each other in a continuous loop, creating demand and have long term impact on the people who become part of the Criminal Justice System.
Faith has stood her ground where many others have feared to tread and of course I admire this characteristic immensely but more than that, she has survived and continued her quest with renewed vigour.
When I met with Faith, I was contemplating a new step in my own quest but was still uncertain whether I would go ahead. Faith inspired me and left me believing not only that I ‘could’ do it, but that I really ‘should’ do it!
In a world full of naysayers, spending time with Faith is like finding water in a desert. ‘What would Faith do?’ has become my mantra”
Cate Moore, Independent Chair of Lincolnshire Police Ethics Panel
“I first met Faith Spear at a Corbett Network meeting in April 2018. I was hugely impressed by her warm-hearted nature, incredible knowledge and clear passion to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
We immediately clicked, in part due to our involvement with the award-winning charity Clean Sheet – Faith is a trustee, I am an ambassador – and also our shared vision to tackle the immense barriers that people with convictions face moving forward with their lives.
We both play very different roles in this hugely important agenda, but since my first meeting Faith she has become a great support to me, and I, in turn, have become a massive fan of her work and her brilliant thought-provoking blog. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Faith for many years to come”
Dominic Headley, Director of Dominic Headley & Associates
In the context of a blog like this, it’s possible to only mention a fraction of the workload, time and miles covered. For obvious reasons you will appreciate I’m unable to share the full extent of everyone I have met or all that has been done.
Featured Photo: Faith with Michael Woodfood, Contrarian Prize 2013 winner and former CEO Olympus. To learn about Michael’s story please visit the Contrarian Prize website.