The Criminal Justice Blog

Home » Criminal Justice System

Category Archives: Criminal Justice System

The paralysis of too many priorities.

 

Sat immediately behind the new Secretary of State at the Justice Select Committee (@CommonsJustice) on 07 September, I registered a lot of awkwardness that was beyond mere nervousness felt by many a new joiner.

thatcher-07-sept-2016-100546

Thatcher Room, 07 Sept 2016

 

Just like Gove’s debut in front of the same Committee where he rattled on about “we’re reviewing it” (yes, I was there for that one too), Liz Truss (@trussliz) talked largely about the formulating of “plans” but on the day said nothing about tangible actions she will take.

How many more reviews do we need?

Has Truss inherited a poisoned chalice passed from one SoS to the next? Her department has a huge accumulated mess to sort out and doesn’t know what to do about it. Is she wondering what to tackle first? The paralysis of too many priorities?

Her critics say she’s doing things wrong. Look at it for yourself and you’ll see some of the priorities she is confronted with:

  • Extremism and radicalisation in prison
  • Violence against other offenders and against prison staff
  • Over population
  • Under staffing of prisons
  • Death in custody
  • Drugs and drones
  • Education and purposeful activity
  • Resettlement and homelessness on release

You would think her advisors would know what the order of priorities are. They don’t, or if they do, they obviously prefer the relative safety of “talking shop” over the tough task of taking concrete action on these priorities.

The key question people are asking is has she actually got the shoulders for the job; she has the high office and gilded robe of the Lord Chancellor but does she have the support of those working within the criminal justice system?

Soon after her appointment from Defra to Ministry of Justice, Liz Truss paid token visits to two prisons but cannot be expected to become an instant expert on the prison system.

What other mess does the SoS need to deal with?

The system of prison monitoring is in a mess. The IMB Secretariat is in utter disarray. They say they have policies and procedures but don’t always follow them themselves. For the most part, IMBs are doing their own thing. There’s no real accountability anymore. It’s a disgrace and it’s deplorable that it’s been allowed to get as bad as it has.

Faith Spear

Faith Spear

For my critique of prison reform and Independent Monitor Boards, I’ve been put through two MOJ investigations. Each one takes away a little piece of me. But for me it’s always been about the issues. That’s why they can’t and won’t shut me up.

The message of prison reform has become urgent and has to get to the top. If no one else will step up and if it falls to me to take it then so be it.

No accountability anymore? Give me an example.

You want an example? Here’s one of many: At HMP Garth, the IMB Chair issued a Notice To Prisoners 048/2016 dated May 2016 without the authority to do so, and apparently without the Board agreeing it. The Chair acted unilaterally outside of governance. I found out about it because a copy of that prison notice was sent to me as it happened to be about the article Whistle Blower Without a Whistle that I’d written for The Prison Handbook 2016 that the IMB Garth Chair was pin-pointing, (accusing me of a “rant” whilst both his prison notice and covering letter were dripping with distain).

I’m still standing by all I said in my Whistleblower article even though writing it has been at a high personal cost. In all candour, any pride I may have had in writing it has been completely sucked away from me. It’s back to the bare metal. The inconvenient truth of what I wrote remains. Readers will find that my main themes also feature prominently in the findings of the report by Karen Page Associates, commissioned by the MOJ at a cost to the taxpayer of £18,500.

An invite I received from Brian Guthrie to the forthcoming AGM of Association of Members of IMB says it all. It read:

“From the Chair Christopher Padfield
AMIMB – the immediate future
IMB needs a voice. We believe that without AMIMB this voice will not be heard. AMIMB intends to raise its voice, but needs the support of our members.
An outline plan for the immediate future of AMIMB will be put up for discussion at the forthcoming AGM (11 October 2016 at 2 Temple Place). It aims to respond both to the main needs and opportunities, and to the practicalities of the current situation.

The greatest need, as the executive committee of the AMIMB sees it, is to achieve a public voice for Independent Monitoring Boards – to let the British public know what we, as monitors, think about prison and immigration detention policy and practice in England and Wales and the impact this has on the men, women and children detained; to achieve some public recognition for the role of IMBs; in short to speak out about what we hear and see. We have urged the National Council to do this itself, but to no avail. In character, the NC propose as their contribution to the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee’s current consultation on Prison Reform, a response to a procedural question: ‘are existing mechanisms for … independent scrutiny of prisons fit for purpose?’ If the NC cannot or will not speak out, AMIMB should.”

Mr Padfield has served as IMB Chairman at HMP Bedford but to my knowledge has never been suspended pending investigation by the Prisons Minister like I was for speaking out on such things.

And therein lays the dilemma: whereas the official line is to encourage monitors to speak out, the reprisals levelled at you when you actually do are still shocking.

Is this what happens to women who use their voice?

People want you to get back in the box.
To shut up.
To go away.

The IMB doesn’t need a makeover; that would only hide most of the systemic problems behind filler and veneer. So rebranding clearly isn’t going to be the answer any more than putting lipstick on a pig.

People who think I want to abolish the IMB have totally misjudged me and the situation. I don’t want to abolish it. Far from it. I want the IMB to perform like it was set up to under OPCAT and to be all it should be as part of our NPM.

The clue is in the name: Independent. Monitoring. Board.

Have you noticed that the MOJ is haemorrhaging people at the moment?

Maybe Liz Truss could use that as an opportunity to enlist the help of those who do give a damn about the conditions in which people are held in custody and who do have a clue about strategies to stem radicalisation in prison, minimise violence, reduce prison over population, have the right staff and staffing levels, reduce death in custody, counter drones and drug misuse, revitalise education and purposeful activity, and last but not least, resettle and house people after their time in custody.
Join the conversation on Twitter @fmspear @trussliz @CommonsJustice #prisons #reform #IMB #AMIMB #SpeakUp

 

First published 17 Sept 2016.

Edited 18 Sept 2016.

~

I used to be ‘IN’ but now I’m ‘OUT’

An antidote to the EU Referendum.

The nation goes to the polls today to determine whether we Leave or Remain, but that’s all I’m saying about the European Referendum. You can think of this post as an antidote to all the drivel you’ve heard, from both sides of the debate it has to be said. The claims, the counterclaims and the half-truths we’ve all heard uttered sometimes with spectacular bravado.

There’s a micro- In or Out conundrum going on over here in the East of England, coincidentally not far from the most easterly geographical point of the UK to continental Europe.

Let’s talk about In or Out of prison.

Faith Spear

“I will not stop. I will not be silenced. I want to be reinstated”

I used to be ‘IN’

There’s truth in the well-used idiom “with power comes responsibility”. The right of access all areas within a prison is one of those situations to which this applies. I never took it lightly. Having keys to the prison seems to be a thoroughly abstract concept for many, but as a public official appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice to monitor that’s exactly what you have. You’re appointed to be the eyes and the ears. And to record what you see and what you hear around the prison you monitor.

This isn’t some fanciful hobby for those with a lot of time on their hands. Long the brunt of jibes about beige Volvos, tweed twin set and pearls, being an independent monitor should not be a country club. This is the sharp end of monitoring how a nation treats those in its custody. And it requires people who have the big picture as well as an eagle eye for the detail. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve heard a lot. And as a monitor I only write what I see and what I hear. No spin and no opinion. Just the facts.

Remembering how thrilled I was to be accepted onto the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) when I first started. I absorbed the training, passed induction and quickly found my feet performing monitoring visits as part of the team rota. As a member, I derived considerable satisfaction from thinking that what I was doing was making a difference. It had to make a difference; there was no salary for the work so the only payback was the job satisfaction. And make no mistake, monitoring done properly is real work.

As a Vice-Chair, I served a frequently absent Chairman as if I were their very own personal assistant. It felt like it at times, especially the Saturday evening calls to my home number or the Sunday-for-Monday interruptions. My network became the area Chairs in other prisons. My responsibilities expanded and I took it all on board, in part relishing the challenge. Yet there were some niggles creeping in, as I was required to shoulder the thick end of the workload without being empowered with the authority to do much about any of it.

On one occasion I recall being put firmly back on my box by the then Chairman. “How dare you say you’re the acting Chair. You’re my Vice-Chair, not the acting Chair” they said, speaking down at me like an intolerant owner upbraiding a truanting cocker spaniel. Bit rich really, given that the then Chairman was the one for whom I had covered no less than 162 days absence in a single calendar year. Yes I kept a record! (as I told you, monitors record exactly what they see and what they hear, and tend to notice when the Chair is away for 44% of the time).

Believing the best and hoping it wouldn’t last, I went along with it. I wouldn’t go along with it now. Nor will I ever again in the future. I don’t recall many, if any, occasions I felt truly supported by them.

In retrospect, it’s a bit sad really, don’t you think?

When the time came, I embraced the opportunity to serve the Board as Chairman only after I was sure I was ready to fulfil the role and could gather dependable people around me. These positions are never ones to grasp at.

A colleague agreed that if I was willing to serve as Chairman then they would step up as Vice-Chair. Despite commitments running their own business the Vice-Chair was incredibly supportive in every way the past Chair wasn’t able to be. Or didn’t wish to be. And so it was from January 2016, following nominations the previous October, we set to work and gelled like dream team.

And together we worked hard to build the team around us. Sacrificing time from other priorities to come in to the prison often when it was inconvenient, why, because it just had to be done. These are the sort of things they don’t tell you about when they pitch volunteering to you. But we did it anyway, and cheerfully for the most part; it’s what you make if it.

Mentoring volunteers was very enjoyable but it took on dimensions I never thought would be part of the remit, for example, teaching an IMB member how to use a computer mouse for the first time in their lives, let alone the depths of Quantum, the NOMS secure intranet (Gawd bless it) or the CJSM email system (don’t get me started on that one).

More than matching time volunteered on monitoring with time volunteered on Chairman’s responsibilities (yes, even Chairs should perform monitoring visits), I expanded on my knowledge of the criminal justice system through taking up invitations to visit other prisons. I wanted to learn as much as I could about every category of prison and see for myself the conditions for those held in custody in those places, and better understand what monitoring looked like for them.

GrimondFM4

Grimond Room, 16 March 2016

Additionally, to learn more on policy, I became a frequent visitor at the House of Commons Select Committee on Justice (Twitter @CommonsJustice) where I could see, hear and meet those giving oral evidence. I learned to fine tune my own sense of scrutiny, making less hasty judgements and leaping to conclusions without having first studied the facts.

I read widely on the subject of justice, even calling into The Institute of Criminology and the Cambridge University Library on occasions to check for myself the validity of references being cited in some of the material I was consuming. (The Tea Room there is as much an eye opener as the Rare Books section; you get to talk and make friends with rather influential and interesting people over a cuppa).

In short, I was fortunate to gain a well-informed view of the big picture and a well-grounded understanding of how that applied to specific areas, including monitoring.

As my understanding grew, very obvious holes in the system began to make themselves clear to me, making them compelling enough for me not to look the other way.

As I monitored, I looked and listened. As I worked, I saw. As I visited, I heard. As I studied, I realised. And as I realised, I knew – I knew that what I was seeing and hearing and learning was not all it is cracked up to be.

So I wrote, firstly about topics that caught my attention and my responses to them and then about good practice and about areas for improvement. Whereas these first appeared only in blog format now my opinions have been published in The Prisons Handbook 2016, the definitive guide to prisons in England and Wales for over 18 years.

Just imagine my amazement when, having gone beyond the call of duty and having delivered all this into a Board I thought I had alongside me, an ambush was set for me on 19 April 2016 for which nothing could have prepared me.

I’ve written before about this awful episode and yes, regardless of what may have been claimed by others, I have had to call it what it was, workplace bullying (remember, as a monitor I only write what I see and what I hear, no spin). Suffice to say it has become a tipping point in more ways than anyone would have anticipated.

But now I’m ‘OUT’

Suspending me pending an MOJ investigation is what the Prisons Minister decided to do when he received a report from The IMB Secretariat about me. I’ve no idea what was in that report; I’ve not been given sight of it and although I’ve asked for a copy, nothing has been forthcoming. Despite what the Minister himself wrote, I have now been told it is not a report, but a submission from The IMB Secretariat, and legislation has been quoted to try and prevent me from seeing it.

Barred from stepping foot on the prison estate without prior appointment and vetting, the system has spat me out. Where once there was free movement anywhere inside, now I’m bouncing off the perimeter unable to enter let alone monitor.

The story is not quite finished and I’m not leaving it there.

There now seems to a “war of attrition” but I’m not playing those games. Information about me is being withheld despite my requesting unredacted copies of it from the Minister and the MOJ, and they are trying to keep me in the dark.

I want to be reinstated.

The second letter went in to the Prisons Minister on 17 June. I’ve asked the Minister to reinstate me.

But I’ve also asked the Prisons Minister eleven questions which you the public have a right to hear from him on. Refer to page 2 and page 3.  If he doesn’t reply to me, perhaps he will reply to you. Write to him and press him for answers on what’s happening with Hollesley Bay monitoring. Don’t accept “stock answers” copied and pasted into pre-templated letters; demand the facts in a personal letter from the Minister not his staff.

DOWNLOAD : Letter Spear to Selous 17 Jun 2016 public

LetterSpearToSelous17Jun2016

 

It’s not about me. It’s always been about the issues

And the issues I raised in my original article published in The Prisons Handbook 2016 have never been disputed by the Minister or by the Secretary of State, yet seem to be enough to turn my fellow board members hard-fast against me, to raise the hackles in the IMB Secret-ariat (sic) and to cause a thunder storm inside the MOJ.

Of course I do want the personal cost I’ve paid, and that my family has paid with me since 19 April, to amount to something.

I don’t want to be a name that meant something to a handful of people once then was quickly forgotten or surreptitiously ‘air-brushed’ from record.

Being reinstated would mean the Board can get on with the vital job of monitoring, becoming a watchdog again, and being in the heart of the action to realise prison reform.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
BREAK GLASS

In all candour, I’m so fearful that the net result of my speaking out in good faith will leave me at a massive disadvantage and consequently damage any prospects I might have had to find employment in anything related to the justice sector. Outside again, with a reputation on a par with the zika virus and with my self-esteem around my ankles tripping me up when trying to move forwards from here.

But my biggest fear of all is that nothing will change for those already in the sector.

Not calling out issues means no change for salaried civil servants spending immensely valuable time just going through the motions at taxpayers’ expense.

Keeping quiet on issues means no change for prison Governors with the Inspectorate breathing down their neck every so often without monitors there to provide real checks and balances.

Not calling out issues means no change for members of IMBs everywhere whose well-meaning sense of duty and willingness to volunteer is privately despised and whose voice is muffled by a dysfunctional Secretariat which is anything but independent.

Keeping quiet on issues means no changes to a pointless National Council whose nameless and faceless structure smacks more of a secret society with a presidency that’s widely regarded as irrelevant and a President even the public regard as yesterday’s man.

And whilst all that turbulence goes on inside the MOJ, not calling out issues means there’s no change for people in custody. In paying their “debt to society” through loss of liberty they also pay perhaps a higher price than most people imagine, banged up for 23 hours a day in institutions which for the most part are understaffed, unfunded and underperforming.

Penal facilities which neither correct, rehabilitate nor reduce reoffending are, in my considered opinion, facilities that should be the most closely monitored facilities of all.

I believe in monitoring.
And I want to be reinstated.

I want to be ‘IN’ all over again.

This is not a game; prisons reform is essential

Now the debacle inside HMP / YOI Hollesley Bay IMB has a Government Minister involved.

On 26 May 2016, Prisons Minister Andrew Selous (Twitter @AndrewSelous ) wrote to me by letter to inform me he had decided to suspend me. You can read his letter for yourself here.

Letter Selous to Spear 26 May 2016

I reflected carefully on what he said and the next day wrote a letter of reply back to him. You can read my letter to Mr Selous for yourself here.*

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD :   Letter Spear to Selous 02 Jul 2016 public

LetterSpearToSelous

 

Don’t shoot the messenger

It has already been established that I needed no permissions to write about prison reform in The Prisons Handbook 2016, neither did I need any permission to speak to the media (see 1st and 2nd bullet points about ‘East Anglian Daily Times‘ and ‘Inside Time‘).

The reply to a request under the Freedom of Information Act to MOJ by Mark Leech, publisher of The Prisons Handbook 2016, makes that point abundantly clear. And in so doing I think answers the pretexts cited by Mr Selous in his justification for suspending me.

As a public official I acted in the public interest.

When Mr Selous “shot the messenger” he also shot himself in the foot.

The treatment I am currently receiving from Ministry of Justice is wearing very thin on me, frankly. Nonetheless, I remain level-headed and undeterred from speaking up when it comes to prison reform. This is not a game; prison reform is essential, overdue and a cause which the public cares deeply about.

Faith Spear

Faith Spear

I look forward with great interest to receiving the reply from Mr Selous along with the copy of the report he received from The Secretariat.

In the meantime, uppermost in my mind is the key issue of what monitoring is taking place in HMP and YOI Hollesley Bay?

If you are concerned I’d recommend you contact Mr Selous to ask the question. You can also contact Dr Therese Coffey MP (Twitter @theresecoffey) if you live in the constituency of Suffolk Coastal where Hollesley Bay is located.

Assuring ongoing independent monitoring is surely an vital operational issue that Mr Selous must prioritise finding a solution to, probably before going out on his EU Referendum circus campaign.

*yes, I know, the letter carries a July date instead of June. Typo was mine but other than my home address it is unredacted. Warts and all. 

Blog last edited: 08 June

~

We don’t just need a vision, we need a cause!

20150101_144536_LLS

“She’s no rebel and she’s got a cause”

In the space of 6 weeks I have written an article which has been published in The Prisons Handbook 2016, just before the Prime Ministers speech. I have been interviewed by Ian Dunt with an article put on politics.co.uk, been in my local paper with a 2 page spread, had a front page article in Converse prison newspaper, had an interview with another newspaper with an article ready for the next months edition… If I can achieve all this in just 6 weeks, just imagine what could be achieved in 6 months or a year?. It’s all about going at pace.

It’s not always about what you have achieved in the past, although it does help. But it’s about what you can/will/want to do in the future.

Can’t abide being held back because of what I haven’t done yet. Especially when I’m at the start of something significant and have plenty of passion, energy and drive for what is to come.

And despite the knock backs, to keep a sense of humour.

Yes I have mainly worked with vulnerable adults and children before, but we all have a vulnerable side to us. Some are able to reveal it, others not, some it leads to being a victim and others it leads them into criminal activity.

Have you noticed how quick some people are to judge others,  put you into boxes and to categorise? I hope you won’t judge my life by the chapter you just walked in on.

Prisons are no different.

Many problems arise when people enter the prison system and then leave in a worse state than when they arrived.

Why after all the money pumped into prisons is this happening?

Profits are made out of prisoners, we all know that.

How many reviews, reports can you count over the last say 10 years that involve prisoners?

There have been countless

How many organisations do you know that work hard to bring reform to prisons and prisoners?

There are countless

How much money has been spent on prison reform?

Countless

On 8th February, the Prime Minister set out a vision for prison reform. Mr Cameron said:

This system will be hard to change because it is, in some ways, still stuck in the dark ages – with old buildings, old thinking and old ways of doing things.

So I don’t want to go slow here – I want us to get on with proper, full-on prison reform.

Today, 27th May the Public Accounts Committee report warns that the criminal justice system is close to breaking point:

Report summary

  • The criminal justice system is close to breaking point.
  • Lack of shared accountability and resource pressures mean that costs are being shunted from one part of the system to another and the system suffers from too many delays and inefficiencies.
  • There is insufficient focus on victims, who face a postcode lottery in their access to justice due to the significant variations in performance in different areas of the country.

Criminal justice system “already overstretched”

  • The system is already overstretched and we consider that the Ministry of Justice has exhausted the scope to make more cuts without further detriment to performance.
  • The Government is implementing reforms to improve the system but we are concerned that users of the system won’t see the full benefit for another four years.
  • There are opportunities for the Ministry to make improvements before then, including better sharing of good practice and making sure that everyone is getting things right first time.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmpubacc/72/72.pdf

But what is the answer?

(If I had the answer I would be a very rich woman!)

Over the last few years I have visited every category of prison, YOI and Women’s. I have sat behind the Right hon. Michael Gove MP whilst he has been in front of the Justice Select Committee twice. I have attended meeting after meeting in Westminster, attended conferences, training courses, lectures, seminars etc. at my own cost.

Why?

I want to learn, I want to understand but most of all I want answers to the questions I have posed.

I also want to be a part of the change that is so desperately needed in our prisons.

We don’t just need a vision, we need a cause!

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)]

Houston, B. (2001) For this Cause: Finding the meaning of life and living a life of meaning. Castle Hill: Maximised Leadership Inc.

Justice Select Committee part 3

 

GrimondFM4

I seem to be making a habit of this; on Wednesday 16th March I attended the Justice Select Committee for the third time, again listening to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP being questioned by a team of MP’s.

I sat behind Mr Gove and watched as he interacted with the committee. The meeting can be accessed from this link: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/e67772ca-8c75-4112-853a-0fbd80688389

The first question he was asked was “How would you encapsulate the overall purpose of the thrust of the Government’s prison policy”?  Michael Gove replied “In a sentence, it is about turning prisoners from liabilities into assets”. Interesting use of language I thought.

He continued by stating that…”the critical thing is to make sure that during their time in prison there is purposeful activity…” I have come across some excellent forms of purposeful activity but to be honest there just isn’t enough going on. Is it all down to money? If millions can be found to build new prisons then surely purposeful activity has to be included.

The stories coming out of many of the prisons in England and Wales are appalling, locked up at least 22 hours a day, rat infested are but a few I have read this week.

When will we see real progress?

The most successful custodial establishment according to Nick Hardwick former chief inspector of prisons was the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) in Colchester. However, in October 2015 there were 35 being held at the MCTC, hardly an example to compare. The ratio of staff to detainees is far higher than within the prison estate which is surely a factor along with greater governor autonomy that contributes to its success. I have visited it and was impressed by the order, cleanliness and regime. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484448/Detainees_Military_Corrective_Training_Centre_Colchester.pdf

But how do you really measure success?

Michael Gove gave an example of Bronzefield prison as being a very successful female prison, yet this week one of the main stories I have read is about staff giving out sleeping bags to women released with no accommodation. It doesn’t add up!

I want to read more success stories, see real progress and watch as these “liabilities are turned into assets”

 

Volunteering in the Justice Sector

51st birthday

Today I read volunteering is good for your health as you tend to visit the doctor less!

This may be the case and I should know, I have worked as a volunteer for over 20 years and in the Justice sector for over 3 years

A big misconception is that a volunteer just makes tea!

After going to University as a mature student I received a BSc (Hons) in Criminology in Nov 2011. I then spent a year working with my local CAB and completed the course to become a Gateway Assessor as I was told you need to have voluntary work on your CV especially if you have changed direction. This was a real eye opener to the needs of people. After answering an advert in the paper to join the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay in 2013, I started on a very interesting journey. I am now the Chairman.

Apart from the IMB, I have been a group leader for Prison Fellowship England and Wales since 2012 involving managing a small team, all volunteers that deliver the Sycamore Tree victim awareness course in prisons. Meeting monthly and also speaking at various clubs, groups and churches on Restorative Justice and the work I do in prison. I have also been on the Steering Group for the Reclaim Justice Network for over 3 years, attending meetings, AGM’s and supporting events when I am able.

In addition I am a member of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) and the Howard League. I have been invited to visit many prisons and events in the Justice sector and have been an observer at the Justice Select Committee. I have lost count of the number of conferences, lectures, wine receptions and exhibitions I have attended as I try and keep informed. I write a blog and am known on twitter!

I am passionate about wanting change within the prisons, purposeful activity and education are but a few of changes needed. I try to encourage those in prison and those that have been released.

But all of this is as a volunteer.

I have applied for many jobs since graduating but there have been two main problems. The first being the idea that volunteers make the tea and don’t have real input and so can be a bit clueless. The second being I cannot find a more interesting and at times rewarding line of work. I’m not someone to sit in front of a computer on a daily basis. My work is varied and I enjoy the interaction with prisoners, Governors, staff, my team and my many contacts. I like to be organised and punctual. I like tea, but don’t sit around drinking it all day.

Volunteering is rewarding, I recommend it as it’s an essential part of society but I’m ready for a change…!

Suffragette extraordinaire: Constance Lytton: Living for a Cause

This is an article that I wrote last year with my good friend David Scott concerning a suffragette extraordinaire!

Constance Lytton: Living for a Cause

David Scott and Faith Spear

 

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)]

In Prisons and Prisoners: Some personal experiences by Constance Lytton and Jane Warton, published 100 years ago this month in March 1914, Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton presented one of the most significant challenges to 20th Century anti-suffrage politics.  In so doing she put herself forward as a “champion of women” (Lytton, 1914) in the hope that one day women would attain political equality with men.[1]Prisons and Prisoners is a comprehensive and at times a harrowing personal account of her four prison sentences as a militant suffragette. The book is 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.

lady constance lytton

Desperate to find some way of empathising with the other suffragettes, Constance Lytton had a desire to stand beside those who were fighting. She was with them not as a ‘spare part’ but as a comrade. Most famously, to avoid receiving special treatment and privileges as a result of her family connections, she took on the guise of ‘Jane Warton’ and in so doing personally experienced the horrors of prison, including force-feeding. Although her health suffered, her story is one which shows courage, determination and an undeniable dedication to equality and justice (Lytton, 1914).

Concentrating attention on political injustice and votes for women, Constance Lytton brought notice toclass and gender disparities in punishment and the struggles for the rights of women, always maintaining that the suffragette’s militant actions were political rather than criminal. This all from a woman that described herself as having an exaggerated dislike of society and of publicity in any form and yet remarkably was at the same time a militant suffragette who took part indeputations to Parliament and prolonged periods of penal incarceration (Lytton, 1914; Haslam, 2008).

Lady Constance Lytton is not the only woman from a privileged background who has written about her prison experiences. The famous Irish rebel, Countess Constance Georgine Markievicz (1927/1973), most well known for her participation in the 1916 Easter rising, wrote extensively about her time in prison. Indeed, her prison letters were published to huge acclaim and are still considered today to be of great political significance.  In more recent times – October 2013 – Vicky Pryce, former joint head of the UK’s government economic service,published her account of her three and a half days incarcerated in HMP Holloway (12th-15th March 2013)and eight weeks inHMP East Sutton Park Open Prison (15th March – 12th May 2013).[2] Her book, Prisonomics, which ultimately seeks to predicate penal change on an economic rationale rather than on humanitarian concerns, has not been so well received. The reaction is partly because it cannot be considered as representative of the lived realities of most women in prison,[3]partly because of the privileged status she was accorded insideprison and thevast economic resources at her disposal,[4]and partly because of the support she was given in writing the book and her failure to identify closely with the painful realities of other prisoners.[5]Yet perhaps the most damning indictment comes when the book is compared to the prison writings of people like Countess Constance Markievicz or Lady Constance Lytton,for then it becomes evident just what is missing from Prisonomics.

Lytton’s experiences of imprisonment

After being arrested for being part of a deputation marching to Downing Street on 24th February 1909, Constance Lytton was sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment in HMP Holloway. In Prisons and Prisoners,she provides extraordinarily rich descriptions of prisonconditions, daily routine, fellow prisoners and prison wardresses in Holloway prison at that time.  Although initially held in the hospital wing because of her poor health, following acts of resistance which in effect amounted to self-harm,she was allowed to join other prisoners on ‘the other side’ in the main wings (Lytton, 1914).  She had a brilliant eye for detail and provides a number of clear and vivid accounts of sometimes overlooked aspects of prison life.  For example, she describes how her prison clothes, with broad arrows stamped over them, were often ill-fitting, stained, unironed and looking unwashed even after they had been to the laundry.  Further, the poor design and cut of her prison shirt was not just uncomfortable but so bad it “looked like the production of a maniac” whilst her prison shoes were too small and painful to walk in (Lytton, 1914). The prison cells were small, bitterly cold and poorly ventilated, making it hard for prisoners to breathe, never mind stay warm. Beds were uncomfortable whilst pillows were “stuffed with thunder”, making sleep and rest difficult under the best of circumstances and, when compounded by noise, impossible (Lytton, 1914).

In Prisons and PrisonersConstance Lytton draws the reader’s attention to the lack of privacy, including the ironies of being in so many ways alone in prison yet at the same time not having the opportunity to retreat to a private space of one’s own. She recounts the monotony of prison daily routine where days collapse into each other and the general dragging of time engendering feelings of wastefulness. She complains about the rigid enforcement of petty rules and the judgemental opinions of wardresses which make prisoners feel like they belong to “a race apart” (Lytton, 1914). Insightfully, Constance Lytton also recognised the difficulties wardresses had in understanding how the pains of imprisonment shape prisoners’ experiences, for such things the prison official can only “witnesswithout sharing them”(Ibid). She rightly concludes that this results in a general failure on the part of prison officials to correctly read the feelings, meanings and actions of those they detain.

Constance Lytton acknowledged that her prison experience was mitigated somewhat by who she was. Despite the poor conditions she encountered, some improvements had been made on her arrival, including the supply of knives and forks which had not been available to prisoners in Holloway before her time there.As perhaps only an aristocrat would, she yearned for an authentic prison experience, and noted how other women prisoners seemed dejected, lifeless, listless, detached from each other and haunted by their own suffering, anxiety and bitterness (Lytton, 1914). On a number of occasions in her reflections on her time in Holloway prison,she uses her pen to poetically describe the abnormality, pain, sadness and venomous nature of penal incarceration, leaving the reader in no doubt of her repugnance of the penal machinery and its inevitably destructive results.

The prison from here looks like a great hive of human creeping things impelled to their joyless labours and unwilling seclusion by some hidden force, the very reversal of the natural, and which has in it no element of organic life, cohesion, or self-sufficing reason.  A hive of hideous purposes from which flows back day by day into the surrounding stream of evil honey, blackened in the making and poisonous in result.  The high central tower seemed to me a jam pot, indicative of the foul preserve that seethed within this factory for potting human souls (Lytton, 1914).

Despite all the bleakness of the prison experience, Constance Lytton emphasised above all else those moments when humanity and the human spirit were able to overcome the brutal indifference characterising daily prison routines. She writes about the kindness and compassion of other women prisoners (especially other suffragettes) and the brief glimpses of humanity that she saw hiding behind the “masks” worn by wardresses when performing their duties (Lytton, 1914). Indeed, for her such “rare occasions of gladness outweigh from their importance the much more numerous experiences of gloom, anxiety, anger and physical suffering” (Ibid). Yet she never became blinded by these brief moments of “gladness”, keeping her sights firmly upon carefully describing the “nightmare of horror” of HMP Holloway and a dehumanising system which trapped both prisoners and wardresses (Ibid).

Shortly after her release from Holloway prison, Constance Lytton was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment for a second time, on this occasion on Saturday 9th October, 1909 for throwing a stone at the car of Sir Walter Runciman in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.  Once imprisoned, she immediately went on hunger strike at HMP Newcastle.  Although refusing medical examination, her health condition was still officiously checked and, afterabstaining to eat foodfor three of the days into her one month sentence (Monday 11th – Wednesday 13th October, 1909), she was released. Her release was ordered – according to Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone –because of concerns regarding her heart condition.  Unlike working class women suffragettes on hunger strike in prisons, the aristocrat Constance Lytton had not been force-fed. The belief that her class background had shaped her treatment in prison led to a fundamental change in hertactics.

‘Jane Warton, Spinster’ and Walton Prison

The writings of Lady Constance Lytton on Holloway and Newcastle prisons are undoubtedly worthy of commemoration in their own right, but what she did next was truly remarkable, making Prisons and Prisoners one of the most unique prisoner autobiographies ever written.   After hearing about the force feeding of a working class suffragette of her acquaintance, Miss Selina Martin, and another named Miss Leslie Hall, while on remand at Walton Prison in Liverpool, Constance Lytton hatched a plan that would entail,if necessary, “sharing the fate of these women” (Lytton, 1914). Her intention was to transcend her class background in an attempt to understand the lived experiences of working class women prisoners.In so doing, she hoped to express political solidarity with the suffering of less fortunate others and to use her own frail body as the central way of achieving this.

Whilst visiting Manchester in early January 1910, she disguised herself with a most ridiculous hair-cut, cheap glasses and even cheaper clothes and then rejoined the WSPU[Women’s Social and Political Union] as ‘Jane Warton, Spinster’ (Lytton, 1914). She had chosen her new name carefully:the first name was taken from Jeanne of Arc (Jeanne is translated as either Joan or Jane)whilst the surname was derived from her relatives the ‘Warburtons’ but shortened to ‘Warton’ to appear more ordinary.She hoped the real meaning of her name ‘Jane Warton’ would give her strength in what she anticipated would be difficult times ahead (Ibid).

‘Jane Warton’ was subsequently arrested on Friday 14th January 1910 after participating in a protest march about the force feeding of working class women suffragetteslike Selina Martin in Walton prison. ‘Jane Warton’ started her hunger strike in the police cells that Friday evening, a couple of days before she was to begin her sentence at Walton Prison.  Just as she had done so under her real name, when in prison ‘Jane Warton’ refused medical examinations. There was, however, to be no further investigation into the health of working class suffragette ‘Jane Warton’ and 89 hours into her hunger strike, force-feeding began. Between Tuesday 18th and Saturday 22nd January 1910, ‘Jane Warton’ was to have liquidised food poured into a tube forced into her stomach through her mouth on eight separate occasions.

At 6.00pm, Tuesday 18th January1910 her first force feeding started. The medical officer and five wardresses entered her cell with the “feeding apparatus” (Lytton, 1914). There was no attempt to medically examine ‘Jane Warton’ and the half-hearted made attempts by the medical officer to induce her to eat unsurprisingly failed.

I offered no resistance to being placed in position, but lay down voluntarily on the plank bed.  Two of the wardresses took hold of my arms, one held my head and one my feet.  One wardress helped to pour the food.  The doctor leant on my knees as he stooped over my chest to get at my mouth.  I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth… The sense of being overpowered by more force than I could possibly resist was complete, but I resisted nothing except with my mouth… He seemed annoyed at my resistance and he broke into a temper as he plied my teeth with the steel implement… He said if I resisted so much with my teeth, he would feed me through the nose.The pain of it was intense and at last I must have give way for he got the gag between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it much more than necessary until my jaws were fastened wide apart, far more than they could go naturally. Then he put down my throat a tube which seemed to me much too wide and was something like four feet in length.The irritation of the tube was excessive. I choked the moment it touched my throat until it had gone down. Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me sick a few seconds after it was down and the action of the sickness made my body and legs double up, but the wardresses instantly pressed back by back and the doctor leant on my knees.  The horror of it was more than I can describe.  I was sick over the doctor and wardresses and it seemed a long time before they took the tube out (Lytton, 1914).

When the force-feeding was over the doctor slapped ‘Jane Warton’ on the cheek and left her cell (Ibid).

I could not move, and remained there in what, under different conditions, would have been an intolerable mess. I had been sick over my hair, which, though short, hung on either side of my face, all over the wall near my bed, and my clothes seemed saturated with it, but the wardresses told me they could not get me a change that night as it was too late, the office was shut. I lay quite motionless, it seemed paradise to be without the suffocating tube, without the liquid food going in and out of my body and without the gag in my teeth… Before long I heard the sounds of forced feeding in the cell next to mine. It was almost more than I could bare (Ibid).

‘Jane Warton’ continued to vomit following being force-fed on further occasions (Ibid).  Her physical frailty was noted by the medical officer but remarkably when her heart was checked by a junior doctor,he exclaimed “Oh ripping, splendid heart! You can go on with her” (Ibid). From her fourth to eighth feedings the doctor and wardresses were more gentle, for they had realised that ‘Jane Warton’ was someone else in disguise, even though they remained unsure of her true identity. Her physical and emotional strength was virtually broken and at her feeding on Friday 21st she was “convulsed with sobs” (Ibid). Following outside intervention from her family,she was released from HMP Walton on the morning of Sunday 23rd January 1910.

 

Writing, reception and legacy of ‘Prisons and Prisoners’

When Constance Lytton (‘Jane Warton’) was finally released from Walton prison on 23rd January,a major political scandal followed immediately. The then Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone, claimed that ‘Lady Constance Lytton’ had been released from Newcastle prison when she went on hunger strike because she had heart disease, yet in her guise as ‘Jane Warton’ had been subjected to force feeding and was released due to “loss of weight and general  physical weakness”(Lytton, 1914; Haslam, 2008). Before Constance Lytton, some 35 other women suffragettes had been force-fed whilst on hunger strike, but none of these suffragettes were members of the ruling elite and their sufferings during force feedings had largely been ignored. Lady Constance Lytton’s treatment as ‘Jane Warton’ by contrast was a major political embarrassment, although the extent of the fall-out from her revelations and the concerted petitioning of her brother and sisters remain unclear. Although Herbert Gladstone ended his tenure as Home Secretary shortly after the release of ‘Jane Warton’, it is debatable whether the two events were linked.[6]The personal consequences for Constance Lytton of her ‘force feeding’, sadly, are undoubted. Following herrelease, she was confined to her bed for six weeks because her heart was so weak, and in the autumn of 1910 a heart seizure temporarily paralysed her. Her health never fully recovered and although the initial paralysis eased,two more years of suffering from heart seizures followed (Lytton, 1914).

Remarkably, Constance Lytton somehow found the passion and energy to continue as by this time she had personal insight complete with understanding, but most of all a strategy, and yet again she was arrested and sent to Holloway between 21st – 28th November 1911. Although the sentence was for a month, members of her family paid the requisite sum for her release and so she served one week only. Tragedy was to strike her on 5th May 1912, when Constance Lytton suffered a stroke. In Prisons and Prisoners she wrote:

… had a stroke and my right arm was paralysed; also, slightly my right foot and leg.  I was taken from my flat to my sister’s house … from that day I have been incapacitated from working for the Women’s Social and Political Union, but I am with them still with my whole soul (Lytton, 1914).

This remarkable and courageous woman wrote her book Prisons and Prisoners with her left hand as a result of the paralysis. She spent the final years of her life (1912-1923) an invalid at Knebworth, cared for by her mother and hired nurses, one of which she closely befriended. As the Letters of Constance Lytton, selected and arranged by Betty Balfour (Lytton, 1925) published posthumously in 1925 indicate, Constance Lytton was a prolific letter writer prior to her stroke in 1912, but following this was able to write only very few personal letters, showing us just how much of a struggle it must have been to write Prisons and Prisoners with her left hand. Christabel Pankhurst on 20th March 1914 wrote “Prisons and Prisoners is in itself a triumph of will – a great conquest of the spirit over bodily infirmity”. Indeed it was.

The story of Constance Lytton as detailed by her own hand, and that of others, caught the imagination of both her peers and fellow suffragettes. Her story was first to come out in a fictionalised form, as a thinly disguised character in the classic Gertrude Colmore (1911) novel Suffragette Sally.[7] Her struggle also had a far reaching effect on legislation. This can be illustrated by the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act, which became known as the Cat and Mouse Act. It was rushed through parliament in 1913 to allow the discharge of hunger-striking suffragettes from prisons as a response to growing public disquiet about the use of forcible feeding. This Act allowed for the early release of prisoners who were so weakened by hunger striking that they were at risk of death.  However, they were to be recalled to prison once their health was recovered, where the process would begin again.Though hardly a victory, political pressure continued to mount and finally,in Constance Lytton’s lifetime, propertied women aged over 30 got the vote1918.[8]

As a consequence of her actions ‘for this cause’ (Houston, 2001), Constance Lytton had many that were grateful for the sacrifice she gave. Below are some of the many testimonies:

The Outlook (28th January 1910) “Whenever the annals of the human race are preserved, this deed of hers will be treasured up as a priceless possession”

Emmeline Pethick Lawrence (28th January 1910)

“[her act] will be written in letters of gold upon the tables of human history”

MrsCoombe Tennant, (visiting justice, 1925, cited in Balfour, 1925)

“prisons today are different from what they would have been had she not gone down into hell.”

Constance Lytton died at the age of 54. At her funeral Emmeline Pethick Lawrence placed a palm leaf on the casket, with the statement:

Dearest Comrade – You live always in the hearts of those who love you and live forever in the future race which inherits the new freedom you gave your life to win (cited in Miles and Williams, 1999).

 

Critical appraisal

When looking back at Prisons and Prisoners 100 years on, it is clear that the book is not only an important historical artefact in terms of publicisingthe struggle for women’s equality but also as aremarkable testimony of one women’s experience of imprisonment. Prisons and Prisoners provides insights neglected by some penological narratives of that time and directly contradicts official reports and documents–most famously those of then Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone (see Haslam, 2008). Undoubtedly, Prisons and Prisoners continues to humanise prison studies and to enrich understandings of prison life, both past and present.

It also provides an antidote for those drawn to the publicity-craving celebrity autobiographies of the political elite imprisoned for their own corruption. When contrasting Constance Lytton’s Prisons and Prisoners with the more recent Prisonomics by Vicky Pryce (2013)it seems the two books provide almost a mirror image of each other.  Prisons and Prisoners is a personally courageous attempt to uncover the terrible truth regarding the experiences of both ordinary prisoners and suffragettes.  Rooted in radical and emancipatory politics, it questions imprisonment because it is a dehumanising environment creating unnecessary human suffering.  In comparison Prisonomics central focus is upon the economic, rather than human, costs of penal incarceration.  But what distinguishes the two books more than anything else is the political commitments of the authors to their given cause.  Whereas a strong political commitment is evident in nearly every act undertaken by Constance Lytton as described in her autobiography it is noticeable in the main through its absence in the writings of Vicky Pryce.  As such it is difficult to imagine commemorating the publication of Prisonomics in the next century.

Nonetheless Prisons and Prisoners, and what it attempted to achieve, isalso not without difficulties. Despite her best efforts, it was always an impossible ambition for Constance Lytton to entirely transcend class boundaries and gain an experience that could reflect the lived realities of ordinary women prisoners. Even as ‘Jane Warton’ she could never experience the restricted choices and power-differentials shaping pre- and post -incarceration for working class women offenders. Her understanding of working class women in prison was always informed by a pastoral and maternal ideology rather than by an ideology of political emancipation and resulted in a tone which in the main sought to foster sympathy for prisoners through their ‘victimhood’ rather than actualising change motivated by an understanding of prisoners as free-willed autonomous agents.  Consequently, whereas suffragette women prisoners (Constance Lytton included) are presented as engaging in acts of resistance, working class criminal women prisoners are constructed as passive and unable to fight back against penal oppression (Lytton, 1914).

Furthermore, Constance Lytton made little progress in providing a platform from which the actual voices of either working class women suffragettes or ‘ordinary’ prisoners could be heard, although her stroke and subsequent paralysis in 1912 may have made such endeavours physically impossible. Nevertheless, in Prisons and Prisoners and in the wider writings of Constance Lytton (Lytton, 1909, 1910a, 1910b), we only ever hear her privileged voiceand significant though this is, it can only provide us with a partial narrative of that historical moment. Despite these concerns, the courage, bravery and commitment of Constance Lytton to expose the brutal treatment of working class women in prison, whatever the cost to her fragile health, must be recognised for the heroism it undoubtedly was. It represents a victory of the human spirit overwhat appear to be insurmountable odds and,100 years on, is a story that can inspire those working against dehumanisation and for human equality in all of its rich and wonderful diversity.

 

References

Balfour, B (1925) “Introduction” in Lytton, C. (1925) Letters of Constance Lytton, selected and arranged by Betty Balfour London: Heinemann

Gertrude Colmore (1911) Suffragette Sally Toronto: Broadview Press

Haslam, J. (ed) (2008) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by Constance Lytton Toronto: Broadview Press

Houston, B. (2001) For this Cause: Finding the meaning of life and living a life of meaning. Castle Hill: Maximised Leadership Inc.

Lee, A. (2008) Suffragette Sally by Gertrude Colmore Toronto: Broadview Press

Lytton, C. (1909) No votes for Women”: A reply to some recent Anti-Suffrage Publications. London: A. C. Fiefield

Lytton, C. (1910a) “A Speech by Lady Constance Lytton, Delivered at Queen’s Hall, 31st January 1910” pp 326-332 in Lee, A. (2008) Suffragette Sally by Gertrude Colmore Toronto: Broadview Press

Lytton, C. (1910b) “The prison experience of Lady Constance Lytton” in Votes for Women28th January 1910 pp 301-305 in Haslam, J. (ed) (2008) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by Constance Lytton Toronto: Broadview Press

Lytton, C. (1914) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by Constance Lytton and Jane Warton, Spinster London: William Heinemann

Lytton, C. (1925) Letters of Constance Lyttonarranged by Betty Balfour London: Heinemann

Markievicz, C. (1927 / 1973)Prison Letters of Countess Markievicz London: Virago Press

Miles, P. And Williams, J. (1999) An Uncommon Criminal: The Life of Lady Constance Lytton, Militant Suffragette 1869-1923.Knebworth: Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust

Pankhurst, C. (1914)“A Prisoner’s Book” inThe Suffragette, 20th March 1914, pp 323-326 in Haslam, J. (ed) (2008) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by Constance Lytton Toronto: Broadview Press

Pethick Lawrence, E. (1910)“Lady Constance Lytton” in Votes For Women28th January, 1910, pp 314-315 in Haslam, J. (ed) (2008) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by Constance Lytton Toronto: Broadview Press

Pryce, V. (2013)Prisonomics London: Biteback

Scott, D. & Spear, F. (2014) “Constance Lytton/ Jane Warton Prisons and Prisoners: 100 years on” in Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, September 2014

The Outlook (1910) editorial of Votes For Women, 28th January, 1910 pp 311-314 in Haslam, J. (ed) (2008) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by Constance Lytton Toronto: Broadview Press

 

David Scott teaches at Liverpool John Moores University.  He is a former coordinator of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control and an associate editor of the Howard Journal.  He is currently completing a book for Palgrave entitled The Caretakers of Punishment: Power, Legitimacy and the Prison Officer.

 

Faith Spear is an independent Criminologist and is a member of the Reclaim Justice Network steering group and Vice-chair of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB YOI/HMP Hollesley Bay).

[1]For further details, see Lytton (1909).

[2]HMP East Sutton Park is a Grade II listed 16th Century building

[3]Criticism includes the limited time she spent inside and her social background before and after prison.

[4] Undoubtedly relationships were distorted as both fellow prisoners and prison officers knew who she was and that she writing a book.  She also brought more than £1490 in cash into prison. This level of economic resource can be contrasted to that of ordinary prisoners whose weekly wage is around £10-£15.

[5]Four researchers were paid to collect data for part two of the book; much of the book refers to lifeoutside the prison; and whilst she writes about ‘lovely’ people, things and places (i.e. pages 49, 68, 74, 79, 98)and ‘kindnesses’ (i.e. pages 18, 42, 84), she distances herself from acknowledgingpainful prison realities.

[6]For discussion on this see Haslam (2008).

[7] For further details on this classic text see Lee (2008).

[8]The struggle for the vote for working class women continued until 1928, after Constance Lytton had died.