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Unlocked Grads: Does it raise more questions than it answers?

What is the Unlocked Grads programme?

According to the website for University of Suffolk (10 September 2018) :

“Unlocked Graduates is a two-year programme and students who complete the programme are awarded an MSc in Leadership and Custodial Environments from the University of Suffolk”

https://www.uos.ac.uk/news/increased-interest-prison-officer-programme-partnership-university

When you look past all the ‘blurb’, in a nutshell, the programme starts as a Summer Institute comprising two week’s training as a prison officer and the beginning of a Master’s degree, followed by a two-week placement in a prison and finishes with two more weeks training. The taught modules at the Summer Institute leading to Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT) are based at the University of Suffolk, Ipswich.

It’s especially surprising to see that it is positioned as “a prestigious programme with influential supporters” when it is based here as the University is ranked 128 out of 131 Universities listed by The Complete University Guide.

https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/league-tables/rankings

Advice given for recruitment: “Fundamentally they need to be made of the right stuff to survive on the landings from Day 1… only a fairly ruthless and demanding selection process will guarantee you have the right people”

Part of the interview process includes having an interview with a former prisoner, but questions have been raised as to how this would be perceived and if unskilled interviewers could get the best out of the candidates.

unlockedgrads dot org dot uk our organisation [recommendations] screenshot 22 Sept 2018

Website, 22 September 2018

 

The 2017 Cohort

The 2017 cohort started in Summer 2017 with placements in HMP Brixton, Coldingley, Downview, High Down, Isis and Wandsworth.

I was invited to sit in on a training session at the Summer Institute in 2017. I spoke with staff members to get a feel and understanding of the programme. I had a one-to-one with Natasha Porter, CEO of Unlocked Grads.

But I came away with so many questions.

Why were those prisons selected and why were they all in the South of England?

So how can the safety of these young novice trainees be assured? In the latest Government Annual Prison Statistics, it shows that Brixton is rated 1 for safety with Wandsworth and Isis rated 2.

Again, in the same report, looking at stats for Purposeful Activity, Brixton, Isis and Wandsworth are rated 1; that’s an awful lot of people likely to be stuck in their cell, frustrations brewing, leading to mental health issues. Not forgetting the domino effect upon families of prisoners and families of staff.

So that’s the prisoners but what about the staff in these prisons.

Staff sickness for Wandsworth shows that 5918 days were lost in the 12 months to 31st March 2018 that’s on average 12.4 days lost per FTE. High Down is not much better with 4146 days lost in 1 year on average 10.4 days lost per FTE.

Whilst it is unclear why so many days are lost to sick leave, you can imagine that many of these sick days are as a result of the stress placed upon the officers, the increased violence on the wings, inhaling psychoactive substances and the exhaustion.

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/annual-hm-prison-and-probation-service-digest-2017-to-2018

But if there are such acute staff shortages how is replacing experienced members of staff with newly qualified Unlocked Grads going to make a positive difference?

Andrea Albutt, President of the Prison Governors Association spoke out last year and said:

“large numbers of new recruits can actually add to the instability in prisons rather than improve it”

https://www.channel4.com/news/prison-governors-association-chief-government-overhaul-is-perverse

 

So, what exactly is this programme wanting to achieve?

We are told that the Summer 2017 candidates in the 1st cohort all passed their POELT training. Was the bar set too low, it makes you wonder? However, the first cohort 100% pass rate did not include those who dropped out early on, after their first visit to a prison.

One of the first sponsors wrote: “This is clearly an incredibly challenging leadership programme. Unlocked Grads will have to develop advanced communication skills, diplomacy and resilience as well as the creative entrepreneurial flair to bring new ideas to prisons. These are the skills I look for in my sector.” (Sir Martin Sorrell, former CEO of WPP).

Sounds all well and good, but there’s no scope for entrepreneurial flair inside a prison; it’s a process driven role, dependent on regime and written Prison Service Instructions (PSI’s).

The candidates didn’t appear to be encouraged to stay once they acquired their master’s degree.

This seems incredibly short-sighted of the MoJ. Why are they investing in these grads yet encouraging them to move on after two years and not retaining them?

Sam Gymiah, the then Prisons Minister wrote:

“Some bright, passionate & capable recruits joining the prison service to help fix our prisons. Well done @unlockedgrads” (Twitter, 21 August 2017)

Hardly able to “fix our prisons” just through this two-year scheme.

I was informed by Natasha Porter that these grads were not included in the 2,500 new staff members that were being recruited.

 

The 2018 Cohort

This year 105 candidates attended the Summer Institute and yet again Ipswich was suddenly the place to be, a tourist attraction for anyone in the ‘Justice arena’. Now that HMP Berwyn in no longer ‘flavour of the month’, Ipswich appears to be the place to be seen.

Between 29th July and 6th September, guest speakers galore appeared at the University to give talks: from Gethin Jones to Michael Spurr to Erwin James.

Unlocked Grads Neptune Quay Ipswich

Neptune Quay, Ipswich – August 2018

Recently, when visiting the Ipswich Waterfront, I spotted dozens of mainly young men and women dressed in standard issue prison officer uniform complete with boots. Some were hiding their epaulettes with their hands and others showed their key chains.

It was the next instalment of the Unlocked Grads programme.

They were milling around on a lunch break (see photo) so I went and had a chat. I asked how they were finding the course and we briefly discussed the crisis within the prisons, as the HMIP report on Birmingham had just been published.

One of the 2018 Cohort said: “Oh but that’s just the media,” dismissing the squalor, violence and drugs in prisons as if it was some sort of fallacy.

Seriously, are they being taught about the reality of what is happening inside prisons?

Another eagerly said: “We are going to do something different; we will be on the landings, but it will be based on rehabilitation.”

If the Unlocked Grads are focusing on rehabilitation as “something different” then what is everyone else doing now?

And how many of them will stay long enough to make this “something different” happen?

If they are going onto the landings and have been told they will be focusing specifically on rehabilitation how will that go down with other members of staff, when they are so stressed that even the minimum requirements are hard to achieve?

Will there be a clash in their work expectations, disruption or problems with team dynamics, an “us and them”?

 

What people are saying about Unlocked Grads

I asked a former Prison Officer about his thoughts on this scheme, this is what he said, word for word:

“Hi Faith, my feelings are that most of them will be eaten alive by inmates, as grads won’t be from the same background as most inmates. A lot of grads would have been brought up with a “silver spoon in their mouths” and inmates will spot this a mile off and some inmates will sense this and will make their lives hell, I can’t see grads staying in the job for long, HMP need to employ people who are over 25 years old with some life experience”

I also spoke to someone who has been working in Education in prisons for years. They told me:

“The YO’s will make mincemeat of these university kids. And the older men will not like being told what to do by a kid. The whole enterprise seems absolutely mad, ill-thought out and with absolutely no thought given to basic – really basic – psychology”

Another quote, this time from a senior civil servant within the MoJ, who told me:

“the ideological approach is now wearing very thin”

One of the 2018 Cohort told me Unlocked Grads have a contract for 6 years and they described the 2017 Cohort as “guinea pigs”.

Michael Spurr

Michael Spurr at ICPA, London 25 October 2017. Pic: HMPPS Twitter

A few said they were going to be working in HMP Wandsworth, and they seemed somewhat amazed that I could describe in clear detail the layout, and the condition I personally encountered there at Wandsworth on numerous visits I had made.

Yet not one of them asked me who I was.

Curiously, I was told by a speaker at ICPA 2017 that, in his plenary address Michael Spurr said, without actually name-dropping Unlocked Grads, that he didn’t believe the principle of employing grads was the answer to the issue.

Given that Mr Spurr was invited to speak at Unlocked Grads Summer Institute in front of both the 2017 and the 2018 Cohorts, this is utterly remarkable and serves to remind us that Unlocked Grads doesn’t appear to have universal acceptance – even within HMPPS.

Overall, it all appears to be secretive, behind closed doors; many in the Justice sector I speak to about it is saying the same.

 

Media Coverage

On 9th September, I listened to the BBC report by Danny Shaw about the Unlocked Grads and questioned whether it was advertising? Where was the balance, where was the incisive journalism we have come to expect from BBC News’ home affairs correspondent?

In his report, Danny Shaw said: “Governors have found it hard to find and retain staff.”

Governors need to find and retain staff, right, but are the Unlocked Grads planning to stick around?

Also, I noticed in that report a focus on ‘Sophie’ from the 2017 Cohort deployed at HMP Coldingley. Half way through the video reportage where it says: ‘Now Sophie is helping to train the next set of recruits’. This seemed a bit odd; how developed is her jail craft after one year and why is someone who is not fully trained themselves, not a qualified trainer or an instructor, doing the training?

Further on in the reportage, Natasha Porter says:

“If you can deescalate a landing full of prisoners…”

That’s a big expectation, placing massive pressure on you as a new recruit.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-45455884/the-prison-job-attracting-graduates

It appears to me that the Unlocked Grads leadership scheme encourages the participants to see it is a stepping stone to a career elsewhere. This follows the same pattern that has occurred in the MoJ over the last few years with a continuous change of Secretary of State for Justice and Prisons Minister.

Does this just perpetuate the problem of lack of continuity in the Justice sector?

 

Retention, Retention, Retention

Unlocked Grads Programme purports to fill a gap in frontline prison staff but if these grads walk into other opportunities after 2 years, with other Government departments or with Private sector sponsors, then it defeats the objective of positioning it as anything with real-world ‘Custodial Environments’ credibility.

One young man on the 2nd Cohort said to me he hadn’t made up his mind if he would stay after the two years. Another said:

“I’m going to be Prison Officer for two years”

Therefore, if they are not contributing long-term, are they inadvertently placing a drain on already-scarce resources?

 

Academic standards and expectations

Unlocked Grads is delivered mainly as an online programme to an MSc with a summer school at the beginning of year one and the chance to write a policy document in the second year.

Job adverts have been posted asking for criminology dissertation supervisors that don’t necessarily have to be academics.

So apparently now we have those that are not trainers, training and those that are not academics supervising academic work at a Masters degree level !

Is it a prison officer training programme or an educational programme?

Job Advert

Click to Enlarge

A member of Unlocked Grads staff said to me last week that the Ministry of Justice will no longer evaluate the programme. So how will it now be evaluated and by whom?

https://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BMK940/criminology-dissertation-supervisors

[If the link has been taken down, just click on the image here to read what the job advert said]

The University of Suffolk has been chosen to run this top-flight programme for training prison officers, yet where is any information?

If such a “prestigious” course is being run there why is nothing about it shared with the local press?

Local media were unaware of the start of the second cohort.

Were Sandy Martin MP for Ipswich (in whose constituency the University of Suffolk is located) or Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, invited for the launch?

What is it really all about – filling up desk spaces inside Petty France with Faststreamers?

Or is it even a short-term solution for Prison Officer shortages?

Yes, we do need leadership but that has to come through experience, surely?

 

Governance

Unlocked Graduates is currently incubated within the registered charity called Catch 22 Charity Limited, Charity Number 1124127. It is not a stand-alone charity even though on the Unlocked Grads website it states:  “Unlocked is a charity…” (see image below).

unlockedgrads dot org dot uk what is unlocked [charity] screenshot 22 Sept 2018

Website, 22 September 2018

It is funded by Unlocked Graduates which is financed by the Ministry of Justice.

In other words, these young people are being offered Master’s level qualifications paid for from the public purse.

This necessitates openness and fully transparency, doesn’t it?

And yet in the Annual Report and Accounts to 31 August 2017 for Catch 22 Charity Limited, Company no. 6577534 there is a simple mention of Unlocked Grads on page 21 and page 25 but there is no reference to the specific activity of Unlocked Grads in Notes to the Accounts, either as restricted funds or as unrestricted funds.

http://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1124127&subid=0

https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/06577534/filing-history

 

Misrepresentation

The Unlocked Grads website asserts that:

 “The Unlocked Graduates programme was one of the key recommendations of the Coates’ Review of prison education, a report that argued that education needs to be put at the heart of the prison service if Government is serious about the rehabilitation of prisoners.”

I have read the Coates’ Review, and nowhere in the review does it cite that the Unlocked Grads programme was a key recommendation. In fact, the publicly available version of the Coates’ Review doesn’t include the words “Unlocked Graduates” at all, anywhere.

Therefore, this is a misrepresentation of what the review states. Below is the actual recommendation:

“Key recommendations

  1. A new scheme to attract high calibre graduates to work in prisons for an initial period of two years should be introduced. The role should be as a prison officer with an additional remit to support education at the heart of the prison regime.”

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison

Natasha Porter, CEO of the Unlocked Grads programme, was on the review panel for the Coates’ Review and Dame Sally Coates is on the board for Unlocked Grads.

How very convenient.

The Coates’ Review was published on 18th May 2016 and the Unlocked Grads scheme was launched on 21st Dec 2016. Why are these dates important, shouldn’t this exceptionally rapid time to market be commended?

In normal circumstances, yes, such as in the private sector, but this is Government and we all know that the government rarely, if ever, moves that quickly on justice-related issues. Take for example, the Corston Report ‘A review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system’ from March 2007; on the shelf for over 11 years and counting.

As this is a Government contract, and we have learned they have it for 6 years what was the procurement process and where is the publicly available tender?

I cannot find it on Official Journal of European Union (OJEU). If it was a non-competitive tender, why was only one private-sector provider aware of it? No other educators I have spoken to were ever approached.

Surely nothing is stopping any other private education company from setting up a similar training scheme. BPP University was the first private educator to be granted the ability to award recognised degrees in 2013. What is stopping them, or a similar organisation, coming up with a Graduate programme using prisons?

Launched so quickly after the publication of the Coates’ Review, it is completely out of character for public sector procurement processes to have been satisfied within such a short timescale.

Which leads us to have to question whether prior knowledge played a material part in either the establishing of the Unlocked Grads programme or the inclusion of Recommendation 11, or both, or neither.

 

Wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Is now the time for a scheme like Unlocked Grads to place quantities of inexperienced officers in the frontline when the Inspectorate have just issued their 4th urgent notification to Secretary of State for Justice?

In the latest urgent notification for HMP Bedford, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, states:

“A lack of staff and experience undermined the work of the offender management unit.

…77% of available officers had less than one years’ service. There was a corresponding lack of experience at all levels, and it was clear that this was having a significant impact on many areas of prison life”

Download PDF https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/09/7-Sept-UN-letter-HMP-Bedford-and-debrief-FINAL.pdf

One young female Unlocked Grad in the 2018 Cohort told me her parents were worried about what she was doing. I’m not surprised, as a parent I would be too.

It made me think why is the Unlocked Grads scheme putting young people’s lives in possible dangerous and hostile surroundings such as HMP Wandsworth after only a few weeks training? They are ill-equipped and not sufficiently trained for what may lie ahead.

 

Final thoughts

We have unskilled interviewers marking candidates on their suitability, we have untrained trainers training the latest cohort, and we have the possibility of non-academics as supervisors for the Master’s dissertation.

In addition, we have a course led by a member of the review panel of the Coates’ Review.

Moreover, was recommendation 11 of the Coates’ Review written to fit the Unlocked Grads Programme or was the Unlocked Grads programme written to fit recommendation 11?

In the public interest, I think we all have the right and duty to question this to assure that Government reports have not been manipulated by private sector commercial interests or non-government organisations.

The question needs to be asked and the answer given, in plain English that everyone can understand.

 

In reality, very little real information is available in the public domain about the Unlocked Grads programme. In drafting this blog, I have taken great care to gather, collate and corroborate information in which I could personally have sufficient confidence. The objective of this blog is not to criticise any individual but to question the soundness of this programme and the way in which it is conducted. I commend the young people for their ambitiousness and intellect; the issue is not with them. It is with those policy makers, who have approved this programme – they are the ones to whom questions should now be addressed.

 

SITUATION UPDATE 28 SEPT 2018

Subsequent to publishing this post on 22 September 2018, it has come to my attention that the leading local newspaper East Anglian Daily Times has published not one but two articles about Unlocked Grads.

27 Sept 2018 ‘‘No substance’ to claim uniform policy threatens prison guard trainees‘ by Tom Potter (tweeting as @TomPotterEADT)

28 Sept 2018 ‘Could Netflix’s Orange is the New Black be attracting more British women to become prison officers‘ by Jessica Hill (tweeting as @jessjanehill)

This is an astonishing turn of events. Either Unlocked Grads and University of Suffolk have moved quickly to resolve the question I asked “If such a “prestigious” course is being run there why is nothing about it shared with the local press?” and to dispel concerns of secrecy, or these were pre-scheduled PR pieces.

Either way, it raises more questions.

~

A conversation with Liam Allan

Liam Allan photo by David Mirzoeff Press Association The Times 30 Jul 2018 700px

Liam Allan. Photo by David Mirzoeff/PA

Thrown into the media limelight through false accusations, I’m sure we have all seen a photo of Liam Allan splashed across the front pages of the newspapers. His case became a bellwether of incomplete disclosure of evidence. As a student who has recently graduated with a degree in Criminology and Criminal Psychology he wasn’t immune to the injustices that are prevalent within our Criminal Justice System.

Regardless of age, many are so hurt and damaged by the trauma of false accusations that they have completely lost faith in the system. It’s not surprising when your life has been turned upside down to want some form of apology, recompense or even revenge.

But, remarkably this is not the case with Liam, speaking with him a few days ago I was astonished by his lack of counterattack and malice. He is trying to live a normal life and planning for his future in studying for a Master’s in Psychology.

He spoke clearly, with compassion, with a hint of frustration but most of all with a vision and purpose.

He shared with me the need for public awareness about miscarriages of justice, and his desire to help those who are innocent. It’s only working together and through education can there can be prevention of more false accusations coming to court and destroying individuals and families alike?

“I don’t want to take anything away from actual victims”

“Everyone is becoming aware that they are not being listened to”

“There has to be some form of punishment for false accusers”

Liam and his friend Annie Brodie Akers have founded a new initiative called Innovation of Justice. Through its work they aim to present a united powerful, collaborative, and collective voice to the Crown Prosecution Service, Police, Justice Committee and decision makers.

Plan of Action

To host conferences to allow an opportunity for everyone to communicate, relax and create strong bonds that will help bring about the right changes together.

Aim

  • To unite as many people as possible, and work with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to create a dialogue for change
  • Formation of a board of elected representatives: to meet with the leading stakeholders, Police leaders and the Justice Committee. to discuss the proposals for change, as one united voice to the media
  • Focus solely on helping the innocent people that have been wrongly convicted and resolve the issues within the CJS

 

Ways to get in touch and support

innovationofjustice@protonmail.com

Twitter: @liam_allan95, @abrodieakers or @cmcgourlay #innovatingjustice

Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/innovation-of-justice

Register your interest in the following conferences:

Manchester: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-manchester-tickets-48516439978

Cardiff: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-cardiff-tickets-48516506176

Sheffield: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-sheffield-tickets-48516526236

London: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-london-tickets-48516808079

 

Photo courtesy David Mirzoeff / Press Association / The Times, 30 July 2018

~

Why Rehabilitation is a Right Prisoners are Entitled to: Adam Meylan-Stevenson

Much of the debate arguing that prisoners should be rehabilitated answers the question by claiming that rehabilitating people can benefit society by preventing future crimes. I agree with this claim and affirm it as true. However, I think the case for rehabilitation can be made stronger by showing that prisoners have a right to rehabilitation. If this claim succeeds, then opponents of rehabilitation must explain why it is legitimate to deny prisoners this right.

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Adam Meylan-Stevenson

My argument is that people have a right to not find themselves in a worse position, economically, socially, or psychologically, after their prison sentence. It is common for people to be shunned after their release from prison. It can be hard to shake the label of ‘criminal’, despite having served their time. I think this attitude is mistaken. After a person has served their time and been released, they should have the opportunity to reintegrate with society and live purposeful lives.

One key advocate of this position is Egardo Rotman. Rotman has argued that just as the state has a right to punish individuals for wrongdoing, the individual has a right not to be made worse off by the effects of the punishment (Rotman, 1990, 184). However, the reality is that people are frequently made worse off by their punishments. One way, amongst others, this happens is how for many, having a criminal conviction is a barrier to leading a law-abiding life on release. In 2016, only one in four prisoners (27%) had a job to go to after release. One in five employers (19%) said they exclude or they were likely to exclude prisoners from the recruitment process (Prison Reform Trust, 2017, 16). The result of this is that even after serving their punishment in prison, people are still being debilitated.

From the above point, it seems imprisoning people is making people worse off after their punishment should have ended. We must ask ourselves, is it fair if an offender who has served their time is not able to move on with their life? From this, I think there is a moral requirement for the state to counteract the disabling effects of punishment and to provide rehabilitation, as a right, to offenders. Essentially, as the state is harming people by imprisoning them, it has a responsibility to counteract the harmful results that the punishment brings.

One worthwhile model of rehabilitation is ‘humanistic rehabilitation’. This model affirms the principle of prisoners as possessors of rights. The importance of this principle is that this legal status gives prisoners a sense of self-worth and trust in the legal system. An issue with our current system is that prisoners often feel alienated from society and hold resentment towards the outside world. Rotman argues embracing this model of rights-based rehabilitation favours the prospect of “self-command and responsible action within society” (Rotman, 1986, 1026). Following Rotman’s view, I believe this type of rehabilitation can be achieved through providing relevant psychological care, education, vocational training, and purposeful work. By purposeful work, I mean work that requires some skills that will be a stepping stone to allow prisoners to pursue full-time employment in a similar field upon release. Not menial work that only succeeds in making the prospect of full-time employment unappealing, like untangling headphones or packing plastic spoons (The Guardian, 2009).

Here, I will note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms all people have the right to work and education. Additionally, prisoners in the UK are entitled to the same healthcare individuals in the community receive, including mental health care. As this form of rehabilitation largely takes the form of education, work, and appropriate psychological treatment, the opponent of rehabilitating prisoners must explain why these rights should be removed from people in prison. I think there is no sound basis for removing these rights from prisoners. It is clear some rights can justifiably be removed from people. For example, the right to liberty can be removed for the justifiable reason of protecting the public from an individual and to protect the individual from vigilante reprisals. However, there is no justification for removing the rights to work and education that individuals enjoy before they are imprisoned. It would have no good end. Therefore, it can be shown that prisoners have the right to be rehabilitated.

Of course, the costs of the resources to achieve meaningful rehabilitation will be expensive. This approach will receive opposition from a public and political opinion that is generally punitive and other services across the country are strained. However, I would argue that this view is short-sighted. Whilst rehabilitating offenders is expensive in the short-term, if it is effective and crime goes down and communities get safer, then the cost has justifiable ends.

Ultimately, my argument is that prisoners have a right that entails that useful services should be provided, where appropriate and practically possible, to counteract the debilitating effects of prison. It is a case of justice that if prison makes people worse off, then the state is required to provide rehabilitation to counteract this. Prisoners are not sentenced to idleness, it is not necessary nor desirable. Instead, people’s time inside should be spent meaningfully, to allow them to reintegrate with society upon release.

Adam Meylan-Stevenson
adamcobblers@gmail.com
@Adammeylan_s

References

Allison, E. (2009). A fair day’s prison work? | Eric Allison. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/joepublic/2009/sep/09/prison-work-exploitation.
Prison Reform Trust (2017). Prison: The Facts. Bromley Briefings Summer 2017. [online] London: Bromley Trust, pp.4-16. Available at: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Bromley%20Briefings/Summer%202017%20factfile.pdf [Accessed 9 Dec. 2017].
Rotman, E. (1986). Do Criminal Offenders Have a Constitutional Right to Rehabilitation?. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), [online] 77(4), p.1023. Available at: https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.co.uk/&httpsredir=1&article=6540&context=jclc [Accessed 10 Dec. 2017].
Rotman, E. (1990). Beyond Punishment. 1st ed. New York: Greenwood Press, p.184.

A conversation with Terry Waite

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

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

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

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

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

The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey, London

The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taken on Trust

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

He was deeply sincere.

Terry Waite in London on Thursday 19th July 2018

Terry Waite

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

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

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

 

Solitude

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

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

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

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

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

He concluded his talk with the following, poignant words:

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

Terry Waite then took a few questions, including one from me, where I asked for his views on solitary confinement in prisons in England and Wales. With an authoritative voice and immediacy, his answer to me was beyond dispute:

“It is cruel and must be stopped immediately”

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

 

~

Why rehabilitation is important for society

 

FMSpear 2 BBC News 960px x 300px

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recently David Gauke the Secretary of State for Justice said:

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

How do we do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

StandOut: Giving prisoners another chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Unlock Opportunity, David Gauke continued to say:

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

How do we do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One attendee commented:

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

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

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

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

I will finish on this StandOut story:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ministry of Injustice?

 

102 Petty France London 18 Apr 2018 9398 700px

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

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

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

 

Statement from Faith Spear

Tuesday 19th April 2016

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Photo courtesy of @PrisonStorm