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Courage for the year ahead

Faith Spear

Introduction
The year 2018 was historic for many reasons not least because it saw the first statue of a woman placed in Parliament Square, London.

More so its message, marking a pivotal moment in social history, with “Courage calls to courage everywhere”

And for me personally, I can look back on a year of Exploration, Celebration and Collaboration.

 

Exploration
I traveled many miles in 2018 including two trips to Wales.
I was delighted to be invited to the Welsh Assembly, the Synedd, Cardiff in January to sit on a panel after the screening of the Injustice Documentary.

Faith with Claire Melville

 

The whole subject of injustice was brought home though an introduction to Michael O’Brien jailed for 11 years for a murder he did not commit.

One woman at that event stood out for me, Claire Melville, who has since become a source of great encouragement.

My second trip to Wales took me north to Wrexham where, at the beginning of August, I visited HMP Berwyn on the invitation of the Governing Governor, Russell Trent. I have already written about my experience in a previous blog.

However, my visit and subsequent write-up caused quite a stir as within a week Russell was suspended from his duties and not just the media but trolls on Twitter had a field day.

The BBC and Channel 4 contacted me to ask if what I wrote was “the cause”. I raised some important points concerning the design and build of this “Titan prison” a flagship of the Ministry of Justice, which I sincerely hoped would be the last.

I made the most of my time whilst in the area and met with Erwin James (InsideTimes), had dinner with Arfon Jones (Police and Crime Commission for North Wales) and a working lunch with Keith Fraser, (retired Police Superintendent and Clean Sheet Ambassador). It was an enlightening few days to say the least.

 

Celebration

I have had many reasons to celebrate in 2018, let me share some of them with you.

As the two-year anniversary of my article ‘Whistle-blower without a whistle‘ published in the Prisons Handbook 2016, approached, I was informed that the 2018 edition had been dedicated to me.

That was quite something as my original article upset those who walk the corridors of power in the Ministry of Justice, challenged the Independence of the Independent Monitoring Board and involved not one but two Prisons Ministers.

But the celebrations didn’t end there.

2018 has been a celebration of women; 100 years since women were given the vote and 100 years since the first women MP.

Womens Voices Womens Votes

In July I was named one of the 100 Inspirational Suffolk women from the past and present day alongside many amazing women including Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett GBE campaigner for women’s suffrage. It is the statue of Millicent Fawcett which can be found in Parliament Square.

What an honour and a privilege to be recognised alongside women like that. And yes, I did make a big song and dance about it, why not. Who wouldn’t?

Then in September I received an email out of the blue from Brad Jones, Editor, EADT and Ipswich Star (Archant), which said:

Dear Faith,
It is 100 years since women won the right to vote, and to mark this anniversary Archant Suffolk, which publishes the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star, launched a very special project.
We asked the public to help us choose Inspiring Women of Suffolk…
I am delighted to say that you have been nominated and chosen as one of our Inspiring Women of Suffolk…

It was the public that chose me, and I am so grateful for everyone that voted.

Suffolk’s Inspiring Women

I even celebrated the birthday of HM the Queen with members and guests of the National Liberal Club at a champagne reception on the invitation of my friend Trevor Peel.

What a highlight to discuss the criminal justice system with MP’s, an Ambassador and even a Royal Navy Admiral.

Isn’t it strange how talking about celebrations brings out the good, the bad and the ugly in people.

Social media is no exception.

Consequently, I have had to put up with a barrage of abuse from people. They have never met me, don’t know me but time after time they target their rancour at me. I know I’m not the only one under fire.

In November, I was invited by the Fawcett Society to Portcullis House for an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to celebrate 100 years of Women MP’s. How appropriate then that during the question and answer slot the main topic was abuse on social media and how women should not expect it, or accept it.

 

Collaboration
For many years I have been concerned about the lack of opportunities within prisons to educate, train and equip individuals on release.

People with a criminal record are immediately penalised in the job market regardless of whether they have the relevant skills; it’s an uphill battle.

So, you can imagine my delight when in March I was invited on to the Board of trustees of Clean Sheet, a charity with one simple purpose – to offer people with convictions the hope of a better future by finding real, permanent employment.

Clean Sheet’s Annual Review took place at the House of Lords attended by Rory Stewart MP OBE.

Clean Sheet team

In April, I took up my usual seat behind people giving evidence at the Justice Select Committee.

Once the formalities of the meetings finish, the room usually empties very quickly and ministers hurry back into the corridors and disappear. But not this time.

After giving evidence, just weeks into his new job as Prisons and Probation Minister, Rory Stewart hung back, so I stood up and shook his hand.

“I thought I would introduce myself, I am Faith, Faith Spear”
“Yes, hello Faith, I follow you on Twitter,” he said
“It would be good to meet sometime,” I added
“Let’s do it now,” he replied

Slightly gobsmacked, I followed him out of the room where he was met by his entourage and those wanting to ‘have a quick word’.

“I’m with Faith” he said as we started walking down the corridor. He gave me his full attention.

We went into the atrium of Portcullis House, found a table and talked together. It was a productive conversation and we agreed to keep in touch.

 

Invitations
As a year celebrating women, my list would have to include Sarah Burrows (Children Heard and Seen). In March, I attended an event in Oxford at Sarah’s invitation ‘What would it be like to have a parent in prison?’

The event displayed incredible art work from their competition judged by Daniel Lee and Korky Paul, who wrote and illustrated the book ‘Finding Dad’, and Sir Trevor McDonald OBE, newsreader and journalist.

Faith with Sir Trevor McDonald

A moving short film was screened made by a young man Luke and his mentor about having his father in prison, including an interview with, Ralph Lubkowski, then Deputy Governor of HMP Leicester.

I had the pleasure of having dinner at ‘Malmaison’ Oxford with Ralph, Sarah and all the judges. Sarah seated me next to Sir Trevor and we exchanged thoughts and experiences with each other about prisons.

A week later, I was discussing women in the Criminal Justice System at the House of Lords at the invitation of the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek Bishop of Gloucester and the Rt Hon the Baroness Jean Corston.

 

Women’s voices
I remember a time a couple of years ago, when I was sat in the Central Lobby at the Houses of Parliament talking to Dennis Skinner MP. I asked him:

“How do you get heard in this place?”
He looked me in the face.
“You have to be seen to be heard,” he said.

This is one of the reasons why you have seen me in so many diverse places:

In Westminster Hall listening to David Lammy, at the RSA listening to David Gauke, taking part in panels such as at Warwick University with SafeGround and Sheffield Hallam Uni, having discussions with leading Professors, Criminologists, PCC’s, at Police HQ’s, at roundtable events with the Criminal Justice Alliance, in Westminster for the Children’s Inquiry Report launch with Volteface, at the Parmoor and Longford Lectures and why I accept invitations to Prison Reform Trust wine receptions and listening to Lady Hale at the Fawcett Society lecture at the Royal Society.

 

I’m told some of my critics accuse me of being a ‘social climber’. Nothing could be futher from the truth.

If you don’t understand the issues, and unknown to the very people who can change things, how can you play a part in the solutions?

My part is: I ask questions
Tough questions
Some find that uncomfortable
I will continue to ask questions

In the last year I have seen first-hand how our Criminal Justice System can be an unjust system, I have seen how it breaks people, distresses children and separates families. I have seen inhumane conditions in prisons, I have spoken about it on the radio and television and I have written about it.

I have also spent time with victims and, yes, shed many a tear for them and with them.

Yet in 2018 I have also seen some good practice in purposeful activity, having sat in prisons at award ceremonies, having had guided tours of prisons by Governors, having eaten at restaurants within Prisons.

In all these places I have sensed optimism, hope and met those that believe in doing all they can to help with rehabilitation and re-integration.

Among the most inspiring women I have met is Khatuna Tsintsadze, Prison Programme Director for the Zahid Mubarek Trust. We worked together again this year and I have learnt so much from her, including human rights, equality and discrimination.

 

Unpicking myths
And finally, in this blog I wanted the last words to come from three people who have met me for the first time in 2018. I hope this will unpick some of the myths as to who I am and what matters to me.

“I first got to know Faith following her visit to HMP Berwyn, and the tour of our Prison Industries operation.

My first impression was one of her passion and conviction for getting to the real core of how we were working with the men to deliver real life work and training opportunities and asking specific questions – really emphasising that she had the best interests of the prisoners at heart. We rarely meet people that spend time engaging at this level whilst on a ‘guided tour’.

Subsequently I have had the opportunity to engage with Faith on a number of levels and have found her to always be absolutely trustworthy, insightful and generous with her network and her time.

She is not afraid to challenge the status quo, often attracting those that criticise her belief in wanting to make the CJS a better environment for its employees and those in its care”

Kelly Coombs, Co-founder Census Group

 

“I am drawn to people who are prepared to push boundaries in order to achieve change. Not rule breakers, but rule questioners. People who are not afraid to ask difficult questions but who are also prepared to help with the hard work needed to address the answers they might find. With this in mind, it was with no little amount of excitement that I met Faith Spear last year. Our areas of interest sit alongside each other yet might be a million miles from one another. Both feed each other in a continuous loop, creating demand and have long term impact on the people who become part of the Criminal Justice System.

Faith has stood her ground where many others have feared to tread and of course I admire this characteristic immensely but more than that, she has survived and continued her quest with renewed vigour.

When I met with Faith, I was contemplating a new step in my own quest but was still uncertain whether I would go ahead. Faith inspired me and left me believing not only that I ‘could’ do it, but that I really ‘should’ do it!

In a world full of naysayers, spending time with Faith is like finding water in a desert. ‘What would Faith do?’ has become my mantra”

Cate Moore, Independent Chair of Lincolnshire Police Ethics Panel

 

“I first met Faith Spear at a Corbett Network meeting in April 2018. I was hugely impressed by her warm-hearted nature, incredible knowledge and clear passion to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

We immediately clicked, in part due to our involvement with the award-winning charity Clean Sheet – Faith is a trustee, I am an ambassador – and also our shared vision to tackle the immense barriers that people with convictions face moving forward with their lives.

We both play very different roles in this hugely important agenda, but since my first meeting Faith she has become a great support to me, and I, in turn, have become a massive fan of her work and her brilliant thought-provoking blog. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Faith for many years to come”

Dominic Headley, Director of Dominic Headley & Associates

 

In the context of a blog like this, it’s possible to only mention a fraction of the workload, time and miles covered. For obvious reasons you will appreciate I’m unable to share the full extent of everyone I have met or all that has been done.

Featured Photo: Faith with Michael Woodfood, Contrarian Prize 2013 winner and former CEO Olympus. To learn about Michael’s story please visit the Contrarian Prize website.

~

HMP Berwyn: Does it raise more questions than it answers?

A bright summer’s day. A short car journey, a train, 2 tubes, 2 more trains and I finally arrived after more than 5 hours of travelling, into Wrexham. I’ve come to HMP Berwyn. I’m here with an open mind and at the invitation of the No 1 Governor, Russell Trent.

HMP Berwyn is not very well signposted, it’s as if the locality is reluctant to admit such a place exists in their own backyard. On the way here, I asked some locals for their opinion on the prison, its location and its size given that it is not yet at full capacity. Many local people were hesitant in speaking about it. Others were really bemused when I said I was on my way there to meet the Governor.

“Well, they need to build a bigger car park”, one local said.

On arrival, from the outside, it resembles a business park not a prison.

HMP Berwyn visiting hall by North Wales Daily Post 1488378192745 450px

Entering through large open doors I was greeted by a uniformed officer with a friendly face who showed me the lockers for my bag and phone, and the door to enter the prison. But it was the wrong door. I wasn’t asked why I was there or even who I was. I was sent back outside to another door, this time I approached a glass window and said I was here to see Russell Trent. Simple.

Unfortunately, the officer there had no record of my visit. Great start. I was then asked to put my driving licence onto the window, so they could read my name. Bingo, the glass screens opened, and I was inside.

I fully expected to be patted down. I wasn’t. I expected an officer to pass a wand over me. They didn’t. This surprised me.

The site is huge. I was immediately impressed by the overall cleanliness, both inside and out, the wide-open spaces between communities and grass, yes real grass, and flower beds. There was even a small area where they hold services of remembrance.

Berwyn Values

V = value each other and celebrate achievements

A = act with integrity and always speak the truth

L = look to the future with ambition and hope

U = uphold fairness and justice in all we do

E = embrace Welsh language and culture

S = stick at it

Sitting on a comfortable sofa opposite Number 1 Governor Russell Trent in his office, he pointed out the motivational quote on the wall.

“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows not the flower”

But motivational quotes are everywhere throughout the prison, on stairwells, in corridors alongside photos of Wales. Another one that caught my eye was:

“You have got to be the change you want to see”

The Governor handed me a small pack of cards; each card represents a different Berwyn practice for each day of the month.

Day 1. We recognise achievements and celebrate successes #thankyou

Day 2. We actively listen to each other and make eye contact #respect

Day 3. We offer and ask for help and feedback #support

You get the idea.

This is a first, I have never brought anything out of a prison that I haven’t taken in and I have never seen such motivational material in quite the same way in any other prison I have visited. And I’ve been to every category of prison, more than once.

Having the opportunity to accompany Governor Trent as he did his rounds meant we could talk as we toured communities, healthcare, college, library, horticulture, accommodation, etc.

HMP Berwyn landings by Wales Online 344874988001 450pxI watched as well as listened, as I always do, with my notebook at the ready for contemporaneous note taking.  Governor Trent appears to be on the ball, knowing the names of the men and their sentence. Many politely came up to him with a query or problem they wanted resolving. If he didn’t have the answer, then he signposted or agreed to meet them later. I did find it odd when he was called “Russ” and even “Trenty”. I thought that was a bit over-familiar considering the whole ethos was of respect. Something didn’t quite add up.

In various conversations, the name of a certain community came up more than once and so did the name of a member of staff. It appeared some men felt fobbed off by this individual. I chose not to probe this but preferred to watch how it was dealt with.

I was introduced to the prosocial model of behaviour, a rehabilitative culture, making big feel small, the principle of normality and much more. Yes, Governor Trent is driven and considering over 90% of frontline staff have never worked in a prison before he has to sell his regime not only to the men but to the staff also.

The Ministry of Justice is very good at musical chairs, moving leaders around the prison service. It makes me wonder how long Governor Trent will remain at Berwyn.

Can Berwyn culture function without him and will the vision live on without his oversight?

Or will the settling cracks be more prominent or permanent?

In March 2018 there was a Death in Custody at Berwyn. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) is still investigating and this death is unclassified as the cause is not yet known. I will not jump to any conclusions.

What I can say is during my visit I neither saw nor heard nor smelled any signs of drug abuse or spice.

Health and Wellbeing

Page 12 of ‘Rehabilitative Culture at Berwyn‘ states that “promotion of health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all whether they are living or working at Berwyn”. I think that collective ownership like this is a good thing because it means that the sole responsibility is not just carried on the shoulders of the healthcare team. The reason why this is good is because it replicates what goes on in the wider society.

I saw team sports in action, outdoor gym equipment and the outdoor running track. One initiative that caught my interest was the ‘Governor’s Running Club’. Men were proudly wearing their t-shirts which they were entitled to have once they had attended 5 successive weeks. Governor Trent emphasised to me that it was more about the commitment than the fitness.

Whilst all this looks favourable, one question I still have is the level of staff sickness at Berwyn. In ‘Annual HM Prison and Probation Service digest: 2017 to 2018, Chapter 15 tables – Staff sickness absence’ for the period 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018 there were 3,628 working days lost (see Table 15.1, Column U, Row 18). It raises a concern as to why this is, given that Berwyn is not at full capacity and new communities are only opened once sufficient staff are in place.

 Purposeful Activity

It’s all very well having unlock at 08:15 and lockup at 19:15 but if the industries, education, workshops, purposeful activities are not there then what?

And what do we mean by purposeful activity?

I saw one of the workshops, sewing prison regulation towels. A monotonous task, processing the same off-white coloured towelling. I’ve seen the same activity in other prisons such as HMP Norwich. Why is this happening in Berwyn? If sewing is to be one of the “purposeful activities” then surely this could be expanded to sewing something less bland and uninteresting using acquired skills that may be genuinely useful on release. For example, Fine Cell Work showcases how this is possible both inside and after release with their post-prison programme.

In another workshop I saw, I felt I was looking at something more purposeful; it was a call centre, provided by Census Group, run by a woman who was keen to praise the men in her group. I could see how skills learned here could translate into meaningful employment on the outside as well as provide interest, variation and a challenge for those participating in this activity.

I briefly stepped into the College building housing the prison library. If it wasn’t for the jangling of keys you could have been in any educational institution.

 Accommodation

Whereas I had expected the heat, because my visit was in August, I had not expected the temperature levels inside on the landings of the communities and in the rooms I visited. It must have been at least 30 degrees.

I had heard a lot about the rooms here and saw many photos. However, you need to walk in one to fully understand the scale. For the rooms which are single occupancy they are compact, but I’ve seen smaller. A raised bed, with storage underneath, a desk with monitor, a plastic moulded chair. It has a shower/toilet/wash basin in the corner with a short curtain acting as a screen. And a small safe for locking away any medical supplies and that’s your lot.

Unfortunately, with only 30% of the rooms in Berwyn built for single occupancy the majority of the men have to double up.

HMP Berwyn double occupancy room by North Wales Daily Post 1488378201460 450px

In the double-occupancy rooms, it is the same layout for two but only slightly wider and another small bed with storage underneath. To share a room with someone you have never met and to have so little privacy going to the toilet or having a shower is entirely unacceptable for a new build prison in the 21st Century.

Here is where I have a problem with Berwyn as a model for Titan prisons.

According to ‘The Report of the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry’ published in June 2006, (download the PDF here) there were three main recommendations concerning enforced cell-sharing:

  1. The elimination of enforced cell-sharing should remain the objective of the Prison Service, and the achievement of this goal should be regarded as a high priority.
  2. The Prison Service should review whether the resources currently available to it might be better deployed towards achieving this goal, without compromising standards in other areas, and should set a date for realising this objective.
  3. If the resources currently available to the Prison Service are insufficient to produce a significant decrease in enforced cell-sharing, central government should allocate further funds to the Prison Service to enable more prisoners to be accommodated in cells on their own.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be astonished that after 12 years these recommendations were not incorporated into the planning of Berwyn. They were made long before the architects’ drawings were prepared and before any ground works were dug.

How can the concept of a Titan prison be a showcase, a flagship, when recommendations such as these are willfully overlooked? Was it in pursuit of lower unit cost per prisoner?

 Economies of scale

If it is such a flagship of the Ministry of Justice, a social experiment, a regime extraordinaire, or whatever you wish to call it, why hasn’t the Secretary of State for Justice or the Prisons Minister visited? I will urge them to come and see Berwyn for themselves.

I already have my doubts that Berwyn will ever reach its full capacity so in that case what is stopping it from turning all double rooms into single occupancy?

It has been built to 70% double, 30% single rooms, like a Walmart of the Prison Service, pack them high, sell them cheap

During my visit I was informed that the cost per head was £14,000. Afterwards, I contacted Berwyn to confirm and was told £13,500 per head. Compare this to the average annual overall cost of a prison place in England and Wales at £38,042 in 2017, according to Ministry of Justice report on ‘Costs per prison place and cost per prisoner by individual’, £35,182 in 2016 (download the 2017 PDF here and the 2016 PDF here). See: Table 2a, Summary Comparison

I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure was more like £11,000 – £12,000 per head at Berwyn, its “economies of scale” achieved by factors such as low salaries of frontline staff in their first year of service being the predominant workforce here.

 The Berwyn Way

All the men arriving into HMP Berwyn are given Enhanced IEP status. The idea behind this is that the men then have to take some personal ownership to maintain that level. In other words, it leaves no room for incentives to improve status but only punishment if you don’t make the grade. In my opinion, it makes a nonsense of the IEP system and is inconsistent with many of the sending prisons of which there are 65. Is this demotivating those who have worked hard to achieve Enhanced elsewhere?

I remember when the last changes with IEP came into effect with Chris Grayling. Working in a prison where most of the men were on Enhanced yet half of them did not fulfil the new criteria to be on Enhanced. This brought about a two-tier system when people were transferred into the prison as they had to adhere to the new rules. This issue alone can have a big impact on the culture and effective daily operations inside a prison. I feel the same pitfall maybe true of Berwyn, albeit inadvertent.

I noted later that in the document ‘The Berwyn Way’ 3. Strategic priorities, Rehabilitative culture.

3.8 An important part of the realisation of Berwyn’s rehabilitative culture will be changing behaviour by reward, not punishment and everyone will work hard to uphold this ambition.

How can this be so when the IEP system is used not to reward, but to punish?

There is a clear disconnect here.

Respect: to get it you must give it

I noted that on one occasion entering a community, staff immediately stood up as we entered. My immediate thoughts, was this just a mark of respect or fear of reprisal later?

I rather hope it is the former rather than the latter.

But I have been in enough SMT meetings in other prisons, where Governing Governors have mouthed off over even a trivial matter, to know how that could have been out of fear.

I shook hands with many members of staff and the men housed there. Some men apologised for their language even though it wasn’t aimed at me. This showed self-awareness which is a vital characteristic in life as well as in living in a prison.

I came away with a brochure about the rehabilitative culture at Berwyn, a document on ‘The Berwyn Way’, a desk top flip chart and pack of cards of the Berwyn Values.

Summary

I’m commenting on a regime, I’m not criticising any individual. I’m evaluating and analysing what the consequences might look like for Berwyn based on what I have personally seen and heard.

The model of single-occupancy rooms is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

It is time HMPPS stops putting profit before people.

Positive reinforcement of behaviour works much better than penalties.

In my opinion I would have to say, on the balance of probability, there should never be another prison built on the scale of Berwyn.

 

Featured photo courtesy of Inside Time which tweets as @InsideTimeUK

On-page photos courtesy of North Wales Daily Post which tweets as @dailypostwales

 

This visit to HMP Berwyn took place on Thursday 2nd August 2018.

My time and expenses were entirely self-funded.

 

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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