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On release why does punishment continue?

Sentencing removes many from society and places them in Prison.

But what happens when they are released back?

With their belongings in a bag and a small grant off they go back to the society that removed them in the first place.

Then what?

Due to the nature of the crime or the often-complex background many face the prospect of no real home and no job.

I speak at every opportunity of my frustration that skills acquired in prison are seemingly just worthless on release. The skills need to match the work available. However, I have seen excellent examples of tutors training those in prison and encouraging them to reach standards that they never thought possible. I have read letters and cards sent to these tutors in thanks for believing in them and helping to achieve qualifications that have led to decent jobs on release.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen enough.

What about those with existing skills that have had to lay dormant whilst they serve their sentence?

How can they re-join the workplace?

Should they be able to go back into their old job or field?

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?

One perfect example is a man I have known for over 4 years. He is articulate, polite, intelligent, well dressed, always encouraging, constantly pushing for prison reform, and has a network that most would be grateful for. He has been known to take into prisons celebrities such as Russell Brand and Derek Martin and MP’s to encourage those on their journey in life.

JSCforWordpress

He has written two books on his experiences whilst in prison and the challenges he faced on release.

His name is Jonathan Robinson, a former helicopter instructor.

After helping an MP with content for a book, he asked for a reference to get back to the job he loved so that he could once again use the skills which he had acquired over many years. You would think that was a simple enough request. He asked and was told YES.

But then was told NO and was hit by deafening silence that I have personally witnessed on many occasions from MP’s.

His story can be found this morning as a guest blog on www.prisonerben.blogspot.co.uk please read it as one day it may be someone you know facing the same stigma.

If Jonathan was prevented from working what hope have others?

Has prison reform become a humanitarian issue?

Think carefully – why would people who have been released from prison want to be integrated back into a society that thinks it’s okay for them to be locked up for 23 hours a day, with little nutritious food, lack of education, virtually no purposeful activity, squalid living conditions, unsafe, rife with drugs and violence, where staff struggle to maintain order, where corruption, suicides, self-harm and unrest are all increasing, where budgets are cut and staff numbers reduced.

Surely it’s time we asked why?

I think it’s because prison reform should not be just a political issue.

Regardless of who the Secretary of State for Justice is, or who the Prisons Minister is, or what political party they are from, prison reform should not be contingent on who is at No 10, it should be happening anyway.

It has become a humanitarian issue.

Faith Spear 7741 600px

Nominee for The Contrarian Prize 2017

I want to get things done.

I’ve had some prison Governors and Officers talk to me about prisoners and – honestly – I cannot even repeat the words that came out of their mouths.

And yet I’ve had other prison Governors and Officers confide in me about the growing concerns they have for people in prison.

On Friday 28 April, I learned that I was named a nominee of The Contrarian Prize 2017. It’s a prestigious prize for those who have shown independence, courage and sacrifice. I didn’t apply for this or seek the nomination, it found me. And I’m deeply grateful for it.

My fellow nominees are a formidable bunch and we’re all Contrarians in our own way. In my case, I wasn’t afraid to speak the truth to those in power, talking about the criminal justice system in the public interest. Doing so came at a huge personal cost including a face-off with the ‘goliath’ of the Ministry of Justice.

I’d like to use this nomination to propel and advance the issues I’ve been talking about. If it means we can see change and real prison reform by people seeing it more as a humanitarian issue then it has been worth it.

~
Contrarian Prize 2017 shortlist announced here

The Contrarian Prize seeks to recognise individuals in British public life who demonstrate independence, courage and sacrifice.

Now in its fifth year, it aims to shine a light on those who have made a meaningful contribution to the public debate through the ideas that they have introduced or the stand they have taken.

Ali Miraj (@AliMirajUK) is the founder of the Contrarian Prize.

~

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…!

Purposeful activity in Prisons!

Why is it that so many prisoners have very little to do whilst serving their custodial sentence?

Surely it cannot help their mental health that is often quite fragile anyway when they spend hours upon hours in their cells with nothing to do. With access to workshops, education and the library dependent on the number of staff on duty, prisoners are just locked away.

Prisoners need meaningful activities that serve a purpose not a mind numbing repetitive exercise. I remember having a tour of HMP Whitemoor after a meeting, one of the workshops was dismantling CD’s. Talk about repetitive. Prisoners removed the plastic film, took apart the case, removed the paper inside, and took out the CD for hours and hours on end. Come on I’m sure the prison service can do better than that. Recently I visited HMP Norwich; here they have a fantastic facility for training prisoners in sewing skills using industrial machines. They made prison issue towels and wash bags, however, all the material used was bland off-white no pattern no bright colour. Now I like sewing but staring at the same colour days on end would drive me potty! Why these machines can’t be used for something more stimulating I wonder? The equipment is available, the workforce is trained so…!

In society there are those that are not particularly academic but are very creative, it’s the same in prison.

Many prisoners seem to be placed in prison then spat out at the end of their sentence with not much to show for the time inside. This needs to change, how can prisoners be rehabilitated and not reoffend if they have often no job or education to go to afterward? It’s then a spiral downwards, what a waste of time, money and more importantly the lives of those that have been incarcerated.

There is so much un-tapped potential in prison!

Last weekend I travelled to Tymperley’s in Colchester to see an exhibition and sale of textiles such as cushions, bed-runners and Christmas decorations all produced by prisoners trained through Fine Cell work.

20151128_155151There I met I met a very enthusiastic Lucy Baile, fundraising and administrative assistant.

It was so refreshing to see work produced to such a high standard and it certainly was one of the best examples of purposeful activity I have seen.

Lucy explained that there were around 270 volunteers giving up their time to teach needlework skills both to male and female prisoners so that the many hours spent in their cells are not time wasted.

Why can’t there be more schemes like this?

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Buying a piece is an investment not just in a beautiful object but in people’s lives, to me worth every penny

http://www.finecellwork.co.uk

This is what they say on their website:

OUR MISSION

STITCHING A FUTURE

Fine Cell Work trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self esteem. This helps them to connect to society and to leave prison with the confidence and financial means to stop offending.

OUR VISION

We wish to build Fine Cell Work as a sustainable charity with the prisoners as stakeholders in the enterprise. We are aiming to become more embedded in the prison system and to guide prisoners towards formal work training and qualifications and to match them up with organisations that can provide support or employment on release.

OUR VALUES

  • Listening and Respect: Inclusiveness, equality and empathy with each other. We are non judgemental and accepting of our difference.
  • Creating Opportunites: We believe in second chances and people’s ability to unlock their potential in a safe, creative environment. 
  • Giving back to Society: Not just us, but prisoners and volunteers too.
  • Collaboration: We have a “can do approach”, we believe in clear boundaries, open, honest communication and in staff, volunteers and prisoners working together to create solutions.
  • Creativity and Enterprise: We take pride in creating products of high value.

Insidetime: not just for prisoners!

social-logo-it_400x400 inside time

On 2nd November I was pleased to attend the Prisoners Education Trust, annual lecture celebrating 25 year of ‘Inside Time’ the prison newspaper, at Clifford Chance. There were many people there I have either met face to face before or communicated with via twitter! Some said “Hello Faith” as they recognised me from twitter, maybe I tweet too often?

Eric McGraw was very entertaining whilst giving us insight into the initial trials and tribulations of producing and distributing Insidetime.

For the first-timer in prison it offers help, support, an inroad into the complexities of prison life, but most of all it can be a lifeline in some of the darkest days. A lot of it is written by prisoners for prisoners but don’t be put off by that.

I believe Insidetime is an excellent tool for other organisations working within the prison estate. It can be used to show the bigger picture of what really goes on in prison. Yes we all read the often media hype, the stories that sell papers which increases the gap between ‘them’ and ‘us’. But what picture do they paint reality? Probably not!

If you have never read it I recommend it as it’s not just for prisoners!

Kids in prison…!

My first visit to a YOI was a few years ago around Christmas time. I had been invited for the annual Carol Service. I arrived early and awaited the youngsters, to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. 10 minutes later they started to file into the Chapel, followed by almost as many members of staff.

Dressed in plain ill-fitting sweatshirts and mis-matched jogging trousers, goodness knows how many times these clothes had been passed on, there was no pride in their appearance as they were dressed in basically clothes you would sling on. My heart went out to these children who were deemed too dangerous to be in society and therefore locked up. What a pitiful sight!

Some joined in with the singing of carols but most stood up and looked bored and dejected; a few smiles came afterwards with the juice and chocolate biscuits. Others were fascinated with the musical instruments which were left out so they could have a try; this gave me chance to talk to them. I remember one lad told me he was 13 years old and hadn’t had a Christmas outside some sort of institution for 5 years. I didn’t ask why they were there; I didn’t want or need to know.

I wanted to hear laughter and chatter but most of these children were fairly quiet and expressionless!

There has been a lot in the media about children locked up, new contracts signed by companies that have dubious methods and terrible treatment.

I applause the Howard League for their tireless campaign to close down prisons for children…

Yes kids need boundaries, yes they need to be taught what is/isn’t appropriate behaviour but is a prison really the place to learn these principles?

I don’t think so.

I’m well aware how some children can be a problem to society but surely we don’t help as we put in so many unnecessary rules and regulations. How about the signs such as “no ball games” “no-skateboarding” and “keep off the grass” around where we live?

Kids need stimulus; they are inquisitive and like to push boundaries. Often the kids in prison have had a difficult past; often they have been victims themselves and have had to survive.

For those that think prison is right for kids then try spending time in one!

Westminster: Justice Select Committee

Tuesday 9th September 2014

Entering into Westminster Hall with its stone floor, places where famous people have stood and given speeches  and seeing police with weapons can make you wonder where on earth you are. But walking up the steps at the back you enter a statue lined corridor and then you enter the lobby, beautiful architecture which never ceases to amaze me. I half expected to see Nick Robinson conducting an interview, instead I met  Jonathan Robinson,  an ex-prisoner, now author and prison reform campaigner.

Jonathan Robinson along with  Paula Harriott, Head of Programme, User Voice, Angela Levin, former Chair of HMP Wormwood Scrubs Independent Monitoring Board, and Deborah Russo, Prisoners’ Advice Service were witnesses giving evidence on Prisons: Planning and Policies in front of the Justice Select Committee. The complete oral evidence is available from the following link:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/justice-committee/prisons-planning-and-policies/oral/12519.html.

I decided to sit in the public area and hear each witness in order to gain insight into what is actually happening in prisons.  It is important  that prisoners are rehabilitated whilst inside and one way is through using the skills that are present within the prison population itself.

 

Courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv

Courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv

The Toe by Toe project run by the Shannon Trust is an excellent example of this, where  literate prisoners  help those that are illiterate. This is a peer-to-peer mentoring program. Not being able to read has a negative impact on  job prospects and also self-esteem. It’s quite shocking when prisoners that have been in the prison estate many years face release unable to read!

Jonathan Robinson has spent the last three years pushing for prison reform, he has written on his own personal prison experience and is a voice for those inside. He champions mentoring and is on the Advisory Board for NoOffence CIC!

http://www.jonathanrobinson.org/