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Contrarian Prize 2017 nominee

I feel proud to have been nominated for the Contrarian Prize for 2017 and thank you to Ali Miraj and the judges for considering me for this prestigious prize. My congratulations go to Professor Patrick Minford for winning the Contrarian Prize 2017.

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Ali Miraj with Faith Spear

This is the Mission statement for her Majesty’s Prison Service for England and Wales:

“Her Majesty’s Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release”

 

I’m sorry but this is nonsense

 

  • The reality is that on average there is a suicide in prison every 3 days
  • Violence is on the increase
  • Self-harm is on the increase
  • Drugs are everywhere.
  • Prisons are overpopulated and under staffed.
  • Many prisoners are locked in their cell for up to 23 hours per day with little to do and little to eat.

 

Our prisons are in crisis but reform is taking too long. It has become a humanitarian issue.

 

Yet, for speaking the truth to those in power for prison reform I was bullied, ostracised, suspended and investigated by the MoJ for misconduct.

Despite a prejudicial character assassination against me, continuing to speak out for prison reform and for speaking to the press was, according to the MoJ, gross misconduct so the Prisons Minister dismissed me from the Independent Monitoring Board for 5 years.

 

I haven’t finished yet I’m just getting started. I assure you this I am not shutting up and I am not going away. I will put this nomination to work immediately by using my voice as a Contrarian to assure reform in the Criminal Justice System.

 

I’m not here to join the debate I’m here to change the debate…that’s what Contrarians do!       

On this day the only April fools are my critics

Today marks a year since my life was turned upside down.

 

On this day, one year ago, I accepted an invitation from the editor of The Prisons Handbook to write an article on my personal experiences of being a member of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the Prisons Handbook 2016.

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Door of opportunity: University Library, Cambridge

If I wrote it, he promised to publish it, and he did! You can find it on pages 20-23, after Michael Gove’s Foreward and just before the transcript of David Cameron’s speech on prisons.

Little did either of us realise the scale of interest from that one article.

Even before the book went to press I was catapulted into the media both local and National.

The local IMB board, IMB Secretariat, President of the National Council and National Council itself all decided that I needed to be shut up and shut up quickly.

The bullying started, then the intimidation, then the lies and then the prejudicial character assassination.

One Hollesley Bay IMB member who is still a member had the audacity to tell me that it would have helped if I had cried in front of the board whilst apologising for writing the article.

Call me contrary, but I make no apologies for having written the article. It was well grounded and factually correct, corroborated by the contents of the report by Karen Page Associates which the Ministry of Justice itself commissioned.

I did apologise for any offence caused as that was not my intention. The issues I raised are as important now as they were a year ago, I haven’t seen enough progress in any of the points I carefully considered and wrote about.

Those who truly know me can understand why I spoke out so passionately and continue to do so. I was given a platform which I took eagerly but never expected the venom, backlash, and dirty tactics by the IMB and MoJ in trying to destroy me my reputation and my working life.

But I have remained and will continue to remain steadfast in the knowledge that I spoke the truth and ultimately that’s all that matters.

My life has been turned upside down but I’m in some way I’m grateful for that. I have had the privilege to meet some of the most extraordinary people both in and out of prison and I have no regrets.

So, I’m not shutting up and I’m not going away

I’m #justgettingstarted

Join the conversation on Twitter:  @fmspear #justgettingstarted

~

 

Over 60,000 allocated visits in prisons by the IMB

Did you know that there are between 60-65,000 allocated visits by the IMB to Prisons and Immigration Removal Centres each year?

This allocation is dependent on the money available for expenses such as travel and subsistence. But that is not the actual number of visits.

I can reveal to you for the first time that since April 2016 HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay, an open Cat D prison, only achieved 58% of its allocated visits.

That cannot be effective monitoring and yet the MoJ has repeatedly told me that effective monitoring is going on there. Really?

How many more prisons do not satisfy their allocations?

If the projected percentage of allocated visits turns out to be 58% in terms of actual visits across the custodial estate then monitoring in YOIs, HMPs and IRCs is dangerously low. It also means that this part of the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) is dysfunctional.

The IMB is very topical on Twitter now and that’s not just because of my story.

There are many vacancies on boards from Cat D open prisons to closed and remand prisons. It’s not a glamorous job, you need passion, determination, time, and a true interest in the welfare of prisoners and the mechanisms of the prison estate. Oh and you won’t get paid, there are no guarantees that your voice will be heard and there is a lack of support from IMB Secretariat. If you can get beyond all that, apply.

Some IMB members only visit wings to retrieve applications from the IMB boxes and perhaps to speak to those that have asked to see them. But if the IMB members are regarded by prisoners as practically useless,  having no influence and are part of the MoJ then what are tax payers paying for?

Annual Reports

Every IMB is required to write an Annual Report. However, by the time it is published it is so out of date that it precludes any chance of swift meaningful action to resolve issues and will be filed away to collect dust just as previous years.

Am I being harsh? NO.

I have spent hours and hours preparing, collating, and writing Annual Reports. I was determined that the 2015/16 Annual Report for HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay would be different, that it would not be cut and paste as previous years. But there will be no Annual Report for 2015/16. I don’t even know where all the preparations went it was abandoned when the HBIMB ambushed me on 19th April and ostracised me in reprisal for speaking out for reform.

I recently learned that HMP Doncaster didn’t publish an Annual Report and it does not even have an IMB board. When the Chair left the board followed and it then had to rely on members from other prisons dual boarding.

So how many other IMB’s are suffering from similar dilemmas?

Updated 07 March 2017

Its even worse at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay than I revealed when I posted this blog on Sunday.

Information made available to me show new figures for the actual number of visits is even lower.

Allocated visits were 354 actual were 204. New figures allocated visits 354 actual were 196. 

Just 55%, Lousy performance means that when monitoring is not effective it places people in custody and people who work there at higher risk.

 

 

 

Sorry, can you speak up?

The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) and the Association of Members of the Independent Monitor Boards (AMIMB) have been invited to give oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday 31st January 2017.

We will all watch with interest.

Especially since neither IMB or AMIMB have a voice.

The two bodies have not conducted themselves well in my opinion and in my experience. And have been ‘at loggerheads’ with each other for years.

Lack of support they show for their members is as shocking as it is lamentable.

It’s clear that I’m far from alone in thinking this; many others know it to be true but are, for the moment anyway, unable to vocalise it publicly for fear of reprisals, similar to those dished out to me.

 

UPDATED Wed 1st Feb

Well, did you attend or watch online?

In your opinion, how did they do?

~

Never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power*

A letter from the Ministry of Justice landed on my doormat yesterday morning. I was expecting it and with trepidation it was opened and carefully read.

To download and read, please click here.

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I shed a few tears. And then I replied!

To download and read, please click here.

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9 months after I wrote an article in The Prisons Handbook 2016 the curtain has fallen on my time in the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB). I am dismissed with immediate effect for a period of 5 years.

I kept my word and saw this sorry episode through to the end. There are no winners or losers.

What I now know through personal experience is that if you level criticism about the Criminal Justice System you can guarantee the weight of the system will be upon you. In my case I faced an investigation by the MoJ that was biased to begin with and full of lies.

Paperwork from the start shows this was a deliberate and prejudicial character assassination designed to shut me up in the hope I would give up go away and to discredit me. I have the evidence and so does the MoJ but they have been selective with it.

But I am stronger than that and I have done my best to stand up to everything that has been thrown at me. Reports that I have read about myself written by the MoJ bear no resemblance to me and yet they have been used against me and yes, the Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah has taken them on board and made his decision.

I cannot change this decision. I have appealed and my voice may have been ignored by him but my voice has traveled far.

So, what now?

I am already on the record as saying “The Ministry of Justice has left me with no alternative than to take more robust action in the public interest” and that is exactly what I will do.

This doesn’t mean I will retaliate and seek retribution. However, since I am not gagged anymore I could reveal considerably more information about dishonesty and real misconduct I have encountered.

The IMB Secretariat, current and former IMB members, MoJ wonks and HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay staff including Governors should reflect carefully on their own behaviour before shouting down a volunteer monitor who decides to write about what they have seen and heard.

They chose to make it personal whereas I wrote about the issues.

Throughout this last year, I have kept my integrity and I have been truthful about what happened. I have never sought to elevate myself.

I am passionate about the issues I have raised for prison reform and I have no intention on being quiet or giving up, no not for one moment.

As many readers will know my motto has become #notshuttingup #notgoingaway and that is how it will continue.

Our prisons are in crisis and reform is taking too long.

~

* acknowledgements to Sir Ivan Rogers‘ email 

2016: wow what a year

I’m in a reflective mood

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My year started as always with birthday celebrations, yes my birthday is 1st January.

I also took up a new role as the Chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay. I had fulfilled many of the duties the previous 2 years as Vice-chair but now having the title of Chairman I noticed there was more respect.  Little did I know what was in store for me just three months later.

On 1st April I accepted an invitation from Mark Leech, editor Prisons Handbook, to write my personal views on the IMB from my experiences for the 2016 edition. My reasons were not to elevate myself in any way but to get the message out clear and concise that there must be changes as the system was not fit for purpose in its current form. A monitoring system within prisons is vital but it must have independence and it most certainly needs to have a voice, a loud one, it had neither.

Almost as soon as my fingers hit the keyboard the backlash began. Not only did the whole of my board turn against me and demand my immediate resignation but the IMB Secretariat and the National Council began behind the scenes to plot my downfall. I have been unable to reveal all as I have been ‘gagged’ threatened bullied and ostracised by them. I have had to face 2 investigations by the Ministry of Justice who have tried in every way to depict me in a bad way through a character assassination and attacking my honesty and integrity.

Yet I have refused to resign and have with the help of some very amazing people continued to stand and face everything including a disciplinary hearing.

So what was I accused of?

I wrote an article on prison reform and in the eyes of the MoJ this was misconduct

I continued to write about prison reform and in the eyes of the MoJ this was gros misconduct.

For those who know me either through social media or who have met me in person will know that I am passionate for prison reform and have worked hard getting the message out that “our prisons are in crisis and prison reform is taking too long”.

But I will not end the year with my head in my hands or with a heavy heart, I plan to celebrate as my birthday draws near.

Here are some of my highlights, photo memories and amazing people from 2016

Neil Barclay (Thameside)

Librarian with a difference and a Butler Award winner, I invited him to HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay for the 6 book challenge presentations. We then met up again in Thameside for an event with Sir Lenny Henry.

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No I’m not sitting on a chair, Neil, Lenny and Peter never felt so short!

Trevor Peel (Chairman National Liberal Club Commonwealth Forum)

I have frequented the David Lloyd George room on many occasions and the afternoon tea was delicious, thank you Trevor. Discussing the Commonwealth and Human Rights and meeting HE Norman Hamilton, Malta High Commissioner was a highlight.

Christopher Moore (CEO Clink charity)

At the Restorative Practice Awards I was privileged to share a table with Chris, Peter Jukes, Jonathan Robinson, and Alison O’Regan. Such deep and important conversations we had!

christopher-moore

 

It’s been good to stay in touch and encourage each other. See you at the next awards ceremony.

Mark Leech (Editor, Prisons Handbook)

You have helped me shout louder than I have ever before. You believed in me and stuck by me. Daisy Mallet will be forever grateful.

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Jonathan Robinson (Author)

Well what can I say, we have bumped into each other on so many occasions this year anyone would think we both want prison reform! A tireless prison reformer and friend.

Ian Bickers (Executive Governor, HMP Wandsworth)

Memorable conversations this year. Thank you for inviting me to HMP Wandsworth to talk about prison reform. A man I admire with a very difficult job. Remember Ian I am behind you.

ian-bickers

Yes, I really am. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement. This was one of my many times at the Justice Select Committee.

 Juliet Lyon (PRT)

Lunch together, your kindness and compassion will stay with me

Ruth Armstrong and Amy Ludlow

Learning together: Prison and University Partnership Conference in HMP Grendon and St Johns College Cambridge. One of the most fascinating and enlightening conferences I have been to. Great to catch up with you both.

Richard Rowley

You have been there day and night, always ready on the other end of the phone to encourage support and offer advice. I can’t thank you enough.

Audrey Ludwig (Suffolk Law Centre)

An amazing lady who has supported me throughout this year and named me as one of her Suffolk Human Rights Heroes of 2016. Thank you, Audrey, and all in KOHRS.

The Tartan Con

We have met twice this year and both times have been profound and engaging, thank you for your friendship

Ian Dunt

Your interviews with me this year certainly caused a stir in Petty France

Paul Sullivan (InsideTime)

Endless cups of coffee and tea together and an interview that reached so many and the feedback from those in prison kept up the momentum of speaking out for prison reform.

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There are many, many more people I could write about but I will save them for another blog.

The most important person and my best friend who has stood by me, held me up when I felt I was falling and has always believed in me should have the last word.

 

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I think I’ve learned to be a pretty good judge of character and have learned to give fair and honest critique as much as take it. If I’d thought for one minute that Faith was somehow incorrect in what she wrote about prisons and monitoring, then I’d have chimed in with words of caution. She wasn’t. Instead she told it like it is – they do that “up north” you know – and she was entirely correct in what she wrote and the way she wrote it. Nothing could have prepared her for the reprisals or how she has been lambasted for the stand she has taken since. She’s paid a high personal cost, trust me I know the woman. But I also know that the friendships and expressions of support she’s received as a result of it, many from people who are unable to even be named, have helped sustain her. It has been enough to show me that the changes she’s calling for are precisely what needs to be changed. I’ve been truly amazed how a department of HM Government has conducted itself. I had expected better. But I’ve not been surprised at all how Faith has retained her integrity despite it. That’s who she is.

 

My statement today outside Petty France

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Today, the Ministry of Justice has left me with no alternative than to take more robust action in the public interest.

Officials in Petty France have brought a disciplinary hearing against me. They accuse me of misconduct as a result of speaking out for prison reform.

An investigation into my behaviour was conducted at tax payers’ expense and brings into question my independence and my integrity. I am woman volunteering with the Independent Monitoring Board and I hold a public office.

The Ministry of Justice has chosen to disregard the evidence I provided of real misconduct including leaked emails between others in the Independent Monitoring Board.

This just scratches the surface and is a matter of substantial public interest.

Therefore, in front of the disciplinary panel and without permission for legal representation, I will disclose why the decision of the then prisons minister Andrew Selous MP six months ago was based on a prejudicial character assassination of me by those who want me to shut up and go away.

I am not shutting up.
I am not going away.

Our prisons are in crisis and prison reform is taking too long.