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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

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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.

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* 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.

lenny-henry

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.

 

Prison reform: paying the price

Well D-Day is rapidly approaching for me, the day the Ministry of Justice and the Independent Monitoring Board decide on my future not just as a Chairman but as a member of the IMB as I have to attend a Disciplinary Hearing.

faith-spear-144601-500pxHow it got to this is a long story.

In a nutshell, I spoke out for Prison Reform and IMB reform in an article in the Prisons Handbook 2016 entitled “Whistleblower without a whistle” and suffered reprisals for it.

Have you seen the state of prisons lately?

Have you heard about the state of prisons lately?

Too much is swept under the carpet pretending it’s not there.

But I put my head above the parapet, I made a personal stand.

The President of the IMB National Council, John Thornhill obtained a copy of my article “Whistle blower without a whistle” without permission before it went to print and sent it to the whole of the IMB organisation with his comments.

That action meant that any investigation would be prejudicial and it was!

I have had Prison Governors, prison staff, prisoners, ex-prisoners, prison reformers, those working in the justice sector, those working in the legal profession, leading academics, criminologists both here and abroad, friends and family standing up for me.

Are we all wrong?

Of course not!

But its like I have opened a can of worms which can’t be closed.

As I complete my final preparations for tomorrow I decided to bake a cake. It was my Nanna’s answer to everything as a child, comforting home-made cake.

I have upset the status-quo, I have revealed devious behaviour of other IMB members, I have spoken out about the nonsense in two MoJ investigations. I have had to endure bullying, intimidation, being ostracised, I have lost sleep and haven’t eaten properly, and I have been suspended from a role I loved. I have battled for over six months to clear my name and show what really is going on behind the scenes.

It has of course affected my family, yet my husband Joseph has been my rock.

I have a good idea of the outcome tomorrow at the Disciplinary Hearing, I’m not naive or stupid. But I think the MoJ and the IMB need to take a long hard look at their behaviour.

But whatever the outcome I will not be silenced and I will not go away.

If you are passionate enough about something then that cause which owns you can never be taken away from you.

The MoJ and the IMB can never say “Faith Spear who is she?”

This is not the end, it is the beginning…

 

P.S.

Even at the last-minute a former IMB member has sent in a pathetic plea to discredit me, obviously he is worried as now I have my chance to talk. Well DS your bullying, intimidation and manipulation I have endured for a couple of years is over!

And DH, your worries that I would let people know what you have said, haha now its my turn. You said you were on my side until I read out my statement and you told me it would have helped if I had cried. How dare you, as a woman I will not be intimidated by you. The fact you said you don’t deal in black and white only grey areas is perfect for the role as an IMB monitor in a prison, yet again an example of the farcical recruitment process.

CS, we worked well together but you followed your head and not your heart. You listened to a manipulative member and along with BM who I had much respect for started a damning campaign against me. Your friendship is a loss to me.

GR, you are a man with integrity and heart

Its time to build new bridges

 

 

 

MOJ draws battle lines against prisons reformer

And she just happens to be a woman.

Guest blog by Joseph Spear.

faith-spear-122248-500pxEarlier this week, my remarkable wife Faith Spear received an email from the Ministry of Justice.

Attached was a letter on IMB letterhead notifying her that she is now to face a disciplinary hearing.

Has it really come to this?

Those of you who’ve been kind enough to follow Faiths’s unfolding situation will no doubt agree this represents quite a turn of events.

The spoken word

The written word is powerful, which is why we blog – right, but there are times when even that cannot replace the spoken word.

Over dinner, I took out my mobile phone to record my conversation with Faith.

Afterwards, I played it back to her. Twice.

She listened to it. Carefully. Twice.

We sat in silence for a while. Then she said:  “That’s the real me. People who think I want to abolish the IMB have totally misjudged me  and the situation. The people doing this at MOJ have never even met me. They’ve no idea who I am or what I stand for.

This blog site doesn’t support playing an audio file but if you want to listen to what she said just email me [joseph dot spear at gmail dot com] and I’ll send you over a copy.

The audio lasts 14 mins 25 secs. I’ve not edited it. It’s just her and I as we are. There are some gaps but it’s best if you play it to the end.

Thank you.

 

The paralysis of too many priorities.

 

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

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Thatcher Room, 07 Sept 2016

 

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

How many more reviews do we need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What other mess does the SoS need to deal with?

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

Faith Spear

Faith Spear

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

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

No accountability anymore? Give me an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this what happens to women who use their voice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

First published 17 Sept 2016.

Edited 18 Sept 2016.

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