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I seem to be making a habit of this; on Wednesday 16th March I attended the Justice Select Committee for the third time, again listening to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP being questioned by a team of MP’s.
I sat behind Mr Gove and watched as he interacted with the committee. The meeting can be accessed from this link: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/e67772ca-8c75-4112-853a-0fbd80688389
The first question he was asked was “How would you encapsulate the overall purpose of the thrust of the Government’s prison policy”? Michael Gove replied “In a sentence, it is about turning prisoners from liabilities into assets”. Interesting use of language I thought.
He continued by stating that…”the critical thing is to make sure that during their time in prison there is purposeful activity…” I have come across some excellent forms of purposeful activity but to be honest there just isn’t enough going on. Is it all down to money? If millions can be found to build new prisons then surely purposeful activity has to be included.
The stories coming out of many of the prisons in England and Wales are appalling, locked up at least 22 hours a day, rat infested are but a few I have read this week.
When will we see real progress?
The most successful custodial establishment according to Nick Hardwick former chief inspector of prisons was the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) in Colchester. However, in October 2015 there were 35 being held at the MCTC, hardly an example to compare. The ratio of staff to detainees is far higher than within the prison estate which is surely a factor along with greater governor autonomy that contributes to its success. I have visited it and was impressed by the order, cleanliness and regime. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484448/Detainees_Military_Corrective_Training_Centre_Colchester.pdf
But how do you really measure success?
Michael Gove gave an example of Bronzefield prison as being a very successful female prison, yet this week one of the main stories I have read is about staff giving out sleeping bags to women released with no accommodation. It doesn’t add up!
I want to read more success stories, see real progress and watch as these “liabilities are turned into assets”
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…!
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!
This morning I was pleased to attend the Justice Select Committee meeting. It was the first one with Rt Hon Michael Gove MP being called as a witness in his new role as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
The session was recorded on video. Watch it here.
Getting down to business
After an exchange of pleasantries and mutual congratulations on appointment, the committee set about putting forward questions on important issues such as safety in prisons, rehabilitation, absconds from Open Prisons, court closures, and court and tribunal fees. This was good to see; Select Committees sit to scrutinise Government policy and progress.
This Justice Select Committee meeting came just a few days after the publication by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales’ Annual Report 2014-15, in which Open Prisons have been highlighted once again.
On the same day as the HMIP Annual Report, Nick Harwick also published the unredacted version of the report on Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) featuring three high profile cases of prisoners who each committed awful crimes whilst out on ROTL has challenged the current risk assessment within prisons.
The cases of Ian McLoughlin, HMP Springhill, Al-Foday Fofanah, HMP Ford and Alan Wilmot, HMP North Sea Camp were highlighted by Hardwick of where those on ROTL committed the same offence as they were sent to prison for in the first place, giving rise to questioning on whether there is ‘Rehabilitation’ in prison.
You can read the report here.
This was raised by Philip Davies MP when asking Mr Gove “what are you doing to protect the public from these future awful consequences?”
His reply was “…transfer to open prison should only follow an appropriate risk assessment.” He then added …”there will always be cases where there are individuals even if they have committed very serious offences may be suitable for a transfer to an open prison. Each case has to be judged on its own individual merits”. However, the underlying message was that public safety is paramount.
It was clear that Mr Gove was new to the job, there were many err and ums in his answers, but he did assure the committee that he would be happy to return when he had reviewed various aspects within the justice system.
So will I.
Almost 9 years ago back in the autumn of 2006, I moved back to Ipswich with my 3 children after living abroad for 6 years.
We thought Ipswich would be an easier way for the children to reintegrate back into English culture than moving to an unfamiliar town.
Within weeks suddenly Ipswich was on the map for all the wrong reasons, local news, national news and international news.
Young women were disappearing and then a body was found. And another. And another.
In total the bodies of 5 young women were found, all naked, and it was reported that they were probably killed elsewhere and dumped in the surrounding countryside.
A serial killer was on the loose. It was portrayed in the media as the new “Jack the Ripper”.
I was so delighted that my youngest son has managed to get a place at a very good primary school as he only had one year before high school, a huge leap having never attended an English school. Its location hadn’t been a problem when the other two attended before moving abroad. But now it was a real problem, it was on the edge of the ‘red light district’ and one by one the bodies found were identified as prostitutes known to frequent the London Road, just around the corner from the school.
I remember many times parking as close to the school as possible, sometimes in residents parking areas as I was nervous walking on my own to collect my son. I remember one afternoon parking and hearing on the radio another body had been found; at the same moment I was approached by a traffic warden insisting that I move my car from residents parking whilst taunting me with the possibility of a parking ticket. I refused and relayed what I had heard but he was adamant that I move to a car park which happened to be in the heart of the area where these women were last seen.
A concession was offered; I was told to run as fast as I could to fetch my son from school and if I was less than 5 minutes I wouldn’t get a fine. It was an unnecessary pressure upon me. No wonder these people are despised.
What on earth had happened in the last 6 years that I had been away, how could this small town have changed so much?
What had I brought my children back to, why did we come back to Ipswich; doubt crept in. Had we made a huge mistake?
Yes it affected London Road residents but it went further than that, like a ripple effect. I felt vulnerable, scared and cheated, our landing back in the UK had come with a bump.
Even now 9 years later my kids don’t like me parking on the 2 hr free parking in the area whilst I nip into town.
The film ‘London Road is being shown tonight at the Ipswich Film Theatre, I had considered viewing it but have decided not to. Why put myself through those 3 to 4 months again.
Did life get back to normal? …Not at all