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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.

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I don’t look back in anger

 

As the second anniversary rapidly approaches of the disciplinary hearing I stood in front of in Petty France, my heart tries not to sink.

Yes, I am still banned from being a member of the IMB, just over three years to go.

I am often asked if I would want to join again, I can honestly say in its current form, no, not at all. I want to see a monitoring board that is truly independent not just in title but in actions, the prisoner’s perceptions and their Annual Reports.

I miss the work, it was work to me and I took it seriously even though the Governor once said, “you don’t work here, you are a volunteer” This kind of attitude stinks and shows how little he regarded the IMB.

Even now many IMB members face opposition from their boards when they stand up and challenge the “but we always do it that way” brigade. It’s not good enough.

I recently chatted to an IMB member who recognised me and wanted to meet and was keen to explain that she had tried to implement some of my suggestions, such as out of hours visits. But that hadn’t gone down well with her board, apparently nothing happens outside of office hours in a prison and there’s nothing to see, therefore, IMB members are not needed. A short-sighted response. I have heard it before and I’m sure I will hear it again.

My article for the Prisons Handbook 2016 is just as relevant today as it was two and a half years ago when it was first published. There are still the same questions and very few answers.

Although the new Governance structure appears to be a re-package concept with little bite, there is a hint of optimism.

I haven’t given up, I haven’t disappeared into one of the many cracks of the Criminal Justice System, I am aware that some would want that to happen. Too bad.

I am very much alive and kicking.

I have a voice and I use it.

#notshuttingup

#notgoingaway

 

A conversation with Liam Allan

Liam Allan photo by David Mirzoeff Press Association The Times 30 Jul 2018 700px

Liam Allan. Photo by David Mirzoeff/PA

Thrown into the media limelight through false accusations, I’m sure we have all seen a photo of Liam Allan splashed across the front pages of the newspapers. His case became a bellwether of incomplete disclosure of evidence. As a student who has recently graduated with a degree in Criminology and Criminal Psychology he wasn’t immune to the injustices that are prevalent within our Criminal Justice System.

Regardless of age, many are so hurt and damaged by the trauma of false accusations that they have completely lost faith in the system. It’s not surprising when your life has been turned upside down to want some form of apology, recompense or even revenge.

But, remarkably this is not the case with Liam, speaking with him a few days ago I was astonished by his lack of counterattack and malice. He is trying to live a normal life and planning for his future in studying for a Master’s in Psychology.

He spoke clearly, with compassion, with a hint of frustration but most of all with a vision and purpose.

He shared with me the need for public awareness about miscarriages of justice, and his desire to help those who are innocent. It’s only working together and through education can there can be prevention of more false accusations coming to court and destroying individuals and families alike?

“I don’t want to take anything away from actual victims”

“Everyone is becoming aware that they are not being listened to”

“There has to be some form of punishment for false accusers”

Liam and his friend Annie Brodie Akers have founded a new initiative called Innovation of Justice. Through its work they aim to present a united powerful, collaborative, and collective voice to the Crown Prosecution Service, Police, Justice Committee and decision makers.

Plan of Action

To host conferences to allow an opportunity for everyone to communicate, relax and create strong bonds that will help bring about the right changes together.

Aim

  • To unite as many people as possible, and work with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to create a dialogue for change
  • Formation of a board of elected representatives: to meet with the leading stakeholders, Police leaders and the Justice Committee. to discuss the proposals for change, as one united voice to the media
  • Focus solely on helping the innocent people that have been wrongly convicted and resolve the issues within the CJS

 

Ways to get in touch and support

innovationofjustice@protonmail.com

Twitter: @liam_allan95, @abrodieakers or @cmcgourlay #innovatingjustice

Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/innovation-of-justice

Register your interest in the following conferences:

Manchester: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-manchester-tickets-48516439978

Cardiff: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-cardiff-tickets-48516506176

Sheffield: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-sheffield-tickets-48516526236

London: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-london-tickets-48516808079

 

Photo courtesy David Mirzoeff / Press Association / The Times, 30 July 2018

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Why Rehabilitation is a Right Prisoners are Entitled to: Adam Meylan-Stevenson

Much of the debate arguing that prisoners should be rehabilitated answers the question by claiming that rehabilitating people can benefit society by preventing future crimes. I agree with this claim and affirm it as true. However, I think the case for rehabilitation can be made stronger by showing that prisoners have a right to rehabilitation. If this claim succeeds, then opponents of rehabilitation must explain why it is legitimate to deny prisoners this right.

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Adam Meylan-Stevenson

My argument is that people have a right to not find themselves in a worse position, economically, socially, or psychologically, after their prison sentence. It is common for people to be shunned after their release from prison. It can be hard to shake the label of ‘criminal’, despite having served their time. I think this attitude is mistaken. After a person has served their time and been released, they should have the opportunity to reintegrate with society and live purposeful lives.

One key advocate of this position is Egardo Rotman. Rotman has argued that just as the state has a right to punish individuals for wrongdoing, the individual has a right not to be made worse off by the effects of the punishment (Rotman, 1990, 184). However, the reality is that people are frequently made worse off by their punishments. One way, amongst others, this happens is how for many, having a criminal conviction is a barrier to leading a law-abiding life on release. In 2016, only one in four prisoners (27%) had a job to go to after release. One in five employers (19%) said they exclude or they were likely to exclude prisoners from the recruitment process (Prison Reform Trust, 2017, 16). The result of this is that even after serving their punishment in prison, people are still being debilitated.

From the above point, it seems imprisoning people is making people worse off after their punishment should have ended. We must ask ourselves, is it fair if an offender who has served their time is not able to move on with their life? From this, I think there is a moral requirement for the state to counteract the disabling effects of punishment and to provide rehabilitation, as a right, to offenders. Essentially, as the state is harming people by imprisoning them, it has a responsibility to counteract the harmful results that the punishment brings.

One worthwhile model of rehabilitation is ‘humanistic rehabilitation’. This model affirms the principle of prisoners as possessors of rights. The importance of this principle is that this legal status gives prisoners a sense of self-worth and trust in the legal system. An issue with our current system is that prisoners often feel alienated from society and hold resentment towards the outside world. Rotman argues embracing this model of rights-based rehabilitation favours the prospect of “self-command and responsible action within society” (Rotman, 1986, 1026). Following Rotman’s view, I believe this type of rehabilitation can be achieved through providing relevant psychological care, education, vocational training, and purposeful work. By purposeful work, I mean work that requires some skills that will be a stepping stone to allow prisoners to pursue full-time employment in a similar field upon release. Not menial work that only succeeds in making the prospect of full-time employment unappealing, like untangling headphones or packing plastic spoons (The Guardian, 2009).

Here, I will note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms all people have the right to work and education. Additionally, prisoners in the UK are entitled to the same healthcare individuals in the community receive, including mental health care. As this form of rehabilitation largely takes the form of education, work, and appropriate psychological treatment, the opponent of rehabilitating prisoners must explain why these rights should be removed from people in prison. I think there is no sound basis for removing these rights from prisoners. It is clear some rights can justifiably be removed from people. For example, the right to liberty can be removed for the justifiable reason of protecting the public from an individual and to protect the individual from vigilante reprisals. However, there is no justification for removing the rights to work and education that individuals enjoy before they are imprisoned. It would have no good end. Therefore, it can be shown that prisoners have the right to be rehabilitated.

Of course, the costs of the resources to achieve meaningful rehabilitation will be expensive. This approach will receive opposition from a public and political opinion that is generally punitive and other services across the country are strained. However, I would argue that this view is short-sighted. Whilst rehabilitating offenders is expensive in the short-term, if it is effective and crime goes down and communities get safer, then the cost has justifiable ends.

Ultimately, my argument is that prisoners have a right that entails that useful services should be provided, where appropriate and practically possible, to counteract the debilitating effects of prison. It is a case of justice that if prison makes people worse off, then the state is required to provide rehabilitation to counteract this. Prisoners are not sentenced to idleness, it is not necessary nor desirable. Instead, people’s time inside should be spent meaningfully, to allow them to reintegrate with society upon release.

Adam Meylan-Stevenson
adamcobblers@gmail.com
@Adammeylan_s

References

Allison, E. (2009). A fair day’s prison work? | Eric Allison. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/joepublic/2009/sep/09/prison-work-exploitation.
Prison Reform Trust (2017). Prison: The Facts. Bromley Briefings Summer 2017. [online] London: Bromley Trust, pp.4-16. Available at: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Bromley%20Briefings/Summer%202017%20factfile.pdf [Accessed 9 Dec. 2017].
Rotman, E. (1986). Do Criminal Offenders Have a Constitutional Right to Rehabilitation?. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), [online] 77(4), p.1023. Available at: https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.co.uk/&httpsredir=1&article=6540&context=jclc [Accessed 10 Dec. 2017].
Rotman, E. (1990). Beyond Punishment. 1st ed. New York: Greenwood Press, p.184.

A conversation with Terry Waite

I’m fulfilling something that has been on my wish list for over 20 years… meeting Terry Waite.

Many years ago, as a young Mum, I was eager to find something more substantive to read than Fireman Sam. I borrowed ‘Taken on Trust’ from the library and was riveted by his harrowing story of being a hostage.

Reading about Terry Waite re-ignited my preference for non-fiction and an individual’s personal journey. What stood out to me was his resilience and courage but so did his humanity and his deep faith.

I’m not familiar with the layout of Westminster Abbey and certainly not The Cloisters. Many people who enter are tourists fascinated by the scale of this architecture which commemorates the births, deaths and marriages associated with it. But not me, not on this occasion.

Walking towards my destination, I am suddenly aware that Terry Waite has been a part of my own journey. I say that because the inhumanity that he endured for 5 years mainly in solitary confinement had a lasting impact on me and still today raises many questions, such as:

The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey, London

The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey, London

Why do we put the vulnerable in isolation in our prison system?

Why do we as a society accept it as an inevitability for some?

I’m clutching my copy of his new book ‘Solitude’ where he explores various accounts by those he has met on his travels of being solitary.

Just checked my watch, I’m early, I’m usually early.

Peeking through The Cloisters, there is an immaculate quadrangle where the grass is surprisingly green and a small water feature bubbles away and a fresh breeze bringing a well needed respite to the heat and humidity of London.

Even the event organiser’s choice of location spoke to me of hours and hours of quiet contemplation.

Taking our seats, we were reminded that this was the route historically used by monks from their dormitory to the refectory and this site has always been “a place of power” and a “place of faith”. It’s humbling.

“I witnessed those killed before my very eyes”
“When law and order break down, all hell breaks loose”

These were some of the first words Terry Waite said as he stood to address the audience. He was dressed in a simple pale blue shirt, black trousers, cream linen jacket and a blood red tie. At 6’7” Mr Waite’s command presence was even more imposing than the ancient wooden doors framed by the solid stonework behind him.

 

Taken on Trust

“If someone turns to the Church for help regardless of whether the Church can help them, the Church should help them”.

He was deeply sincere.

Terry Waite in London on Thursday 19th July 2018

Terry Waite

He went on to explain his experience immediately before and at the point of being taken hostage in Beirut, January 1987.

He came face to face with hostage takers and knew he was facing the possibility himself of either being killed or captured. Trust between himself and the captors broke down. Being alone, not knowing and the uncertainty brought feelings of anger towards himself and anger towards the captors for breaking their word, having promised safe conduct.

He recounts his own experience of torture, mock execution and hours of interrogation whilst being shackled by his hands and feet to a wall.

 

Solitude

With no companionship and extreme isolation, he found a deeper form of solitude and counselled himself to do two things:

“Live each day at a time, as it comes. Live for now”
“Try and take it as an opportunity to take an interior journey, get to know yourself better”

Endeavouring to find inner harmony he began to write in his head.

“Pools of solitude and places of solitude help you to get to know yourself better and in so doing you are able to have a deeper understanding of others”.

Without a hint of arrogance and self-effacing I found Terry Waite’s words to be profoundly challenging. What he said and the way he said it drew a sharp contrast to a society which is generally irreligious, insular, and impatient.

He concluded his talk with the following, poignant words:

“The power of compassion is greater than the power of evil in this world”

Terry Waite then took a few questions, including one from me, where I asked for his views on solitary confinement in prisons in England and Wales. With an authoritative voice and immediacy, his answer to me was beyond dispute:

“It is cruel and must be stopped immediately”

In a personal conversation afterwards, Terry Waite was kind enough to sign my copy of ‘Solitude’, a gift to me from SPCK.

 

~

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 

The State of our Prisons: England

Faith Spear at desk bw 450px

My general take on prisons are that they are warehouses for the vulnerable.

Whatever happens in society is transferred to prisons, so if there is a problem with drugs on the outside there will certainly be a drug problem in prison. High walls, barbed wire and security is no real barrier. Bullying through debt is rife and so is corruption.

If you mean state of prisons as the fabric of the prisons then many are in disrepair. Neglect has come from outsourcing the maintenance to private companies and backlog of jobs even minor ones have had a detrimental effect on those that reside and work within the prison walls. I have seen vermin, rubbish thrown out of cell windows and food left to rot there. I have seen fire doors that are rotten and would provide no safety in the case of a fire.

Prisons are badly maintained often outdated and can be a fire hazard. So why do we continually fill them up? We knowingly put people in conditions that are not fit for habitation.

Prisons create more homeless individuals, more poverty and more mental health issues and they breed criminality.

Prisons have been underfunded for years and with cut backs year on year situations are only going to get worse. But as we have seen recently in the government there is a constant change of Ministers responsible for our prisons. This movement does not bring stability.

I don’t believe the Government when they say that loss of liberty is the punishment. No, once in prison you are punished, crammed into a room with another for up to 22 hours or more, eating beside your toilet with often the bare necessities. Little or no contact with the outside world.

Slave labour, I witnessed dismantling of DVD’s and CD’s for hours on end (Whitemoor), sewing wash bags and towels (Norwich), assembling poppies (Ford) all mind numbing and boring. Lack of use of any skills that they already have or have acquired within is farcical.

Punishment in prisons was a physical punishment but now it has become a mental torture. Lack of purposeful activity has stripped many of any hope for the future. Short sightedness on behalf of the Government is bringing the whole prison estate to its knees. Benchmarking, loss of experienced staff, under-investment has all resulted in volatile prisons where safety and security for staff and inmates alike is compromised. It’s like a ticking time bomb.

Incidents in prisons are now almost common place, but are lessons being learnt?

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.

I saw many with mental health issues that were not dealt with, I saw young men frightened, I witnessed the bullying and intimidation. In various prisons, I sat in on SMT meetings, case meetings, adjudications, equality meetings, security meetings etc. I listened to the way some Governors and Custodial Managers spoke about those in their prisons and wondered how they got to their positions.

There is a lot of unrest

Prisoners complained about:

  • discrimination and equality
  • unhelpful staff with even the most basic request
  • not enough food, especially amongst the young men
  • boredom
  • too far away from their family for visits
  • restricted regimes
  • missing property when transferred from one prison to another (this is a very big issue)
  • being bullied and getting into debt
  • loss of hope

I want to try to bring some sort of balance

I have visited prisons with excellent initiatives for example I have been to Thameside prison twice, the first time with a former prisoner, now author and an actor from Eastenders. The second time was with Sir Lenny Henry. Both these events were organised by Neil Barclay a friend of mine who is the Librarian & Learning Lead and a Butler Trust winner. He plans these guests to help inspire the men.

I have been to HMP Oakwood and spent a day observing the Chrysalis Programme designed to provide a guide for change that goes beyond rehabilitation, and into engagement and re-integration. It is a Personal Leadership and Effectiveness Development Programme aiming to stimulate inmates thinking, attitude, social capability, and capacity.

Family days at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay were fantastic with staff providing food and activities for children and adults. Team games, craft and sports were all laid on bringing much needed family time.

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