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On this day the only April fools are my critics: Part 2

It is 4 years today that I put pen to paper and wrote about the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) from my direct experience and my perspective as a prison monitor. My article “Whistle blower without a whistle” published in The Prisons Handbook 2016, sent shock waves across the criminal justice sector, locally, nationally and internationally.

When you feel so passionately about a cause it is very hard to keep quiet, I couldn’t stay quiet any longer. I was given the opportunity and used my voice.

First, I had to weigh up the risk of possibly causing offence versus the need to speak up in the public interest.

What I didn’t expect was it resulting in a prejudicial character assassination, a fight to clear my name, being gagged by a grooming culture within the IMB, being investigated twice by UK Ministry of Justice, a disciplinary hearing at Petty France and the involvement of not one but two Prison Ministers. I felt that I was on my own against a bastion of chauvinism. Not the last bastion of their kind I would come across. Welcome to the IMB!

Maybe the problem was that the IMB and the MoJ didn’t expect someone like me to put their head above the parapet or to dare voice an opinion. Yet we all have a voice; we all have opinions and we should not feel the need to suppress them. I did, I felt that I couldn’t really express myself, would anyone listen?

Faced with adversity, people either ‘fight, flight or play dead’. I made the decision to fight. I have no regrets.

People started listening, taking notice and lending their support.  Above all, they agreed with me but felt unable to say anything publicly themselves for fear of reprisals.

We all know the saying ‘action speaks louder than words’ but often you have to speak before any action can take place. So, I spoke out and expected results.

Since then I have written on many occasions about the IMB, its lack of effectiveness, lack of diversity and most troubling of all its lack of independence. The IMB Secretariat is staffed by MoJ civil servants, the National Chair is an MoJ employee, the purse strings are held by the Permanent Secretary of the MoJ and Board members expenses are paid by the MoJ.

“I’m finding the working environment intolerable and detrimental to my health, and part of me would like the IMB to recognise this as a symptom of its unsustainable system and the pressure it puts on people (but they probably won’t care)”.

Sadly, when I continue to receive messages such as this one from a serving IMB Chair, I realise very little has changed.

Unchanging. Unchangeable.

Even with a new governance structure, the appointment of its first National Chair and a written protocol between the MoJ and the IMB, none of these has persuaded me that there is enough independence, effectiveness or impact.

If there are concerns and issues that don’t add up, instead of staying silent, ignoring the facts or even dismissing them, it is imperative to ask questions.

As I have seen first-hand with the relationship between the IMB and the MoJ where they appear to be marking their own homework where monitoring of prisons is concerned, I noticed another irregularity.

During 2019 whilst attending sessions of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Miscarriages of Justice, I noticed something of vital importance about the composition and scope of the inquiry of the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice, which states:

“Given that there are serious misgivings expressed in the legal profession, and amongst commentators and academics, about the remit of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and its ability to deal with cases of miscarriages of justice, and given that perceptions of injustice within the criminal justice system are as damaging to public confidence as actual cases of injustice, the WCMJ will inquire into:

1. The ability of the CCRC, as currently set up, to deal effectively with alleged miscarriages of justice;

2. Whether statutory or other changes might be needed to assist the CCRC to carry out is function, including;

(i) The CCRC’s relationship with the Court of Appeal with particular reference to the current test for referring cases to it (the ‘real possibility’ test);

(ii) The remit, composition, structure and funding of the CCRC

3. The extent to which the CCRC’s role is hampered by failings or issues elsewhere in the criminal justice system;

and make recommendations.”

But between 2010 and March 2014 Dame Anne Owers who currently sits on the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice “established by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice (APPGMJ) with a brief to investigate the ability of the criminal justice system to identify and rectify miscarriages of justice”, was a non-executive director of the CCRC.

Public purse. Public interest.

I have a problem with a system that allows for a person to occupy a role paid for from the public purse who then later occupies a separate post, albeit as a volunteer with expenses paid from the public purse, which is meant to scrutinise the work that has been done previously by that same person.

This is utterly incompatible because of the risk that the full truth of what was done or was not done previously may never see the light of day. I believe it is in the public interest to ensure that officials never get the opportunity to mark their own homework. This is especially true when it comes to the substantive issues of miscarriages of justice.

We are talking about miscarriages of justice. We are talking about lives that have been ruined. We are talking about lives which have been lost and about families that no longer have their loved ones.

Deciding to ask someone with a link to a current CCRC application, whose opinion I trust, if they would see the APPG on Miscarriages of Justice differently should a member of its commission have had previous links with the CCRC, their response was startling and very revealing:

“I certainly would Faith. A commission looking at the inner workings and efficiency of the CCRC should be totally independent looking at the watchdog with open and unclouded eyes. I dread to think which kinds of bias would come into play if somebody with a past association to the CCRC were allowed to be part of the investigatory commission”

Separately, as a friend once said to me:

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”

I am nobody’s fool and the Ministry of Justice has left me with no alternative than to continue to take more robust action in the public interest. This in part means being willing to ask probing questions whenever I discover irregularities in the Criminal Justice System, and fully intend to continue to do so.

 

~

Credit

Photo is copyright and used with permission.

Erratum

Paragraph 18. “also paid for from the public purse” deleted and replaced with: “albeit as a volunteer with expenses paid from the public purse,”

 

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Monitoring of prisons has ceased

This week I was sent information issued by Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) Head of Policy and Communications Sarah Clifford, to IMB Regional Reps, Chairs and Vice Chairs detailing guidelines for all Board members.

It read:

 “Following the Prime Minister’s announcement last night, Boards should not visit the establishment they monitor for any purpose and should move fully to indirect monitoring.  This includes serious incidents, during which Boards should arrange to be kept in contact with the command suite via telephone.  We will review the position if the Government’s approach changes following the initial three-week lockdown period.”

Indirect monitoring? There is no such thing.

Board members will now have to rely on the prison staff to pass on information, further removing any semblance of independence it ever claimed to have had.

 “It is important to maintain active contact with the establishment by phone, email and other electronic means.  As a minimum, Boards should ensure that every member is receiving the daily briefing from the establishment and, for prison Boards, any updates to the regime management plan”

Keeping IMB up to date

Whereas it is essential that individual boards are kept up to date indirect monitoring will, at best, be from the prison’s perspective and biased as a consequence. Very little can be verified when you are outside a prison.

On 25th March, all members were sent a comprehensive letter from the IMB Secretariat. In that letter, under the heading “Impact on prisoners/detainees – reporting mechanism”, there was this statement:

“We will be gathering Boards’ serious concerns about deteriorating conditions and treatment for prisoners/detainees caused or significantly exacerbated by the Coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak so we can bring these to ministerial/senior level attention”

How on earth are monitors meant to collect and collate information such as this if Board members cannot go into prison for their own safety?

Indirect monitoring is complete nonsense.

Under the heading “Board meetings via teleconference/videoconference” the letter stated:

“Boards now each have dedicated teleconference lines to enable meetings to take place by phone. Please note that only Skype has been cleared by the MoJ for use for Board business”

I have been informed that dedicated teleconference lines are completely different technology to Skype, which uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) running over the public internet and which is susceptible to hacking. Confidential information of a serious and official sensitive nature should not be discussed using Skype.

 

Dame Anne Owers, National Chair at Independent Monitoring Board

IMB Applications

Posters have been issued to be stuck onto IMB application boxes showing inmates the changes in dealing with their applications. One notable detail is this:

“We will still get daily updates from senior managers, so we know what is going on in the prison”

In other words, senior managers will tell IMB only what they want them to know.

IMB boxes will be emptied by IMB clerks (MoJ staff) or prison officers (MoJ staff). The IMB clerk or member of administrative staff will scan the application and email it to the prison’s IMB who will investigate concerns.

Responses may be emailed to the IMB clerk or member of administrative staff and delivered in an envelope or it may come direct from the IMB in an envelope. But not all Boards have access to a clerk.

Many members of the IMB may be in the high-risk category due to their age, others may have children to look after. Therefore, it is inevitable that changes will need to happen to safeguard prisoners, detainees, staff, and IMB members to minimise the risk of spreading infection.

Although the situation is changing daily, I think it’s safe to say:

All scrutiny of prisons is lost for the foreseeable future

 

The IMB has placed itself in an impossible position; the failure of the Secretariat to assure a sufficiently diverse membership is only one of a set of longstanding issues which the Covid-19 pandemic is exposing in the full glare of public attention.

IMB National Chair Dame Anne Owers, who holds ultimate responsibility for the organisation, must urgently rethink how the IMB is to fulfill its statutory obligation to provide monitoring of the prisons in England and Wales.

UPDATE  3rd April 2020

According to www.imb.org.uk.  the message has now changed:

“Dame Anne Owers, IMB National Chair, has today (30 March) written to stakeholders to update them about monitoring of prison and immigration detention during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 epidemic:

Given the significant health risks for prisoners, detainees and staff during the current COVID-19 crisis, and following the Government advice issued this week, direct monitoring activity in prisons and immigration detention has inevitably been restricted.

Boards will be able to carry out some limited on-site work where it is safe and feasible to do so. However, we have also developed remote methods of providing some independent assurance at a time of heightened concern for prisoners and detainees. This is a fast-moving situation, but we have advised Boards as follows:..

 

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affecting prisons, a change of direction such as this raises serious questions. How is it safer than a week ago for Board members?

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Credits:

Photos of Dame Anne Owers by Paul Sullivan. Used with kind permission.

HMP Berwyn: Does it raise more questions than it answers?

A bright summer’s day. A short car journey, a train, 2 tubes, 2 more trains and I finally arrived after more than 5 hours of travelling, into Wrexham. I’ve come to HMP Berwyn. I’m here with an open mind and at the invitation of the No 1 Governor, Russell Trent.

HMP Berwyn is not very well signposted, it’s as if the locality is reluctant to admit such a place exists in their own backyard. On the way here, I asked some locals for their opinion on the prison, its location and its size given that it is not yet at full capacity. Many local people were hesitant in speaking about it. Others were really bemused when I said I was on my way there to meet the Governor.

“Well, they need to build a bigger car park”, one local said.

On arrival, from the outside, it resembles a business park not a prison.

HMP Berwyn visiting hall by North Wales Daily Post 1488378192745 450px

Entering through large open doors I was greeted by a uniformed officer with a friendly face who showed me the lockers for my bag and phone, and the door to enter the prison. But it was the wrong door. I wasn’t asked why I was there or even who I was. I was sent back outside to another door, this time I approached a glass window and said I was here to see Russell Trent. Simple.

Unfortunately, the officer there had no record of my visit. Great start. I was then asked to put my driving licence onto the window, so they could read my name. Bingo, the glass screens opened, and I was inside.

I fully expected to be patted down. I wasn’t. I expected an officer to pass a wand over me. They didn’t. This surprised me.

The site is huge. I was immediately impressed by the overall cleanliness, both inside and out, the wide-open spaces between communities and grass, yes real grass, and flower beds. There was even a small area where they hold services of remembrance.

Berwyn Values

V = value each other and celebrate achievements

A = act with integrity and always speak the truth

L = look to the future with ambition and hope

U = uphold fairness and justice in all we do

E = embrace Welsh language and culture

S = stick at it

Sitting on a comfortable sofa opposite Number 1 Governor Russell Trent in his office, he pointed out the motivational quote on the wall.

“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows not the flower”

But motivational quotes are everywhere throughout the prison, on stairwells, in corridors alongside photos of Wales. Another one that caught my eye was:

“You have got to be the change you want to see”

The Governor handed me a small pack of cards; each card represents a different Berwyn practice for each day of the month.

Day 1. We recognise achievements and celebrate successes #thankyou

Day 2. We actively listen to each other and make eye contact #respect

Day 3. We offer and ask for help and feedback #support

You get the idea.

This is a first, I have never brought anything out of a prison that I haven’t taken in and I have never seen such motivational material in quite the same way in any other prison I have visited. And I’ve been to every category of prison, more than once.

Having the opportunity to accompany Governor Trent as he did his rounds meant we could talk as we toured communities, healthcare, college, library, horticulture, accommodation, etc.

HMP Berwyn landings by Wales Online 344874988001 450pxI watched as well as listened, as I always do, with my notebook at the ready for contemporaneous note taking.  Governor Trent appears to be on the ball, knowing the names of the men and their sentence. Many politely came up to him with a query or problem they wanted resolving. If he didn’t have the answer, then he signposted or agreed to meet them later. I did find it odd when he was called “Russ” and even “Trenty”. I thought that was a bit over-familiar considering the whole ethos was of respect. Something didn’t quite add up.

In various conversations, the name of a certain community came up more than once and so did the name of a member of staff. It appeared some men felt fobbed off by this individual. I chose not to probe this but preferred to watch how it was dealt with.

I was introduced to the prosocial model of behaviour, a rehabilitative culture, making big feel small, the principle of normality and much more. Yes, Governor Trent is driven and considering over 90% of frontline staff have never worked in a prison before he has to sell his regime not only to the men but to the staff also.

The Ministry of Justice is very good at musical chairs, moving leaders around the prison service. It makes me wonder how long Governor Trent will remain at Berwyn.

Can Berwyn culture function without him and will the vision live on without his oversight?

Or will the settling cracks be more prominent or permanent?

In March 2018 there was a Death in Custody at Berwyn. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) is still investigating and this death is unclassified as the cause is not yet known. I will not jump to any conclusions.

What I can say is during my visit I neither saw nor heard nor smelled any signs of drug abuse or spice.

Health and Wellbeing

Page 12 of ‘Rehabilitative Culture at Berwyn‘ states that “promotion of health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all whether they are living or working at Berwyn”. I think that collective ownership like this is a good thing because it means that the sole responsibility is not just carried on the shoulders of the healthcare team. The reason why this is good is because it replicates what goes on in the wider society.

I saw team sports in action, outdoor gym equipment and the outdoor running track. One initiative that caught my interest was the ‘Governor’s Running Club’. Men were proudly wearing their t-shirts which they were entitled to have once they had attended 5 successive weeks. Governor Trent emphasised to me that it was more about the commitment than the fitness.

Whilst all this looks favourable, one question I still have is the level of staff sickness at Berwyn. In ‘Annual HM Prison and Probation Service digest: 2017 to 2018, Chapter 15 tables – Staff sickness absence’ for the period 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018 there were 3,628 working days lost (see Table 15.1, Column U, Row 18). It raises a concern as to why this is, given that Berwyn is not at full capacity and new communities are only opened once sufficient staff are in place.

 Purposeful Activity

It’s all very well having unlock at 08:15 and lockup at 19:15 but if the industries, education, workshops, purposeful activities are not there then what?

And what do we mean by purposeful activity?

I saw one of the workshops, sewing prison regulation towels. A monotonous task, processing the same off-white coloured towelling. I’ve seen the same activity in other prisons such as HMP Norwich. Why is this happening in Berwyn? If sewing is to be one of the “purposeful activities” then surely this could be expanded to sewing something less bland and uninteresting using acquired skills that may be genuinely useful on release. For example, Fine Cell Work showcases how this is possible both inside and after release with their post-prison programme.

In another workshop I saw, I felt I was looking at something more purposeful; it was a call centre, provided by Census Group, run by a woman who was keen to praise the men in her group. I could see how skills learned here could translate into meaningful employment on the outside as well as provide interest, variation and a challenge for those participating in this activity.

I briefly stepped into the College building housing the prison library. If it wasn’t for the jangling of keys you could have been in any educational institution.

 Accommodation

Whereas I had expected the heat, because my visit was in August, I had not expected the temperature levels inside on the landings of the communities and in the rooms I visited. It must have been at least 30 degrees.

I had heard a lot about the rooms here and saw many photos. However, you need to walk in one to fully understand the scale. For the rooms which are single occupancy they are compact, but I’ve seen smaller. A raised bed, with storage underneath, a desk with monitor, a plastic moulded chair. It has a shower/toilet/wash basin in the corner with a short curtain acting as a screen. And a small safe for locking away any medical supplies and that’s your lot.

Unfortunately, with only 30% of the rooms in Berwyn built for single occupancy the majority of the men have to double up.

HMP Berwyn double occupancy room by North Wales Daily Post 1488378201460 450px

In the double-occupancy rooms, it is the same layout for two but only slightly wider and another small bed with storage underneath. To share a room with someone you have never met and to have so little privacy going to the toilet or having a shower is entirely unacceptable for a new build prison in the 21st Century.

Here is where I have a problem with Berwyn as a model for Titan prisons.

According to ‘The Report of the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry’ published in June 2006, (download the PDF here) there were three main recommendations concerning enforced cell-sharing:

  1. The elimination of enforced cell-sharing should remain the objective of the Prison Service, and the achievement of this goal should be regarded as a high priority.
  2. The Prison Service should review whether the resources currently available to it might be better deployed towards achieving this goal, without compromising standards in other areas, and should set a date for realising this objective.
  3. If the resources currently available to the Prison Service are insufficient to produce a significant decrease in enforced cell-sharing, central government should allocate further funds to the Prison Service to enable more prisoners to be accommodated in cells on their own.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be astonished that after 12 years these recommendations were not incorporated into the planning of Berwyn. They were made long before the architects’ drawings were prepared and before any ground works were dug.

How can the concept of a Titan prison be a showcase, a flagship, when recommendations such as these are willfully overlooked? Was it in pursuit of lower unit cost per prisoner?

 Economies of scale

If it is such a flagship of the Ministry of Justice, a social experiment, a regime extraordinaire, or whatever you wish to call it, why hasn’t the Secretary of State for Justice or the Prisons Minister visited? I will urge them to come and see Berwyn for themselves.

I already have my doubts that Berwyn will ever reach its full capacity so in that case what is stopping it from turning all double rooms into single occupancy?

It has been built to 70% double, 30% single rooms, like a Walmart of the Prison Service, pack them high, sell them cheap

During my visit I was informed that the cost per head was £14,000. Afterwards, I contacted Berwyn to confirm and was told £13,500 per head. Compare this to the average annual overall cost of a prison place in England and Wales at £38,042 in 2017, according to Ministry of Justice report on ‘Costs per prison place and cost per prisoner by individual’, £35,182 in 2016 (download the 2017 PDF here and the 2016 PDF here). See: Table 2a, Summary Comparison

I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure was more like £11,000 – £12,000 per head at Berwyn, its “economies of scale” achieved by factors such as low salaries of frontline staff in their first year of service being the predominant workforce here.

 The Berwyn Way

All the men arriving into HMP Berwyn are given Enhanced IEP status. The idea behind this is that the men then have to take some personal ownership to maintain that level. In other words, it leaves no room for incentives to improve status but only punishment if you don’t make the grade. In my opinion, it makes a nonsense of the IEP system and is inconsistent with many of the sending prisons of which there are 65. Is this demotivating those who have worked hard to achieve Enhanced elsewhere?

I remember when the last changes with IEP came into effect with Chris Grayling. Working in a prison where most of the men were on Enhanced yet half of them did not fulfil the new criteria to be on Enhanced. This brought about a two-tier system when people were transferred into the prison as they had to adhere to the new rules. This issue alone can have a big impact on the culture and effective daily operations inside a prison. I feel the same pitfall maybe true of Berwyn, albeit inadvertent.

I noted later that in the document ‘The Berwyn Way’ 3. Strategic priorities, Rehabilitative culture.

3.8 An important part of the realisation of Berwyn’s rehabilitative culture will be changing behaviour by reward, not punishment and everyone will work hard to uphold this ambition.

How can this be so when the IEP system is used not to reward, but to punish?

There is a clear disconnect here.

Respect: to get it you must give it

I noted that on one occasion entering a community, staff immediately stood up as we entered. My immediate thoughts, was this just a mark of respect or fear of reprisal later?

I rather hope it is the former rather than the latter.

But I have been in enough SMT meetings in other prisons, where Governing Governors have mouthed off over even a trivial matter, to know how that could have been out of fear.

I shook hands with many members of staff and the men housed there. Some men apologised for their language even though it wasn’t aimed at me. This showed self-awareness which is a vital characteristic in life as well as in living in a prison.

I came away with a brochure about the rehabilitative culture at Berwyn, a document on ‘The Berwyn Way’, a desk top flip chart and pack of cards of the Berwyn Values.

Summary

I’m commenting on a regime, I’m not criticising any individual. I’m evaluating and analysing what the consequences might look like for Berwyn based on what I have personally seen and heard.

The model of single-occupancy rooms is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

It is time HMPPS stops putting profit before people.

Positive reinforcement of behaviour works much better than penalties.

In my opinion I would have to say, on the balance of probability, there should never be another prison built on the scale of Berwyn.

 

Featured photo courtesy of Inside Time which tweets as @InsideTimeUK

On-page photos courtesy of North Wales Daily Post which tweets as @dailypostwales

 

This visit to HMP Berwyn took place on Thursday 2nd August 2018.

My time and expenses were entirely self-funded.

 

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StandOut: Giving prisoners another chance

I am relieved that the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke has at last addressed some of the fundamental issues that prisoners face; job opportunities can be scarce and are often limited on release from prison.

His speech at the Education and Employment Strategy Launch at HMP Isis on 24 May 2018 entitled “From the wings to the workplace: the route to reducing reoffending” stated that the first step is education.

I have noticed prisoners are invariably portrayed in the media as those having a low IQ and a high percentage with a reading age of an 11 year old. Yet, what they don’t report on is that there are intelligent prisoners, having skills that could benefit other prisoners and need something worthwhile or in other words purposeful activity to do whilst in prison.

I once spent time talking to two prisoners, both were sentenced for fraud and both were so bored. They didn’t want to retrain in bricklaying or painting and decorating or learn how to clean different types of flooring! They wanted to use their brains, but prison and especially resettlement prisons do not cater for that.

The second point David Gauke raised was moving from jobs on the wings to jobs in the workplace. Unfortunately, there are not enough links with the outside community, and too few businesses are willing to give prisoners another chance, but without a fresh start it is impossible for them to be reintegrated back into society.

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?

On the Unlock Opportunity, David Gauke continued to say:

“…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.

Our New Futures Network will do just that. It will create stronger links between prisons and employers, championing prisoners and acting as a broker between prisoners and employers.”

I am encouraged by this, but I feel there is something missing.

Does departure from a society that has basically forgotten your worth expect a re-introduction without barriers?

Those that have served a prison sentence often have a loss of confidence, self-esteem, and motivation, which can make the job market difficult to access.

Any course that can help navigate and offer guidance for this can only be a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to HMP Wandsworth to attend the celebration of trainees completing the StandOut course by a friend Penny Parker.

Wandsworth Prison by Derek Harper CC BY-SA 2.0 geograph 1030498 450px

Photo: HMP Wandsworth by Derek Harper CC BY-SA 2.0

It is designed to equip people with the tools and skills to gain employment using coaching techniques to build self-confidence and self-esteem, to raise aspirations and motivate trainees to release their potential. This is done by challenging mindsets and attitudes, encouraging teamwork, leadership and developing communication skills.

Straight away I could see such a great rapport between the attendees and the trainers and for a moment I forgot I was in a prison. The celebration was a way of giving the men a chance to have their say and receive encouragement through positive recognition.

One attendee commented:

“I learnt resilience, learnt about the skills I already had. I feel like have been rehabilitated and that I have the tools to make it”

Each attendee, some with more confidence than others stood up in front of us and shared what the course had done for them. It was then the mentors turn and each described how they had witnessed the attendees moving forward week by week, celebrated their strengths and instead of just shaking their hand and giving out the certificates they paused and gave each one a challenge.

It wasn’t a well done pat on the head and then let’s move on to the next. It was a way of helping each one progress to the next stage in their journey.

The second and third stages of StandOut are the continued support (essential) through one-to-one coaching until release from prison, and then on a voluntary take-up basis, for as long as each trainee wishes after release.

I will finish on this StandOut story:

Ryan completed the first ever StandOut course in Wandsworth HMP in March 2017. He had been persuaded to come along to the course by a friend and wasn’t entirely sure what he was signing up to. His family kept his incarceration a secret from everyone and when he would call his mother would say he was calling from university. Ryan had never had a job before.

Ryan quickly began to engage with the StandOut course, enjoying the challenges of presentations, mock interviews and writing his CV and disclosure statement. He also grew in his desire to take responsibility for his choices and became determined to make positive steps when he returned home.

Once released things weren’t immediately straightforward for Ryan. A lead with an employer who had promised him a role ended in a dead end and despite showing initiative and determination he also failed his first attempt at his CSCS card.

However, Ryan was determined to prove his resilience and kept on pushing doors. All the time he was in contact with StandOut, asking for advice and keeping them informed.

We recently spoke to Ryan and he has now secured not one but two jobs. He is working as a courier and has also secured a job as a concierge. The concierge job was given to Ryan partly because he had the guts and honesty to hand the interviewer his disclosure letter. Ryan is now enjoying getting up at the same time as the rest of his family and joining them as they all leave for work

 

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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