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An interview with Phil O’Brien by John O’Brien
Phil O’Brien started his prison officer training in January 1970. His first posting, at HMDC Kirklevington, in April 1970. In a forty-year career, he also served at HMP Brixton, HMP Wakefield, HMYOI Castington, HMP Full Sutton, HMRC Low Newton and HMP Frankland. He moved through the ranks and finished his public sector career as Head of Operations at Frankland. In 2006, he moved into the private sector, where he worked for two years at HMP Forest Bank before taking up consultancy roles at Harmondsworth IRC, HMP Addiewell and HMP Bronzefield, where he carried out investigations and advised on training issues. Phil retired in 2011. In September 2018, he published Can I Have a Word, Boss?, a memoir of his time in the prison service.
John O’Brien holds a doctorate in English literature from the University of Leeds, where he specialised in autobiography studies.
You deal in the first two chapters of the book with training. How do you reflect upon your training now, and how do you feel it prepared you for a career in the service?
I believe that the training I received set me up for any success I might have had. I never forgot the basics I was taught on that initial course. On one level, we’re talking about practical things like conducting searches, monitoring visits, keeping keys out of the sight of prisoners. On another level, we’re talking about the development of more subtle skills like observing patterns of behaviour and developing an intimate knowledge of the prisoners in your charge, that is, getting to know them so well that you can predict what they are going to do before they do it. Put simply, we were taught how best to protect the public, which includes both prisoners and staff. Those basics were a constant for me.
Tell me about the importance of the provision of education and training for prisoners. Your book seems to suggest that Low Newton was particularly successful in this regard.
Many prisoners lack basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. For anyone leaving the prison system, reading and writing are crucial in terms of functioning effectively in society, even if it’s only in order to access the benefits available on release.
At Low Newton, a largely juvenile population, the education side of the regime was championed by two governing governors, Mitch Egan and Mike Kirby. In addition, we had a well-resourced and extremely committed set of teachers. I was Head of Inmate Activities at Low Newton and therefore had direct responsibility for education.
The importance of education and training is twofold:
Firstly, it gives people skills and better fits them for release.
Secondly, a regime that fully engages prisoners leaves less time for the nonsense often associated with jails: bullying, drug-dealing, escaping.
To what extent do you believe that the requirements of security, control and justice can be kept in balance?
Security, control, and justice are crucial to the health of any prison. If you keep these factors in balance, afford them equal attention and respect, you can’t be accused of bias one way or the other.
Security refers to your duty to have measures in place that prevent escapes – your duty to protect the public.
Control refers to your duty to create and maintain a safe environment for all.
Justice is about treating people with respect and providing them with the opportunities to address their offending behaviour. You can keep them in balance. It’s one of the fundamentals of the job. But you have to maintain an objective and informed view of how these factors interact and overlap. It comes with experience.
What changed most about the prison service in your time?
One of the major changes was Fresh Start in 1987/88, which got rid of overtime and the Chief Officer rank. Fresh Start made prison governors more budget aware and responsible. It was implemented more effectively at some places than others, so it wasn’t without its wrinkles.
Another was the Woolf report, which looked at the causes of the Strangeways riot. The Woolf report concentrated on refurbishment, decent living and working conditions, and full regimes for prisoners with all activities starting and ending on time. It also sought to enlarge the Cat D estate, which would allow prisoners to work in outside industry prior to release. Unfortunately, the latter hasn’t yet come to pass sufficiently. It’s an opportunity missed.
What about in terms of security?
When drugs replaced snout and hooch as currency in the 1980s, my security priorities changed in order to meet the new threat. I had to develop ways of disrupting drug networks, both inside and outside prison, and to find ways to mitigate targeted subversion of staff by drug gangs.
In my later years, in the high security estate, there was a real fear and expectation of organised criminals breaking into jails to affect someone’s escape, so we had to organise anti-helicopter defences.
The twenty-first century also brought a changed, and probably increased, threat of terrorism, which itself introduced new security challenges.
You worked in prisons of different categories. What differences and similarities did you find in terms of management in these different environments?
Right from becoming a senior officer, a first line manager at Wakefield, I adopted a modus operandi I never changed. I called it ‘managing by walking about’. It was about talking and listening, making sure I was there for staff when things got difficult. It’s crucial for a manager to be visible to prisoners and staff on a daily basis. It shows intent and respect.
I distinctly remember Phil Copple, when he was governor at Frankland, saying one day: “How do you find time to get around your areas of responsibility every day when other managers seem tied to their chairs?” I found that if I talked to all the staff, I was responsible for every day, it would prevent problems coming to my office later when I might be pushed for time. Really, it was a means of saving time.
The job is the same wherever you are. Whichever category of prison you are working in, you must get the basics right, be fair and face the task head on.
The concept of intelligence features prominently in the book. Can you talk a bit about intelligence, both in terms of security and management?
Successful intelligence has always depended on the collection of information.
The four stages in the intelligence cycle are: collation, analysis, dissemination and action. If you talk to people in the right way, they respond. I discovered this as soon as I joined the service, and it was particularly noticeable at Brixton.
Prisoners expect to be treated fairly, to get what they’re entitled to and to be included in the conversation. When this happens, they have a vested interest in keeping the peace. It’s easy to forget that prisoners are also members of the community, and they have the same problems as everyone else. That is, thinking about kids, schools, marriages, finances. Many are loyal and conservative. The majority don’t like seeing other people being treated unfairly, and this includes prisoner on prisoner interaction, bullying etc. If you tap into this facet of their character, they’ll often help you right the wrongs. That was my experience.
Intelligence used properly can be a lifesaver.
You refer to Kirklevington as an example of how prisons should work. What was so positive about their regime at the time?
It had vision and purpose and it delivered.
It was one of the few jails where I worked that consistently delivered what it was contracted to deliver. Every prisoner was given paid work opportunities prior to release, ensuring he could compete on equal terms when he got out. The regime had in place effective monitoring, robust assessments of risk, regular testing for substance abuse and sentence-planning meetings that included input from family and home probation officers.
Once passed out to work, each prisoner completed a period of unpaid work for the benefit of the local community – painting, decorating, gardening etc.
There was excellent communication.
The system just worked.
The right processes were in place.
To what extent do you feel you were good at your job because you understood the prisoners? That you were, in some way, the same?
I come from Ripleyville, in Bradford, a slum cleared in the 1950s. Though the majority of people were honest and hardworking, the area had its minority of ne’er-do-wells. I never pretended that I was any better than anyone else coming from this background.
Whilst a prisoner officer under training at Leeds, I came across a prisoner I’d known from childhood on my first day. When I went to Brixton, a prisoner from Bradford came up to me and said he recognised me and introduced himself. I’d only been there a couple of weeks. I don’t know if it was because of my background, but I took an interest in individual prisoners, trying to understand what made them tick, as soon as I joined the job.
I found that if I was fair and communicated with them, the vast majority would come half way and meet me on those terms. Obviously, my working in so many different kinds of establishments undoubtedly helped. It gave me a wide experience of different regimes and how prisoners react in those regimes.
How important was humour in the job? And, therefore, in the book?
Humour is crucial. Often black humour. If you note, a number of my ex-colleagues who have reviewed the book mention the importance of humour. It helps calm situations. Both staff and prisoners appreciate it. It can help normalise situations – potentially tense situations. Of course, if you use it, you’ve got to be able to take it, too.
What are the challenges, as you see them, for graduate management staff in prisons?
Credibility, possibly, at least at the beginning of their career. This was definitely a feature of my earlier years, where those in the junior governor ranks were seen as nobodies. The junior governors were usually attached to a wing with a PO, and the staff tended to look towards the PO for guidance. The department took steps to address this with the introduction of the accelerated promotion scheme, which saw graduate entrants spending time on the landing in junior uniform ranks before being fast-tracked to PO. They would be really tested in that rank.
There will always be criticism of management by uniform staff – it goes with the territory. A small minority of graduate staff failed to make sufficient progress at this stage and remained in the uniform ranks. This tended to cement the system’s credibility in the eyes of uniform staff.
Were there any other differences between graduate governors and governors who had come through the ranks?
The accelerated promotion grades tended to have a clearer career path and were closely mentored by a governor grade at HQ and by governing governors at their home establishments and had regular training. However, I lost count of the number of phone calls I received from people who were struggling with being newly promoted from the ranks to the governor grades. They often felt that they hadn’t been properly trained for their new role, particularly in relation to paperwork, which is a staple of governor grade jobs.
From the point of view of the early 21stC, what were the main differences between prisons in the public and private sectors?
There’s little difference now between public and private sector prisons. Initially, the public sector had a massive advantage in terms of the experience of staff across the ranks. Now, retention of staff seems to be a problem in both sectors. The conditions of service were better in the public sector in my time, but this advantage has been eroded. Wages are similar, retirement age is similar. The retirement age has risen substantially since I finished.
In my experience, private sector managers were better at managing budgets. As regards staff, basic grade staff in both sectors were equally keen and willing to learn. All that staff in either sector really needed was purpose, a coherent vision and support.
A couple of times towards the end of your book, you hint at the idea that your time might have passed. Does your approach belong to a particular historical moment?
I felt that all careers have to come to an end at some point and I could see that increasing administrative control would deprive my work of some of its pleasures. It was time to go before bitterness set in. Having said that, when I came back, I still found that the same old-fashioned skills were needed to deal with what I had been contracted to do. So, maybe I was a bit premature.
My approaches and methods were developed historically, over the entire period of my forty-year career. Everywhere I went, I tried to refine the basics that I had learned on that initial training course.
Thank you to John O’Brien for enabling Phil to share his experiences.
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.
- 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
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:
Photo courtesy David Mirzoeff / Press Association / The Times, 30 July 2018
Sentencing removes many from society and places them in Prison.
But what happens when they are released back?
With their belongings in a bag and a small grant off they go back to the society that removed them in the first place.
Due to the nature of the crime or the often-complex background many face the prospect of no real home and no job.
I speak at every opportunity of my frustration that skills acquired in prison are seemingly just worthless on release. The skills need to match the work available. However, I have seen excellent examples of tutors training those in prison and encouraging them to reach standards that they never thought possible. I have read letters and cards sent to these tutors in thanks for believing in them and helping to achieve qualifications that have led to decent jobs on release.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen enough.
What about those with existing skills that have had to lay dormant whilst they serve their sentence?
How can they re-join the workplace?
Should they be able to go back into their old job or field?
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?
One perfect example is a man I have known for over 4 years. He is articulate, polite, intelligent, well dressed, always encouraging, constantly pushing for prison reform, and has a network that most would be grateful for. He has been known to take into prisons celebrities such as Russell Brand and Derek Martin and MP’s to encourage those on their journey in life.
He has written two books on his experiences whilst in prison and the challenges he faced on release.
His name is Jonathan Robinson, a former helicopter instructor.
After helping an MP with content for a book, he asked for a reference to get back to the job he loved so that he could once again use the skills which he had acquired over many years. You would think that was a simple enough request. He asked and was told YES.
But then was told NO and was hit by deafening silence that I have personally witnessed on many occasions from MP’s.
His story can be found this morning as a guest blog on www.prisonerben.blogspot.co.uk please read it as one day it may be someone you know facing the same stigma.
If Jonathan was prevented from working what hope have others?
In Prisons and Prisoners: some personal experiences by Constance Lytton and Jane Warton, Lady Constance Lytton challenges the current thinking of the 20th Century Anti-suffrage politics. Putting herself forward to be a champion of women (Lytton, 1914, p. 10) in the hope that one day women would be on a political equality with men (Lytton, 1909, pp.22-23)
This book is a comprehensive and at times a harrowing personal account of her four prison sentences as a militant suffragette in her pursuit of a purpose in life. It is a compelling insight into the mind of a young woman consumed by a cause which would be instrumental in prison reform and votes for women and would be a contributory factor in her death.
Desperate to find some way of empathising with the other suffragettes, Lady Constance Lytton had a desire to stand beside those who were fighting not as a spare part but as a comrade. Taking on the guise of “Jane Warton” was her way of experiencing the horrors of prison life including force-feeding, without receiving special treatment and privileges as a result of her family connections. Although her health suffered, she showed courage and determination and an undeniable dedication.
Concentrating on political injustice and votes for women, Lady Constance Lytton analyses disparities in punishment depending on social class and gender and the rights of women, developing the notion that the suffragette’s militant actions were political, rather than purely criminal.
Lytton, C. (1909) “No votes for Women”: A reply to some recent Anti-Suffrage Publications. London: A. C. Fiefield
Lytton, C. (1914) Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences by Constance Lytton and Jane Warton, Spinster London: William Heinemann
It’s about time the Corston review was revisited.
Baroness Corston was commissioned in 2006 by the then Home Office Minister Patricia Scotland, to examine the issue of vulnerable women within the criminal justice system (Ministry of Justice, 2007 p. 2). This was not the first time that the Government had sought to assess the specific needs of women.
In 2004, the ‘Women’s Offending Reduction programme’ was launched; this project was for three years to deal with women’s offending rates and to help reduce the number of women in prison. Also in 2005 the ‘Together Women Programme’ of many diverse agencies came together to look into the various needs of women offenders. This was launched with a government funding of £9.15 million (Government Equalities Office, 2008 p.44).
The Corston Review was conducted as a result of 6 deaths of women prisoners in HMP Styal between August 2002 and August 2003. The classification for all these deaths was self-inflicted. The cause of death for 4 prisoners was hanging and for the remaining 2 was overdose. The youngest was Sarah Campbell aged 18 who had drug problems and overdosed on prescription tablets the day after she had been sentenced and returned to HMP Styal.
These deaths highlighted the problem of vulnerable women with a history of mental health problems, drug misuse or violent and sexual abuse within the criminal justice system and the risk of self-harm. In the case of Sarah Campbell, the coroner at the inquest Nicholas Rheinberg issued recommendations to ensure that similar situations would not occur again. This included a review of the use of segregation units within prisons and training in suicide and self-harm should be available to all prison staff.
According to INQUEST, a non-governmental organisation in England and Wales working directly with the families of those who die in custody, in 2003 there were 14 self-inflicting deaths of women in prison and 13 in 2004. This showed that the system in some way had failed these offenders (INQUEST, 2005)
Deaths of Women in HMP Styal August 2002-August 2003
|Name||Classification||Establishment||Ethnicity||Age||Status||Cause||Date of Death|
|Julie Walsh||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||39||Convicted||Overdose||12/08/2003|
|Hayley Williams||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||41||Convicted||Hanging||04/06/2003
|Jolene Willis||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||25||Convicted||Hanging||20/04/03|
|Sarah Campbell||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||18||Convicted||Overdose||18/01/03|
|Anna Baker||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK black||29||Remanded||Hanging||26/11/2002|
|Nissa Smith||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||20||Remanded||Hanging||10/08/2002|
Source: INQUEST Casework and Monitoring
The report was welcomed by Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust who saw it as a blueprint for reform and stated “The Corston Review gives government the chance at long last to join up its social policy with its criminal justice policy” (Prison Reform Trust, 2007).
Baroness Corston examined each stage of the criminal justice system from arrest to sentencing to resettlement in order to ‘address the multiple and complex needs of women’ over a time scale of 9 months. The subsequent report was published on 13th March 2007 (Ministry of Justice, 2007 p.4).
The recommendations were divided into 5 areas, Governance, Sentencing, Community provision, Prison and Health which the Government pledged its commitment.
Fast forward now to what has arisen since the May 2010 election. A commitment was made in March 2012 to set out strategic priorities for women in the penal system but as of January 2013 no such document had materialised. In written evidence to the Justice Select Committee in September 2012 the Ministry of Justice pledged this document would be published in the New Year.
In September’s government reshuffle Helen Grant MP was appointed Minister with particular responsibility for women in the justice system. This was short lived after yet another reshuffle in the summer of 2013.
In January 2013 Chris Grayling, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice said in a written Ministerial statement:
“I am conscious that women offenders have particular needs and that the custodial female estate should be organised as effectively as possible to meet gender specific requirements whilst also delivering best value for the public. I have therefore asked officials to undertake a review of custodial arrangements for women. I expect this review to be completed by the summer.”
An All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on women in the penal system was set up in July 2009 with Baroness Corston as the chair and with administrative support from the Howard League for Penal Reform. Its purpose was to publicise issues around women in the penal system and push for implementation of the Corston Reforms. In March this year there was a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System entitled “Community interventions for women: lessons from the frontline” (All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, 2013).
Let’s go to the present day what do we know about the Government’s attitude to women prisoners, what has Chris Grayling got lined up for them?
It has been announced that Mother and baby units are to close. Separation of infants from their mothers is cruel and is likely to cause bonding problems later. When you have a baby why should a man in Whitehall insist that your baby is taken from you just because you are in prison? I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas we could give Mr Grayling on how to save money!
I recommend you read Frances Crook’s blog; its enlightening nothing seems to be as it first appears.
…“Holloway prison’s mother and baby unit is to close. This means that London women prisoners or those from the South East who have babies will be faced with a choice: go hundreds of miles to Cheshire or the Welsh borders to a mother and baby unit, or, separate from your baby so that you can stay in a London prison so you can be near your other children. Askham Grange was the only open prison that had a mother and baby unit and that is to close down. With the closure of two mother and baby units there are now only five units.” (Frances Crook, 2013)
A child should not have to pay for a woman’s crime; a woman should pay for her crime! Moreover, if you speak to people like Frances Crook, the woman should never have been put in prison in the first place, especially if she is a teenage mother.
But let’s not forget “Gender appears to be the single most crucial variable associated with criminality. Put more bluntly, most crime is committed by men; relatively little crime is committed by women” (Heidensohn, 1987 in Carlen and Worrell, 2004 p. 119).
All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (2013) ‘Community interventions for women: lessons from the frontline’, Minutes of committee meeting 6 March 2013, All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, Committee Room 4, House of Lords.
Carlen, P. and Worrall, A. (2004) Analysing Women’s Imprisonment. Cullompton, Willan Publishing.
Frances Crook (2013) Don’t be fooled by the government’s deceit over women’s prisons, Frances Crook’s blog, 1 November. Available at: <http://www.howardleague.org/francescrookblog/> [accessed 3 November 2013]
Great Britain. Government Equalities Office (2008) Women’s Changing Lives Priorities for the Ministers for Women One Year On Progress Report. London, The Stationery Office [Online]. Available at <http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm74/7455/7455.pdf> [accessed 10 November 2009].
Great Britain. Ministry of Justice (2007) The Government’s Response to the Report by Baroness Corston of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System. London, The Stationery Office [Online]. Available at <http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm72/7261/7261.pdf> [accessed 10 November].
INQUEST (2005) Verdict in Sarah Campbell inquest – 18-year-old woman who died in HMP Styal. [Online] at <http://inquest.gn.apc.org/pdf/2005/Sarah%20Campbell%20Inquest%20verdict%202005.pdf> [accessed 11November 2009].
Prison Reform Trust (2007) Women’s Imprisonment: Corston review provides blueprint for reform. [Online] at <http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/subscription.asp?id=866> [accessed 9 November 2009].
After being inundated with tweets concerning Feltham YOI, it’s time to take a step back and consider what really is happening and what could be done about it.
…Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release http://hmprisonservice.gov.uk/abouttheservice/statementofpurpose/ Believe it or not this is part of the statement of purpose for the prison service! This clearly is not the case.
There are limitations to current penal system with problems of overcrowding and high levels of recidivism. But that is no excuse for locking up children for at least 18 hours per day. How can this treatment help in the rehabilitation of young offenders? And what about them leading “law-abiding and useful lives in custody”?
According to the Independent : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/inside-feltham-why-londons-young-offender-institution-is-one-of-the-scariest-prisons-in-britain-8788635.html Last month, though, the present chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, wrote what the Howard League for Penal Reform called the worst dispatch from any such institution in more than a decade. “There is no concealing the fact that this report is one of the most concerning we have published recently,” Hardwick wrote. He painted a picture of aimlessness, and hopelessness, and endemic gang violence. If you were a parent with a child locked up there, he told this newspaper, “you would be right to be terrified”.
Later Nick Hardwick stated…“I don’t think this is just a Feltham problem, it’s a wider problem. We need to get our heads around what we are going to do with these very damaged boys, because simply punishing them, well, it doesn’t work. It absolutely doesn’t work.”
According to the Halliday Report (Home Office, 2001)
- Sentences are more severe
- Judges and magistrates award more custody
- Average length of custodial sentences are 50% longer then 10-15 years ago
- Magistrates sentencing significantly higher proportion to custody
So what now?
The Howard League is driving a campaign for justice for children. They want to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensure that society engages the child behind the crime. They also believe that too many children are in prison. Through their projects such as U R Boss they aim to give children a voice and work to improve the treatment and conditions for children in custody. http://www.howardleague.org/key-issues/
Send in the dogs?
YOI Warren Hill in Suffolk houses young offenders with a variety of problems and backgrounds. It is here that an old dog known as Eddie visits each week to help those inmates that need a bit of therapy. Eddie is part of the “Pets as Therapy Dogs” and gives the lads the unconditional love of an animal that is one of the things that are most missed aspects of their lives when they enter prison.
Home Office (2001) Making Punishments Work. London: Home Office [Online] Available at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/halliday-report-sppu/
We have been bombarded with a daily dose of this pair; I almost feel I know them. The media have whipped up this case to such a crescendo and then finally we got a verdict, a sentence and ultimately a tragedy. To keep a lie for ten years then to have it splattered over the front pages as your ex tries to get revenge, then an attempt to get the case thrown out, but in so doing both parties are convicted of perverting the course of justice.
This is not just about a family torn apart or the demise of an MP, but a battle with the justice system. Do we think justice has been done? I believe justice should restore and not just criminalize, it will be interesting to see what happens here.
According to Prime Minister David Cameron: “It’s a reminder that no-one, however high and mighty, is out of the reach of the justice system.”
There is a lot of talk about prison being like a holiday camp. Working within a prison for the last year I can honestly say it is certainly not a holiday camp that I would like to stay at. Holiday evokes images of relaxing, happy smiling faces without a care in the world. I certainly do not get that picture when I am talking to any of the prisoners. Many are resigned to their custodial sentence, but others are angry or frustrated. Nonetheless the main concern I hear is what will happen to them after release; a few pounds in their pocket and off they go. So what’s happening with mentoring? Well according to the Guardian:
“The justice secretary said he could not simply continue with the existing pilot schemes at Peterborough and Doncaster prisons, which are testing the private and voluntary sector provision of “through the gate” rehabilitation and mentoring services. He argued that it would take “much of the rest of the decade” before they would provide a definitive conclusion”
Released prisoners to be banned from moving around country (2013) The Guardian 27 February 2013. [Online]. Available at
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/feb/27/released-prisoners-banned-moving-country?CMP=twt_gu [accessed 27 February 2013].
Now that shamed MP Chris Huhne has submitted a guilty plea it is up to the judge to decide on sentencing appropriate to the charge Huhne faces of perverting the course of justice. Speculation is rife that he faces prison for certain, not the first MP to do so; MP’s were handed down prison terms for their part in the expenses scandal. But what do you think the judge should go for? Does Huhne necessarily deserve a custodial sentence or could the judge opt for some form of community sentencing combined perhaps with a restorative justice element?
According to the Telegraph, Mr Justice Sweeney told Huhne he should “have no illusions whatsoever” about the type of sentence he is likely to receive. The maximum penalty for the offence is life imprisonment.
Mr Justice Sweeney faces a perfect illustration of the pressure that many judges come under – a sentence that benefits the crime, in proportion and as short as possible verses all of the above plus an element of deterrent or setting an example for others.
In my opinion Chris Huhe should not be made an example just by virtue of the fact he is an MP and has held a high profile position in the Government. Surely the judge should disregard is job title in the same way that people not in the public eye. Otherwise we are descending into the “court of public opinion”.
This of course begs the question of the role that restorative justice could play if adopted into the mainstream of the criminal justice system of England and Wales. Time will only tell if members of the judiciary will have the courage to use it as part of their toolbox when determining appropriate sentencing.
Retribution or restitution what are we really seeking here?
Chris Huhne quits as he faces jail after pleading guilty to perverting course of justice (2013) The Telegraph 05 February 2013. [Online]. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/liberaldemocrats/9847152/Chris-Huhne-quits-as-he-faces-jail-after-pleading-guilty-to-perverting-course-of-justice.html [accessed] 05 February 2013.
Photo: The Telegraph
According to the Guardian, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has admitted his plans for the wholesale outsourcing of the probation service will not lead to an overnight reduction in stubbornly high reoffending rates but said he hoped it would lead to a “steady year-by-year decline”. Is he implying that the problem lies with the Probation Service, or is he throwing out the baby with the bath water? If private companies and voluntary sector organisations are invited to bid for these services then would it be a free for all, or would it be a post code lottery? http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/09/chris-grayling-probation-privatisation-reoffending