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On release why does punishment continue?

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.

Then what?

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.

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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?

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A remarkable woman with a cause – Lady Constance Lytton

lady constance lytton

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

Corston review revisited

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/&gt; [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&gt; [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&gt; [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&gt; [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&gt; [accessed 9 November 2009].

Problems at YOI’s? send in the dogs!

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)

  1. Sentences are more severe
  2. Judges and magistrates award more custody
  3. Average length of custodial sentences are 50% longer then 10-15 years ago
  4. 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/

Prisoners Huhne and Pryce: does vengeance pay?

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.”

Prison a holiday camp?

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].

Retribution or Restitution

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