First published 05 January 2017 in East Anglian Daily Times under the headline ‘Prison reform is taking too long, say ex-Hollesley Bay IMB chairman and former inmate’
Had the authorities listened to the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Birmingham the riot on 16 December maybe could have been prevented. In their annual report the IMB wrote:
“the increasingly difficult behaviour of individual prisoners coupled with staff resource constraints give the Board cause for concern… Many staff are now concerned for their personal safety as well as for the safety of the prisoners… A solution is required urgently.”
Instead what happened was described by the Prison Officers Association as the biggest prison riot since Strangeways in 1990.
So why have prisoners behaved in this way?
Sentencing guidelines have placed more people in prison for longer periods of time and has, therefore, inflated the prison population to record numbers. This in turn has given rise to overcrowding, and together with under-staffing and the emergence of psychoactive substances also known as “legal highs”, our prisons have become places of deprivation on a record scale. It’s a toxic combination.
Less well publicised factors such as restricted access to education, to facilities, and the right of association with one another add to the frustration felt by those living inside. People being locked in their cell for 23 hours every day or sometimes for days on end during “lock down” creates a volatile atmosphere.
A high number of people in custody suffer from genuine mental health issues. They are imprisoned sometimes to protect society. But those are in the minority. Many people in prison with mental health issues are only there because the courts have no idea what else to do with them. For their sake and for the sake of society in which we all live, it is entirely the wrong place to send them.
IPP is defunct
Others are in prison under the now defunct rules on Imprisonment for Public Protection, known simply as “IPP”. These people don’t have a release date. Many prisoners today under IPP have already served time far beyond the normal tariff They are left to languish until the parole board decides it is safe to let them out.
I’m not saying we should open the prison doors and let everyone walk out. That would be reckless and irresponsible. But I am saying it is time to speed up the process of evaluation to make sure that those who don’t pose any risk to the public be allowed to go home as soon as possible.
What concerns me most is the utter boredom that so many of people in custody must endure. They are invariably portrayed as having a low IQ, a high percentage with a reading age of an 11year old; many have been in care and come from seriously complex situations. What isn’t realised is that many people in custody are intelligent, well-educated and have skills that could benefit other prisoners and need something worthwhile to do.
In other words, purposeful activity whilst in prison must be a priority. Lives are wasted here; I see it all the time.
So many organisations are involved in the ‘prison industrial complex’. Big money is made from those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Everyone wants a slice of the profits, but too little is re-invested in the prisoners and in the conditions in which they are held.
There are not enough links with the outside community, with colleges and University. 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.
Beyond the Gate
I have seen the crushing stigma that ex-prisoners live under on release; the failure of a system that is meant to be there for them beyond the gate, the lack of accommodation, the difficulties of finding work, the list goes on.
It’s time for society to think differently towards people who find themselves in prison.
“Our prisons are in crisis and prison reform is taking too long.”
I’m in a reflective mood
My year started as always with birthday celebrations, yes my birthday is 1st January.
I also took up a new role as the Chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay. I had fulfilled many of the duties the previous 2 years as Vice-chair but now having the title of Chairman I noticed there was more respect. Little did I know what was in store for me just three months later.
On 1st April I accepted an invitation from Mark Leech, editor Prisons Handbook, to write my personal views on the IMB from my experiences for the 2016 edition. My reasons were not to elevate myself in any way but to get the message out clear and concise that there must be changes as the system was not fit for purpose in its current form. A monitoring system within prisons is vital but it must have independence and it most certainly needs to have a voice, a loud one, it had neither.
Almost as soon as my fingers hit the keyboard the backlash began. Not only did the whole of my board turn against me and demand my immediate resignation but the IMB Secretariat and the National Council began behind the scenes to plot my downfall. I have been unable to reveal all as I have been ‘gagged’ threatened bullied and ostracised by them. I have had to face 2 investigations by the Ministry of Justice who have tried in every way to depict me in a bad way through a character assassination and attacking my honesty and integrity.
Yet I have refused to resign and have with the help of some very amazing people continued to stand and face everything including a disciplinary hearing.
So what was I accused of?
I wrote an article on prison reform and in the eyes of the MoJ this was misconduct
I continued to write about prison reform and in the eyes of the MoJ this was gros misconduct.
For those who know me either through social media or who have met me in person will know that I am passionate for prison reform and have worked hard getting the message out that “our prisons are in crisis and prison reform is taking too long”.
But I will not end the year with my head in my hands or with a heavy heart, I plan to celebrate as my birthday draws near.
Here are some of my highlights, photo memories and amazing people from 2016
Neil Barclay (Thameside)
Librarian with a difference and a Butler Award winner, I invited him to HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay for the 6 book challenge presentations. We then met up again in Thameside for an event with Sir Lenny Henry.
No I’m not sitting on a chair, Neil, Lenny and Peter never felt so short!
Trevor Peel (Chairman National Liberal Club Commonwealth Forum)
I have frequented the David Lloyd George room on many occasions and the afternoon tea was delicious, thank you Trevor. Discussing the Commonwealth and Human Rights and meeting HE Norman Hamilton, Malta High Commissioner was a highlight.
Christopher Moore (CEO Clink charity)
At the Restorative Practice Awards I was privileged to share a table with Chris, Peter Jukes, Jonathan Robinson, and Alison O’Regan. Such deep and important conversations we had!
It’s been good to stay in touch and encourage each other. See you at the next awards ceremony.
Mark Leech (Editor, Prisons Handbook)
You have helped me shout louder than I have ever before. You believed in me and stuck by me. Daisy Mallet will be forever grateful.
Jonathan Robinson (Author)
Well what can I say, we have bumped into each other on so many occasions this year anyone would think we both want prison reform! A tireless prison reformer and friend.
Ian Bickers (Executive Governor, HMP Wandsworth)
Memorable conversations this year. Thank you for inviting me to HMP Wandsworth to talk about prison reform. A man I admire with a very difficult job. Remember Ian I am behind you.
Yes, I really am. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement. This was one of my many times at the Justice Select Committee.
Juliet Lyon (PRT)
Lunch together, your kindness and compassion will stay with me
Ruth Armstrong and Amy Ludlow
Learning together: Prison and University Partnership Conference in HMP Grendon and St Johns College Cambridge. One of the most fascinating and enlightening conferences I have been to. Great to catch up with you both.
You have been there day and night, always ready on the other end of the phone to encourage support and offer advice. I can’t thank you enough.
Audrey Ludwig (Suffolk Law Centre)
An amazing lady who has supported me throughout this year and named me as one of her Suffolk Human Rights Heroes of 2016. Thank you, Audrey, and all in KOHRS.
The Tartan Con
We have met twice this year and both times have been profound and engaging, thank you for your friendship
Your interviews with me this year certainly caused a stir in Petty France
Paul Sullivan (InsideTime)
Endless cups of coffee and tea together and an interview that reached so many and the feedback from those in prison kept up the momentum of speaking out for prison reform.
There are many, many more people I could write about but I will save them for another blog.
The most important person and my best friend who has stood by me, held me up when I felt I was falling and has always believed in me should have the last word.
I think I’ve learned to be a pretty good judge of character and have learned to give fair and honest critique as much as take it. If I’d thought for one minute that Faith was somehow incorrect in what she wrote about prisons and monitoring, then I’d have chimed in with words of caution. She wasn’t. Instead she told it like it is – they do that “up north” you know – and she was entirely correct in what she wrote and the way she wrote it. Nothing could have prepared her for the reprisals or how she has been lambasted for the stand she has taken since. She’s paid a high personal cost, trust me I know the woman. But I also know that the friendships and expressions of support she’s received as a result of it, many from people who are unable to even be named, have helped sustain her. It has been enough to show me that the changes she’s calling for are precisely what needs to be changed. I’ve been truly amazed how a department of HM Government has conducted itself. I had expected better. But I’ve not been surprised at all how Faith has retained her integrity despite it. That’s who she is.
Today, the Ministry of Justice has left me with no alternative than to take more robust action in the public interest.
Officials in Petty France have brought a disciplinary hearing against me. They accuse me of misconduct as a result of speaking out for prison reform.
An investigation into my behaviour was conducted at tax payers’ expense and brings into question my independence and my integrity. I am woman volunteering with the Independent Monitoring Board and I hold a public office.
The Ministry of Justice has chosen to disregard the evidence I provided of real misconduct including leaked emails between others in the Independent Monitoring Board.
This just scratches the surface and is a matter of substantial public interest.
Therefore, in front of the disciplinary panel and without permission for legal representation, I will disclose why the decision of the then prisons minister Andrew Selous MP six months ago was based on a prejudicial character assassination of me by those who want me to shut up and go away.
I am not shutting up.
I am not going away.
Our prisons are in crisis and prison reform is taking too long.
And she just happens to be a woman.
Guest blog by Joseph Spear.
Earlier this week, my remarkable wife Faith Spear received an email from the Ministry of Justice.
Attached was a letter on IMB letterhead notifying her that she is now to face a disciplinary hearing.
Has it really come to this?
Those of you who’ve been kind enough to follow Faiths’s unfolding situation will no doubt agree this represents quite a turn of events.
The spoken word
The written word is powerful, which is why we blog – right, but there are times when even that cannot replace the spoken word.
Over dinner, I took out my mobile phone to record my conversation with Faith.
Afterwards, I played it back to her. Twice.
She listened to it. Carefully. Twice.
We sat in silence for a while. Then she said: “That’s the real me. People who think I want to abolish the IMB have totally misjudged me and the situation. The people doing this at MOJ have never even met me. They’ve no idea who I am or what I stand for.”
This blog site doesn’t support playing an audio file but if you want to listen to what she said just email me [joseph dot spear at gmail dot com] and I’ll send you over a copy.
The audio lasts 14 mins 25 secs. I’ve not edited it. It’s just her and I as we are. There are some gaps but it’s best if you play it to the end.
Why the debacle inside HMP / YOI Hollesley Bay IMB impacts us all.
A Guest Blog by Joseph Spear.
In the world of business, nominations for top Board positions are taken very seriously. People have to be proposed, seconded and there is a formal transparent procedure that must be followed before appointments can be made.
Like a bridge over troubled water?
In clubs and associations, nominations for Board positions are also taken very seriously. Depending on the articles of association, a process is followed in a transparent way and a President or a Chair person is duly elected.
In professional bodies, nominations for Board positions similarly are taken seriously. A timely reminder is the appointment on 12 May of John Wadham as Chair of the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM).
These are the established rules of nominations.
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It is increasingly recognised that a significant proportion of young people involved in the criminal justice system have suffered significant loss through bereavement. However, despite its significance, loss and bereavement needs have not been accommodated sufficiently in existing practices and guidelines before and after the prison stage of the criminal process. To investigate these issues, Keele criminologist Dr Mary Corcoran will be working with a multi-disciplinary research group on a research project funded by the Barrow-Cadbury Trust.
The research group involves colleagues with expertise in healthcare, law and medical ethics and their collaborative project will integrate and unite criminal justice practitioners, voluntary, statutory and academic institutions to address the gap in support needs around loss and bereavement of young adults in custody and the community.
Mary has explained that the research is intended to help in a number of practical ways:
Firstly, we hope that the outcomes of this project will make a significant difference to young adults…
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