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Prison reform: paying the price

Well D-Day is rapidly approaching for me, the day the Ministry of Justice and the Independent Monitoring Board decide on my future not just as a Chairman but as a member of the IMB as I have to attend a Disciplinary Hearing.

faith-spear-144601-500pxHow it got to this is a long story.

In a nutshell, I spoke out for Prison Reform and IMB reform in an article in the Prisons Handbook 2016 entitled “Whistleblower without a whistle” and suffered reprisals for it.

Have you seen the state of prisons lately?

Have you heard about the state of prisons lately?

Too much is swept under the carpet pretending it’s not there.

But I put my head above the parapet, I made a personal stand.

The President of the IMB National Council, John Thornhill obtained a copy of my article “Whistle blower without a whistle” without permission before it went to print and sent it to the whole of the IMB organisation with his comments.

That action meant that any investigation would be prejudicial and it was!

I have had Prison Governors, prison staff, prisoners, ex-prisoners, prison reformers, those working in the justice sector, those working in the legal profession, leading academics, criminologists both here and abroad, friends and family standing up for me.

Are we all wrong?

Of course not!

But its like I have opened a can of worms which can’t be closed.

As I complete my final preparations for tomorrow I decided to bake a cake. It was my Nanna’s answer to everything as a child, comforting home-made cake.

I have upset the status-quo, I have revealed devious behaviour of other IMB members, I have spoken out about the nonsense in two MoJ investigations. I have had to endure bullying, intimidation, being ostracised, I have lost sleep and haven’t eaten properly, and I have been suspended from a role I loved. I have battled for over six months to clear my name and show what really is going on behind the scenes.

It has of course affected my family, yet my husband Joseph has been my rock.

I have a good idea of the outcome tomorrow at the Disciplinary Hearing, I’m not naive or stupid. But I think the MoJ and the IMB need to take a long hard look at their behaviour.

But whatever the outcome I will not be silenced and I will not go away.

If you are passionate enough about something then that cause which owns you can never be taken away from you.

The MoJ and the IMB can never say “Faith Spear who is she?”

This is not the end, it is the beginning…

 

P.S.

Even at the last-minute a former IMB member has sent in a pathetic plea to discredit me, obviously he is worried as now I have my chance to talk. Well DS your bullying, intimidation and manipulation I have endured for a couple of years is over!

And DH, your worries that I would let people know what you have said, haha now its my turn. You said you were on my side until I read out my statement and you told me it would have helped if I had cried. How dare you, as a woman I will not be intimidated by you. The fact you said you don’t deal in black and white only grey areas is perfect for the role as an IMB monitor in a prison, yet again an example of the farcical recruitment process.

CS, we worked well together but you followed your head and not your heart. You listened to a manipulative member and along with BM who I had much respect for started a damning campaign against me. Your friendship is a loss to me.

GR, you are a man with integrity and heart

Its time to build new bridges

 

 

 

MOJ draws battle lines against prisons reformer

And she just happens to be a woman.

Guest blog by Joseph Spear.

faith-spear-122248-500pxEarlier 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.

Thank you.

 

What is it about the word ‘dishonesty’ you don’t understand?

The Criminal Justice Blog

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.

Faith Spear 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.

So why then would equal weight not be given in the context of a…

View original post 1,449 more words

Keele Criminologist to research the impact of loss and bereavement on young prisoners

Keele Criminology

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.

Image result for dr mary corcoran

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…

View original post 118 more words

The paralysis of too many priorities.

 

Sat immediately behind the new Secretary of State at the Justice Select Committee (@CommonsJustice) on 07 September, I registered a lot of awkwardness that was beyond mere nervousness felt by many a new joiner.

thatcher-07-sept-2016-100546

Thatcher Room, 07 Sept 2016

 

Just like Gove’s debut in front of the same Committee where he rattled on about “we’re reviewing it” (yes, I was there for that one too), Liz Truss (@trussliz) talked largely about the formulating of “plans” but on the day said nothing about tangible actions she will take.

How many more reviews do we need?

Has Truss inherited a poisoned chalice passed from one SoS to the next? Her department has a huge accumulated mess to sort out and doesn’t know what to do about it. Is she wondering what to tackle first? The paralysis of too many priorities?

Her critics say she’s doing things wrong. Look at it for yourself and you’ll see some of the priorities she is confronted with:

  • Extremism and radicalisation in prison
  • Violence against other offenders and against prison staff
  • Over population
  • Under staffing of prisons
  • Death in custody
  • Drugs and drones
  • Education and purposeful activity
  • Resettlement and homelessness on release

You would think her advisors would know what the order of priorities are. They don’t, or if they do, they obviously prefer the relative safety of “talking shop” over the tough task of taking concrete action on these priorities.

The key question people are asking is has she actually got the shoulders for the job; she has the high office and gilded robe of the Lord Chancellor but does she have the support of those working within the criminal justice system?

Soon after her appointment from Defra to Ministry of Justice, Liz Truss paid token visits to two prisons but cannot be expected to become an instant expert on the prison system.

What other mess does the SoS need to deal with?

The system of prison monitoring is in a mess. The IMB Secretariat is in utter disarray. They say they have policies and procedures but don’t always follow them themselves. For the most part, IMBs are doing their own thing. There’s no real accountability anymore. It’s a disgrace and it’s deplorable that it’s been allowed to get as bad as it has.

Faith Spear

Faith Spear

For my critique of prison reform and Independent Monitor Boards, I’ve been put through two MOJ investigations. Each one takes away a little piece of me. But for me it’s always been about the issues. That’s why they can’t and won’t shut me up.

The message of prison reform has become urgent and has to get to the top. If no one else will step up and if it falls to me to take it then so be it.

No accountability anymore? Give me an example.

You want an example? Here’s one of many: At HMP Garth, the IMB Chair issued a Notice To Prisoners 048/2016 dated May 2016 without the authority to do so, and apparently without the Board agreeing it. The Chair acted unilaterally outside of governance. I found out about it because a copy of that prison notice was sent to me as it happened to be about the article Whistle Blower Without a Whistle that I’d written for The Prison Handbook 2016 that the IMB Garth Chair was pin-pointing, (accusing me of a “rant” whilst both his prison notice and covering letter were dripping with distain).

I’m still standing by all I said in my Whistleblower article even though writing it has been at a high personal cost. In all candour, any pride I may have had in writing it has been completely sucked away from me. It’s back to the bare metal. The inconvenient truth of what I wrote remains. Readers will find that my main themes also feature prominently in the findings of the report by Karen Page Associates, commissioned by the MOJ at a cost to the taxpayer of £18,500.

An invite I received from Brian Guthrie to the forthcoming AGM of Association of Members of IMB says it all. It read:

“From the Chair Christopher Padfield
AMIMB – the immediate future
IMB needs a voice. We believe that without AMIMB this voice will not be heard. AMIMB intends to raise its voice, but needs the support of our members.
An outline plan for the immediate future of AMIMB will be put up for discussion at the forthcoming AGM (11 October 2016 at 2 Temple Place). It aims to respond both to the main needs and opportunities, and to the practicalities of the current situation.

The greatest need, as the executive committee of the AMIMB sees it, is to achieve a public voice for Independent Monitoring Boards – to let the British public know what we, as monitors, think about prison and immigration detention policy and practice in England and Wales and the impact this has on the men, women and children detained; to achieve some public recognition for the role of IMBs; in short to speak out about what we hear and see. We have urged the National Council to do this itself, but to no avail. In character, the NC propose as their contribution to the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee’s current consultation on Prison Reform, a response to a procedural question: ‘are existing mechanisms for … independent scrutiny of prisons fit for purpose?’ If the NC cannot or will not speak out, AMIMB should.”

Mr Padfield has served as IMB Chairman at HMP Bedford but to my knowledge has never been suspended pending investigation by the Prisons Minister like I was for speaking out on such things.

And therein lays the dilemma: whereas the official line is to encourage monitors to speak out, the reprisals levelled at you when you actually do are still shocking.

Is this what happens to women who use their voice?

People want you to get back in the box.
To shut up.
To go away.

The IMB doesn’t need a makeover; that would only hide most of the systemic problems behind filler and veneer. So rebranding clearly isn’t going to be the answer any more than putting lipstick on a pig.

People who think I want to abolish the IMB have totally misjudged me and the situation. I don’t want to abolish it. Far from it. I want the IMB to perform like it was set up to under OPCAT and to be all it should be as part of our NPM.

The clue is in the name: Independent. Monitoring. Board.

Have you noticed that the MOJ is haemorrhaging people at the moment?

Maybe Liz Truss could use that as an opportunity to enlist the help of those who do give a damn about the conditions in which people are held in custody and who do have a clue about strategies to stem radicalisation in prison, minimise violence, reduce prison over population, have the right staff and staffing levels, reduce death in custody, counter drones and drug misuse, revitalise education and purposeful activity, and last but not least, resettle and house people after their time in custody.
Join the conversation on Twitter @fmspear @trussliz @CommonsJustice #prisons #reform #IMB #AMIMB #SpeakUp

 

First published 17 Sept 2016.

Edited 18 Sept 2016.

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More chance of finding a PokemonGO than finding transparency at IMB and MOJ ?

Yesterday, Friday 15 July, I was emailed by Saffron Clackson, Head of the IMB Secretariat with a letter from her to me explaining my right to information under two separate requests: the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). She explained what was being made available to me today was under the Data Protection Act.

Attached were 4 separate pdfs containing the “submission” by her department, the IMB Secretariat, to the Prisons Minister Andrew Selous, subject: Conduct of Chair at Hollesley Bay IMB, which resulted in Mr Selous signing a letter (dated 26 May 2016) to suspend me as Chair of IMB Hollesley Bay pending investigation.

Initially I felt encouraged by this trickle of information after my countless requests for it. That was until I opened each pdf in turn only to discover HEAVILY REDACTED pages.

DOWNLOAD THE COMBINED PDF Faith Spear DPA response 15 July 2016 pp.1-4

 

I have little commentary to make at this time other than to say that I’ve been kept waiting six weeks for this. It could have been made available in under 48 hours unredacted.

Those who have been following this situation will appreciate how pathetic a response this truly is. Barristers may take a different view.

Those unfamiliar with this situation will find all this equally bizarre.

What possible use can be made of documents such as these which have been, at the taxpayer’s expense, so heavily redacted by expensive lawyers working as salaried civil servants at the MOJ.

At a time when our prisons are under so many challenges, why on earth don’t they reinstate Faith Spear and let her get back to her work as a monitor whilst all this gets sorted out?

Tend to agree. I do want to be reinstated. I’ve said so several times. Based on my direct experience, Hollesley Bay is very likely not being properly monitored at this time. The next Board meeting is scheduled to take place next Tuesday, 19 July but it currently hasn’t sufficient numbers of inducted and trained Board members to even make a quorum let alone to chair a Board meeting.

I wrote to Dr Thérèse Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal (in whose constituency Hollesley Bay is located) about these serious concerns; she’s been kind enough to acknowledge and to suggest I next contact my own MP.

Smokescreen

For me, being sent heavily redacted pages simply represents yet another example of how the MOJ play for time and try to grind you down in the hope you will shut up, lose interest and go away.

And because I’ve learned the MOJ is logging all my social media content, please note, for the record, I have absolutely no intention of shutting up, of losing interest or of going away.

The suspension, obstructions and kerfuffle serves as a very convenient smokescreen for the IMB Secret-ariat (sic), trying desperately to insulate itself from the critique I included in my article “Whistleblower Without a Whistle” published in The Prisons Handbook 2016.

As for the MOJ, it has totally lost sight of the issues I raised in that article because the Secretariat has done such an neat little stitch-up job on me and had obviously bamboozled the Prisons Minister into “shooting the messenger”; I doubt very much he even knows my name let alone why he suspended me from HBIMB.

Honey, I’ve shrunk the facts

Turning to the heavily redacted pages, I can just about recognise the words from my past colleagues at HBIMB whose venom towards me knows no bounds. For example, on the the top of page 3 it states:

“Overall, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Faith may have committed “gross misconduct” according IMB complaints policy.”

Really, what do they hope to gain in claiming that? Could it be they wanted to deflect the public’s attention and the press’ scrutiny away from their own dishonesty?

Most of them resigned soon afterwards anyway, thinking that in so doing they would be absolving themselves of responsibility for their own complicity whilst in public office.

That’s where any gross misconduct is to be found, right there.

Unlike them, I have done nothing wrong, and certainly did nothing wrong in writing that Whistleblower article; the MOJ conceded that much to the editor of The Prisons Handbook 2016, Mark Leech (@prisonsorguk), in their response to a FOIA request he submitted off his own back.

Bullying

It is very clear now to everyone that neither the IMB Secretariat nor the MOJ takes workplace bullying seriously enough, or at all.

I still haven’t been sent the unredacted report written by MOJ investigator Sandra Marcantonio to the IMB Secretariat.

And I still haven’t been advised of  the deliberations of the panel appointed to decide on that report, or the date they meet, or what their names are.

Is it because they feel that I don’t count or I’m not important? Or is it because they don’t want to recognise that workplace bullying occurred for fear of setting a precedent and opening the floodgates to other complaints?

Either way, bullying in prison remains a big issue. A really big issue.

Remember, the bullying I encountered on 19th April 2016 took place inside a prison, in HMP & YOI Hollesley Bay, at an IMB Board Meeting.

Oh and whilst we’re on that subject, unlike every board meeting I chaired, nobody can find any minutes of that meeting.

Independence Day?

Nigel Newcomen CBE, the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman, is well aware of who I am and needs no prompting. On 05 July after he gave oral evidence [watch] to the Justice Select Committee, he spoke with me about a meeting he had with John Thornhill, President of IMB, back in February 2016 questioning whether the IMB monitors if recommendations from the Ombudsman are being followed by prisons (refer to Official record, Q62 from Marie Rimmer MP).

He said he has even perceived a lack of independence in his own department (Official record, Q87 from Chris Elmore MP), underlining once again in my opinion that perhaps the biggest issue confronting the in-coming Secretary of State for Justice, Elizabeth Truss (@trussliz), is that the MOJ has everyone involved in prisons in a tight headlock, resisting reforms.

So what hope do I have of changing anything, or of being reinstated, or of my call for prisons reform even being heard?

Watch this space.

The situation continues.

 

Photo: Ministry of Justice MOJ 102 Petty France by Steph Gray via flickr

Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company. It was released in July 2016 for iOS and Android devices.

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Swifty, soon, shortly, and other stalling tactics used by IMB and MOJ

It’s easy to lose count of the times the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) haven’t done what they said they would do.

Thatcher Room 05 July 2016 1002

Thatcher Room, 05 July 2016. Watching, listening, learning.

They seem to be world class at stalling for time for no real reason other than it seems systemic.

But as I told you before, monitors record everything, what we see and what we hear; just the facts, no opinion, no interpretation, no spin.

Would you like a snippet of what we know so far?

Of course you would…

 

What they said they would do

What they actually did or didn’t do

IMB Secretariat: “We will do everything we can to make sure the investigation moves swiftly, so that the situation can be resolved as quickly as possible. (1st June)  I should also note that this does not affect the investigation into the concerns you raised about bullying by other IMB members -that will continue as normal, and will also report as soon as possible.” “Swiftly”?  “Quickly”? Still waiting and here we are on 11th July.
In his letter dated 26 May 2016 the Prisons Minister said he wanted a quick investigation. “Quick”?  Today’s 11th July and I still haven’t been interviewed by Iuliiana Best, the MOJ investigator.
MOJ: “We may need to ask you for further information in order to process your request in line with the legislation and officials from the Secretariat will be in touch about this.” (21st June) IMB: No official from the IMB Secretariat contacted me

MOJ: I can confirm that we require no further information from you to process this and you will get a response shortly. (29th June)

MOJ: “I hope to be able to update you on the investigation into the allegation of bullying soon.” (21st June) “Soon”? The bullying took place on 19th April, I was interviewed by MOJ on 9th May, investigator Sandra Marcantonio emailed me on 13th June to let me know the IMB Secretariat had already been sent the report.
MOJ: “As Andrew Selous made clear in his letter to you he asked for the investigation to be completed as a matter of urgency.” (29th June) “Urgency”? Letter arrived on 1st June and here we are on 11th July.
MOJ: “When the investigation into the bullying complaint is complete the investigator’s report will be sent to you together with the outcome of the investigation.   Again we hope to complete this shortly.” (29th June) “Shortly”? It’s now 11th July.

 

You get the picture.

There’s more where that came from but suffice to say it seems I’m being led a merry dance by the Minister and by the department under his charge.

Remember, these people are all collecting a salary for what they do whereas I’m an unpaid volunteer. It’s you, the taxpayer, footing the bill for them stringing it all out. There’s nothing I gain from it.

 

Attrition

My previous blog [I used to be ‘IN’ but now I’m ‘OUT’] talked about a “war of attrition”.

That seems to have struck a chord with many of you. Since writing that, numerous people have contacted me to tell me about very similar experiences they’ve had with IMB Secretariat and with MOJ delay tactics.

But, as I’ve said before, I’m not playing those games. It’s neither the time nor the place for silly games. And frankly I just don’t have the time.

That’s one of the reasons that it’s now appropriate to call a halt to this nonsense and to place a time cap on the MOJ for a reply.

No more “swiftly”.

No more “soon”.

No more “shortly”.

 

What MOJ needs to do

They need to answer my repeated requests for copies of :

  1. the report by Sandra Marcantonio submitted to the IMB Secretariat which is the first investigation into how I was treated on 19th April 2016 at the HBIMB Board Meeting, as well as
  2. the report by the IMB Secretariat submitted to the Prisons Minister which brought about my suspension pending investigation being conducted by Iuliiana Best.

To save their embarrassment, the deadline will be reasonable and oh-so-easy to achieve.

 

 

Deadline

Should I not receive a straight reply with unredacted copies of the two reports by 19th July (i.e. four clear calendar months since this conspiracy against me first raised it’s ugly head) then I think I’ll be organising a visit to Petty France to collect the two reports, in person, along with members of the press and possibly a large body of parties interested in prison reform.

They will be infinitely more “noisy” about the failings of the IMB, the MOJ and the Minister than I ever could be alone.

But I’m not alone.

Am I.

 

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