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Ministry of Justice priorities…?

At the beginning of the month (5th – 7th Feb 2015) I attended the IMB conference. It was my first after over 2 years serving on the board at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay, 14 months as Vice-chair.

After the formalities of opening the conference by IMB President, John Thornhill, we were introduced to one of the key speakers Mr Andrew Selous MP, Minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation.

And then it got very interesting!

He told us that, according to the Ministry of Justice, these were the priorities:

  • Education
  • Family relationships
  • Work and time out of cells

The following day, to a guest panel (Frances Crook, Chief Exec of The Howard League for Penal Reform; Paul Baker, Deputy Director of Custody East Midlands, HMPS; Ben Gunn, former long serving prisoner and Clare Checksfield, Director of Returns in the Home Office), I put the following question:

“Firstly I would like to congratulate The Howard League on the books for prisoner’s campaign. Secondly the Minister yesterday explained the MOJ’s priorities were Education, Family relationships and Work including time out of cells. Do you agree and do you see them implemented?”

Education

faith and frances

Let’s start with Education. On this priority, Frances Crook responded by saying that “MoJ priorities are fiction”. She went on to say,

“Don’t send people to prison to get an education, send them to college. Prison education budgets have been realigned so they focus on basic skills, which is all very well but what about the 30,000 adult men who are serving long sentences and who now get little education beyond the three Rs”.

I still come across prisoners that have served many years in prison and still struggle with basic reading and writing. But should we be blaming the prison system, what happened for them to enter prison without these skills, not a straightforward issue?

Well I’m sure many of us have heard about Jonathan Robinson and his experience when he was trained to teach other in-mates to read yet, when in an open prison, was prevented by the then head of Education.

However, four years later and with new staff this same prison has just been awarded ‘Outstanding’ from Ofsted. Change does happen!

Family relationships

On this priority, Frances Crook shared that desistance is about relationships, engagement, commitment, consistency. Prisons cannot fulfil this.

One of the workshops I attended was overseen by two very enthusiastic women from HMP/YOI Parc entitled ‘Family Interventions, Supporting Positive Family Involvement. They work with the whole family and look at their needs in order to reduce offending, reduce inter-generational offending and encourage community inclusion. In the Family Intervention wing Safe Ground runs a couple of courses, Fathers Inside and Family Man aimed at teaching essential fathering skills.

Work and time out of cells

On this priority, Frances Crook said,

“Time out of cell is disappearing as staff cuts are so swingeing. Latest figures show in the last six months of last year the big city prisons were still losing staff. Morale is at an all time low, MoJ survey showed that, and sickness rates sky high.”

There are many stories that prisoners spend up to 22 or 23 hours locked in their cells but with the shortage of staff very little can be done.

Work is an essential element to prepare for release and what is needed is more companies willing to take on those with a criminal record.

A couple of months ago I spoke to a group of people about ex-offenders being re-integrated back in society, all were for it and all thought it was an important step… until I asked

“what about your society?”

NIMBY!

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IEP regime and books for prisoners

The latest debate is focused on the stopping of prisoners from receiving books from outside the prison estate. This is all part of the Incentives, Earnings and Privileges scheme which was revised in November 2013.

An on-line petition,  through twitter has been initiated to call on the justice minister Chris Grayling to immediately reexamine the latest rules which restrict access to material possessions that are sent to prisoners.

This can be seen as a backward looking retributive action and far removed from the rehabilitation revolution.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, communicated that this is “… part of an increasingly irrational punishment regime orchestrated by Chris Grayling that grabs headlines but restricts education or rehabilitation”.

Surely books play a vital role in the education of prisoners and the rehabilitation process, there should be an increase not decrease in prisoners access to items that will aid rehabilitation. This debate leads to the problem of too much non-purposeful activity in prison and too much time locked up in cells. Even the Home Affairs Committee (2005) picked up on this many years ago and the inconsistency of provision from prison to prison. At this rate we will be looking at the rehabilitation of prisoners from the effects of imprisonment!

Prisoners are allowed up to 12 books in their cell; however access to prison libraries can be varied depending on prison, sentence and behaviour. Being locked up in a cell most of the day having a television is not always the best way to pass the time. However, due to the IEP scheme, books are seen as a privilege and are restricted, only books outside of the prison library have to be bought from their meagre wages. With all the cuts, prison libraries are not exempt and stock can be limited. But books are important when you realise that many prisoners have low literacy skills, so can the ban on books be justified? Education is not the same throughout the prison estate and access on online courses even more inconsistent.

According to Haywood (2006), “…lifelong education slows down the revolving door of incarceration and reincarceration”, so why bring in any reforms that will counteract this?

This is a form of punishment, but where is the proportionality or is that old hat?

The effects of the changes in the IEP’s are being tracked by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), but these may not be seen for some months to come.

There has to be a justification for the decisions made where prisoners are concerned and quite frankly they don’t seem to add up, is this going beyond punishment?

Haywood, D. (2006) ‘Higher barriers: ex-prisoners and university admissions’, in S. Taylor (ed) Prison (er) Education (2nd edn). London: Forum on Prisoner Education.

Home Affairs Committee (2005) Rehabilitation of Prisoners First Report of Session, 2004-5. Volume I. London: HMSO.

http://downsizingcriminaljustice.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/rjn-iep-feb-2014.pdf

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].

Don’t you think the person is more important than the policy?

More than 86,000 people behind bars in England and Wales

More than 86,000 people behind bars in England and Wales

Last year I presented a poster session to cohort and faculty at my local university. The poster was the most visible infographic in the room. It acted as a magnet for attendees. Its immediacy communicated right to the heart of the issue and triggered some substantive discussion. And so it should. Latest figures available from Ministry of Justice shows that over 86,000 people in England and Wales are currently serving custodial sentences.

Frances Crook (@FrancesCrook), Chief Executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform said that many of these people should not be in prison at all; many offenders, particularly those serving short sentences, would be move effectively punished using community sentences.

She has a point. If offenders can be more effectively punished using a sentencing strategy which not only costs around one tenth of the cost of a prison place, but also controls prison population at the same time as being in the better long term interests of the offender, then it deserves serious consideration.

“It isn’t crime that puts people in prison – it is policy that puts people in prison.”

In my experience dealing with a range of offenders, I can see that sentencing strategy, in some cases, causes “penal excess”. This phrase means different things depending on your standpoint. For example, to a probation officer it may mean a harsh sentence behind bars. To a politician, it may mean “…it is the sentencers not the Government who are responsible for the prison population as it stands today” (said Jeremy Wright MP, 21st Nov 2012, speaking on the occasion of the AGM of The Howard League for Penal Reform).

Don’t you think the person is more important than the policy?