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We don’t just need a vision, we need a cause!

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“She’s no rebel and she’s got a cause”

In the space of 6 weeks I have written an article which has been published in The Prisons Handbook 2016, just before the Prime Ministers speech. I have been interviewed by Ian Dunt with an article put on politics.co.uk, been in my local paper with a 2 page spread, had a front page article in Converse prison newspaper, had an interview with another newspaper with an article ready for the next months edition… If I can achieve all this in just 6 weeks, just imagine what could be achieved in 6 months or a year?. It’s all about going at pace.

It’s not always about what you have achieved in the past, although it does help. But it’s about what you can/will/want to do in the future.

Can’t abide being held back because of what I haven’t done yet. Especially when I’m at the start of something significant and have plenty of passion, energy and drive for what is to come.

And despite the knock backs, to keep a sense of humour.

Yes I have mainly worked with vulnerable adults and children before, but we all have a vulnerable side to us. Some are able to reveal it, others not, some it leads to being a victim and others it leads them into criminal activity.

Have you noticed how quick some people are to judge others,  put you into boxes and to categorise? I hope you won’t judge my life by the chapter you just walked in on.

Prisons are no different.

Many problems arise when people enter the prison system and then leave in a worse state than when they arrived.

Why after all the money pumped into prisons is this happening?

Profits are made out of prisoners, we all know that.

How many reviews, reports can you count over the last say 10 years that involve prisoners?

There have been countless

How many organisations do you know that work hard to bring reform to prisons and prisoners?

There are countless

How much money has been spent on prison reform?

Countless

On 8th February, the Prime Minister set out a vision for prison reform. Mr Cameron said:

This system will be hard to change because it is, in some ways, still stuck in the dark ages – with old buildings, old thinking and old ways of doing things.

So I don’t want to go slow here – I want us to get on with proper, full-on prison reform.

Today, 27th May the Public Accounts Committee report warns that the criminal justice system is close to breaking point:

Report summary

  • The criminal justice system is close to breaking point.
  • Lack of shared accountability and resource pressures mean that costs are being shunted from one part of the system to another and the system suffers from too many delays and inefficiencies.
  • There is insufficient focus on victims, who face a postcode lottery in their access to justice due to the significant variations in performance in different areas of the country.

Criminal justice system “already overstretched”

  • The system is already overstretched and we consider that the Ministry of Justice has exhausted the scope to make more cuts without further detriment to performance.
  • The Government is implementing reforms to improve the system but we are concerned that users of the system won’t see the full benefit for another four years.
  • There are opportunities for the Ministry to make improvements before then, including better sharing of good practice and making sure that everyone is getting things right first time.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmpubacc/72/72.pdf

But what is the answer?

(If I had the answer I would be a very rich woman!)

Over the last few years I have visited every category of prison, YOI and Women’s. I have sat behind the Right hon. Michael Gove MP whilst he has been in front of the Justice Select Committee twice. I have attended meeting after meeting in Westminster, attended conferences, training courses, lectures, seminars etc. at my own cost.

Why?

I want to learn, I want to understand but most of all I want answers to the questions I have posed.

I also want to be a part of the change that is so desperately needed in our prisons.

We don’t just need a vision, we need a cause!

Vision is often personal, but a cause is bigger than any one individual

People don’t generally die for a vision, but they will die for a cause

Vision is something you possess, a cause possess you

Vision doesn’t eliminate the options; a cause leaves you without any options

A good vision may out live you, but a cause is eternal

Vision will generate excitement, but a cause generates power

[Adapted from Houston (2001)]

Houston, B. (2001) For this Cause: Finding the meaning of life and living a life of meaning. Castle Hill: Maximised Leadership Inc.

Getting personal about the cost of being a Whistleblower

When you feel so passionately about a subject or issue(s) it is very hard to keep quiet. This is what I have experienced recently:

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It’s not about me. It’s about the issues I’ve raised.

I had to weigh up the risk of possibly causing offence versus the need to speak.

I decided to speak!

What happened next shocked me.

Suddenly people that I had respect for and worked so well with turned against me in the most brutal way. I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me but I certainly didn’t expect quite the fallout.

I was looking at the bigger picture and the wider issues but they were blinkered. Was I wrong to speak out?

NO.

I wanted to raise issues and put them firmly on the agenda of those that could or should actually do something about them.

Maybe the problem was that they didn’t expect someone like me to put their head above the parapet and voice my opinion. We all have a voice, we all have opinions and we should not feel that we have to suppress them. I did, I felt that I couldn’t really express myself, would anyone listen?

It was an important step for me to speak out and it has come at a great personal cost. I haven’t slept well or eaten properly since 19th April. I have felt under pressure, stressed out and really not myself. It has been an emotional roller-coaster.

I made the decision to stand up, I could have rolled over and played dead but I didn’t.

But people are listening, they are taking notice and they are supportive and above all they agree!

We all know the saying ‘action speaks louder than words’ but often you have to speak before any action can take place. So I’ve spoken and I expect results.

I’m not looking for a slice of the action, the last time I was in a newspaper was at the age of 10 having won an art competition with my sister and fellow classmates. Now the press come looking for me!

Prisons.org.uk  (pdf)

Converse  (pdf)

Politics.co.uk

East Anglian Daily Times

I have faced criticism like never before, I have been told that I am not fit to stand for the public office I occupy and that they could never forgive me for what I have done.

But really it’s not about me, or shouldn’t be about me; instead it should be about the issues I have raised.

G4S AGM shambles

It is always good to reflect back on experiences.

Well here goes

Yesterday I attended the G4S AGM at the Excel Centre in London, I was not prepared for what I saw and experienced. I  felt oppression as soon as I entered the building; it was as though I was being ‘kettled’ into an area to be contained. Security was very tight and uncomfortable, my every movement was watched, and it was intimidating! Before being allowed into the actual room for the AGM, G4S security eye-balled you, the atmosphere was heavy and everyone remained silent!

I sat down 5 rows from the front on the left and quickly the seats were filled around me. I felt nervous, apprehensive and uneasy. A G4S security guard sat beside me and another guard that was lined up along the wall had his eyes focused on me. I had dressed smartly in a suit, was polite, yet I seemed to be targeted by the staff. Within minutes of the start of the meeting I saw the heavy-handedness of the G4S security staff and after only 20 minutes or so 3 shareholders had been pulled and dragged from beside me. One man was dragged over my legs pinning me to my seat and I was unable to move away. I was horrified as the staff showed no respect and no due care and attention. The majority of the board of 12 members  in front of us remained silent. To be honest I felt rather scared and wondered if for my own safety I should leave at that moment. I was visibly shaken by the whole experience, but I was determined that I would put my question to the board so I pulled myself together and prepared for my opportunity.

When the Chairman John Connolly finally noticed my hand I took the microphone, stood up and addressed the board by saying “I would like to go back to the subject of caring for prisoners…

One year ago (10–21June 2013) the Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Oakwood by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons stated that…

“Against all four of our healthy prison tests, safety, respect, activity and resettlement, the outcomes we observed were either insufficient or poor”

Why is it that after a year, there are still major issues within that prison? An example is that the Government released figures in April revealing that more than 600 incidents of self-harm had been recorded in HMP Oakwood in 2013, yet the web site for  HMP Oakwood states: we aim to inspire, motivate and guide prisoners to become the best they can be.

My question was not answered, the CEO said that he was aware of the recommendations of the report and that it was normal to have teething problems with a new jail. In reference to the alarmingly high levels of self harm all that was said was there are self harm issues in all prisons.

I was closed down and unable to respond to his feeble answer, twice!

There was no remorse for what was happening in this prison, the CEO didn’t seem to be that concerned even though we are talking about lives.

On the train heading home I re-lived the afternoon and was still shocked at what I experienced. I am not put off, I plan to follow through my genuine concern for how G4S runs prisons in this country and I will be better prepared for next year’s AGM.

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/