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Prison as Punishment…really?

For a few years now I have been fascinated by people’s perception of Punishment. From Open Prisons seen as “Holiday Camps” to bringing back hanging all encompass the subject of Punishment.

We all have ideas of what it should be and have our preferred theories;

  • Retribution: vengeance and just deserts
  • Rehabilitation: reforming the offender
  • Deterrence: reduction of crime by the threat or anticipation of a penalty
  • Denunciation: reinforcement of community values by indicating certain behaviours reprehensible and not tolerated
  • Restitution: compensation for the victim
  • Incapacitation: physical restraints such as imprisonment, removing potential offenders from the community thus reducing future crime

But what does it really mean and does it work?

Does prison rehabilitate?

Should prison rehabilitate?

This is a really interesting report that I recommend:

Prison: the facts (Prison Reform Trust)

http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Prison%20the%20facts%20May%202015.pdf?dm_i=47L,3ETJN,3KIY3M,C7EXO,1

With custodial sentences one size does not fit all. Imagine all prisoners trying to fit in one box, doesn’t work and how can it work? There are too many variables within a prison which may affect the outcomes for inmates such as attitude of staff, regime, distance from families, abilities of inmates, crime committed, length of sentence…I could go on!

There are groups of prisoners that make little or no progress within a ‘normal’ prison environment; it’s similar to children that are unable to cope with mainstream schooling. These prisoners are unlikely to be able to address their offending behaviour.

This week I was invited to HMP Grendon by Officer Clare Cowell to see for myself how those that might fall between the cracks are treated by introducing the work undertaken.

 

F wing (TC+) is a new community providing specialist intervention for prisoners with a low-level of intellectual functioning to address offence-related risk and associated personality and psychological disorders.

It was explained that as part of the Personality Disorder pathway they deliver a core treatment model suitable for sentenced offenders with a wide range of offending needs whose complex needs cannot be adequately met by a single intervention.

Treatment consist of structured small group therapy and community living where members have shared responsibility inter the day-to-day running of the community, decision-making and problem solving.

F wing (TC+) places a greater emphasis on structural interventions targeting specific learning styles.

Residents (inmates) welcomed us to the unit alongside the friendly approachable staff, offering hot drinks and biscuits whilst revealing parts of their prison journey. The day was well planned with chances to take part in music therapy, discuss art therapy, relaxation and measuring the IQ of residents.

So back to the original question prison as punishment? You decide

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Where’s Mum?…she’s in prison with an author and an actor off Eastenders!

Daughter: Did you just say Mum’s visiting a prison in London with an author and an actor off Eastenders ?

Son 1: If I stop someone from killing someone else and in so doing I kill them, am I a bad person or is it just what I have done bad?

Son 2: Did you really sit in a room with prisoners, what if they were murderers?

Boyfriend of daughter: Wow, you were in the audience and sat with prisoners?

Are these the kind of conversations you have with your family?

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Over the past four years I have met many prisoners who all had one thing in common: they just needed someone to believe in them, to listen to them and to help them whilst in prison and once their sentence had ended.

I’ve found that, for some of them, criminal activity had become a way of life; they knew nothing else and would most likely continue in the same way after release. For others, falling into crime was a result of a stupid decision or action, often spontaneous, which had got them in to trouble with the law, convicted and sent to prison; they felt a debilitating remorse and that they had let themselves and their families down.

Crisis – what crisis?

We read that the prison population continues to rise, overcrowding in prison seems to be the norm rather than the exception and violence, suicides and self-harm are weekly occurrences. There is tragedy after tragedy yet we are told that there is no crisis in our prison system.

So what should we do? One solution is to accept the status quo and keep our heads in the sand. Another is to actually address the issues. But, as I keep hearing, this has to be a coherent team effort.

Not settling for the status quo

In January, I visited a London prison and was accompanied by NoOffence! Patron, actor Derek Martin (Eastenders’ Charlie Slater) and author Jonathan Robinson (@IN_IT_THE_BOOK) from their Advisory Board. I’ve already blogged about the visit and the lessons I took away from that experience.

At a peer mentoring conference last year, I met with Rob Owen OBE the chief executive of St Giles Trust, an Ambassador for NoOffence!

St Giles Trust aims to help break the cycle of prison, crime and disadvantage and create safer communities by supporting people to change their lives.

Next week, I will be meeting Geoff Baxter OBE the CEO of Prison Fellowship who is also an Ambassador of NoOffence!

This is just a small sample of the organisations that work to improve the lives of offenders, there are many more.

I’d dearly like to explore how these organisations can find more ways to work together; these plus leaders such as Howard League perform outstanding work as organisations in their own right. Just imagine what could be achieved if new ways of working could be agreed to improve the Criminal Justice System.

In December 2012 I was accepted by the Secretary of State to the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of an open prison. To carry out my duties effectively, the role provide the right of access to every prisoner and every part of the prison I monitor, and also to the prison’s records. Independent monitoring ensures people in custody are treated fairly and humanely; I take this work very seriously.

When I started working in prisons it was as a group facilitator for Sycamore Tree, a victim awareness programme teaching the principles of restorative justice. For many offenders on Sycamore Tree one of the most powerful element of the programme is when a victim of crime visits to talk with the group how crime has impacted their lives. In week 6 of the programme, participants have an opportunity to express their remorse – some write letters, poems or create works of art or craft. Members of the local community are invited to the course to observe the many varied symbolic acts of restitution.

I’ve seen some remarkable lives turned around among offenders who make it to this stage of the programme. Okay, you argue, there is no way these outcomes can be achieved in 100% of cases. I agree.

But programmes that provide education and encouragement have to be a more purposeful activity and more effective towards increasing the chances of better outcomes with more offenders than them simply being banged up for 23 hours a day with the TV.

But all it takes is a bit of coherent team work.

I like what NoOffence! says in their mission statement and vision:

Mission Statement: NoOffence! will encourage, promote and facilitate the collaboration of organisations from the voluntary, public and private sectors to address the issue of reducing crime and reoffending.

Vision: To be the leading online criminal justice communication, information exchange and networking community in the world. Our vision for NoOffence! has always been to bring justice people together to overcome barriers to rehabilitation. We believe the solution to complex justice problems lie with the people…

They have got a point, haven’t they?

I for one would be open to try to forge more collaboration than we see today. And I know I’m not alone in that view; many others are prepared to voice a similar willingness and appetite for supporting each other.

Actions speak louder than words. Let’s get on with it.

Continue the conversation on Twitter #rehabilitation

Cat B visited

Well I have now visited Cat A, B, C, D and a YOI just leaving women’s estate which is on the agenda and an IRC.

Cat B yesterday, I must say it was not what I expected, Razor wire yes, heightened security yes, but not what I would call a “typical” prison environment.

I accompanied an actor and an ex-prisoner who campaigns for prison reform; Derek Martin an Eastenders actor and Jonathan Robinson, who I nick-named the “Dynamic Duo”.

From left:  Jonathan Robinson and Derek Martin. Photo: Faith Spear

From left: Jonathan Robinson and Derek Martin.
Photo: Faith Spear

My reason for visiting this prison was that after hearing good things about staff and their attitude towards prisoners with encouragement and motivation, I wanted to see for myself and not rely on the accounts of others.

This planned event started around 12.30, where the three of us met in the prison car park. I had met Jonathan before at various events but it was a first with Derek who came across as such a likeable character I was sure it was going to be a memorable afternoon!

On the inside

Fast tracked through security we waited in a through room for our host the Librarian and Learning Leader. Wow was he tall (well most people are tall to me)

Our first port of call was the library, what a vibrant organised room, a place where you would just want to learn in. Education was encouraged. There were colourful posters covering the walls, some of which showed previous guest appearances and reading schemes. You might say “a library is a library” what’s so special about a library?

But this was in a Cat B prison! I would have been quite happy to curl up on their sofa with a good book for a couple of hours.

I then expected just to go to the room for the talk given by Derek, instead we had a cuppa in the visits hall, a large bright modern room, laid out in small seating areas, well stocked kids play area and a purpose built coffee bar. Although I didn’t see it, the staff raved about the new baby unit just off the main hall.

It was good to chat with staff about the ways that families are supported with one member in prison. There was such a relaxed atmosphere which reflected the staff’s willingness to engage with the inmates. I believe maintaining family ties are such an important element in the rehabilitation programme. They even had incentives to enable inmates to earn extra time with their loved ones.

Our visit included Tesco express well the store for prisoner’s canteen, a wing, cell, laundry and the impressive gym. I started talking with a very enthusiastic member of staff who I immediately warmed to. Her determination to work with the prisoners to achieve was remarkable. As with my work, I meet many in prison that have never achieved anything positive in their lives. This was not something that this staff member was going to accept, she explained when faced with barriers there was always a solution even to the point of condensing courses, providing material in Braille and help with dyslexia.

Yet again education was encouraged at what ever age and what ever ability.

Oi, Charlie!

Sure, the celebrity guest was Derek, but we all were treated so well. Walking towards the multi-faith room. cheers went up from inmates and staff alike as they recognised Charlie (Derek).

On finally reaching the room, Derek and Jonathan sat at the front and Derek addressed the audience. Then the entertainment began with Derek’s sense of humour being displayed as he recounted story after story. Then it was time for the questions from “where can you buy pie and mash?” to “how can you be an extra on a television show?”

I enjoyed the chatting afterwards with the inmates; many wanted a signed poster from Derek or a copy of Jonathan’s book IN_IT.

Key takeaways

So what effect did the day have on me?

Today I have been going over and over in my mind the experiences of yesterday:

  • I met inspirational staff who enjoyed their job
  • I saw respect from staff and inmates
  • There was no heaviness in the air that I have experienced at other prisons
  • There was a hunger to learn
  • At no point did I feel vulnerable
  • There was a sense that the staff were all singing from the same hymn sheet
  • Rehabilitation in prison can and should start from day one
  • Even short sentences can be filled with purposeful activity
  • Prisoners taking responsibility
  • Education is a key to rehabilitation

Now I’m not saying this prison is perfect, there are issues facing the whole of the prison estate. But good practice needs to be shared.

We cannot sit by and see wasted lives within a prison environment, rehabilitation is the key to breaking the cycle of reoffending and yet its not about money, its more about attitude.

Westminster: Justice Select Committee

Tuesday 9th September 2014

Entering into Westminster Hall with its stone floor, places where famous people have stood and given speeches  and seeing police with weapons can make you wonder where on earth you are. But walking up the steps at the back you enter a statue lined corridor and then you enter the lobby, beautiful architecture which never ceases to amaze me. I half expected to see Nick Robinson conducting an interview, instead I met  Jonathan Robinson,  an ex-prisoner, now author and prison reform campaigner.

Jonathan Robinson along with  Paula Harriott, Head of Programme, User Voice, Angela Levin, former Chair of HMP Wormwood Scrubs Independent Monitoring Board, and Deborah Russo, Prisoners’ Advice Service were witnesses giving evidence on Prisons: Planning and Policies in front of the Justice Select Committee. The complete oral evidence is available from the following link:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/justice-committee/prisons-planning-and-policies/oral/12519.html.

I decided to sit in the public area and hear each witness in order to gain insight into what is actually happening in prisons.  It is important  that prisoners are rehabilitated whilst inside and one way is through using the skills that are present within the prison population itself.

 

Courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv

Courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv

The Toe by Toe project run by the Shannon Trust is an excellent example of this, where  literate prisoners  help those that are illiterate. This is a peer-to-peer mentoring program. Not being able to read has a negative impact on  job prospects and also self-esteem. It’s quite shocking when prisoners that have been in the prison estate many years face release unable to read!

Jonathan Robinson has spent the last three years pushing for prison reform, he has written on his own personal prison experience and is a voice for those inside. He champions mentoring and is on the Advisory Board for NoOffence CIC!

http://www.jonathanrobinson.org/

 

 

 

 

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.

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].

Grayling’s latest crackdown

From 1st November there has been a change in the Incentives, Earnings and Privileges (IEP) system within the prison estate (Ministry of Justice, 2013a; 2013b). How individual prisons will be able to make sure all prisoners comply will be interesting to follow. The 3 categories of basic, standard and enhanced will from now on be stricter and for those not on enhanced ROTL will not be possible. Therefore, for open prisons where rehabilitation through outside work is the norm, if those on enhanced do not fulfil the criteria they will likely be downgraded to standard.

This potentially will leave many prisoners with nothing to do during the day and bored prisoners are not good for any prison. If there are large quantities of prisoners which should under the new rules be moved to standard then how can they be managed? Likewise if prisoners are downgraded to basic, suddenly they will not only have to wear prison clothing which believe me is something to be desired but will have their TV’s taken away.

Grayling has said that under the new policy, the lack of bad behaviour would not be enough to earn privileges; instead inmates would have to work actively towards rehabilitation and help other prisoners (No Offence, 2013)

But then some say why should they have a television? But where do you draw the line on punishment? Each prisoner is still a person and there should be a measure of consideration placed on each one. What has wearing a uniform, well jogging trousers and sweatshirts, got anything to do with punishment for an offence. It’s not like the city where suits are the normal attire. Next prisoners will be wearing striped outfits or ones with arrows on. Time for a change surely! Let’s stop wasting time money and energy in making prisoners look uniform and get down to addressing real issues such as reducing the prison population.

The Maidstone Prison incident this weekend (BBC, 2013; BSkyB 2013) shows that there is unrest within; let’s hope this will be the exception rather than the norm in the future. Can this be linked to the regime changes introduced by Mr Grayling?

BBC (2013) ‘Kent prison disturbance resolved’. BBC News. 02 November. [Online]. Available at <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-24791003> [02 November 2013].
BSkyB (2013) ‘Maidstone Prison ‘Riot’ Brought Under Control’. Sky News. 02 November. [Online]. Available at <http://news.sky.com/story/1163060/maidstone-prison-riot-brought-under-control> [02 November 2013].
Ministry of Justice (2013a) Toughening up prisoner privileges. [Press release dated 30 April]. Available at <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/toughening-up-prisoner-privileges> [accessed 01 November 2013].
Ministry of Justice (2013b) Major shake up to prisoner incentives. [Press release dated 01 November]. Available at <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-shake-up-to-prisoner-incentives> [accessed 01 November 2013].

No Offence (2013) Male prisoners to wear uniforms and be banned from watching television. [Online]. Available at <http://www.no-offence.org/entry.php/533-Male-prisoners-to-wear-uniforms-and-be-banned-from-watching-television> [accessed 02 November 2013].