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Whistle while you work

Is whistleblowing a band wagon to jump onto?

Usually you don’t suddenly wake up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to be a whistle-blower”. The negative connotations surrounding whistleblowing such as being an informant, betrayer, or even a backstabber is not something to aspire to.

Yet, these descriptions cannot truly explain why there are those in the minority that will put their head above the parapet, will risk their reputation and often lose their job through speaking out.

So, have we become largely a society that will cower rather than stand up, do we lack courage or integrity or both?

Fear of reprisals can cause us to retreat, to stay silent but in so doing are we not being true to ourselves. It takes more than just determination to be vocal about issues you are passionate about. Unfortunately, when living in such a punitive society, the norm is to shut people down rather than to listen.

Having sat at an employment tribunal  with an experienced Prison Officer listening to their case of dismissal, my thoughts were not that they wanted revenge, not at all. I saw passion, I heard a very determined individual with a story that has affected not only their work, their life but possibly their health too.

It’s too easy for society to ignore the reality in our prisons in England and Wales, where violence, instability and a lack of investment over decades has reduced them to warehouses of the vulnerable. Numerous are inhumane and on the point of crisis.

Equally, let’s not point the finger at those that want transparency in the Criminal Justice System, instead we should push for accountability and not lose sight that one day those in prison may be a loved one or will become our neighbour.

Time to stop shooting the messenger 

Recently I met Michael Woodford, the inaugural winner of the Contrarian Prize and former CEO of Olympus who exposed a $1.7 billion fraud at the heart of Olympus and was sacked for doing so. He had more than most to lose by speaking out.

faith spear with michael woodford at contrarian prize lecture in london 450px

Faith Spear and Michael Woodford

According to: https://www.gov.uk/whistleblowing

“As a whistleblower you’re protected by law – you should not be treated unfairly or lose your job because you ‘blow the whistle’.

You can raise your concern at any time about an incident that happened in the past, is happening now, or you believe will happen in the near future”

But is this really so?

It also states:

“You’re a whistleblower if you’re a worker and you report certain types of wrongdoing”

But what if you are a volunteer?

Yes, you work and often very hard, but where is the protection mechanism?

In my experience, being a volunteer for many years offers little protection especially when dealing with the Ministry of Justice. Even going through the “normal” channels produces little response. Suddenly people become hard of hearing, blind to what is happening all around them and stick their heads in the sand.

I’m not like that, I am very aware of many untold stories and issues within the justice system.

I put my head above the parapet once, I have no regrets even now still living with the consequences.

I would do it again.

And plan to do shortly!

Now it’s my turn to ask what’s acceptable online

Only those who know me know who I am and what I do, often away from the public eye.

On top of my commitments this week I want to talk about this. I have seen a barrage of messages on Twitter, sent to me and about me; messages which are good, bad and certainly ugly, sent mainly from those who don’t know me and have never met me.

Why? Online abuse is unacceptable. I am calling it out and people don’t like it.

To put things in context, I myself have received a fair amount of online abuse over the last few years but last summer it reached a new level because the online abuse included a death threat from an individual who I had never met, but who was going through a very unstable time. This was totally unacceptable, so I reported it to Twitter. Twitter said they had broken Twitter rules and consequently Twitter suspended the account they were using.

I had a short period of relative peace until the Autumn. The snide remarks started up again primarily from an individual, then a small group emerged, tweeting in agreement with them. I decided to inquire who these people were, but not on open social media. I contacted people I knew and trusted and asked for their advice, questioning the reasons behind this unacceptable attack on me, but even in asking questions it seemed I opened a can of worms. I learned there were those hiding behind Twitter accounts who had other professional accounts. It seems I hit a raw nerve; I’ve done that before and it will probably happen again!

Never once did I try to get any ex-offenders fired from their jobs. This is pure fabrication.

Over the last fortnight, I have seen tweets primarily from one individual with relentless bombardment on a daily basis. How is this acceptable behaviour and especially from someone who, yet again, I don’t know and have never met?

Starting rumours, planting seeds of doubt into the minds of others, and propagating things which are blatantly untrue: the tweets by that individual are being proliferated by others. They talk about what I wear, what I eat, who I associate with, what events I have attended, and even have the audacity to want to know what is in my diary. Their remarks and exchanges place me in false light.

Why the obsession?

Seriously why?

The stories they invent are worth a Bafta.

Why am I constantly seeing tweets by those who want me to confirm or deny certain issues, that I allegedly did or said or even thought? And why am I accused of being the bully and generating a climate of fear and frightening people into silence? Utter nonsense.

In an example of online abuse unrelated to previous examples I have given above, here is a tweet I saw recently:

“If it’s covered in sugar it’ll ruin your teeth. If covered in salt, it’ll affect your blood pressure. Spear is a withering insipid excuse for a woman. And I’ve little time for bullshit and her version of victim hood”

Really is this acceptable?

This is from an individual who works in the criminal justice system. Astonishing.

Turning to yet another separate example of online abuse, I remember being at an academic round table event a couple of years ago. The person sat beside me, who I knew of but had never met before, started to cry so I reached into my bag and gave them a tissue. I had a few online conversations with them before and afterward, but didn’t know their full story and didn’t get involved in their life. Yet, allegations were made online against me, by a third party, of lifting them up, carrying them then dropping them. All I did was give them a tissue for goodness sake and for my trouble they themselves later sent messages to me on Twitter including disgusting photos with increasingly nasty comments.

And the stories started to circulate.

Is the online abuse I receive a form of deflection?

Am I regarded as a legitimate target for people to offload their frustrations?

Are the people sending online abuse themselves hurt and damaged?

When the majority state that they are there for others, to support them, how ironic they tweet things so unsupportive such as:

“Wow – if this is true it is despicable, but not surprising…”

“Allegedly you caused…”

“I personally fear for all those connected to you…”

What does this smear campaign hope to achieve? Remember when you point the finger at someone there are three pointing back at you.

If this is how you treat me when all I work for is positive change within the prison sector, then how can others trust you? In smearing me you are making yourselves less credible, ruining your own reputation and doing yourself and the cause you fight for a disservice.

I’m not perfect, I make mistakes. Who doesn’t?

But I will not stand by and put up with this online abuse orchestrated against me. Piling on is the online equivalent to dishing out a pad beating in a prison. Anyone who has served time and who now uses social media will understand the devastating effect I am talking about.

Unlike those who level allegations against me, I have chosen not to name anyone, they know who they are and should reflect upon what they do and say online.

I’m upset, feel bruised, frustrated, bewildered and many other emotions. But I will not shut up and will not go away.

What I saw and heard visiting many prisons (every category including women’s prisons) gives me motivation to work with others to restore decency for those in prison and for their families.

I will do all I can to help bring positive change, to speak the truth and face the consequences. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am me.

~

Everything on this blog has been out on social media; I just collated it. 

~

Updated 20 March:
13th paragraph has been modified following a request on Twitter that I associated the person who issued the online abuse in 12th paragraph with the person who issued the death threat against me cited in 4th paragraph. Therefore, the 13th paragraph now starts with new words to make it abundantly clear the two individual examples on online abuse originated from separate individuals and in order to resolve any misinterpretation this may have caused.

16th paragraph has been modified following a request issued on Twitter that in some way I identified the person who issued the online abuse cited verbatim in the 12th paragraph. Therefore, certain wording about the individual’s background has been removed as this was regarded to be pejorative and reference to the nature of their work has also been removed in order to resolve any misinterpretation this may have caused.

17th paragraph has been modified following a request issued on Twitter that in some way I identified the person who issued the online abuse covered in this paragraph. Therefore, certain wording about the individual’s gender has been removed as this was regarded to be the identifier and in order to resolve any misinterpretation this may have caused.

~

HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay: should alarm bells be ringing?

IMG_20181013_174704

 

We have heard from the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke and the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart that we need to get back to basics where prisons are concerned. HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay is no exception.

Reading through the latest Inspectorate report shows clearly that only 15 of the 30 recommendations from the previous inspection in 2014 have been carried out. Should alarm bells be ringing?

There are four tests for a healthy prison

  1. Safety
  2. Respect
  3. Purposeful Activity
  4. Rehabilitation and release planning (previously Resettlement)

Comparing the two latest reports, I noticed that some aspects once regarded as a safety issue are now a respect issue such as basic living conditions and making available a court video link.  Probably why the recommendations in that category has fallen from 9 to 4. Looks good on paper but you have to read between the lines.

Four years ago, there were no recommendations for purposeful activity yet this time there are 5. From making sure prisoners get impartial careers advice, to providing detailed and constructive feedback on practical work to help prisoners improve, to ensuring that those engaged in prison industries are able to study and achieve qualifications related to their job. The answer is in the name “Purposeful” activity not just something to pass the long often monotonous days.

Surely these are basics of an open Cat D prison and is HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay  failing?

It is worrying that there are many arriving at the prison without an up to date risk and needs assessment. Likewise, is the number of prisoners sent back to closed conditions, approx. 15 per month with some decisions not clearly evidenced.

And yet there are those that are released with little or no sustainable accommodation and this isn’t sufficiently monitored by the CRC’s.

With only one mental health staff, weak public protection procedures and with already 10% presented as medium or high risk to children there needs to be some serious changes before the planned arrival of those convicted of sex offences.

“New prisoners who potentially posed a risk to children were not always promptly assessed, and contact restrictions were not always applied in the interim”

There are so many issues to flag up:

“The anti-bullying representatives’ role was unclear, poorly advertised and lacked formal training”

“The strategic management of equality was less well developed than at the time of the previous inspection. There was no local equality and diversity strategy and the equality action plan was limited. There were no specific consultation groups running for prisoners with protected characteristics, other than the equality action team meeting”

The latest report shows increase in drug misuse with prisoners moving away from new psychoactive substances (NPS) and that cannabis was now the preferred drug. In addition the use of cocaine and steroids was an emerging problem.

Can HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay adapt to the changing needs and problems?

Let’s hope we are not seeing the gradual demise of this prison.

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/03/Hollesley-Bay-Web-2018.pdf

Recommendations 2018 inspection

Safety

  1. All use of force incidents should be scrutinised by senior staff to ensure that force is only used as a last resort.
  2. Body-worn cameras should be used during all use of force incidents.
  3. Risk assessments to determine if a return to closed conditions is necessary should be multidisciplinary and should show sufficient exploration of all relevant factors relating to the risks presented.
  4. Decisions to use handcuffs should be based on an individual risk assessment. (Repeated recommendation 45)

Respect

  1. The negative perceptions expressed by some prisoners that a small number of staff were punitive in their approach towards them should be explored and addressed.
  2. Basic living conditions on the Bosmere unit should be improved to ensure decency, including refurbished and well-maintained showers.
  3. Prisoners’ views about the quality of the food should be explored in greater depth and, where possible, changes should be made to increase their level of satisfaction.
  4. The issues with the prison shop should be resolved, so that prisoners receive their correct order.
  5. A court video link should be available. (Repeated recommendation 3)
  6. The prison should routinely consult prisoners in the protected groups to ensure that their concerns and needs are identified and, where possible, addressed. (Repeated recommendation 25)
  7. Managers should consider both local and national equality monitoring data, and address inequitable outcomes.
  8. Reasonable adjustments for prisoners with disabilities should be swiftly completed. These prisoners should have access to practical support, such as a buddy scheme, which supports them in their day-to-day life at the prison
  9. There should be a regular health care representative forum to inform service developments and enable collective concerns to be addressed.
  10. There should be regular, systematic health promotion campaigns delivered in conjunction with the prison.
  11. Prisoners should have timely access to optician and dental services. (Repeated recommendation 68)
  12. There should be a memorandum of understanding and information sharing agreement between agencies, to outline appropriate joint service working on social care.

Purposeful Activity

  1. Prison managers should ensure that they have accurate information on the education, training or employment that prisoners enter following their release, so that they can evaluate and monitor fully the impact of the curriculum on offer.
  2. Prison managers should ensure that prisoners receive impartial careers advice and guidance when they arrive at the establishment and throughout their time in custody, so that they can plan their future after release more effectively.
  3. Prison and People Plus managers should ensure that vocational tutors provide detailed and constructive feedback on practical work, to help prisoners to improve.
  4. Prison and People Plus managers should ensure that vocational tutors challenge prisoners to achieve high standards of professional workmanship that meets commercial expectations.
  5. Prison managers should ensure that prisoners engaged in prison industries have an opportunity to study and achieve a qualification related to their job.

Rehabilitation and release planning

  1. Visits provision should meet demand.
  2. Prisoners on resettlement day release to maintain family ties should not be required to be collected and returned by family members in a car unless the risk assessment suggests that this is necessary.
  3. The prison’s needs analysis should make full use of offender assessment system (OASys) and P-NOMIS data, in order to identify and address gaps in provision.
  4. Prisoners should only transfer to open conditions once a full and up-to-date assessment of their risk and needs has been carried out.
  5. There should be sufficient places available in Bail Accommodation and Support Service accommodation to allow prisoners to be released on home detention curfew on their eligibility date.
  6. Meetings to discuss a prisoner’s suitability for open conditions should be multidisciplinary. Decisions to return prisoners to closed conditions should be clearly evidenced and defensible.
  7. For prisoners returning to closed conditions, recategorisation to C should be supported by clear evidence.
  8. The prison should undertake a comprehensive analysis of needs, to establish the range of offence-focused interventions required.
  9. The community rehabilitation company (CRC) should monitor the number of prisoners released to sustainable accommodation (12 weeks after release), to understand the effectiveness of provision.
  10. The CRC should ensure that interviews to review resettlement plans are conducted by a trained member of staff.

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/01/Hollesley-Bay-web-2015.pdf

Recommendations 2014 inspection

Safety

  1. Recommendation: The Bosmere unit should be upgraded or replaced with permanent accommodation
  2. Recommendation: OASYs and ROTL procedures should be sufficiently rigorous to ensure risks to the public are effectively managed.
  3. A court video link should be available.
  4. Prisoners should receive a private first night interview with a member of staff.
  5. The prison should investigate prisoners’ perceptions about safety and address any concerns raised.
  6. The safeguarding adults framework document should be finalised and staff should understand safeguarding procedures for adults at risk.
  7. Decisions to use handcuffs should be based on an individual risk assessment.
  8. The drug strategy action plan should be updated, inform developments and detail lines of accountability.
  9. The controlled drugs administration room should be more welcoming and security arrangements should be in line with what is required in open conditions.

Respect

  1. The shower areas in the Stow unit should be refurbished.
  2. Staff and personal officers in the Bosmere unit should check on and interact with prisoners in their care.
  3. The EAT should investigate when monitoring data consistently suggests inequitable outcomes for minority groups.
  4. The prison should routinely consult prisoners in the protected groups to ensure their concerns and needs are identified, and where possible, addressed.
  5. Suitable adapted accommodation should be available for prisoners with disabilities.
  6. All staff should have regular managerial and clinical supervision, as well as appropriate continuing professional development underpinned by a current performance appraisal.
  7. There should be sufficient clinical rooms to provide a comprehensive service and all areas, including the dental suite, should comply with infection control guidelines.
  8. Triage algorithms should be available to ensure decisions made are consistent and appropriate.
  9. Prisoners should have timely access to optician and dental services.
  10. Prisoners should have access to pharmacist-led counselling sessions, clinics and medication reviews.
  11. The dental service should be informed by an up-to-date needs assessment.
  12. Custodial staff should receive regular mental health awareness training.
  13. Self-catering facilities should be improved, particularly for prisoners on long or indeterminate sentences.
  14. There should be no administration charge for catalogue orders.

Resettlement

  1. Formal supervision should be provided to all OSs.
  2. Sentence planning objectives should be specific and focused on outcomes.
  3. All prisoners should have planned case management meetings with their OS proportionate to their risk and needs. Meetings should be recorded.
  4. When prisoners are returned to closed conditions there should be a clear record of who made the decision and the rationale for it; re-categorisation from D to C should only take place if there is clear evidence that this is required.
  5. The content and information on the virtual campus should be reviewed to ensure it is relevant for prisoners looking for work on release.
  6. There should be robust discharge planning processes in place to ensure continuity of care.
  7. The prison should develop a strategic action plan that aims to ensure all prisoners have the opportunity to stay in contact with family and friends.

I don’t look back in anger

 

As the second anniversary rapidly approaches of the disciplinary hearing I stood in front of in Petty France, my heart tries not to sink.

Yes, I am still banned from being a member of the IMB, just over three years to go.

I am often asked if I would want to join again, I can honestly say in its current form, no, not at all. I want to see a monitoring board that is truly independent not just in title but in actions, the prisoner’s perceptions and their Annual Reports.

I miss the work, it was work to me and I took it seriously even though the Governor once said, “you don’t work here, you are a volunteer” This kind of attitude stinks and shows how little he regarded the IMB.

Even now many IMB members face opposition from their boards when they stand up and challenge the “but we always do it that way” brigade. It’s not good enough.

I recently chatted to an IMB member who recognised me and wanted to meet and was keen to explain that she had tried to implement some of my suggestions, such as out of hours visits. But that hadn’t gone down well with her board, apparently nothing happens outside of office hours in a prison and there’s nothing to see, therefore, IMB members are not needed. A short-sighted response. I have heard it before and I’m sure I will hear it again.

My article for the Prisons Handbook 2016 is just as relevant today as it was two and a half years ago when it was first published. There are still the same questions and very few answers.

Although the new Governance structure appears to be a re-package concept with little bite, there is a hint of optimism.

I haven’t given up, I haven’t disappeared into one of the many cracks of the Criminal Justice System, I am aware that some would want that to happen. Too bad.

I am very much alive and kicking.

I have a voice and I use it.

#notshuttingup

#notgoingaway

 

Unlocked Grads: Does it raise more questions than it answers?

What is the Unlocked Grads programme?

According to the website for University of Suffolk (10 September 2018) :

“Unlocked Graduates is a two-year programme and students who complete the programme are awarded an MSc in Leadership and Custodial Environments from the University of Suffolk”

https://www.uos.ac.uk/news/increased-interest-prison-officer-programme-partnership-university

When you look past all the ‘blurb’, in a nutshell, the programme starts as a Summer Institute comprising two week’s training as a prison officer and the beginning of a Master’s degree, followed by a two-week placement in a prison and finishes with two more weeks training. The taught modules at the Summer Institute leading to Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT) are based at the University of Suffolk, Ipswich.

It’s especially surprising to see that it is positioned as “a prestigious programme with influential supporters” when it is based here as the University is ranked 128 out of 131 Universities listed by The Complete University Guide.

https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/league-tables/rankings

Advice given for recruitment: “Fundamentally they need to be made of the right stuff to survive on the landings from Day 1… only a fairly ruthless and demanding selection process will guarantee you have the right people”

Part of the interview process includes having an interview with a former prisoner, but questions have been raised as to how this would be perceived and if unskilled interviewers could get the best out of the candidates.

unlockedgrads dot org dot uk our organisation [recommendations] screenshot 22 Sept 2018

Website, 22 September 2018

 

The 2017 Cohort

The 2017 cohort started in Summer 2017 with placements in HMP Brixton, Coldingley, Downview, High Down, Isis and Wandsworth.

I was invited to sit in on a training session at the Summer Institute in 2017. I spoke with staff members to get a feel and understanding of the programme. I had a one-to-one with Natasha Porter, CEO of Unlocked Grads.

But I came away with so many questions.

Why were those prisons selected and why were they all in the South of England?

So how can the safety of these young novice trainees be assured? In the latest Government Annual Prison Statistics, it shows that Brixton is rated 1 for safety with Wandsworth and Isis rated 2.

Again, in the same report, looking at stats for Purposeful Activity, Brixton, Isis and Wandsworth are rated 1; that’s an awful lot of people likely to be stuck in their cell, frustrations brewing, leading to mental health issues. Not forgetting the domino effect upon families of prisoners and families of staff.

So that’s the prisoners but what about the staff in these prisons.

Staff sickness for Wandsworth shows that 5918 days were lost in the 12 months to 31st March 2018 that’s on average 12.4 days lost per FTE. High Down is not much better with 4146 days lost in 1 year on average 10.4 days lost per FTE.

Whilst it is unclear why so many days are lost to sick leave, you can imagine that many of these sick days are as a result of the stress placed upon the officers, the increased violence on the wings, inhaling psychoactive substances and the exhaustion.

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/annual-hm-prison-and-probation-service-digest-2017-to-2018

But if there are such acute staff shortages how is replacing experienced members of staff with newly qualified Unlocked Grads going to make a positive difference?

Andrea Albutt, President of the Prison Governors Association spoke out last year and said:

“large numbers of new recruits can actually add to the instability in prisons rather than improve it”

https://www.channel4.com/news/prison-governors-association-chief-government-overhaul-is-perverse

 

So, what exactly is this programme wanting to achieve?

We are told that the Summer 2017 candidates in the 1st cohort all passed their POELT training. Was the bar set too low, it makes you wonder? However, the first cohort 100% pass rate did not include those who dropped out early on, after their first visit to a prison.

One of the first sponsors wrote: “This is clearly an incredibly challenging leadership programme. Unlocked Grads will have to develop advanced communication skills, diplomacy and resilience as well as the creative entrepreneurial flair to bring new ideas to prisons. These are the skills I look for in my sector.” (Sir Martin Sorrell, former CEO of WPP).

Sounds all well and good, but there’s no scope for entrepreneurial flair inside a prison; it’s a process driven role, dependent on regime and written Prison Service Instructions (PSI’s).

The candidates didn’t appear to be encouraged to stay once they acquired their master’s degree.

This seems incredibly short-sighted of the MoJ. Why are they investing in these grads yet encouraging them to move on after two years and not retaining them?

Sam Gymiah, the then Prisons Minister wrote:

“Some bright, passionate & capable recruits joining the prison service to help fix our prisons. Well done @unlockedgrads” (Twitter, 21 August 2017)

Hardly able to “fix our prisons” just through this two-year scheme.

I was informed by Natasha Porter that these grads were not included in the 2,500 new staff members that were being recruited.

 

The 2018 Cohort

This year 105 candidates attended the Summer Institute and yet again Ipswich was suddenly the place to be, a tourist attraction for anyone in the ‘Justice arena’. Now that HMP Berwyn in no longer ‘flavour of the month’, Ipswich appears to be the place to be seen.

Between 29th July and 6th September, guest speakers galore appeared at the University to give talks: from Gethin Jones to Michael Spurr to Erwin James.

Unlocked Grads Neptune Quay Ipswich

Neptune Quay, Ipswich – August 2018

Recently, when visiting the Ipswich Waterfront, I spotted dozens of mainly young men and women dressed in standard issue prison officer uniform complete with boots. Some were hiding their epaulettes with their hands and others showed their key chains.

It was the next instalment of the Unlocked Grads programme.

They were milling around on a lunch break (see photo) so I went and had a chat. I asked how they were finding the course and we briefly discussed the crisis within the prisons, as the HMIP report on Birmingham had just been published.

One of the 2018 Cohort said: “Oh but that’s just the media,” dismissing the squalor, violence and drugs in prisons as if it was some sort of fallacy.

Seriously, are they being taught about the reality of what is happening inside prisons?

Another eagerly said: “We are going to do something different; we will be on the landings, but it will be based on rehabilitation.”

If the Unlocked Grads are focusing on rehabilitation as “something different” then what is everyone else doing now?

And how many of them will stay long enough to make this “something different” happen?

If they are going onto the landings and have been told they will be focusing specifically on rehabilitation how will that go down with other members of staff, when they are so stressed that even the minimum requirements are hard to achieve?

Will there be a clash in their work expectations, disruption or problems with team dynamics, an “us and them”?

 

What people are saying about Unlocked Grads

I asked a former Prison Officer about his thoughts on this scheme, this is what he said, word for word:

“Hi Faith, my feelings are that most of them will be eaten alive by inmates, as grads won’t be from the same background as most inmates. A lot of grads would have been brought up with a “silver spoon in their mouths” and inmates will spot this a mile off and some inmates will sense this and will make their lives hell, I can’t see grads staying in the job for long, HMP need to employ people who are over 25 years old with some life experience”

I also spoke to someone who has been working in Education in prisons for years. They told me:

“The YO’s will make mincemeat of these university kids. And the older men will not like being told what to do by a kid. The whole enterprise seems absolutely mad, ill-thought out and with absolutely no thought given to basic – really basic – psychology”

Another quote, this time from a senior civil servant within the MoJ, who told me:

“the ideological approach is now wearing very thin”

One of the 2018 Cohort told me Unlocked Grads have a contract for 6 years and they described the 2017 Cohort as “guinea pigs”.

Michael Spurr

Michael Spurr at ICPA, London 25 October 2017. Pic: HMPPS Twitter

A few said they were going to be working in HMP Wandsworth, and they seemed somewhat amazed that I could describe in clear detail the layout, and the condition I personally encountered there at Wandsworth on numerous visits I had made.

Yet not one of them asked me who I was.

Curiously, I was told by a speaker at ICPA 2017 that, in his plenary address Michael Spurr said, without actually name-dropping Unlocked Grads, that he didn’t believe the principle of employing grads was the answer to the issue.

Given that Mr Spurr was invited to speak at Unlocked Grads Summer Institute in front of both the 2017 and the 2018 Cohorts, this is utterly remarkable and serves to remind us that Unlocked Grads doesn’t appear to have universal acceptance – even within HMPPS.

Overall, it all appears to be secretive, behind closed doors; many in the Justice sector I speak to about it is saying the same.

 

Media Coverage

On 9th September, I listened to the BBC report by Danny Shaw about the Unlocked Grads and questioned whether it was advertising? Where was the balance, where was the incisive journalism we have come to expect from BBC News’ home affairs correspondent?

In his report, Danny Shaw said: “Governors have found it hard to find and retain staff.”

Governors need to find and retain staff, right, but are the Unlocked Grads planning to stick around?

Also, I noticed in that report a focus on ‘Sophie’ from the 2017 Cohort deployed at HMP Coldingley. Half way through the video reportage where it says: ‘Now Sophie is helping to train the next set of recruits’. This seemed a bit odd; how developed is her jail craft after one year and why is someone who is not fully trained themselves, not a qualified trainer or an instructor, doing the training?

Further on in the reportage, Natasha Porter says:

“If you can deescalate a landing full of prisoners…”

That’s a big expectation, placing massive pressure on you as a new recruit.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-45455884/the-prison-job-attracting-graduates

It appears to me that the Unlocked Grads leadership scheme encourages the participants to see it is a stepping stone to a career elsewhere. This follows the same pattern that has occurred in the MoJ over the last few years with a continuous change of Secretary of State for Justice and Prisons Minister.

Does this just perpetuate the problem of lack of continuity in the Justice sector?

 

Retention, Retention, Retention

Unlocked Grads Programme purports to fill a gap in frontline prison staff but if these grads walk into other opportunities after 2 years, with other Government departments or with Private sector sponsors, then it defeats the objective of positioning it as anything with real-world ‘Custodial Environments’ credibility.

One young man on the 2nd Cohort said to me he hadn’t made up his mind if he would stay after the two years. Another said:

“I’m going to be Prison Officer for two years”

Therefore, if they are not contributing long-term, are they inadvertently placing a drain on already-scarce resources?

 

Academic standards and expectations

Unlocked Grads is delivered mainly as an online programme to an MSc with a summer school at the beginning of year one and the chance to write a policy document in the second year.

Job adverts have been posted asking for criminology dissertation supervisors that don’t necessarily have to be academics.

So apparently now we have those that are not trainers, training and those that are not academics supervising academic work at a Masters degree level !

Is it a prison officer training programme or an educational programme?

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A member of Unlocked Grads staff said to me last week that the Ministry of Justice will no longer evaluate the programme. So how will it now be evaluated and by whom?

https://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BMK940/criminology-dissertation-supervisors

[If the link has been taken down, just click on the image here to read what the job advert said]

The University of Suffolk has been chosen to run this top-flight programme for training prison officers, yet where is any information?

If such a “prestigious” course is being run there why is nothing about it shared with the local press?

Local media were unaware of the start of the second cohort.

Were Sandy Martin MP for Ipswich (in whose constituency the University of Suffolk is located) or Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, invited for the launch?

What is it really all about – filling up desk spaces inside Petty France with Faststreamers?

Or is it even a short-term solution for Prison Officer shortages?

Yes, we do need leadership but that has to come through experience, surely?

 

Governance

Unlocked Graduates is currently incubated within the registered charity called Catch 22 Charity Limited, Charity Number 1124127. It is not a stand-alone charity even though on the Unlocked Grads website it states:  “Unlocked is a charity…” (see image below).

unlockedgrads dot org dot uk what is unlocked [charity] screenshot 22 Sept 2018

Website, 22 September 2018

It is funded by Unlocked Graduates which is financed by the Ministry of Justice.

In other words, these young people are being offered Master’s level qualifications paid for from the public purse.

This necessitates openness and fully transparency, doesn’t it?

And yet in the Annual Report and Accounts to 31 August 2017 for Catch 22 Charity Limited, Company no. 6577534 there is a simple mention of Unlocked Grads on page 21 and page 25 but there is no reference to the specific activity of Unlocked Grads in Notes to the Accounts, either as restricted funds or as unrestricted funds.

http://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1124127&subid=0

https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/06577534/filing-history

 

Misrepresentation

The Unlocked Grads website asserts that:

 “The Unlocked Graduates programme was one of the key recommendations of the Coates’ Review of prison education, a report that argued that education needs to be put at the heart of the prison service if Government is serious about the rehabilitation of prisoners.”

I have read the Coates’ Review, and nowhere in the review does it cite that the Unlocked Grads programme was a key recommendation. In fact, the publicly available version of the Coates’ Review doesn’t include the words “Unlocked Graduates” at all, anywhere.

Therefore, this is a misrepresentation of what the review states. Below is the actual recommendation:

“Key recommendations

  1. A new scheme to attract high calibre graduates to work in prisons for an initial period of two years should be introduced. The role should be as a prison officer with an additional remit to support education at the heart of the prison regime.”

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison

Natasha Porter, CEO of the Unlocked Grads programme, was on the review panel for the Coates’ Review and Dame Sally Coates is on the board for Unlocked Grads.

How very convenient.

The Coates’ Review was published on 18th May 2016 and the Unlocked Grads scheme was launched on 21st Dec 2016. Why are these dates important, shouldn’t this exceptionally rapid time to market be commended?

In normal circumstances, yes, such as in the private sector, but this is Government and we all know that the government rarely, if ever, moves that quickly on justice-related issues. Take for example, the Corston Report ‘A review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system’ from March 2007; on the shelf for over 11 years and counting.

As this is a Government contract, and we have learned they have it for 6 years what was the procurement process and where is the publicly available tender?

I cannot find it on Official Journal of European Union (OJEU). If it was a non-competitive tender, why was only one private-sector provider aware of it? No other educators I have spoken to were ever approached.

Surely nothing is stopping any other private education company from setting up a similar training scheme. BPP University was the first private educator to be granted the ability to award recognised degrees in 2013. What is stopping them, or a similar organisation, coming up with a Graduate programme using prisons?

Launched so quickly after the publication of the Coates’ Review, it is completely out of character for public sector procurement processes to have been satisfied within such a short timescale.

Which leads us to have to question whether prior knowledge played a material part in either the establishing of the Unlocked Grads programme or the inclusion of Recommendation 11, or both, or neither.

 

Wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Is now the time for a scheme like Unlocked Grads to place quantities of inexperienced officers in the frontline when the Inspectorate have just issued their 4th urgent notification to Secretary of State for Justice?

In the latest urgent notification for HMP Bedford, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, states:

“A lack of staff and experience undermined the work of the offender management unit.

…77% of available officers had less than one years’ service. There was a corresponding lack of experience at all levels, and it was clear that this was having a significant impact on many areas of prison life”

Download PDF https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/09/7-Sept-UN-letter-HMP-Bedford-and-debrief-FINAL.pdf

One young female Unlocked Grad in the 2018 Cohort told me her parents were worried about what she was doing. I’m not surprised, as a parent I would be too.

It made me think why is the Unlocked Grads scheme putting young people’s lives in possible dangerous and hostile surroundings such as HMP Wandsworth after only a few weeks training? They are ill-equipped and not sufficiently trained for what may lie ahead.

 

Final thoughts

We have unskilled interviewers marking candidates on their suitability, we have untrained trainers training the latest cohort, and we have the possibility of non-academics as supervisors for the Master’s dissertation.

In addition, we have a course led by a member of the review panel of the Coates’ Review.

Moreover, was recommendation 11 of the Coates’ Review written to fit the Unlocked Grads Programme or was the Unlocked Grads programme written to fit recommendation 11?

In the public interest, I think we all have the right and duty to question this to assure that Government reports have not been manipulated by private sector commercial interests or non-government organisations.

The question needs to be asked and the answer given, in plain English that everyone can understand.

 

In reality, very little real information is available in the public domain about the Unlocked Grads programme. In drafting this blog, I have taken great care to gather, collate and corroborate information in which I could personally have sufficient confidence. The objective of this blog is not to criticise any individual but to question the soundness of this programme and the way in which it is conducted. I commend the young people for their ambitiousness and intellect; the issue is not with them. It is with those policy makers, who have approved this programme – they are the ones to whom questions should now be addressed.

 

SITUATION UPDATE 28 SEPT 2018

Subsequent to publishing this post on 22 September 2018, it has come to my attention that the leading local newspaper East Anglian Daily Times has published not one but two articles about Unlocked Grads.

27 Sept 2018 ‘‘No substance’ to claim uniform policy threatens prison guard trainees‘ by Tom Potter (tweeting as @TomPotterEADT)

28 Sept 2018 ‘Could Netflix’s Orange is the New Black be attracting more British women to become prison officers‘ by Jessica Hill (tweeting as @jessjanehill)

This is an astonishing turn of events. Either Unlocked Grads and University of Suffolk have moved quickly to resolve the question I asked “If such a “prestigious” course is being run there why is nothing about it shared with the local press?” and to dispel concerns of secrecy, or these were pre-scheduled PR pieces.

Either way, it raises more questions.

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HMP Berwyn: Does it raise more questions than it answers?

A bright summer’s day. A short car journey, a train, 2 tubes, 2 more trains and I finally arrived after more than 5 hours of travelling, into Wrexham. I’ve come to HMP Berwyn. I’m here with an open mind and at the invitation of the No 1 Governor, Russell Trent.

HMP Berwyn is not very well signposted, it’s as if the locality is reluctant to admit such a place exists in their own backyard. On the way here, I asked some locals for their opinion on the prison, its location and its size given that it is not yet at full capacity. Many local people were hesitant in speaking about it. Others were really bemused when I said I was on my way there to meet the Governor.

“Well, they need to build a bigger car park”, one local said.

On arrival, from the outside, it resembles a business park not a prison.

HMP Berwyn visiting hall by North Wales Daily Post 1488378192745 450px

Entering through large open doors I was greeted by a uniformed officer with a friendly face who showed me the lockers for my bag and phone, and the door to enter the prison. But it was the wrong door. I wasn’t asked why I was there or even who I was. I was sent back outside to another door, this time I approached a glass window and said I was here to see Russell Trent. Simple.

Unfortunately, the officer there had no record of my visit. Great start. I was then asked to put my driving licence onto the window, so they could read my name. Bingo, the glass screens opened, and I was inside.

I fully expected to be patted down. I wasn’t. I expected an officer to pass a wand over me. They didn’t. This surprised me.

The site is huge. I was immediately impressed by the overall cleanliness, both inside and out, the wide-open spaces between communities and grass, yes real grass, and flower beds. There was even a small area where they hold services of remembrance.

Berwyn Values

V = value each other and celebrate achievements

A = act with integrity and always speak the truth

L = look to the future with ambition and hope

U = uphold fairness and justice in all we do

E = embrace Welsh language and culture

S = stick at it

Sitting on a comfortable sofa opposite Number 1 Governor Russell Trent in his office, he pointed out the motivational quote on the wall.

“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows not the flower”

But motivational quotes are everywhere throughout the prison, on stairwells, in corridors alongside photos of Wales. Another one that caught my eye was:

“You have got to be the change you want to see”

The Governor handed me a small pack of cards; each card represents a different Berwyn practice for each day of the month.

Day 1. We recognise achievements and celebrate successes #thankyou

Day 2. We actively listen to each other and make eye contact #respect

Day 3. We offer and ask for help and feedback #support

You get the idea.

This is a first, I have never brought anything out of a prison that I haven’t taken in and I have never seen such motivational material in quite the same way in any other prison I have visited. And I’ve been to every category of prison, more than once.

Having the opportunity to accompany Governor Trent as he did his rounds meant we could talk as we toured communities, healthcare, college, library, horticulture, accommodation, etc.

HMP Berwyn landings by Wales Online 344874988001 450pxI watched as well as listened, as I always do, with my notebook at the ready for contemporaneous note taking.  Governor Trent appears to be on the ball, knowing the names of the men and their sentence. Many politely came up to him with a query or problem they wanted resolving. If he didn’t have the answer, then he signposted or agreed to meet them later. I did find it odd when he was called “Russ” and even “Trenty”. I thought that was a bit over-familiar considering the whole ethos was of respect. Something didn’t quite add up.

In various conversations, the name of a certain community came up more than once and so did the name of a member of staff. It appeared some men felt fobbed off by this individual. I chose not to probe this but preferred to watch how it was dealt with.

I was introduced to the prosocial model of behaviour, a rehabilitative culture, making big feel small, the principle of normality and much more. Yes, Governor Trent is driven and considering over 90% of frontline staff have never worked in a prison before he has to sell his regime not only to the men but to the staff also.

The Ministry of Justice is very good at musical chairs, moving leaders around the prison service. It makes me wonder how long Governor Trent will remain at Berwyn.

Can Berwyn culture function without him and will the vision live on without his oversight?

Or will the settling cracks be more prominent or permanent?

In March 2018 there was a Death in Custody at Berwyn. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) is still investigating and this death is unclassified as the cause is not yet known. I will not jump to any conclusions.

What I can say is during my visit I neither saw nor heard nor smelled any signs of drug abuse or spice.

Health and Wellbeing

Page 12 of ‘Rehabilitative Culture at Berwyn‘ states that “promotion of health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all whether they are living or working at Berwyn”. I think that collective ownership like this is a good thing because it means that the sole responsibility is not just carried on the shoulders of the healthcare team. The reason why this is good is because it replicates what goes on in the wider society.

I saw team sports in action, outdoor gym equipment and the outdoor running track. One initiative that caught my interest was the ‘Governor’s Running Club’. Men were proudly wearing their t-shirts which they were entitled to have once they had attended 5 successive weeks. Governor Trent emphasised to me that it was more about the commitment than the fitness.

Whilst all this looks favourable, one question I still have is the level of staff sickness at Berwyn. In ‘Annual HM Prison and Probation Service digest: 2017 to 2018, Chapter 15 tables – Staff sickness absence’ for the period 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018 there were 3,628 working days lost (see Table 15.1, Column U, Row 18). It raises a concern as to why this is, given that Berwyn is not at full capacity and new communities are only opened once sufficient staff are in place.

 Purposeful Activity

It’s all very well having unlock at 08:15 and lockup at 19:15 but if the industries, education, workshops, purposeful activities are not there then what?

And what do we mean by purposeful activity?

I saw one of the workshops, sewing prison regulation towels. A monotonous task, processing the same off-white coloured towelling. I’ve seen the same activity in other prisons such as HMP Norwich. Why is this happening in Berwyn? If sewing is to be one of the “purposeful activities” then surely this could be expanded to sewing something less bland and uninteresting using acquired skills that may be genuinely useful on release. For example, Fine Cell Work showcases how this is possible both inside and after release with their post-prison programme.

In another workshop I saw, I felt I was looking at something more purposeful; it was a call centre, provided by Census Group, run by a woman who was keen to praise the men in her group. I could see how skills learned here could translate into meaningful employment on the outside as well as provide interest, variation and a challenge for those participating in this activity.

I briefly stepped into the College building housing the prison library. If it wasn’t for the jangling of keys you could have been in any educational institution.

 Accommodation

Whereas I had expected the heat, because my visit was in August, I had not expected the temperature levels inside on the landings of the communities and in the rooms I visited. It must have been at least 30 degrees.

I had heard a lot about the rooms here and saw many photos. However, you need to walk in one to fully understand the scale. For the rooms which are single occupancy they are compact, but I’ve seen smaller. A raised bed, with storage underneath, a desk with monitor, a plastic moulded chair. It has a shower/toilet/wash basin in the corner with a short curtain acting as a screen. And a small safe for locking away any medical supplies and that’s your lot.

Unfortunately, with only 30% of the rooms in Berwyn built for single occupancy the majority of the men have to double up.

HMP Berwyn double occupancy room by North Wales Daily Post 1488378201460 450px

In the double-occupancy rooms, it is the same layout for two but only slightly wider and another small bed with storage underneath. To share a room with someone you have never met and to have so little privacy going to the toilet or having a shower is entirely unacceptable for a new build prison in the 21st Century.

Here is where I have a problem with Berwyn as a model for Titan prisons.

According to ‘The Report of the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry’ published in June 2006, (download the PDF here) there were three main recommendations concerning enforced cell-sharing:

  1. The elimination of enforced cell-sharing should remain the objective of the Prison Service, and the achievement of this goal should be regarded as a high priority.
  2. The Prison Service should review whether the resources currently available to it might be better deployed towards achieving this goal, without compromising standards in other areas, and should set a date for realising this objective.
  3. If the resources currently available to the Prison Service are insufficient to produce a significant decrease in enforced cell-sharing, central government should allocate further funds to the Prison Service to enable more prisoners to be accommodated in cells on their own.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be astonished that after 12 years these recommendations were not incorporated into the planning of Berwyn. They were made long before the architects’ drawings were prepared and before any ground works were dug.

How can the concept of a Titan prison be a showcase, a flagship, when recommendations such as these are willfully overlooked? Was it in pursuit of lower unit cost per prisoner?

 Economies of scale

If it is such a flagship of the Ministry of Justice, a social experiment, a regime extraordinaire, or whatever you wish to call it, why hasn’t the Secretary of State for Justice or the Prisons Minister visited? I will urge them to come and see Berwyn for themselves.

I already have my doubts that Berwyn will ever reach its full capacity so in that case what is stopping it from turning all double rooms into single occupancy?

It has been built to 70% double, 30% single rooms, like a Walmart of the Prison Service, pack them high, sell them cheap

During my visit I was informed that the cost per head was £14,000. Afterwards, I contacted Berwyn to confirm and was told £13,500 per head. Compare this to the average annual overall cost of a prison place in England and Wales at £38,042 in 2017, according to Ministry of Justice report on ‘Costs per prison place and cost per prisoner by individual’, £35,182 in 2016 (download the 2017 PDF here and the 2016 PDF here). See: Table 2a, Summary Comparison

I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure was more like £11,000 – £12,000 per head at Berwyn, its “economies of scale” achieved by factors such as low salaries of frontline staff in their first year of service being the predominant workforce here.

 The Berwyn Way

All the men arriving into HMP Berwyn are given Enhanced IEP status. The idea behind this is that the men then have to take some personal ownership to maintain that level. In other words, it leaves no room for incentives to improve status but only punishment if you don’t make the grade. In my opinion, it makes a nonsense of the IEP system and is inconsistent with many of the sending prisons of which there are 65. Is this demotivating those who have worked hard to achieve Enhanced elsewhere?

I remember when the last changes with IEP came into effect with Chris Grayling. Working in a prison where most of the men were on Enhanced yet half of them did not fulfil the new criteria to be on Enhanced. This brought about a two-tier system when people were transferred into the prison as they had to adhere to the new rules. This issue alone can have a big impact on the culture and effective daily operations inside a prison. I feel the same pitfall maybe true of Berwyn, albeit inadvertent.

I noted later that in the document ‘The Berwyn Way’ 3. Strategic priorities, Rehabilitative culture.

3.8 An important part of the realisation of Berwyn’s rehabilitative culture will be changing behaviour by reward, not punishment and everyone will work hard to uphold this ambition.

How can this be so when the IEP system is used not to reward, but to punish?

There is a clear disconnect here.

Respect: to get it you must give it

I noted that on one occasion entering a community, staff immediately stood up as we entered. My immediate thoughts, was this just a mark of respect or fear of reprisal later?

I rather hope it is the former rather than the latter.

But I have been in enough SMT meetings in other prisons, where Governing Governors have mouthed off over even a trivial matter, to know how that could have been out of fear.

I shook hands with many members of staff and the men housed there. Some men apologised for their language even though it wasn’t aimed at me. This showed self-awareness which is a vital characteristic in life as well as in living in a prison.

I came away with a brochure about the rehabilitative culture at Berwyn, a document on ‘The Berwyn Way’, a desk top flip chart and pack of cards of the Berwyn Values.

Summary

I’m commenting on a regime, I’m not criticising any individual. I’m evaluating and analysing what the consequences might look like for Berwyn based on what I have personally seen and heard.

The model of single-occupancy rooms is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

It is time HMPPS stops putting profit before people.

Positive reinforcement of behaviour works much better than penalties.

In my opinion I would have to say, on the balance of probability, there should never be another prison built on the scale of Berwyn.

 

Featured photo courtesy of Inside Time which tweets as @InsideTimeUK

On-page photos courtesy of North Wales Daily Post which tweets as @dailypostwales

 

This visit to HMP Berwyn took place on Thursday 2nd August 2018.

My time and expenses were entirely self-funded.

 

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A conversation with Liam Allan

Liam Allan photo by David Mirzoeff Press Association The Times 30 Jul 2018 700px

Liam Allan. Photo by David Mirzoeff/PA

Thrown into the media limelight through false accusations, I’m sure we have all seen a photo of Liam Allan splashed across the front pages of the newspapers. His case became a bellwether of incomplete disclosure of evidence. As a student who has recently graduated with a degree in Criminology and Criminal Psychology he wasn’t immune to the injustices that are prevalent within our Criminal Justice System.

Regardless of age, many are so hurt and damaged by the trauma of false accusations that they have completely lost faith in the system. It’s not surprising when your life has been turned upside down to want some form of apology, recompense or even revenge.

But, remarkably this is not the case with Liam, speaking with him a few days ago I was astonished by his lack of counterattack and malice. He is trying to live a normal life and planning for his future in studying for a Master’s in Psychology.

He spoke clearly, with compassion, with a hint of frustration but most of all with a vision and purpose.

He shared with me the need for public awareness about miscarriages of justice, and his desire to help those who are innocent. It’s only working together and through education can there can be prevention of more false accusations coming to court and destroying individuals and families alike?

“I don’t want to take anything away from actual victims”

“Everyone is becoming aware that they are not being listened to”

“There has to be some form of punishment for false accusers”

Liam and his friend Annie Brodie Akers have founded a new initiative called Innovation of Justice. Through its work they aim to present a united powerful, collaborative, and collective voice to the Crown Prosecution Service, Police, Justice Committee and decision makers.

Plan of Action

To host conferences to allow an opportunity for everyone to communicate, relax and create strong bonds that will help bring about the right changes together.

Aim

  • To unite as many people as possible, and work with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to create a dialogue for change
  • Formation of a board of elected representatives: to meet with the leading stakeholders, Police leaders and the Justice Committee. to discuss the proposals for change, as one united voice to the media
  • Focus solely on helping the innocent people that have been wrongly convicted and resolve the issues within the CJS

 

Ways to get in touch and support

innovationofjustice@protonmail.com

Twitter: @liam_allan95, @abrodieakers or @cmcgourlay #innovatingjustice

Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/innovation-of-justice

Register your interest in the following conferences:

Manchester: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-manchester-tickets-48516439978

Cardiff: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-cardiff-tickets-48516506176

Sheffield: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-sheffield-tickets-48516526236

London: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/innovation-of-justice-london-tickets-48516808079

 

Photo courtesy David Mirzoeff / Press Association / The Times, 30 July 2018

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