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I am relieved that the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke has at last addressed some of the fundamental issues that prisoners face; job opportunities can be scarce and are often limited on release from prison.
His speech at the Education and Employment Strategy Launch at HMP Isis on 24 May 2018 entitled “From the wings to the workplace: the route to reducing reoffending” stated that the first step is education.
I have noticed prisoners are invariably portrayed in the media as those having a low IQ and a high percentage with a reading age of an 11 year old. Yet, what they don’t report on is that there are intelligent prisoners, having skills that could benefit other prisoners and need something worthwhile or in other words purposeful activity to do whilst in prison.
I once spent time talking to two prisoners, both were sentenced for fraud and both were so bored. They didn’t want to retrain in bricklaying or painting and decorating or learn how to clean different types of flooring! They wanted to use their brains, but prison and especially resettlement prisons do not cater for that.
The second point David Gauke raised was moving from jobs on the wings to jobs in the workplace. Unfortunately, there are not enough links with the outside community, and too few businesses are willing to give prisoners another chance, but without a fresh start it is impossible for them to be reintegrated back into society.
For some picking up where they left off is not an option due to the nature of the crime, family circumstances or health.
But if we build a barrier to those who pose no threat to society which prevents them from re-joining their work sector then are we continuing to punish?
On the Unlock Opportunity, David Gauke continued to say:
“…I want more employers to look past an offender’s conviction to their future potential.
How do we do that?
Well, we do it by working more closely with employers, so they open their eyes to the benefits of hiring ex-offenders.
Our New Futures Network will do just that. It will create stronger links between prisons and employers, championing prisoners and acting as a broker between prisoners and employers.”
I am encouraged by this, but I feel there is something missing.
Does departure from a society that has basically forgotten your worth expect a re-introduction without barriers?
Those that have served a prison sentence often have a loss of confidence, self-esteem, and motivation, which can make the job market difficult to access.
Any course that can help navigate and offer guidance for this can only be a good thing.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to HMP Wandsworth to attend the celebration of trainees completing the StandOut course by a friend Penny Parker.
It is designed to equip people with the tools and skills to gain employment using coaching techniques to build self-confidence and self-esteem, to raise aspirations and motivate trainees to release their potential. This is done by challenging mindsets and attitudes, encouraging teamwork, leadership and developing communication skills.
Straight away I could see such a great rapport between the attendees and the trainers and for a moment I forgot I was in a prison. The celebration was a way of giving the men a chance to have their say and receive encouragement through positive recognition.
One attendee commented:
“I learnt resilience, learnt about the skills I already had. I feel like have been rehabilitated and that I have the tools to make it”
Each attendee, some with more confidence than others stood up in front of us and shared what the course had done for them. It was then the mentors turn and each described how they had witnessed the attendees moving forward week by week, celebrated their strengths and instead of just shaking their hand and giving out the certificates they paused and gave each one a challenge.
It wasn’t a well done pat on the head and then let’s move on to the next. It was a way of helping each one progress to the next stage in their journey.
The second and third stages of StandOut are the continued support (essential) through one-to-one coaching until release from prison, and then on a voluntary take-up basis, for as long as each trainee wishes after release.
I will finish on this StandOut story:
Ryan completed the first ever StandOut course in Wandsworth HMP in March 2017. He had been persuaded to come along to the course by a friend and wasn’t entirely sure what he was signing up to. His family kept his incarceration a secret from everyone and when he would call his mother would say he was calling from university. Ryan had never had a job before.
Ryan quickly began to engage with the StandOut course, enjoying the challenges of presentations, mock interviews and writing his CV and disclosure statement. He also grew in his desire to take responsibility for his choices and became determined to make positive steps when he returned home.
Once released things weren’t immediately straightforward for Ryan. A lead with an employer who had promised him a role ended in a dead end and despite showing initiative and determination he also failed his first attempt at his CSCS card.
However, Ryan was determined to prove his resilience and kept on pushing doors. All the time he was in contact with StandOut, asking for advice and keeping them informed.
We recently spoke to Ryan and he has now secured not one but two jobs. He is working as a courier and has also secured a job as a concierge. The concierge job was given to Ryan partly because he had the guts and honesty to hand the interviewer his disclosure letter. Ryan is now enjoying getting up at the same time as the rest of his family and joining them as they all leave for work
Mr David TC Davies (Twitter @DavidTCDavies), Conservative MP for Monmouth and chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, has launched an inquiry into prison provision in Wales. At the moment, there are no facilities for women yet there are proposals for another “Titan” prison in South Wales at Baglan.
Let’s look briefly at the record
HMP Swansea, HMP Parc and HMP Cardiff rank amongst the worst prisons in the UK.
All have serious problems with prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, suicides, overcrowding and drugs. Here are some statistics:
Swansea: 80% of prisoners are in overcrowded cells. On arrival at the prison 53% have a drug problem and 32% have an alcohol problem.
Parc: this prison is ranked 111th place out of 117 in England and Wales. In 2017 there were 881 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 1451 incidents of self-harm.
Cardiff: 64.5% of prisoners are in overcrowded cells. There were 220 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in 2017.
Usk/Prescoed: There is no full-time health care provision at either prison, concern by IMB of frequency of ‘lie downs’
If South Wales is serious about a new super prison it should first take a long look at what’s happened in North Wales:
Berwyn, the flagship of the MoJ which opened in February 2017.
Despite being Europe’s second biggest prison, with a capacity of more than 2,100, up to July of last year the £212m facility was less than a quarter full – with just over 500 inmates being catered for. By November there were 800 men.
Digging a little deeper, we find:
- HMP Berwyn received 319 complaints from prisoners February to September 2017.
- There were 219 complaints about the living quarters in the first seven months and 31 complaints about the quality of the food.
- There were 4 complaints about prisoner-on-prisoner violence or assault compared to 50 lodged by prisoners alleging abuse or assault by prison officers.
- Five of the alleged assaults were passed to North Wales Police for investigation, no action was taken over any of them.
- Ministry of Justice revealed that 376 items were confiscated from prisoners between its opening in February and October last year.
- 30 unspecified weapons, 56 items relating to drug paraphernalia and 34 mobile phones were among the items found in the possession of prisoners.
- Other items confiscated include 21 debt list items, 66 lighters, 17 USBs, 26 vaping objects and 10 chargers.
- There were also a number of items described as “miscellaneous” that were confiscated by prison officers.
So, whether prisons are new, old, Victorian, large, average size, have highly respected Governors or frankly those that should not be there (believe me I’ve met both!), it makes no difference as they all have similar issues to contend with:
Overcrowded. Understaffed. Underfunded.
To alleviate this prison crisis, we need fresh approaches in order to:
REDUCE the population: send fewer people to prison for non-violent offences
INCREASE the use of community orders
CUT the number of recalls
DEAL with indefinite sentences IPP’s convert to fixed length sentences?
FACILITATE prison release, therefore reduce self-inflicted deaths and reduce self-harm
REFORM prison estate and ensure all facilities are decent
SHARE best practice
INVEST in the long term and DELIVER in the short term
ADD more mental health facilities
The list can be endless and will depend on whether we see the purpose of prison as punishment, rehabilitation, both of these or a form of social cleansing.
Only last September, Lord McNally said in the House of Lords debate on prison overcrowding:
“We therefore have to understand the debate today which will be overwhelming in favour of sensible reform still has to pass that test of how we get a Secretary of State, a Prisons Minister and a Prime Minister who are willing to drive through reforms”
But that’s not the end of the story
We need a change in public attitude and that can only come from being informed and educated and not continually having issues covered up and hidden, the brushing under the carpet syndrome. There must be transparency.
We then need investment in life after prison in the provision of a home, a place of work, training or education and a reduction of the stigma in having a criminal record.
My year opened memorably
In January, the Prisons Minister, Sam Gymiah, wrote to sack me from my role as a Chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay and to ban me for 5 years from IMB membership. I spoke out in the public interest for prison reform, highlighting key weaknesses I found in the MoJ. They shot the messenger.
I’ve written extensively on the reasons for this as those of you kind enough to have followed the story will know only too well.
No doubt the MoJ and IMB hoped they had heard the last from me.
I have not shut up and I have not gone away
In fact, if anything, as a direct result of media interest from radio, tv and the local and national press, my voice became heard more widely. I was given many chances to raise important issues on the state of prisons in England and Wales and I took them.
In April, I learned that I had been nominated for The Contrarian Prize 2017. It is a prestigious prize for those who have shown independence, courage and sacrifice. Those who nominated me liked the fact that I was unafraid to speak the truth to those in power, talking about the criminal justice system in the public interest. They recognised that doing so came at a huge personal cost including a face-off with the ‘goliath’ of the Ministry of Justice.
Also in April, producers at the BBC brought me onto a live link on BBC News Channel to talk about the problem of drones bringing in banned items into prisons. When presenter Julian Worricker asked for my take on it, I was able to outline the context of the issue and that it was impossible for all the drugs, phones etc within a prison to have been delivered via drones and that the new task force to be set up by the MoJ may have limited results. After working within the prison system for several years I was convinced that visitors and staff were likely routes in for contraband, yet security continued to be somewhat limited.
In May, I was delighted to join Lady Val Corbett, at her invitation, to attend the first of three ladies executive networking lunches. Each one inspired me and brought me into contact with remarkable women. Nicola McCalliog and Jo Apparicio are two women who I met through the lunches and who I especially admire; I look forward to the opportunity of working with them in the coming year. I have been amazed by the interest that was expressed in my own story and experience.
In my opinion, Lady Val has such determination, persistence, and guts! I thank her for accepting me into the Corbett Network as an associate member, it’s great to play an active part of something so vibrant.
In July, an article by Laurence Cawley was published on the BBC website. Here, the journalist wanted to explore in greater depth my experience with the IMB and the MoJ. The editorial team expected the article would get around 200,000 unique views. In fact, it reached 690,000 unique views on the first day and am told it was ranked the 8th most read article that day globally on the BBC. It was then I realised that there was a thirst by the public for coverage on justice matters.
In its mission statement, her Majesty’s Prison Service for England and Wales states that it:
“serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.”
But it is shameful that HMPPS has fallen so short of its own mission statement. The situation in our prisons is worsening and really has become a humanitarian issue.
Also in July, I was invited to appear live on BBC News, this time in the studio, for an interview with Ben Brown about young people and children caught in the vagaries of the Criminal Justice System, highlighting the lack of care for these vulnerable individuals. This coverage proved a valuable opportunity to remind the public about the issue.
In August, I was invited to London to be interviewed by leading journalist, Simon Israel, who wanted to discuss the treatment I had encountered with the MoJ which tried to prevent me from speaking the truth concerning the prison crisis.
The interview went out on Channel 4 News causing quite a stir.
In the Autumn, I was part of one of the most important documentaries to be screened throughout the country. Here the theme was injustice and involved those from various angles within the Justice system. I was so delighted to meet those that had supported me over the last 18 months and together our voices were heard. There are more screenings planned for 2018.
This year new friendships were formed including Jane Gould (Clean Sheet) who works tirelessly in providing jobs for those that have been within the system and are often overlooked and penalised for having a criminal record. I joined her at the House of Lords for a tea reception.
My coffee and cake buddy Justin Williams has been a great friend. He has been a sounding board and has supported me when I have come under attack from those who have disagreed with my stand for prison reform.
On a lighter note, I was invited to the Opening Concert for Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union by my friend Trevor Peel. Other invitations included ‘Why me’ evening at Clifford Chance with Peter Woolf and Mel Giedroyc; Probation Institute launch of Probation Services for Armed Forces Veterans under Supervision; ‘Fighting for Prison Reform’ at UCL and Robin Corbett Awards.
I have also taken up my usual seat at the Justice Select Committee on numerous occasions, the most memorable being when the IMB and AMIMB were in front of the committee. I listened carefully and made copious notes when the IMB President John Thornhill gave evidence. This man had caused so much harm to me and yet he was unaware that I was sitting right behind him. When he was informed who I was his face was like a rabbit in headlights. His plan to get rid of me had backfired, I was still there!
There were so many other events, meetings, coffee and cake times with those that have walked with me through 2017. I thank them all.
Richard Rowley, Daniel, Cranni, Jonathan Robinson, Jonathan Aitken, Unsound Robin, Charlotte, Khatuna, Chris Moore, Michael Irwin, Tracy Edwards…and more.
I started 2018 by celebrating with my twin sister our birthdays.
This year represents a year of great opportunity.
I intend to seize it with both hands.
This month marks one year since I sat in front of a disciplinary hearing at Petty France.
I had stood up and spoken out publicly on the state of our prisons and the state of the Independent Monitoring Boards that has a statutory role within each prison. Some may think I was too severe, and undermined the work that was done by volunteers. Others praised me for being brave enough to speak out as they were too fearful to face the consequences themselves.
I spoke from my experience and I spoke the truth. Seriously, the IMB is a shambles for the main part, a weak voiceless organisation that purports to be independent. Yes, there are some serious members that care about their role but blink and you will miss them! It’s not independent by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a department of the Ministry of Justice based at the MoJ headquarters Petty France.
I didn’t have to appear at the disciplinary hearing, the MoJ/IMB could have made a decision on my future as a Chairman of an IMB without my presence. I was determined to be there and try to uncover the ridiculous allegations against me. What a farce it was. I had been suspended from my role for 8 months and during that time was investigated twice by the MoJ.
During the investigation, I learnt that the article I wrote “Whistle blower without a whistle” in the Prisons Handbook 2016 was not an issue with the IMB Secretariat. The problem was that I spoke to the press. I was interviewed by my local paper ‘East Anglian Daily Times and by the ‘InsideTime’ prison newspaper. Suddenly my story was not only out in the open but was in every prison across the country.
Then came the prejudicial character assassination by both MoJ and IMB. I had struck a raw nerve. Three years previously the MoJ had commissioned Karen Page Associates to review the IMB. Conclusion was the IMB needed root and branch reform. They were so right, each board operating as a separate entity. There was nothing earth shattering about by article, I raised similar points to the review so why did the MoJ/IMB try to shut me down and silence me?
I believe it was a campaign initiated by a member of my board who had the audacity to send in additional material to the disciplinary hearing as he was scared that the decision would go in my favour and that I would reveal what was really going on in the IMB. It was rejected of course.
I didn’t realise that when you needed support or help in situations you faced as a member of an IMB it wouldn’t be available. There is so much I could say but basically the care team made up of members around the country that you could approach for support and guidance had been disbanded. So where difficult situations arose I was on my own.
Entering the hearing I was faced with a couple of familiar faces. The first panel member was on the executive committee for AMIMB. The same association that without permission had taken part of my article and printed it in their magazine and sent it to their members. So, no impartiality there.
I realised the MoJ had decided to change the terms of reference for the investigation without informing me, is that right?
The investigation was as a result of being suspended yet the direction and conclusion of the investigation had changed. I also found out the MoJ had been watching my every step for months and had a list of what I had said and when. Boy they were determined to silence me. I requested notes taken during the hearing and was disappointed but not surprised that so much that I had said was missed out. I don’t know what so-called “evidence” was sent to the Prisons Minister everything was done behind closed doors. They had made up their minds, nothing I could say or do would change that. Just as in the beginning of their campaign against me I knew there would not be fairness. Ironic that the IMB strapline is “Monitoring fairness and respect for those in custody”
Trying to silence me didn’t work
Since the hearing and at every opportunity without my hands being tied anymore, I have spoken out for positive change in the Criminal Justice System both locally and nationally.
I have met some amazing people, visited excellent schemes within prisons and worked with those I admire for their stand.
In trying to silence me the IMB/MoJ have given me a voice, a National voice. As I have said so many times before, I have never tried to raise my personal profile, for me the priority has been the issues I have raised. If you knew me you would understand this.
There have been so many that have walked beside me over the past year, some I have laughed with and some cried with. We have encouraged each other, we have shared our stories. I thank them all.
I am stronger now than I was a year ago and even more determined to play a part in the change that is needed within the Criminal Justice System.
With my kids no longer in education my summer doesn’t have a definite start or finish date any more. Summer just happens.
I’m not one to sit around and do nothing or to sit on the beach or by the pool changing into a darker shade of lobster. No that’s not for me. Here are some of my highlights.
So, I will start on 16th May at the David Jacobson Gallery. Contrarian Prize giving.
This was an extraordinary event and I was privileged to have been nominated for this prestigious prize. A few months earlier I had met the founder Ali Miraj and had prepared a short bio to be shown to the invited guests. It was a great evening and even though I didn’t win I was delighted to have been a part.
Two days later I attended a networking lunch with Lady Val Corbett, Professional Women’s network designed as a way for Executive ladies to support one another whilst raising money for the Robin Corbett Awards. I have attended these awards for the last two years and to be part of this network is something I am proud of. I was introduced to the group of ladies by Lady Val which stimulated much conversation afterwards.
This month revolved mainly around coffee and food.
Coffee with Hugh Fraser, actor, and crime writer (Captain Hastings from Poirot) He was such a gentleman and we talked about crime, prisons etc
Lunch with Chris Moore, Chief Executive of the Clink Charity at Brixton Prison. Great food great company and lots to catch up together.
Dinner with Peter Holloway CEO Prison Fellowship England and Wales
Other stuff included:
Giving a talk to a local group on Restorative Justice
Being interviewed by a German journalist from DIE ZEIT
Started the month at a Rick Astley concert with my closest friend Helen, our dancing to 80’s hits was a sight for sore eyes!
Coffee with Zahid Mubarek Trust
Lunch with Ali Miraj (Contrarian Prize)
On 12th July BBC article by Laurence Cawley which he expected to get around 200,000 unique views, in fact it reached 690,000 unique views on the first day and was the 8th most read article that day globally on the BBC.
In Westminster for the launch of Proof magazine with the Justice Alliance
18th July Interview by Ben Brown live on BBC News Channel
Met up with a friend who works in Petty France, good job walls don’t have ears!
Met Natasha Porter (Unlocked Grads) spent the morning chatting with the team and observing some of the training in the form of workshops
Interview with Injustice Documentary for a blog promoting new documentary out in October
Tea with a journalist friend in London for a catch-up
Travelled to London to be interviewed by Simon Israel for Channel 4 News at 7pm
Afternoon tea with a friend, an ex-offender working within the prison system has a lot of experience and a true gentleman.
Bloomsbury book launch for Michael Irwin, meeting with other Criminologists and chatting over a G&T, perfect.
Lunch with various charities, yes food again including Jane Gould (Clean Sheet)
But now as Autumn has arrived there is work to do.
I am a woman on a mission.
Watch this space!
Reading this book is like listening to myself as Richard writes like I think!
This is a compilation of journeys of many people within a prison environment with a reoccurring theme, the truth about prisons. Truth can be hard to swallow, it can be hidden, but it’s there if we take the time to find it.
I know that speaking the truth can come at a personal cost.
Truth also hurts. But should we ignore it, should we cover it up? No, certainly not.
Walking into a prison is like opening that door C.S. Lewis wrote about and entering another world. A world without the same rules regulations or expectations. To start with its rather strange, almost intriguing and no day is ever the same. Conversations are limited, people are watching you and waiting for you to make a mistake as you are expected to know the rules, but when they are unwritten how can you? It’s like you walk into someone else’s life
When you start reading this book you open in your mind that wardrobe door. If you have never visited a prison you begin to visualise what really happens, who lives and works there. Most importantly you begin to wonder what are the benefits? What is its purpose? And just Why?
Questioning the stories, the anecdotes, the nitty gritty of prison life changes you. Once you open that door there is no going back. From then on, the reader cannot say “I never knew” as you have just begun to learn and hopefully understand about prison.
Sentencing removes many from society and places them in Prison.
But what happens when they are released back?
With their belongings in a bag and a small grant off they go back to the society that removed them in the first place.
Due to the nature of the crime or the often-complex background many face the prospect of no real home and no job.
I speak at every opportunity of my frustration that skills acquired in prison are seemingly just worthless on release. The skills need to match the work available. However, I have seen excellent examples of tutors training those in prison and encouraging them to reach standards that they never thought possible. I have read letters and cards sent to these tutors in thanks for believing in them and helping to achieve qualifications that have led to decent jobs on release.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen enough.
What about those with existing skills that have had to lay dormant whilst they serve their sentence?
How can they re-join the workplace?
Should they be able to go back into their old job or field?
For some picking up where they left off is not an option due to the nature of the crime, family circumstances or health.
But if we build a barrier to those who pose no threat to society which prevents them from re-joining their work sector then are we continuing to punish?
One perfect example is a man I have known for over 4 years. He is articulate, polite, intelligent, well dressed, always encouraging, constantly pushing for prison reform, and has a network that most would be grateful for. He has been known to take into prisons celebrities such as Russell Brand and Derek Martin and MP’s to encourage those on their journey in life.
He has written two books on his experiences whilst in prison and the challenges he faced on release.
His name is Jonathan Robinson, a former helicopter instructor.
After helping an MP with content for a book, he asked for a reference to get back to the job he loved so that he could once again use the skills which he had acquired over many years. You would think that was a simple enough request. He asked and was told YES.
But then was told NO and was hit by deafening silence that I have personally witnessed on many occasions from MP’s.
His story can be found this morning as a guest blog on www.prisonerben.blogspot.co.uk please read it as one day it may be someone you know facing the same stigma.
If Jonathan was prevented from working what hope have others?