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An interview on a Summer’s day

How/why did your involvement in the CJS come about?

I turned down my place to study for a degree and instead moved from Lincolnshire to Essex at the age of 19. My first “proper” job was in admin with NACRO in Colchester. I worked primarily in wages and finance. At that point NACRO provided 6 months work placements in painting and decorating or in gardening teams etc for those who had just come out of prison. I heard amazing stories from those men and some brought newspaper cuttings to show me of their various escapades, including a headline “Most wanted man in Britain” They made me laugh and some made me shed a few tears. But for me I had many questions that were never answered.

What happens after 6 months?

What about their families, how can they support them financially?

Was this really a way for integration back into society?

Why is only manual labour available?

I helped set up and train staff for a new branch of NACRO and then moved on to work in Finance for the NHS. However, I believe a seed was planted all those years ago.

Fast forward 25 years, I was accepted into University. I became a full-time student studying Criminology with 2 kids at school, 1 at college, a part time job and my husband working full time and studying also, I embarked on a very busy 3 years of multi-tasking!

For my first presentation I chose to speak on Women in prison and the Corston report, I researched thoroughly but was marked down because no one was interested in prisons and especially not women in prison, it was deemed not an exciting enough subject. Great start. My next presentation was about Restorative Justice and yet again I was questioned as to why I was interested, one lecturer even said, “What’s that?”. A pattern was emerging of my interest into those within the CJS and those that had been released increased. I was not put off and in my 3rd year the title for my dissertation was: Restorative Justice: Is it delivering strategic change in England and Wales or just a cost cutting exercise by the Government?

To understand the significance of Restorative Justice I arranged interviews with experts in the UK, NZ and USA, even Howard Zehr widely regarded as the Grandfather of RJ agreed to help. I consumed document after document on RJ and was a frequent visitor at the Cambridge University Library, floor 6 (those stairs almost killed me!) and the Institute of Criminology Library.

I graduated with an honours degree in Criminology and looked for my next step.

I joined the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay and in just three years became the Chair.

I wrote about the things I saw and heard but what I didn’t expect was what happened next. I was confronted with a prejudicial character assassination brought against me, a fight to clear my name, being investigated twice by the Ministry of Justice, called in front of a disciplinary hearing in Petty France and the involvement of not one but two Prison Ministers. I felt that I was on my own against a bastion of chauvinism. Not the last bastion of their kind I would come across. Welcome to the IMB!

Laurence Cawley 12072017

My continuing journey can be found in my blog: The Criminal Justice Blog www.faithspear.wordpress.com

Because my story is fairly unique it has been covered by BBC News, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Suffolk, 5Live, LBC as well as National and Local newspapers, law journals and online publications etc.

Religion is clearly important to you, what role does God play in your life?

I remember going to Chapel with my grandparents as a young child and hearing my Dad and Grandfather sing the old hymns with deep sincerity. Christianity has always been part of my life. My faith in God has often been tested.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

I often say I’m a Mum first, always have been always will be. My husband and my kids are the most important people in my life, I have a great relationship with them all. They understand who I am and what motivates me to do what I do. They understand the bigger picture and that for me it is a cause and not merely a job. That in itself I realise is exceptional and I find I am continually grateful because I know that the level of family support I have is sadly not available to everyone. I can’t do this stuff on my own. They are also aware of the work I do behind the scenes and the many hours of support I give freely.

What role, if any, has luck played in your life?

Things happens for a reason, we don’t always know or understand the reason why. We all have issues to face and hurdles to climb and times of joy and celebration. Luck doesn’t fit in my life at all.

Not only have you been a source of inspiration to me in certain areas, I have also seen you inspire others and would like to know who inspired, or inspires you and why?

lady constance lytton

A few years ago, I wrote a journal article with a friend of mine, Dr David Scott about a remarkable woman, Lady Constance Lytton, commemorating 100 years since her book Prisons and Prisoners was published. In it she presented one of the most significant challenges to 20th Century anti-suffrage politics. Her book is a harrowing personal account of her four prison sentences as a militant suffragette. It is also a compelling insight into the mind of a young woman consumed by a cause which would prove to be instrumental in prison reform and votes for women, as well as tragically being a contributory factor to her death. My inspiration, which comes from her being consumed by a cause, makes me wonder if that is still possible. This wasn’t a phase she was going through or a pastime, it was a lifestyle.

I admire her courage and determination. I see this in so few people but when I find it, it is unmistakable. Let me give you an example, Tracy Edwards MBE. At the age of 26 she was the skipper for the first all-female crew for the Whitbread Round the World Race. It is not so much the fact that she sailed around the world, although that in itself is remarkable, but it is the reason why that I find compelling. She said “First time in my life I stood up for something I believed in” I have met and chatted with Tracy, she is an inspiration to me without a doubt.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment and/or achievement is?

I think that my greatest accomplishment is staying true to myself, maintaining integrity and not bowing to pressure to conform.

In terms of my greatest achievement let me give you a couple of examples. First, being nominated for the Contrarian prize 2017 especially when you realise the key criteria that the judges look for are Independence, Courage and Sacrifice.

With Ali Miraj

Ali Miraj and Faith Spear

Second, last year I was deeply moved and excited to learn that I had been counted as one of the 100 inspirational Suffolk women alongside people such as Dame Millicent Fawcett.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

On one of my visits to the House of Parliament I took time to seek out one of the most outspoken MP’s known for saying it as it is. I sat down next to Dennis Skinner and asked him a very simple question. I asked, “How do you get heard in this place?”. Mr Skinner looked me straight in the eye and offered me advice I will never forget. With his characteristic directness, he said, “You have to be seen to be heard”. I’ve taken his advice and applied it to all I do. This has not come naturally to me as people who know me will tell you.

Everybody wants to have their say and everyone has an opinion. But there is a big difference between those who say their piece ad nauseum and those who have something to say.

In one sense all that people have heard from me so far is simply learning to overcome the barriers of not being heard. When I have learned enough then I am sure I will have gained the clarity with what I have to say.

If you were given the prisons and probation ministers role, what changes would you make?

I would scrap the titan prison building programme and instead invest in smaller local units, making families more accessible and start to break down the barriers between those in prison and those on the outside.

I would encourage industry to step out of their comfort zone and give more people with convictions a second chance. To remove the stigma of a criminal record so that it is not forever hanging around people’s necks. We are a deeply divided and hurt society that is full of prejudges.

I would ban all industries within prisons that do not provide purposeful activities and a decent wage. People need to be work ready on release with housing and job options already in place. Families should be able to stay together and be supported, children should be prioritised.

I would make sure everyone working within the CJS were trained sufficiently for their roles and supported in their jobs.

As a prisons minister you can only change what is in your field of influence to change. In other words, you need to be precise, you need be pragmatic and you need to learn whose advice you can trust. Then act on it.

One of my priorities as Prisons Minister would be to take advice to demonstrate better things to invest in. Diversion, or Restorative Justice or Community.

Put money into early years, into youth etc.

We have to stop this madness of believing that we can change people and their behaviour by banging them up in warehouse conditions with little to do and not enough to eat and sanitation from a previous century.

As Prisons Minister I would initiate change that would lead to every prison Governor carrying personal accountability for the way they run the prisons they are responsible for. It’s not their prison, its ours and they must run it properly, giving people in their care decent conditions and personal dignity regardless of what crime the courts have sent them to prison for. The moment Governors carry that personal accountability is the moment you will see astonishing changes in HMPPS.

I will ensure under performing Governors leave the service and are not continually rotated around the prison estate or promoted to more senior positions. They have to know the weight of the accountability they carry.

Finally, what are you hopes and aspirations for the future of the criminal justice, and also for you?

Transparency and Accountability should underline every decision made. No more carpets where issues are swept under. No more excuses for the crisis within the system. We talk too much, we deliberate too much and have too many committees. There are too many roundtable events, conferences, discussions where everyone is saying they are experts yet so much remains the same. We produce too many reports, reviews and paperwork that gets filed away. Now is the time for action, for investment in people and for priorities to change. Lets just get on with it and stop competing and instead work toward a common objective, such as drastically reducing the prison population

In the next five years, I will continue to speak up truthfully and will add my voice to the very many voices calling for change. I will support policies introduced by the current Prisons and Probation Minister or by their successor where those policies do bring about real change. However, I shall not hesitate in bringing a strong critique where those policies gloss over the hard questions or where they shirk the implementation of measures for real reform. I will finish on this:

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

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

Vision is something you possess, a cause possess you

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

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

Vision will generate excitement, but a cause generates power

[Adapted from Houston (2001)]

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!

A conversation with: Terry Waite

I’m fulfilling something that has been on my wish list for over 20 years… meeting Terry Waite.

Many years ago, as a young Mum, I was eager to find something more substantive to read than Fireman Sam. I borrowed ‘Taken on Trust’ from the library and was riveted by his harrowing story of being a hostage.

Reading about Terry Waite re-ignited my preference for non-fiction and an individual’s personal journey. What stood out to me was his resilience and courage but so did his humanity and his deep faith.

I’m not familiar with the layout of Westminster Abbey and certainly not The Cloisters. Many people who enter are tourists fascinated by the scale of this architecture which commemorates the births, deaths and marriages associated with it. But not me, not on this occasion.

Walking towards my destination, I am suddenly aware that Terry Waite has been a part of my own journey. I say that because the inhumanity that he endured for 5 years mainly in solitary confinement had a lasting impact on me and still today raises many questions, such as:

The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey, London

The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey, London

Why do we put the vulnerable in isolation in our prison system?

Why do we as a society accept it as an inevitability for some?

I’m clutching my copy of his new book ‘Solitude’ where he explores various accounts by those he has met on his travels of being solitary.

Just checked my watch, I’m early, I’m usually early.

Peeking through The Cloisters, there is an immaculate quadrangle where the grass is surprisingly green and a small water feature bubbles away and a fresh breeze bringing a well needed respite to the heat and humidity of London.

Even the event organiser’s choice of location spoke to me of hours and hours of quiet contemplation.

Taking our seats, we were reminded that this was the route historically used by monks from their dormitory to the refectory and this site has always been “a place of power” and a “place of faith”. It’s humbling.

“I witnessed those killed before my very eyes”
“When law and order break down, all hell breaks loose”

These were some of the first words Terry Waite said as he stood to address the audience. He was dressed in a simple pale blue shirt, black trousers, cream linen jacket and a blood red tie. At 6’7” Mr Waite’s command presence was even more imposing than the ancient wooden doors framed by the solid stonework behind him.

 

Taken on Trust

“If someone turns to the Church for help regardless of whether the Church can help them, the Church should help them”.

He was deeply sincere.

Terry Waite in London on Thursday 19th July 2018

Terry Waite

He went on to explain his experience immediately before and at the point of being taken hostage in Beirut, January 1987.

He came face to face with hostage takers and knew he was facing the possibility himself of either being killed or captured. Trust between himself and the captors broke down. Being alone, not knowing and the uncertainty brought feelings of anger towards himself and anger towards the captors for breaking their word, having promised safe conduct.

He recounts his own experience of torture, mock execution and hours of interrogation whilst being shackled by his hands and feet to a wall.

 

Solitude

With no companionship and extreme isolation, he found a deeper form of solitude and counselled himself to do two things:

“Live each day at a time, as it comes. Live for now”
“Try and take it as an opportunity to take an interior journey, get to know yourself better”

Endeavouring to find inner harmony he began to write in his head.

“Pools of solitude and places of solitude help you to get to know yourself better and in so doing you are able to have a deeper understanding of others”.

Without a hint of arrogance and self-effacing I found Terry Waite’s words to be profoundly challenging. What he said and the way he said it drew a sharp contrast to a society which is generally irreligious, insular, and impatient.

He concluded his talk with the following, poignant words:

“The power of compassion is greater than the power of evil in this world”

Terry Waite then took a few questions, including one from me, where I asked for his views on solitary confinement in prisons in England and Wales. With an authoritative voice and immediacy, his answer to me was beyond dispute:

“It is cruel and must be stopped immediately”

In a personal conversation afterwards, Terry Waite was kind enough to sign my copy of ‘Solitude’, a gift to me from SPCK.

 

~

I am a woman on a mission

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.

May

So, I will start on 16th May at the David Jacobson Gallery. Contrarian Prize giving.With Ali Miraj

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. Lady Val networking lunchI 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.

June

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

July

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!With Helen at Rick Astley concert

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.Laurence Cawley 12072017

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

August

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!

Sorry, can you speak up?

The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) and the Association of Members of the Independent Monitor Boards (AMIMB) have been invited to give oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday 31st January 2017.

We will all watch with interest.

Especially since neither IMB or AMIMB have a voice.

The two bodies have not conducted themselves well in my opinion and in my experience. And have been ‘at loggerheads’ with each other for years.

Lack of support they show for their members is as shocking as it is lamentable.

It’s clear that I’m far from alone in thinking this; many others know it to be true but are, for the moment anyway, unable to vocalise it publicly for fear of reprisals, similar to those dished out to me.

 

UPDATED Wed 1st Feb

Well, did you attend or watch online?

In your opinion, how did they do?

~

My statement today outside Petty France

faith-spear-20161121_131057

Today, the Ministry of Justice has left me with no alternative than to take more robust action in the public interest.

Officials in Petty France have brought a disciplinary hearing against me. They accuse me of misconduct as a result of speaking out for prison reform.

An investigation into my behaviour was conducted at tax payers’ expense and brings into question my independence and my integrity. I am woman volunteering with the Independent Monitoring Board and I hold a public office.

The Ministry of Justice has chosen to disregard the evidence I provided of real misconduct including leaked emails between others in the Independent Monitoring Board.

This just scratches the surface and is a matter of substantial public interest.

Therefore, in front of the disciplinary panel and without permission for legal representation, I will disclose why the decision of the then prisons minister Andrew Selous MP six months ago was based on a prejudicial character assassination of me by those who want me to shut up and go away.

I am not shutting up.
I am not going away.

Our prisons are in crisis and prison reform is taking too long.

 

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

20150101_144536_LLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prisons are no different.

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

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

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

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

There have been countless

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

There are countless

How much money has been spent on prison reform?

Countless

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

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

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

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

Report summary

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

Criminal justice system “already overstretched”

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

Click to access 72.pdf

But what is the answer?

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Vision is something you possess, a cause possess you

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

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

Vision will generate excitement, but a cause generates power

[Adapted from Houston (2001)]

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

Justice Select Committee…Part two

This morning I was pleased to attend the Justice Select Committee meeting. It was the first one with Rt Hon Michael Gove MP being called as a witness in his new role as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

 

Pantomime - She’s behind you.

Pantomime – She’s behind you.

The session was recorded on video. Watch it here.

 

Getting down to business

After an exchange of pleasantries and mutual congratulations on appointment, the committee set about putting forward questions on important issues such as safety in prisons, rehabilitation, absconds from Open Prisons, court closures, and court and tribunal fees. This was good to see; Select Committees sit to scrutinise Government policy and progress.

Members of the JSC

This Justice Select Committee meeting came just a few days after the publication by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales’ Annual Report 2014-15, in which Open Prisons have been highlighted once again.

On the same day as the HMIP Annual Report, Nick Harwick also published the unredacted version of the report on Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) featuring three high profile cases of prisoners who each committed awful crimes whilst out on ROTL has challenged the current risk assessment within prisons.

The cases of Ian McLoughlin, HMP Springhill, Al-Foday Fofanah, HMP Ford and Alan Wilmot, HMP North Sea Camp were highlighted by Hardwick of where those on ROTL committed the same offence as they were sent to prison for in the first place, giving rise to questioning on whether there is ‘Rehabilitation’ in prison.

You can read the report here.

This was raised by Philip Davies MP when asking Mr Gove “what are you doing to protect the public from these future awful consequences?”

His reply was “…transfer to open prison should only follow an appropriate risk assessment.” He then added …”there will always be cases where there are individuals even if they have committed very serious offences may be suitable for a transfer to an open prison. Each case has to be judged on its own individual merits”. However, the underlying message was that public safety is paramount.

It was clear that Mr Gove was new to the job, there were many err and ums in his answers, but he did assure the committee that he would be happy to return when he had reviewed various aspects within the justice system.

So will I.

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/