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The year 2018 was historic for many reasons not least because it saw the first statue of a woman placed in Parliament Square, London.
More so its message, marking a pivotal moment in social history, with “Courage calls to courage everywhere”
And for me personally, I can look back on a year of Exploration, Celebration and Collaboration.
I traveled many miles in 2018 including two trips to Wales.
I was delighted to be invited to the Welsh Assembly, the Synedd, Cardiff in January to sit on a panel after the screening of the Injustice Documentary.
The whole subject of injustice was brought home though an introduction to Michael O’Brien jailed for 11 years for a murder he did not commit.
One woman at that event stood out for me, Claire Melville, who has since become a source of great encouragement.
My second trip to Wales took me north to Wrexham where, at the beginning of August, I visited HMP Berwyn on the invitation of the Governing Governor, Russell Trent. I have already written about my experience in a previous blog.
However, my visit and subsequent write-up caused quite a stir as within a week Russell was suspended from his duties and not just the media but trolls on Twitter had a field day.
The BBC and Channel 4 contacted me to ask if what I wrote was “the cause”. I raised some important points concerning the design and build of this “Titan prison” a flagship of the Ministry of Justice, which I sincerely hoped would be the last.
I made the most of my time whilst in the area and met with Erwin James (InsideTimes), had dinner with Arfon Jones (Police and Crime Commission for North Wales) and a working lunch with Keith Fraser, (retired Police Superintendent and Clean Sheet Ambassador). It was an enlightening few days to say the least.
I have had many reasons to celebrate in 2018, let me share some of them with you.
As the two-year anniversary of my article ‘Whistle-blower without a whistle‘ published in the Prisons Handbook 2016, approached, I was informed that the 2018 edition had been dedicated to me.
That was quite something as my original article upset those who walk the corridors of power in the Ministry of Justice, challenged the Independence of the Independent Monitoring Board and involved not one but two Prisons Ministers.
But the celebrations didn’t end there.
2018 has been a celebration of women; 100 years since women were given the vote and 100 years since the first women MP.
In July I was named one of the 100 Inspirational Suffolk women from the past and present day alongside many amazing women including Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett GBE campaigner for women’s suffrage. It is the statue of Millicent Fawcett which can be found in Parliament Square.
What an honour and a privilege to be recognised alongside women like that. And yes, I did make a big song and dance about it, why not. Who wouldn’t?
Then in September I received an email out of the blue from Brad Jones, Editor, EADT and Ipswich Star (Archant), which said:
It is 100 years since women won the right to vote, and to mark this anniversary Archant Suffolk, which publishes the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star, launched a very special project.
We asked the public to help us choose Inspiring Women of Suffolk…
I am delighted to say that you have been nominated and chosen as one of our Inspiring Women of Suffolk…
It was the public that chose me, and I am so grateful for everyone that voted.
I even celebrated the birthday of HM the Queen with members and guests of the National Liberal Club at a champagne reception on the invitation of my friend Trevor Peel.
What a highlight to discuss the criminal justice system with MP’s, an Ambassador and even a Royal Navy Admiral.
Isn’t it strange how talking about celebrations brings out the good, the bad and the ugly in people.
Social media is no exception.
Consequently, I have had to put up with a barrage of abuse from people. They have never met me, don’t know me but time after time they target their rancour at me. I know I’m not the only one under fire.
In November, I was invited by the Fawcett Society to Portcullis House for an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to celebrate 100 years of Women MP’s. How appropriate then that during the question and answer slot the main topic was abuse on social media and how women should not expect it, or accept it.
For many years I have been concerned about the lack of opportunities within prisons to educate, train and equip individuals on release.
People with a criminal record are immediately penalised in the job market regardless of whether they have the relevant skills; it’s an uphill battle.
So, you can imagine my delight when in March I was invited on to the Board of trustees of Clean Sheet, a charity with one simple purpose – to offer people with convictions the hope of a better future by finding real, permanent employment.
Clean Sheet’s Annual Review took place at the House of Lords attended by Rory Stewart MP OBE.
In April, I took up my usual seat behind people giving evidence at the Justice Select Committee.
Once the formalities of the meetings finish, the room usually empties very quickly and ministers hurry back into the corridors and disappear. But not this time.
After giving evidence, just weeks into his new job as Prisons and Probation Minister, Rory Stewart hung back, so I stood up and shook his hand.
“I thought I would introduce myself, I am Faith, Faith Spear”
“Yes, hello Faith, I follow you on Twitter,” he said
“It would be good to meet sometime,” I added
“Let’s do it now,” he replied
Slightly gobsmacked, I followed him out of the room where he was met by his entourage and those wanting to ‘have a quick word’.
“I’m with Faith” he said as we started walking down the corridor. He gave me his full attention.
We went into the atrium of Portcullis House, found a table and talked together. It was a productive conversation and we agreed to keep in touch.
As a year celebrating women, my list would have to include Sarah Burrows (Children Heard and Seen). In March, I attended an event in Oxford at Sarah’s invitation ‘What would it be like to have a parent in prison?’
The event displayed incredible art work from their competition judged by Daniel Lee and Korky Paul, who wrote and illustrated the book ‘Finding Dad’, and Sir Trevor McDonald OBE, newsreader and journalist.
A moving short film was screened made by a young man Luke and his mentor about having his father in prison, including an interview with, Ralph Lubkowski, then Deputy Governor of HMP Leicester.
I had the pleasure of having dinner at ‘Malmaison’ Oxford with Ralph, Sarah and all the judges. Sarah seated me next to Sir Trevor and we exchanged thoughts and experiences with each other about prisons.
A week later, I was discussing women in the Criminal Justice System at the House of Lords at the invitation of the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek Bishop of Gloucester and the Rt Hon the Baroness Jean Corston.
I remember a time a couple of years ago, when I was sat in the Central Lobby at the Houses of Parliament talking to Dennis Skinner MP. I asked him:
“How do you get heard in this place?”
He looked me in the face.
“You have to be seen to be heard,” he said.
This is one of the reasons why you have seen me in so many diverse places:
In Westminster Hall listening to David Lammy, at the RSA listening to David Gauke, taking part in panels such as at Warwick University with SafeGround and Sheffield Hallam Uni, having discussions with leading Professors, Criminologists, PCC’s, at Police HQ’s, at roundtable events with the Criminal Justice Alliance, in Westminster for the Children’s Inquiry Report launch with Volteface, at the Parmoor and Longford Lectures and why I accept invitations to Prison Reform Trust wine receptions and listening to Lady Hale at the Fawcett Society lecture at the Royal Society.
I’m told some of my critics accuse me of being a ‘social climber’. Nothing could be futher from the truth.
If you don’t understand the issues, and unknown to the very people who can change things, how can you play a part in the solutions?
My part is: I ask questions
Some find that uncomfortable
I will continue to ask questions
In the last year I have seen first-hand how our Criminal Justice System can be an unjust system, I have seen how it breaks people, distresses children and separates families. I have seen inhumane conditions in prisons, I have spoken about it on the radio and television and I have written about it.
I have also spent time with victims and, yes, shed many a tear for them and with them.
Yet in 2018 I have also seen some good practice in purposeful activity, having sat in prisons at award ceremonies, having had guided tours of prisons by Governors, having eaten at restaurants within Prisons.
In all these places I have sensed optimism, hope and met those that believe in doing all they can to help with rehabilitation and re-integration.
Among the most inspiring women I have met is Khatuna Tsintsadze, Prison Programme Director for the Zahid Mubarek Trust. We worked together again this year and I have learnt so much from her, including human rights, equality and discrimination.
And finally, in this blog I wanted the last words to come from three people who have met me for the first time in 2018. I hope this will unpick some of the myths as to who I am and what matters to me.
“I first got to know Faith following her visit to HMP Berwyn, and the tour of our Prison Industries operation.
My first impression was one of her passion and conviction for getting to the real core of how we were working with the men to deliver real life work and training opportunities and asking specific questions – really emphasising that she had the best interests of the prisoners at heart. We rarely meet people that spend time engaging at this level whilst on a ‘guided tour’.
Subsequently I have had the opportunity to engage with Faith on a number of levels and have found her to always be absolutely trustworthy, insightful and generous with her network and her time.
She is not afraid to challenge the status quo, often attracting those that criticise her belief in wanting to make the CJS a better environment for its employees and those in its care”
Kelly Coombs, Co-founder Census Group
“I am drawn to people who are prepared to push boundaries in order to achieve change. Not rule breakers, but rule questioners. People who are not afraid to ask difficult questions but who are also prepared to help with the hard work needed to address the answers they might find. With this in mind, it was with no little amount of excitement that I met Faith Spear last year. Our areas of interest sit alongside each other yet might be a million miles from one another. Both feed each other in a continuous loop, creating demand and have long term impact on the people who become part of the Criminal Justice System.
Faith has stood her ground where many others have feared to tread and of course I admire this characteristic immensely but more than that, she has survived and continued her quest with renewed vigour.
When I met with Faith, I was contemplating a new step in my own quest but was still uncertain whether I would go ahead. Faith inspired me and left me believing not only that I ‘could’ do it, but that I really ‘should’ do it!
In a world full of naysayers, spending time with Faith is like finding water in a desert. ‘What would Faith do?’ has become my mantra”
Cate Moore, Independent Chair of Lincolnshire Police Ethics Panel
“I first met Faith Spear at a Corbett Network meeting in April 2018. I was hugely impressed by her warm-hearted nature, incredible knowledge and clear passion to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
We immediately clicked, in part due to our involvement with the award-winning charity Clean Sheet – Faith is a trustee, I am an ambassador – and also our shared vision to tackle the immense barriers that people with convictions face moving forward with their lives.
We both play very different roles in this hugely important agenda, but since my first meeting Faith she has become a great support to me, and I, in turn, have become a massive fan of her work and her brilliant thought-provoking blog. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Faith for many years to come”
Dominic Headley, Director of Dominic Headley & Associates
In the context of a blog like this, it’s possible to only mention a fraction of the workload, time and miles covered. For obvious reasons you will appreciate I’m unable to share the full extent of everyone I have met or all that has been done.
Featured Photo: Faith with Michael Woodfood, Contrarian Prize 2013 winner and former CEO Olympus. To learn about Michael’s story please visit the Contrarian Prize website.
A letter from the Ministry of Justice landed on my doormat yesterday morning. I was expecting it and with trepidation it was opened and carefully read.
To download and read, please click here.
I shed a few tears. And then I replied!
To download and read, please click here.
9 months after I wrote an article in The Prisons Handbook 2016 the curtain has fallen on my time in the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB). I am dismissed with immediate effect for a period of 5 years.
I kept my word and saw this sorry episode through to the end. There are no winners or losers.
What I now know through personal experience is that if you level criticism about the Criminal Justice System you can guarantee the weight of the system will be upon you. In my case I faced an investigation by the MoJ that was biased to begin with and full of lies.
Paperwork from the start shows this was a deliberate and prejudicial character assassination designed to shut me up in the hope I would give up go away and to discredit me. I have the evidence and so does the MoJ but they have been selective with it.
But I am stronger than that and I have done my best to stand up to everything that has been thrown at me. Reports that I have read about myself written by the MoJ bear no resemblance to me and yet they have been used against me and yes, the Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah has taken them on board and made his decision.
I cannot change this decision. I have appealed and my voice may have been ignored by him but my voice has traveled far.
So, what now?
I am already on the record as saying “The Ministry of Justice has left me with no alternative than to take more robust action in the public interest” and that is exactly what I will do.
This doesn’t mean I will retaliate and seek retribution. However, since I am not gagged anymore I could reveal considerably more information about dishonesty and real misconduct I have encountered.
The IMB Secretariat, current and former IMB members, MoJ wonks and HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay staff including Governors should reflect carefully on their own behaviour before shouting down a volunteer monitor who decides to write about what they have seen and heard.
They chose to make it personal whereas I wrote about the issues.
Throughout this last year, I have kept my integrity and I have been truthful about what happened. I have never sought to elevate myself.
I am passionate about the issues I have raised for prison reform and I have no intention on being quiet or giving up, no not for one moment.
As many readers will know my motto has become #notshuttingup #notgoingaway and that is how it will continue.
Our prisons are in crisis and reform is taking too long.
* acknowledgements to Sir Ivan Rogers‘ email
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.
And she just happens to be a woman.
Guest blog by Joseph Spear.
Earlier this week, my remarkable wife Faith Spear received an email from the Ministry of Justice.
Attached was a letter on IMB letterhead notifying her that she is now to face a disciplinary hearing.
Has it really come to this?
Those of you who’ve been kind enough to follow Faiths’s unfolding situation will no doubt agree this represents quite a turn of events.
The spoken word
The written word is powerful, which is why we blog – right, but there are times when even that cannot replace the spoken word.
Over dinner, I took out my mobile phone to record my conversation with Faith.
Afterwards, I played it back to her. Twice.
She listened to it. Carefully. Twice.
We sat in silence for a while. Then she said: “That’s the real me. People who think I want to abolish the IMB have totally misjudged me and the situation. The people doing this at MOJ have never even met me. They’ve no idea who I am or what I stand for.”
This blog site doesn’t support playing an audio file but if you want to listen to what she said just email me [joseph dot spear at gmail dot com] and I’ll send you over a copy.
The audio lasts 14 mins 25 secs. I’ve not edited it. It’s just her and I as we are. There are some gaps but it’s best if you play it to the end.
Sat immediately behind the new Secretary of State at the Justice Select Committee (@CommonsJustice) on 07 September, I registered a lot of awkwardness that was beyond mere nervousness felt by many a new joiner.
Just like Gove’s debut in front of the same Committee where he rattled on about “we’re reviewing it” (yes, I was there for that one too), Liz Truss (@trussliz) talked largely about the formulating of “plans” but on the day said nothing about tangible actions she will take.
How many more reviews do we need?
Has Truss inherited a poisoned chalice passed from one SoS to the next? Her department has a huge accumulated mess to sort out and doesn’t know what to do about it. Is she wondering what to tackle first? The paralysis of too many priorities?
Her critics say she’s doing things wrong. Look at it for yourself and you’ll see some of the priorities she is confronted with:
- Extremism and radicalisation in prison
- Violence against other offenders and against prison staff
- Over population
- Under staffing of prisons
- Death in custody
- Drugs and drones
- Education and purposeful activity
- Resettlement and homelessness on release
You would think her advisors would know what the order of priorities are. They don’t, or if they do, they obviously prefer the relative safety of “talking shop” over the tough task of taking concrete action on these priorities.
The key question people are asking is has she actually got the shoulders for the job; she has the high office and gilded robe of the Lord Chancellor but does she have the support of those working within the criminal justice system?
Soon after her appointment from Defra to Ministry of Justice, Liz Truss paid token visits to two prisons but cannot be expected to become an instant expert on the prison system.
What other mess does the SoS need to deal with?
The system of prison monitoring is in a mess. The IMB Secretariat is in utter disarray. They say they have policies and procedures but don’t always follow them themselves. For the most part, IMBs are doing their own thing. There’s no real accountability anymore. It’s a disgrace and it’s deplorable that it’s been allowed to get as bad as it has.
For my critique of prison reform and Independent Monitor Boards, I’ve been put through two MOJ investigations. Each one takes away a little piece of me. But for me it’s always been about the issues. That’s why they can’t and won’t shut me up.
The message of prison reform has become urgent and has to get to the top. If no one else will step up and if it falls to me to take it then so be it.
No accountability anymore? Give me an example.
You want an example? Here’s one of many: At HMP Garth, the IMB Chair issued a Notice To Prisoners 048/2016 dated May 2016 without the authority to do so, and apparently without the Board agreeing it. The Chair acted unilaterally outside of governance. I found out about it because a copy of that prison notice was sent to me as it happened to be about the article “Whistle Blower Without a Whistle” that I’d written for The Prison Handbook 2016 that the IMB Garth Chair was pin-pointing, (accusing me of a “rant” whilst both his prison notice and covering letter were dripping with distain).
I’m still standing by all I said in my Whistleblower article even though writing it has been at a high personal cost. In all candour, any pride I may have had in writing it has been completely sucked away from me. It’s back to the bare metal. The inconvenient truth of what I wrote remains. Readers will find that my main themes also feature prominently in the findings of the report by Karen Page Associates, commissioned by the MOJ at a cost to the taxpayer of £18,500.
An invite I received from Brian Guthrie to the forthcoming AGM of Association of Members of IMB says it all. It read:
“From the Chair Christopher Padfield
AMIMB – the immediate future
IMB needs a voice. We believe that without AMIMB this voice will not be heard. AMIMB intends to raise its voice, but needs the support of our members.
An outline plan for the immediate future of AMIMB will be put up for discussion at the forthcoming AGM (11 October 2016 at 2 Temple Place). It aims to respond both to the main needs and opportunities, and to the practicalities of the current situation.
The greatest need, as the executive committee of the AMIMB sees it, is to achieve a public voice for Independent Monitoring Boards – to let the British public know what we, as monitors, think about prison and immigration detention policy and practice in England and Wales and the impact this has on the men, women and children detained; to achieve some public recognition for the role of IMBs; in short to speak out about what we hear and see. We have urged the National Council to do this itself, but to no avail. In character, the NC propose as their contribution to the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee’s current consultation on Prison Reform, a response to a procedural question: ‘are existing mechanisms for … independent scrutiny of prisons fit for purpose?’ If the NC cannot or will not speak out, AMIMB should.”
Mr Padfield has served as IMB Chairman at HMP Bedford but to my knowledge has never been suspended pending investigation by the Prisons Minister like I was for speaking out on such things.
And therein lays the dilemma: whereas the official line is to encourage monitors to speak out, the reprisals levelled at you when you actually do are still shocking.
Is this what happens to women who use their voice?
People want you to get back in the box.
To shut up.
To go away.
The IMB doesn’t need a makeover; that would only hide most of the systemic problems behind filler and veneer. So rebranding clearly isn’t going to be the answer any more than putting lipstick on a pig.
People who think I want to abolish the IMB have totally misjudged me and the situation. I don’t want to abolish it. Far from it. I want the IMB to perform like it was set up to under OPCAT and to be all it should be as part of our NPM.
The clue is in the name: Independent. Monitoring. Board.
Have you noticed that the MOJ is haemorrhaging people at the moment?
Maybe Liz Truss could use that as an opportunity to enlist the help of those who do give a damn about the conditions in which people are held in custody and who do have a clue about strategies to stem radicalisation in prison, minimise violence, reduce prison over population, have the right staff and staffing levels, reduce death in custody, counter drones and drug misuse, revitalise education and purposeful activity, and last but not least, resettle and house people after their time in custody.
Join the conversation on Twitter @fmspear @trussliz @CommonsJustice #prisons #reform #IMB #AMIMB #SpeakUp
First published 17 Sept 2016.
Edited 18 Sept 2016.