I thought that I knew what to expect… I had been there, on a previous occasion, prior to this second trip and had seen recent videos and kept myself abreast of the situation via social media but nothing could have prepared me for what we saw when we
North Yorkshire County Council The Council wishes to award a contract Housing Related Support Services for Offenders. The service will help offenders supervised by the Probation Trust, the Community Rehabilitation Company or people at risk of offen
When I read and reviewed Jonathan Robinson’s IN IT, the prison diary he released following his short jail sentence, I supposed that would be the last I would hear from this talented author on the HMPS front. I assumed incorrectly. He has carried on where he left off during his spell as a guest of her Majesty; carried on being a thorn in the side of his keepers.
IN IT was a fly on the wall documentary in written form on the experience of being justifiably incarcerated. Robinson was – and is – the first person to admit he needed a slap around the face. The clout he anticipated was not what he experienced. As his first volume’s pages attested – the Andy Dufresne battering (or worse) he feared never came his way. Instead, this educated ex-helicopter pilot took stock and noticed that he was not encompassed by terror – but fellow inmates with great character – and humour, some of the events logged within IN IT are side-splittingly funny. Robinson fully exploited the full bodied camaraderie that is to be found in all our jails in attempt to raise awareness of the potential of some prisoners. IN IT – without doubt – undeniably made full-use of what was on offer on the landings.
Having had his eyes opened on the warehousing as he relentlessly penned (he left prison after 17 weeks having scribed 320,000 words) Robinson attempted to put something back in, after acknowledging that he perhaps was of a slightly higher degree in the pecking order of matters past-education. In his closed conditions prison the author was trained – by the system – to tutor Toe by Toe – the proven to reduce reoffending literary scheme where literate prisoner ‘A’ teaches illiterate prisoner ‘B’ to read.
Readers of IN IT will recollect that he got shunted to an open – resettlement – prison; Hollesley Bay, early into his sentence and full of enthusiasm, fully accustomed to inmates needing help, was encouraged by staff to teach two adult prisoners to learn to read. The pages fizz at that point – the author clearly over the moon to be able to do something constructive. Something purposeful.
Then September 1 happened. The sparkle went flat. For Robinson was ordered by the on-site Head of Education of a private company earning £7, 751, 340, 00 to ‘deliver’ prison education to “scrub” Toe by Toe. Robinson thus spent the majority of his remaining time sunbathing.
Jonathan left prison – on a tag – under curfew and got typing. Jeffrey Archer had advised him to write to literary agents. The first one who read the manuscript of IN IT signed him. Not bad for a first time author, nor a newly released ex-prisoner. Robinson hoped that off-the-wall events within-the-walls related in his pages would make management of our revolving door prison system sit up and take notice of all that is not occurring on rehabilitation in jail. As IN IT launched the author started knocking on doors… Westminster doors…
And that’s where ON IT comes into play. Robinson has written his second book – in a completely different style to his first – which with an alarmingly shocking gait, reveals the ‘looking the other way’ by those with power of our prison system. I don’t want to spoil for you events that ON IT describe, other than the fact that you are going to be shocked. Robinson is articulate, a fine writer, with a sharp sense of humour. I previously dubbed him a penal Adrian Mole and my view has not changed.
When I reviewed IN IT, I said Robinson had surveyed the prison system with an eye that saw more in a few months than many a con I knew spied in decades. He has taken his keen sight and sharp tongue into the corridors of power.
Toe by Toe is now part of the core working day in public sector prisons, but the apathy which prevented Robinson teaching others still reigns in many establishments. Those charged with leading the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ (which now incorporates the banning of books, sent from outside, by the way) ignore Robinson at their peril. He is clearly not going away.
Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations that are delivering services that help make Suffolk a safer place, can apply for funding through Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner’s Safer Suffolk Fund. Applications can be made via two…
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Community groups and organisations working in the Greater Manchester region have until 29th February 2016 to apply for grants of up to £5,000 from the Police Commissioner’s Active Citizens Fund and up to £1,000 from the Neighbourhood Fund. Both fund…
No two prisons are alike, any more than two prisoners are the same. But virtually all closed prisons have one thing in common, they are noisy places. Wherever you go, at most times of day and evening, there’s a cacophony of sounds. The jangling of keys, slamming of metal doors, alarm bells and loudspeaker announcements, and prisoners and staff shouting to be heard above the din. The noise increases dramatically whenever prisoners are on the move.
Little wonder that it requires commitment and effort to shut out those distractions and study. Education budgets in prisons have been cut by almost a quarter since 2010, accentuated under former justice secretary Chris Grayling. And until the decision was reversed after a court ruled it unlawful, his ban on sending books to prisoners also hindered education.
Since former education secretary Michael Gove moved to the Justice Department, however, things have improved. In October 2015, he announced a review of prison education, and this month the prime minister promised to protect the £130m prison education budget.
Already, a new project at HMP Swaleside, Kent – one of a cluster of three jails on the Isle of Sheppey – aims to revolutionise prison education. Swaleside, with 1,100 inmates, is the first prison to create a university-like campus, the Open Academy, which opened last September. Unlike most jails, where classrooms are separate from cells and living areas, student prisoners live and learn on A-wing. In addition to 85 single-occupancy cells, the academy has three classrooms. Two are study libraries, while the third – the IT suite – contains a “virtual campus” where students can type up assignments and send them off electronically.
All 85 students have access to tutors – through Skype, email, and some visits –and hundreds of courses are available, from accounting to zoology. Eight prisoners have been recruited as skills advisers to encourage inmates to join the project. The advisers are paid £30 a week, a more than decent wage in prison. One, Anton, is studying for a degree in social sciences; another, Matt, is doing a business and management course; while a third, Ohene, plans to study psychology and wants to be a youth worker when he is released. He says it’s “a blessing” to be on A-wing.
Any prisoner is eligible for the scheme as long as they have had security clearance, and successful candidates are selected by the prisoner skills advisers. Uniquely, the academy is intended to enable inmates and prison staff to study together, with the aim of enhancing staff-prisoner relationships and creating a harmonious environment. No member of staff is studying at present, but some will be in due course.
The Open Academy was the idea of Malcolm Whitelaw, head of learning and skills at Swaleside. Whitelaw secured approval for the scheme from the former governor of the prison, Sarah Coccia, whom, he says, wanted to bring a new dimension to prison education and backed him all the way. Costs were minimal: £12,000 was spent on fibre-optic cabling and he “begged, borrowed, or stole the rest”, Whitelaw says.
The current governor, Paul Newton, is equally enthusiastic about the project. There is a high level of violence and use of legal highs at Swaleside and Newton calls the academy a “chink of light”. Although many inmates initially don’t want to engage in education, he says the enthusiasm of the skills advisers is starting to rub off.
Newton is particularly keen on staff learning alongside prisoners. He says he wants to identify gaps in their skills, along with those of the prisoners. “The end game is not to produce better prisoners, but better citizens,” he says.
The project is proving popular, with a waiting list of 45 prisoners. One adviser, Marcus, who is serving a long sentence, tells me his job is to “find the gaps” in applicants’ learning. For some it may be basic literacy. Others will strive for Open University degrees. All that is needed to study, says Marcus, is that prisoners want “to be involved in their own programmes and will embrace the learning culture of the wing”.
Gemma Phillips, a senior officer at Swaleside, agrees. “Prisoners really want to be on this wing, and that’s the difference – it’s a real pleasure to come to work,” she says.
Swaleside now has plans to convert another wing to enable more student prisoners to take part. Meanwhile, the Open Academy is taking part in the Inside-Out prison exchange programme, founded in the US in 1997. The scheme sees prisoners study alongside undergraduates in a prison setting. The UK version was pioneered by Durham University in 2014. Durham is now running the scheme with its criminology students, twice a year, in Frankland, Durham and Low Newton prisons. Last year 50 inmates took part; so far this year 75 have.
In January, 15 students from the University of Kent began a 10-week course, Issues in Criminal Justice, alongside 15 prisoners at Swaleside, covering topics relevant to criminal justice, such as prisons, drugs and the causes of crime. Attendees will gain credits towards their degrees on completion of the course.
Caroline Chatwin, senior lecturer in criminology at Kent, says: “Kent students have a chance to place their academic learning in a real-life context and are finding that many of their assumptions about the criminal justice system are being challenged. Swaleside students are enjoying the opportunity to place their first-hand experiences in a more academic context, and to study alongside students from outside the prison walls. We have received the first assessed assignments and they are generally very strong.”
Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, which supports prisoners studying for degrees and on other distance learning courses, hopes Swaleside’s model will be replicated. “At a time when the government is reviewing prison education, the academy at Swaleside could serve as a model for other jails,” he says. “The Open Academy is not only providing a great resource to prisoners – their enthusiasm and that of the staff is attracting more learners to take part in what we know can change lives.” He adds: “It is therefore all the more important that managers and governors have the freedom to use the limited budgets in these creative ways, as Swaleside are doing so well.”
Back at the prison, Anton says that before the academy began he was merely serving out his 20-year sentence. “Years done and more to do. I was going nowhere. Now I feel so much a part of this project and am thinking, if I can do this in here, how much more can I do when I am free?”
Prison education has suffered in the 21st century. Nearly three-quarters of prisons inspected by Ofsted in 2014‑15 were rated inadequate or requiring improvement in the education they provided. Earlier, there was government funding for prisoner’s degrees, now they have to take out a loan. Former justice secretary Chris Grayling banned books, but the new justice secretary, Michael Gove, has changed tack, arguing that all prisoners should gain literacy and numeracy skills to make them employable. He appointed Sally Coates, a director of 16 academy schools, to review prison education. This month, David Cameron announced reforms that would see inmates as “potential assets to be harnessed”, promising the prison education budget would be protected and quality teachers recruited. Coates’s review is due to be published in spring.