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
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.
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.
People caught with drugs for personal use would be referred for health treatment rather than sent to jail under proposals unveiled by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Leader Willie Rennie said Scotland’s current drugs policy “is costly and fails to work for everyone”.
Drugs misuse costs society £3.5 billion a year – amounting to around £900 for every adult in Scotland, he said.
The Lib Dems will call for drug users to be “referred for treatment, education or civil penalties, ending the use of imprisonment”, in a manifesto policy put forward for discussion at its Scottish spring conference this week.
Possession of class A drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine and magic mushrooms is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
People caught with class Bs such as amphetamines or cannabis face five years in jail, and possession of class Cs such as tranquillisers, some painkillers and GHB is punishable by up to two years in prison.
All classes carry the additional threat of an unlimited fine, and drug dealers can be punished with a life sentence.
Writing in the Sunday Herald, Mr Rennie said: “We are proposing a fundamental reform of the way drug users are prosecuted and sentenced. Not drug dealers.
“We think it is right that they can face up to life in prison.
“But we do not believe vulnerable people struggling with addiction should be imprisoned simply for possessing drugs for personal use.”
Mr Rennie said too many users have been sent to prison, with a criminal record that jeopardises their future employment and life chances.
The Lib Dems plan is designed to address the mental health, housing and employment problems faced by recovering addicts.
Mr Rennie added: “The first step towards tackling problems created by drugs misuse is to stop treating addiction as a crime.”
He acknowledged that drugs policy is reserved to Westminster but said there is “flexibility in how the legislation is enforced in Scotland”.
He pointed to Police Scotland’s policy of issuing on-the-spot recorded warnings for “low-level crimes” such as possession of a small amount of cannabis.
The Liberal Democrats at Westminster have called for the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use, and have pledged to take UK-wide action to tackle the importation of drugs from abroad and production of drugs at home.
Source: The Scotsman. (2016). Lib Dem drug policy to ‘stop treating addiction as crime’. Available: http://goo.gl/iSV1YJ. Last accessed 22nd Feb 2016.
Ground-breaking work carried out by Gwalia the social housing and care support supplier, to reduce re-offending rates among male prisoners and their families has helped Parc Prison secure the ‘Investors in Families’ chartered mark.
The success of the ‘Invisible Walls Wales’ programme, organised by Gwalia in partnership with G4S, Bridgend County Borough Council, Barnardos and the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice, was instrumental in helping HMP Parc in Bridgend become the only prison in the UK to receive the accreditation.
The award is usually given to high performing schools, but as a direct result of family workshops and intervention programmes, including Invisible Walls Wales, Parc has broken the tradition.
With support from Gwalia, Parc Prison has been leading by example, with other prisons replicating the Family Intervention Unit to address re-offending among male prisoners and their families.
Craig Smith, area manager for Invisible Walls Wales, was invited to the House of Lords with representatives of IWW partners to collect thofficer said: “When a loved one is jailed it has a massive effect on families. Research suggests that six out of 10 boys with a convicted parent are likely to end up in custody themselves.
“Invisible Walls Wales works with inmates and their families to repair, develop and maintain healthy relationships when they are in prison and when they return to the community.
“Through maintaining contact between prisoners and their families, the intervention unit and specialist visiting facilities are reducing the risk of the prisoners re-offending, reducing the risk of their children following in their footsteps and reducing social exclusion of families in their local community.”
The family intervention unit, developed as part of the Invisible Walls Wales project, delivers programmes for the whole family and offers advice on parenting issues, family debt, benefits, physical and mental health and support to access training and employment opportunities.
Director of housing and support, Andrew Vye, said the family intervention unit aims to help prisoners become better citizens and helps them focus on the concept of family and being a ‘family man’.
He said: “Gwalia are committed to working in partnership with a number of key agencies to enhance and maintain the lives of people and local communities. This award for Parc Prison is an example of how partnership services delivered by Gwalia are paying dividends and improving lives for the better.”
Source: GEM Staff Reporter. (2016). Family programme at Parc Prison is given official accolade. Available: http://goo.gl/RFJxWq. Last accessed 22nd Feb 2016.
David Anderson QC recently called for an independent review into the PREVENT duty that is statutory under the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015. The Government’s PREVENT agenda which is designed to tackle radicalisation, is a sensible response…
Let me begin with a pretty extraordinary fact: it’s well over twenty years since a Prime Minister made a speech solely about prisons. To be frank, it can sometimes be easy for politicians to worry so much that their words will be caricatured, that
HMP Holloway is one probably one of the UK’s most iconic prisons. It has incarcerated a number of high profile women since its opening in 1852 including the suffragettes, Diana Mitford and Ruth Ellis – a case which prompted the welcome abolition of
Prison suicide rates are rising sharply, although former UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling dismissed this appalling waste of life as a mere ‘blip’. This strikes a chord with me, both as someone who twice attempted suicide in my youth, and also beca…
The nightmare of incarceration for a crime you did not commit is perhaps the most visceral sign of injustice in our society. For many, there is the perception that as the case is quashed the injustice ends. But as a report we release this week identifies, that is not always the case.
Over at Commonweal Housing our mission is to provide Housing Solutions to Social Injustices. We commissioned academics from the London School of Economics to look in to the housing options for victims of Miscarriages of Justice who have been incarcerated. Our report should make us all stop and think about the support available to those who, through no fault of their own need to re-integrate back into society.
Almost unbelievably, if you are released from prison having had your conviction quashed, you are entitled to less support than if you have served your time having committed a crime. The sole offer of statutory help is provided by the Miscarriages of Justice Support Service from the Royal Courts of Justice Citizens Advice Bureau based in the Royal Courts of Justice (MJSS), while the CAB acts as an advocate it has no control over service delivery in the areas desperately required by these victims.
Housing is one area where the injustice for miscarriage victims can be starkest. When convictions are quashed, the wrongly convicted person is often released without the careful preparation and aftercare afforded to other prisoners. Quite often victims can be released with £50 release grant in their pocket. If the victim requires social housing, the prospects are bleak. Many will fail local authority homeless teams “local connection” test owing to their imprisonment or some may be deemed to have caused their own homelessness (an odd notion when their imprisonment is due to a now acknowledged error by the State) or reject the one offer they receive from the local authority because of particular issues relating to their circumstances.
As a result many miscarriage of justice victims can be left in inappropriate housing, without assistance to assimilate back into the community and a housing situation which can actively prevent it or experiencing frequent moves in the private sector and persistently having to rebuild networks.
Our report identifies a series of measures which could put this injustice right. Primarily we call on central government to issue new guidance to local authorities so that the vulnerability of victims of miscarriages of justice is formally recognised by local housing options teams.
But we also make the case for a wider cultural shift from a variety of stakeholders. Housing support and advocacy services also need to up their game to become more familiar with miscarriage of justice cases. We ask various support services to begin to produce training and guidance material to local advisors to ensure front line staff are as well equipped as possible to respond to victims’ needs.
The constant thread through our report is the lack of statutory services available to victims. Our final recommendation in the report is to establish a fund administered through the RCJCAB to provide small amounts of subsidy where it is needed to ensure successful re-housing and re-integration into the community. Commonweal is pledging £20,000 in matched funding to establish the fund.
Support for the recommendations of the report is strong with groups such as The Chartered Institute of Housing supporting us.
Over 400 individuals have had their innocence established since the Criminal Cases Review Commission began work in 1997. With the government making it harder for victims of miscarriage of justice victims to access compensation, housing options for those wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit is not going to go away. With our report, we can take a step on the road to righting the wrong when it comes to housing.
Blog submitted by Jacob Quagliozzi, External Affairs and Communications Coordinator, Commonweal Housing Ltd