Author: Tracey McMahon

Campaigner for community-based services for women offenders, fewer custodial sentences for summary offences and all-round womanist in society.

A response to accusations of online abuse

It has been a while since I have blogged. I felt it was necessary that younger and newer voices coming through the criminal justice system were heard, given I have written blogs for what feels like an eternity.

That said, I have repeatedly come across accounts on twitter that have experienced both online abuse and accusations of online abuse via that bastion of all mediums known as twitter. I am not known for being a wall violet. Working class, have all but ended up in the slammer for acts that I blame nobody other than myself for carrying out. Within a project I set up, I have made monumental fucks ups and out of every ten business decisions I have made, I can openly admit, 80% of them have been terrible and sleep-depriving decisions. One of my biggest and largest tasks I have undertaken was one of research and that has cost me, at times, my sanity, sapped my energy as I battled supervision and learned how to manage tracked changes as my supervisor came back time after time, informing me; “You cannot write this” “How can you back this up?” “IS THIS CORRECT?” “How can you write this?”

I coped with this massive task I opted in to. It was hard, I will never make the academic in the world of criminal justice. However, I know my onions on what doesn’t work and I have seen over the last decade, people come and certainly, people that go.

In ten years on Twitter, I have never had a tweet breach twitter’s rules or conditions. I have been involved in some brawls, but there has been few that decided to take one, one tweet where I disagreed with someone on her claims of being a whistleblower.  I am not the gatekeeper of such a term, however, this person, since 2016, has repeatedly claimed she is one. As a member of the public, I dispute this claim with rigour. But this is not what brings me to blog. What does, is an appalling misery piece regarding online abuse. Where I was not named, but quite recognisable given my bio was copied word for word onto this blog.

The blog is here: https://faithspear.wordpress.com/2019/03/15/now-its-my-turn-to-ask-whats-acceptable-online/

In this blog, Mrs Spear claims she received death threats from and I quote: “To put things in context, I myself have received a fair amount of online abuse over the last few years but last summer it reached a new level because the online abuse included a death threat from an individual who I had never met, but who was going through a very unstable time. This was totally unacceptable, so I reported it to Twitter. Twitter said they had broken Twitter rules and consequently Twitter suspended the account they were using”

But you did not report it to the Police – Mrs Spear. You decided to blog about it and claim a victimhood that reaches new heights. Because this “individual” was a vulnerable woman with who you were quite involved with and offered her “support” Speaking of which, this very vulnerable woman, has attempted to request via the comment section of your blog, evidence of which you accuse her of, publicly, to thousands of your followers on twitter and subsequently, to your 4,000 plus followers on your blog, this death threat you claim you received.  A woman that had a public breakdown on twitter last summer. I find that quite abhorrent. A woman of your standing, given you are a trustee of a charity that purports to support “ex offenders” into employment, that you would blog this sorry and saddening incident. For the record, there was not a death threat against you – therefore I dispute in its entirety your version of events.

I now come to me. You have had me blocked and your husband, Joe Spear, claimed, that I was obsessed with you. I am stating now, that you and your husband absolutely over estimate my interest in you. You have a presence in the media, which is subject to scrutiny by any member of the public. The very essence of being in the media is that we, the reading public, are able to comment and offer opinions on comments in the mainstream media. That is not an obsession, that is called being a member of the public. Translating my scrutiny of your comments to ”

“The stories they invent are worth a Bafta.

Why am I constantly seeing tweets by those who want me to confirm or deny certain issues, that I allegedly did or said or even thought? And why am I accused of being the bully and generating a climate of fear and frightening people into silence? Utter nonsense”

is somewhat stretching the truth…

The problem with blogging without naming people, yet dropping in tweets from blocked accounts is this, Mrs Spear:

It always comes back and bites you on the royal behind. I do not have time for certain types of self appointed victimhood. Particularly when it contains my tweets, that were about you and not to you. That you used to report to an organisation that sponsored me in my research. However, if you felt distressed at my tweet, all you had to do was contact me, and I would have happily removed it. Instead, you took the option to report me, blog about me to thousands of people, many of whom recognised me and then make a series of confusing edits that made little sense to any reader.

“If it’s covered in sugar it’ll ruin your teeth. If covered in salt, it’ll affect your blood pressure. Spear is a withering insipid excuse for a woman. And I’ve little time for bullshit and her version of victim hood”

You took it upon yourself to post the above tweet written by me, and use it incorrectly to ensure your followers bought into your theme. You cleverly didn’t reference names, but you missold your position. You blocked every effort from those recognised in your blog from asking questions and away you went sending it out. Repeatedly.

You were asked to take down my background on the 19th March 2019. You were in breach of GDPR. You decided to sabotage my research in reporting me to the only organisation associated with me.

Here is the nub. You have not been bullied by me. You have not received death threats from the person you claim to have. In a decade on twitter, I have been critical of CJS commentators, but never once have I been accused of online abuse. You have accused me of that and sent that out to thousands of people. People have read this, people I have known for years.

And when we make mistakes, when we blog to many people with untruths, we make it right. We hold our hands up and admit we got it wrong. You got it wrong, Mrs Spear, so very wrong. All of those referenced in your blog did not deserve that public shaming. I can stick up for myself. The woman you accused of a terrible crime, cannot. You have been repeatedly approached by people to provide evidence of death threats yet you have blocked them.

Do the right thing. Take the blog down, with an apology in full, because that is what I would do. You don’t owe me anything, but you certainly owe the women you have accused in your blog, the women you blocked in your comments section, an apology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When One Gate Closes, Another Six Open…

SHE Project has survived against many odds. SHE’s belief is that no woman should leave prison without a roof over her head. A recent media spin that HMP Bronzefield issued sleeping bags & tents to women peppered my inbox with *Have you seen the news?* subject lines.

It’s been three years since I was street homeless. Three years since I lived on my mother’s sofa following my travails through the CJS.  Since then, I started SHE Project, stood my ground against bigger & much better housing elements than I could ever aspire to. SHE started with a small funding grant from Allen Lane Foundation.

I’ll not forget the day SHE opened her tiny little office at BPRCVS in Burnley. There we were, with a raft of back office support I’d created whilst on licence.  SHE had five volunteers then and we were bemused.  We had an office. We had one house. A phone line. (No Internet,  this took three weeks) Me & our five volunteers looked at each other not knowing what to do.

“Let’s ring some people up’ I screeched.

This is what we did.

SHE Project opened at a time of uncertainty for The Probation Service.  Funding cuts screamed from pages of mainstream media. Within six weeks of SHE opening, my mother died. It was not going well for me as a woman launching a community project to support women  from prison.

Yet, SHE would never have survived this time without her team around her. Strength comes from within. Strength also comes from comforting arms in the form of those whom have struggled as organisations to survive.

SHE’S first annual report is due for publication in a couple of months. I’ve worked this bloody project for three years since I squatted on my mother’s sofa. I’ve watched volunteers come and bless them, go.

We’ve helped 52 women from prison incorporating their families.  We’ve taken part in research.  We’ve struggled to survive and been threatened with closure.

In 18 months, through our doors SHE has supported 339 convictions (including mine) had 22 properties, furnished them, bought 79 packets of tampons, 24 packets of panty liners, 28 tubes of toothpaste, 19 toothbrushes, (12 sets of towels donated through our lovely friends at Cohort4women) 39 duvets and well, had 66 keys cut (TY Timpson) 19 washing machines, 12 fridges, 6 tellies, 19 sets of cutlery.  That’s before support kicks in..

SHE has spent hours on telephone calls, reunited a mother from prison with her daughter from care. Shouted, screamed, argued and fought the corners of our lasses. All here in East Lancs.

As our fellow women in HMP Holloway are shipped out, to prisons hundreds of miles away from families & children,  SHE opens her first six self-contained flats in Greenwich London.

Women from Holloway serving sentences are now hundreds of miles away from family links, families are hundreds of miles away from women in their lives.

SHE is not delighted to be offering this service. SHE felt she had to do something to support women as we have done in the North.

But out of the ashes rises women. When the gates of Holloway close for the final time, SHE can do a tiny part in our big dirty capital to help and support six women.

SHE Project and Women in Prison, in the spirit of their founder, Chris Tchaikovsky, ensure that women do deserve a home on release and do deserve to at least have a foot in the trenches to dig up.

SHE Project Greenwich opens in June 2016.

 

 

Women Coming from Prison – Challenging Support Frameworks

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Over the last few weeks, I have been working with CRI following a successful tender bid to Lancashire County Council for recovery services in East Lancashire. Consisting of a brand new model, with a raft of local organisations involved, this is a radical and bold model to support people throughout East Lancashire in all areas of their life. SHE and INCAS are proud to be part of this consortium and for a little organisation that has struggled to survive, we are able to move forward under this localised model that centres around families, housing, clinical, education and training needs of people.

The North West has rolled out early adoption schemes – the first in which SHE & INCAS ran under, was the North West Recovery Housing – Through the Gate scheme called Gateways. Under this, SHE and her bigger brother, INCAS, accommodated men and women coming through the gate into safe and affordable housing. Fifteen providers of different models of accommodation were part of the scheme. Gateways was our first outing as a local provider of services and it was an interesting scheme.

For me, Gateways, although now ceased, left a legacy, if not a gap. That legacy taught me as a practitioner, working with one of the most overlooked group of people in prison, women in prison, how to manage being a part of a founding member of a consortium providing vital services. SHE Project has been a part of my DNA since I was homeless, serving a prison sentence in the community. (Yes, you hang em and flog em crowd, a suspended sentence carries as much as weight as a custodial sentence)  I live and breathe the Project and still, nearly two years since SHE opened her doors, SHE runs through my blood like fat through streaky bacon. I have fought, battled and continue to do so. Largely against many odds and barriers.

SHE Project does not fit into any group of services. SHE has been the leaf blowing around on a blustery night. LA loved her, then they wondered about her, then oddly, they disliked her. But SHE has kept going. Looking back, I am not sure how SHE has survived.

But SHE has.

Why has she? Because SHE is right down and dirty with understanding the local socio-economic dynamics of her geographical area. Add to that, a vital understanding of the needs of women emerging from behind the walls too high to see over.

There is a need for local services. There is little room for a blanket approach on what women need coming from prison. It isn’t enough to be rolling out services from the halls of Parliament or academics who have studied women’s needs. It isn’t enough to tell women what they need – it’s local services where women can feel safe to say “This is what I need, can you help me?”

If we were to break down to each local or district authority, a map of services, there would be a very different graph and demographic image of needs in areas.  What works in the Home Counties, will not work in Cumbria. Models that do work, are not area-specific. It is simply they are fantastic models that work.

Properly resourced and funded local services that meet the needs of their local communities will welcome home women and men coming back to their communities from prison. I cannot bang this drum enough. The moment a woman leaves prison is the moment she belongs in the community she wishes to live in. It is vital she has services to turn to.  Just as any member of the community is able to.

It is time for funding to cease being the bidding pool it has become. It is time for commissioners and grant-givers to ensure local services are fully resourced and able to survive. Let local services care for their own. It’s time.

 

 

 

 

‘Troubled Families Programme Is A Scam That “Coerces” Families To Engage.’

Reblogged at SHE Project

Researching Reform

A frontline social worker involved with The Troubled Families Programme has branded the project a scam, which has dishonestly based its success off the back of other agencies’ hard work and coerces families to engage, providing a constant revenue stream that benefits local government.

We are not surprised by this development. Back in 2012 we expressed our concern, along with others, about the criteria being used to ‘detect’ or label Troubled Families. We didn’t, and don’t, care much for the term itself either, but what was so astonishing was that the government was prepared to identify such families using what can only be described as  irrational criteria. In its initial phase, social work professionals would need to ‘tick off’ at least five of the seven criteria present. In 2016, this checklist appears to have shrunk (the whistleblowing social worker in the piece above tells us that there are now six…

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Habilitation not Rehabilitation

496854935Picture Source

 

Cameron’s Speech on Prison Reform

David Cameron has stirred up the Criminal Justice System with his liberal speech on Prison Reform. My initial reaction was critical and sceptical, which is often the case when I hear politicians discussing prisons and the crisis.

There are statements which I could tear apart. Such as:

It’s pretty hard to get into prison in the first place

I still cannot get my head around the above. I am the first to admit those who are unjust should be dealt with at the hands of our justice system. Justice underpins the stability of any society. People mention often the law of the land – ensure society functions. I disagree, Justice is and should be for everybody. First and foremost, the victims of any crime should be considered and treated with compassion. Those who commit harm in communities against our most vulnerable, children and the elderly, should be held accountable for their actions. Of all the people I engage with, I have yet to come across any person that denies this. It’s called developing a conscience and taking responsibility. Equally, compassion should be shown to those who are dragged through the courts unnecessarily. Those whom are acquitted, we should allow their lives to be restored to normal.

Naturally, the papers have created a frenzy and in particular provided opportunities to give Chris Grayling, possibly the most unpopular Secretary of State for Justice in history, a good going over with the public chiming in.  I do not see Cameron giving Grayling a thrashing, I saw Cameron thank Grayling and Clarke for the work they had started. Grayling in my view cares not a jot for what people think, he did what he did with a guillotine the size of Greenland and sliced up areas of Justice. However one feels about that. It happened. I feel it time to move forward.

 So you won’t hear me arguing to neuter judges’ sentencing powers or reduce their ability to use prison when it is required.

Yet, the above statement has me toiling arduously on sentencing. In November, I was a co-speaker at the University of Worcester on women supporting women. Organised by Beverley Gilbert, this event had Kristy O’Dowd speaking about her experiences on domestic abuse, Clare McGregor, the author of Coaching Behind Bars and the Managing Director of Coaching Inside and Out, and Lucy Baldwin, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at DMU, the co-author and editor of Mothering Justice.

Lucy Baldwin, in Mothering Justice has produced the first book that explores Motherhood in both Criminal and Social Justice Settings. Through the chapters written by practitioners and professionals, Mothering Justice gets down to the nuts and bolts of the impact on children of mothers in prison, suffering with post-natal depression, mental health problems and those in the grip of substance misuse along with detailed analysis and critical thinking on how the Judiciary as a whole treats mothers.   At the Q&A of the event, Lucy explained her vision for challenging the sentencing framework of mothers and I agree. Cameron’s statement above does not leave much room for discussing this. However, use prison when it is required is worth a poke around and provides some wiggle room for discussion as today proves.

Now we are 48-hours in from Cameron’s speech, having read various articles on the planned reforms, I don’t feel quite so uptight as I did on Monday when the damn thing aired. His speech has opened dialogue and from researchers to journalists and bloggers, a raft of scathing to critical to slamdunking him with one of Boris’s water cannons, has been rapid. But interesting views from all.

Habilitation not Rehabilitation

There is a rather fabulous group on women on Twitter and we have all experienced the Criminal Justice System in one way or another. With this in mind, a dialogue opened that was powerful, creative and suggestive of ways forward to challenge perceptions and do some critical thinking of our own. This thread began with a question two days ago asking if women are more likely to be sentenced to custody for a first time offence than men? There’s nothing like a gender discussion to get hearty debate going. Dave said debate was to be reset. Well reset the debate we did, Dave. You came out of our debate, unscathed.

Opening the dialogue was @A4587GA, Candy and what she said was bang on. She offered up dialogue on critically thinking rehabilitation, employment, policy in its current form. I didn’t need much convincing I was onto something good here. Candy mentioned resilience and skills. Something I tapped into myself when faced with a journey through the CJS that impacted my life deeply. Then along came @kallyann73, wanting self-employment training for women prior to leaving prison. Bringing up the centre of the debate were the fabulous women from @WomensPrisonsUK throwing in some excellent comments on resettlement, isolation of women in Wales on release and the difficulty in gaining employment. @WorkingChance explained the issues they felt affected women’s chances of seeking gainful employment on release and the difficulties with ROTL or should we say the lack of. ROTL are taking six weeks to and Working Chance explained employers were frustrated with the length of time ROTL arrangements take.

I threw in comments on education at secondary school level, politics onto the curriculum, talk to young women and challenge our thinking. Together the group found positive ways to form new thinking, new approaches and lessen a growing dependency on systems. Throughout the debate there was a hearty thrust that was powerful and engaging. We explored new ways of working, systems all have flaws, yet systems don’t care for us. That’s our job. Any woman that emerges from prison, should begin new journeys, find their path. Of course, mandatory attending of Probation appointments should factor in. In the time of the lifespan of the SHE Project, I have found smart, resourceful and eager women ready to put their lives in a new direction.

This got me thinking, throughout the dialogue, thoughts were written on policy, resettlement packages, which are all the remit of Probation. In my journey, I had to find my way through and out of every ten decisions, I have made seven bad ones. No more so in the infancy period of SHE. The project has been faced with challenges, I have been. But each day, I carry on and with great support, I am able to feel more grounded and level-headed. Between us today, we tore up systems and looked at the strengths of women-supporting-women and the sunshine broke through.

I have never once supported the word rehabilitation. What are we rehabilitating to???

Rehabilitation is not a word I have ever used. I haven’t returned to my former self. I have come through more educated, my eyes are opened, I have embraced challenges that five years ago could have set me back. I have navigated my way through barriers and no longer am I afraid to challenge myself and others on problems.   I have completed my literature review for my Griffins Fellowship on women and homelessness. I have a fantastic supervisor and confidently presented my progress to date.   I have a new contract I am working on… It’s a whole new life for me – still beset with pain, but I am finding it easier to live with.

From today, we are launching The Habilitation Focus Group – this will explore women’s issues in the CJS and discuss ways in which we can support women from the CJS – whilst supporting each other in our own enterprises. We emerged as women who felt strongly, the only way to begin to gain change was by being positive. Once we gather support, we will look to begin to channel all that dialogue. Bringing together powerful narratives is a way of moving forward as a group but also as individual women.

So Dave, not quite what we were expecting from you. But it’s opened up some avenues and started dialogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop forced education of inmates

UK Prison reform ideas

Here’s the thing, if you are told as an inmate in UK prisons, to attend education or your privileges can and will be revoked or your issued with a warning. Then you attend begrudgingly but this leads to disruptive classes…

Those who genuinely want to attend education classes should be taught expertly and in separate class rooms so they can get the most out of what is on offer.

I have personally and repeatedly raised this concern on numerous occasions with the oxymoron prison management. Who then decide to ignore it as its does not fit with there box ticking strategy.

Its this ridiculous box ticking that gives a totally false indication of how the prison eduction system is being utilised.

Its saddening  to see inmates who desperately want, for example learn to read and write being humiliated by their forced class mates.

Those that are forced too attend education…

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Riding The Wave

NHS Criminal Liaison and Diversion Team Conference at Lancashire Police Headquarters brought lively discussion and presentations…

Early interventions in Criminal Justice are not new, I found out last week. NHS England have been involved in this as far back as the late eighties and East Lancashire have a new initiative focussing on the needs of men and women in the CJS.

Police custody is not a pleasant environment for the hardiest of people, therefore it was pleasing to see this thorny topic high on the agenda at the conference. The order of the day focussed on mental health in police custody and the great moves made in this area. Largely due to police training and a much more compassionate approach to the needs of those with mental health needs in the care of Police.

I have written previously on my experience in police custody. It is safe to say, I was not a person with a mental health problem. I was anguished and scared, but at no point was I in need of a doctor and was under no medication. I was cared for in an impassionate environment. Treated with care and placed away from the more rambunctious of “guests” for the night. At a time in my life where I was broken, police custody was on the whole, the most compassionate of my experiences in the CJS.

However, this is not the case for those with mental health problems. At the conference was a woman, called Tracey who works with police and closely with Manchester University on the needs of women in Police Custody. Tracey relayed a brutal, candid account of her experiences following arrests throughout her younger years. She spoke of being held down by male officers having her clothes removed. This was for her own protection. Tracey faltered at this painful memory and in no way was she complaining, but as a woman, I could feel her sense of indignity at this memory. She bravely went on to say how she felt and following years of mental health difficulties, prison and finally a diagnosis with the right treatment set in place for her. It was then her offending behaviours ceased. She now supports and leads on actions to support women in prison and custody. A prolific self-harmer, Tracey also works with women in prison on camouflage cosmetics so women can cover the signs that are familiar to most people who work with people in prison, the scars of self harm. I never fail to be moved when I hear a story of someone who has come from a challenging time in their life to helping other people who are suffering the same difficulties.

Next came Kevin. A film regarding his experiences in police custody silenced the packed room. In the interval, Kevin spoke from the heart about his misdiagnosis for many years of his mental health state. He was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia and he sustains a life supporting others in the CJS with mental health conditions following years of prison and police cells. Kevin has not written a book and made millions from his background and acute condition (a la Fry and Campbell – wags finger) No, Kevin has worked tirelessly with Police, NHS and people to offer first-hand support and guidance to those suffering.

Mental Health is rarely out of the public eye and rightly so. Even in the 21st century, mental health provokes strong debate. And no more than in the CJS. This week we have seen one of the most appallingly handled PR exercises ever on the matter of Peter Sutcliffe being miraculously cured of paranoid schizoprenia. According to BBC et al, Sutcliffe is “no longer mentally ill”  The Mirror ran their usual shabby article on his cushy life in Broadmoor with his TV, Playstation, Chocolate and endless privileges provided by that ol chestnut, the tax payer. As usual, I am in the thick of these conversations on Twitter and I came across Suesspiciousminds, a blog I have followed for two years. Sue, (I don’t know her real name) succinctly put across to a fledgling discussion, Sutcliffe should be in prison and he has not been cured of paranoid schizophrenia, he has been deemed fit for prison.  I have seen various threads on the topic from hanging the bastard to throwing away the key to misunderstandings on the miraculous cure rolled out by the media. It was astonishing to say the least, how many people were astounded at him being cured. To add, I watched an interview with a son of one of his victims who was dignified in his delivery of how the news had affected him. He was five when Sutcliffe barbarically took his mother from him.

Moving back to the conference, it was interesting to hear from the Police on their approach to those placed in their care for numerous reasons. It is not always a criminal act that brings somebody to a custody suite. In some cases, it can be for the safety of a person and that of the public. The bed crisis is no secret in hospitals and when my mother was in hospital, I often saw Police vans arrive with a huddled, distressed person, enter the locked ward only to come back out with the same person due to a bed shortage. What gives? Police custody is no place for a poorly person, but when left with no alternative? Its sometimes the only option.

I am impressed with the slow yet visible moves within the Police Service towards mental health of people in custody. The conference last week brought a fresh approach that is to be worked upon and the Police are willing to do this. With the support of the Liaison and Diversion Teams, there is renewed hope we, as a society are waking from a long slumber in the mental health needs of people in communities who happen on the police radar.

A great conference and initiative hopefully leading to better outcomes for vulnerable people who for whatever reason have slipped through the radar of mental health services. It should not have to come to a police cell to make it happen, but if it does, the Police’s input might just be the wake up call needed.