Crime

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.

 

 

Getting personal about the cost of being a Whistleblower

Faith Spear speaks out and has the support of SHE Project.

The Criminal Justice Blog

When you feel so passionately about a subject or issue (s) it is very hard to keep quiet. This is what I have experienced recently:

Faith Spear 114822 500pxW.jpgI had to weigh up the risk of possibly causing offence versus the need to speak.

I decided to speak!

What happened next shocked me. Suddenly people that I had respect for and worked so well with turned against me in the most brutal way. I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me but I certainly didn’t expect quite the fallout.

I was looking at the bigger picture and the wider issues but they were blinkered. Was I wrong to speak out?

NO

I wanted to raise issues and put them firmly on the agenda of those that could or should actually do something about them.

Maybe the problem was that they didn’t expect someone like me to put their head above the parapet and…

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Suffragette extraordinaire: Constance Lytton: Living for a Cause

The Criminal Justice Blog

This is an article that I wrote last year with my good friend David Scott concerning a suffragette extraordinaire!

Constance Lytton: Living for a Cause

David Scott and Faith Spear

 

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)]

In Prisons and Prisoners: Some personal experiences by Constance Lytton and Jane Warton, published 100 years ago this month in March 1914, Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton presented one of the most significant challenges to 20th Century anti-suffrage politics.  In so doing she put herself forward…

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Who cares about research for women in prison?

Research for women in prison is a resource that is designed to support researchers and practitioners. It is the first time there has been a place that practitioners, researchers and other interested people can easily access information relating to women in prison.  The aim of the blog is simple: it is to educate people about international and local issues which affect women in prison.

phd r4wip hand

The website: wwwr4womeninprison.com, promotes the work of organisations involved with women in the criminal justice system, the views of prisoners, practitioners and researchers as well as research findings. Criminal justice systems around the world are different however there is a consensus that knowledge about women in prison is fragmented. While the issue of women in prison is recognized by a few campaigners, researchers or specialists, there are many others which criticize such a narrow focus. Helen Crewe who is a criminologist and founder of an international network of researchers is the writer and owner of the blog.  Helen gives a response to two main criticisms of the blog:

There are many problems in the world, societies and local communities which are more important than women in prison. Who cares about this issue?

“I am writing this blog from the perspective of having taught women in prison. Research for women in prison uses international legislation, provides knowledge about broader issues such as the provision of housing or healthcare. The blog promotes organisations, campaigns and studies which are relevant for the majority of people and highlights that problems for women in prison are a reflection of society”.

Women in prison are a minority, so why not focus on problems that exist for all people in the criminal justice system?

“It is surprising how much research and knowledge there is about women in prison. Despite this, the minority status of women in prison has led to a small chapter or paragraph in a policy manual. Research for women in prison hopes to highlight the need for a central place that is accessible and helpful for improving knowledge”.

Research for women in prison is a resource that is useful about many issues. There is a monthly newsletter which will give up to date information about current studies, conferences and campaigns.

helen 2015

Helen Crewe is the founder of a social media network for researchers and practitioners who are involved with projects relating to women in prison. http://www.r4womeninprison.com.  She is a criminologist,consultant, researcher, writer and trainer specializing in issues which relate to women in the criminal justice system.

‘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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Men with Tissues and Women with Balls

 

 

INCAS Project delivery has brought me to a new way of thinking. Over the last 18-months, the project has housed and supported men coming from prison.

Running alongside the SHE Project, working with East Lancashire CRCS, Lancashire Constabulary. Sodexo Justice Services (Forest Bank HMP) and Shelter, the INCAS Project was part of an early adoption scheme on “recovery housing” as part of the Through the Gate programme.

The most difficult part of the project was grown men coming from prison and being labelled by referring agencies, as vulnerable.  Most of the stories were word-for-word, similar about what had led them to offending and ending up in the slammer. Throwing in a tear or two, I began to challenge these grown men on how they presented themselves. I first asked if there had been any trade they had worked in – this was met with a resounding, “I have not worked for years.” As part of the initial assessment, I had arranged visits to prisons to determine eligibility criteria for the INCAS Supported Living Scheme. On initial assessment, family dynamics were discussed. This included questions around children and where those children were.

Most of the men responded they wanted to be good fathers and to resurrect partnerships with the mothers of their children. The majority of men on the project had been estranged from children for years due to them being in prison.I assessed levels of alcohol and substance misuse and asked them if they wanted to stop misusing alcohol and/or drugs. Mostly, the replies were “it’s not that easy, I have been doing this for years” This to me suggests there was no intention to stop substance misusing.

My thoughts during this process was one of frustration. These are grown men telling me they were having it hard. Being led to believe by other agencies, they were the victims of some incurable disease, I began to unpick the man sitting before me. I am a former builder with earned stripes of alcohol abuse from the age of 14 and in an alcohol unit at the age of 21-years old. I don’t succumb to fluffy outcomes nor do I believe in hand-patting support. Men are supposed to be men, take responsibility for their families, their children, actions and understand there is a difference between fathering & being a father.  From an early age in the building trade, a man’s wage meant doing the work of a man.

From here, mental health problems were discussed. Statistics show that men are diagnosed with acute mental health disorders more than women. Homelessness is far more common in men than it is in women. Yet, the INCAS Project was offering men a home, support and the chance to re-establish contact with their children. I had many meetings during their support plan on their wishes to have contact with their children. Following a year’s support, not one of the men had established contact with any of the 42 children INCAS Project residents had between them.

The partner agency in INCAS Project is the SHE Project. Most readers of this blog know the SHE Project. Run and founded by the editor of this site, Tracey McMahon, SHE offers supported housing to women in the CJS.

My simplistic approach is that for change to happen in a man’s life, that man has to accept and take responsibility. My statistics show, men were not willing to take responsibility. This became apparent when I had supported some of the women on the SHE Project who had fully engaged with services and discussed their need for a home and to be with their children. Smart and resilient, the SHE Women have shown how to do it.

This brought me to the gender-gap evident in released prisoners. As a comparative study, results from SHE and INCAS showed the outcomes from SHE project work were far more attractive to read. I can only conclude this is due to the women and their willingness to address and accept responsibility for the reasons that got them inside a prison cell. I put this down to the power of Mother Nature. Separate a woman from her child and there are few more powerful sights than a woman rising from adversity to be reunited with her child or children. As a man who has watched his mother fight back from violence at the hands of my father, cancer at the age of 32 and left with no money to raise her five children during the hardships of the late 50s and 60s,  I have always had a deep respect for my mother in what she faced and overcame both as a mother and a woman.

In my eyes grown men don’t cry and ignore their children. They should be a shoulder to lean on for the mothers of their children. They should be getting off substances and caring for their children who are often living with their former partners, struggling to survive. Women are the backbone of communities and society, and it’s time men get off their backsides and support their children. There are plenty of men who have been to prison that I know of back when prisons did not have the attention or the reformers they have today, that have cared for their children and supported the mothers.

As INCAS enters a new era with his much respected sister, The SHE Project, my experience is that men really do have the tissues and women have the balls.

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.