experience

Women Coming from Prison – Challenging Support Frameworks

il_340x270.569587853_axch

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Bill

It is with hindsight due to my experiences as a female con, I recognised there was no system. My work over the last five months has shown me more first hand, how following the Corston report, little has changed for women in prison. Moreover, on release, links are so broken for both women & men it is little wonder reoffending rates are so high.

This week I received a phone call from one of our INCAS members. He was released from prison in November and had nowhere to live. INCAS placed this 30-year old in a property with a male of a similar age. Estranged from his family, he had spent many short-term prison sentences since his late teens. Bill, (name has been changed) had difficulty in trusting people. INCAS were supporting him in housing with a network of drug misuse support services available to him. As weeks passed, it became clear, Bill had no intention of engaging with these services. Slowly, services withdrew. INCAS support never left him. We remained on the sidelines and under the Housing Act, we simply could not throw him out. We let him be and gradually, contact was re-established with Bill. It was clear Bill wanted to find his own feet and contact with his father was developing. His father contacted me and I explained Bill had our support, but that we were concerned about his mental health. Bill was not happy with this contact between us and his father. Bill launched at me that I was trying to ruin his life. Once I had explained that his father loved him, had spent years of trying to help him and that it was Bill who had to do the work, Bill slowly began to emerge as a man who knew he had enough of the life he had led. Small contact sessions with his father had begun to happen. INCAS remained in the background and Bill simply dropped in occassionally.

Looking back at Bill’s story has led to many comments. “A casualty of a system failure” As the INCAS project manager pointed out this week, there is no system in place to fail Bill. Bill repeatedly ended up in the slammer because of his behaviours and while he presented as vulnerable to us, Bill knew what he wanted. Time. Time & stable accommodation to find his feet without pressure from agencies to sign up for group therapies and endless appointments.

On Thursday, Bill called me. He told me he had packed up the house, as his father was picking him up and he was moving closer to family. He told me that he had realised how much support he had had from INCAS and there had never been anything like our support before. He requested he stay in touch should it all “get fucked up again” Of course you can, Bill. Anytime. But drop us a call to let us know how you are anyway.

Bill’s story is one of thousands. A life addicted to class A substances. Is Bill a result for INCAS? Who knows, but INCAS gave him a foothold in the trench to bond with his family, move on and at least give life a damn good shot on the right side of the law. We did this with one little front door key and ensured his home was safe.

The system that imprisoned Bill was not that of the Big House. Being there was of his own making. Bill’s imprisonment came from doing what he had always done. He, like I did put himself there. What Bill has shown is that stable accommodation can make a difference. As our society dictates our lives orbit around a stable address, Bill was given this and he was able to make choices from the trenches.

As SHE & INCAS ethos is homes and sustaining homes, we are now getting members involved in the process. Painting a home for others who are coming through the gates. Peer-led projects do work. We take some getting used to as SHE & INCAS are non-statutory. We are there to help dig footholds in the trenches to move on from. We cannot prevent addicts from using, we cannot make pain go away. But we can and do show how important a home is and how to become better neighbours, contributing members of society and accepted back into the community.

Bill has had the benefit of what INCAS offer and while we are the new kids on the block, Bill is back in touch with his family. What happens from here is up to Bill.

SHE Project. Halfway Mark for First Members

SHE has a few members now. The very first members came to us via the Gateways Project & Lancashire Constabulary.

Our first two women were released from prison in August. No strangers to prison cells, SHE’s women are tough & resourceful.  Naturally, issues have flared up. Our women are firstly human beings who have served their time and deserve support & encouragement. They both needed a home and SHE was able to provide this. SHE offers stable accommodation for six months, with support to maintain the accommodation. We also offer an office where our members can use the telephone to make all those ridiculously expensive calls to the DWP et Al.

Together, as a project, we have learned from each other. These women showed us what they needed and SHE as a project, gave them the space & time to find their feet.

Over coffee today, I approached with our women that we were at the halfway mark of their accommodation six-month period.  I asked our women to think about the road ahead & their plans for when their six-month period was at an end. I offered our continued support if they felt they needed this and we had a unanimous, resounding “can we stay on the project & have another six months?”

With my utmost pleasure, ladies, you can indeed. As our flagship members, these women are settled, have been given the independence they sought, treated as human beings & they have a lovely home in which they are safe & protected.  Oh & Mr Grayling? Two more to deduct from those pesky reoffending figures.

All of this was achieved from a tatty notepad, on a canal bank when I experienced first-hand the effects of homelessness and the Criminal Justice System.

Good news is. SHE has members bringing up the rear. Our males on INCAS are doing well and we have more women who have joined up for support & housing.

We are soon to open a five-bedroomed unit which will serve as temporary accommodation for women coming from prison. This will enable us to assess and prepare people for our project and offer what is a growing way of offering stable accommodation.

I have dragged myself through from a notepad, an idea and 18 months of writing about my experiences as a woman in the CJS. Our services are now being recognised, I have come up against a system that fails those it could help the most.

Were it not for the support of Burnley, Pendle & ROSSENDALE Council for Voluntary Services, the incredible sassy, professional and wonderful team who give their time freely to the project, SHE could not deliver as she does.

But SHE does. Because SHE can.

Unpopular Causes – What is One?

I’ve been in a few discussions recently over unpopular causes.  I compared SHE’S fundraising campaign to that of a journalist’s to live tweet from the hacking trial. We raised £65 and his campaign received well over £10,000. I’m thoroughly grateful to the wonderful people who gave generous donations and that money has been used wisely. We have almost got everything we need for our next house and we have five rooms now available for those leaving prison without a home to return to.

During the development of SHE, while I recognised services were patchy to say the least, there are some brilliant support networks for women leaving prison.  Some of the women housed with SHE are hooked into Lancashire Women’s Centres and other agencies which means the level of support is strong. The fact I encourage this widely is because I was desperate for support and at that time my fragility of mind meant I could have easily become dependant on anyone or anything.

Our men’s project, INCAS, is spearheaded by men. Men developed the project based on their experiences both of the CJS & society.  In the town of Burnley, services for men are as rare as rocking horse shit. Our first member of the projects was male. Released from prison after serving nine weeks of an 18-week sentence, this man had no home, was suicidal and came to us shaking and terrified.  Our chairman spent time with him, playing chess, talking and supporting him. We managed to find him emergency accommodation until his property was ready. We got him hooked into services and he took it upon himself to sign up to the Revolution team from Lancashire Police who offer support to prison leavers.

INCAS is soon to be starting a men’s group. Men, unlike women, can isolate and withdraw which is dangerous particularly when simply dumped outside a prison gate with nowhere to go. Men are much less likely to draw empathy from society than women are. It is no secret men are more likely to take their lives than women. Men struggle to ask for help and reoffending is often their only option to survive.  Going a step further,  the CJS was designed by men for men and it shows. Not because it is unsuitable for women, (it is)  but there is not the support for men which is why the CJS is one big monstrous mess. Women are far more likely to be further up the sentencing tariff,  than a male for a first offence, particularly mothers, as middle class Magistrates judge the woman as opposed to the crime. Men will climb the tariff and have more custodial increments than women.

During a meeting on Friday with a probation officer who is joining our management committee, I discussed with him early intervention in domestic abuse incidents and the possibility of the INCAS Project coordinator working with him on this area for men. Probation agreed it was an area he (bearing in mind his demanding full-time role) would put time into.  My default setting is keeping the family unit intact where safe to do so. At the first sign of abuse, intervention at an earlier stage is vital. I have read some excellent work on early intervention in domestic abuse situations and I fail to see how more work in this area should not be explored. Ignoring abuse at early stages has cost lives, split families and caused generations of children to suffer as adults after witnessing domestic abuse. I witnessed my mother attack my father with a knife as a child, I’ve never forgotten this as an adult.

The support in place for victims of domestic abuse is highlighted often.  But the problem will never be eradicated or solved if only side is supported and the perpetrator isolated. To raise awareness and truly take the bull by the horns, we have to, for the sake of our future generations, look at pathways to step in at a much earlier stage. An unpopular cause? Very much so. I’ve seen resistance to the research on restorative solutions in domestic abuse. As unpopular as it may be, we at INCAS are willing to explore this area. INCAS & SHE are fortunate in that we have a management committee with a lot of experience in a vast range of areas including unpopular causes.

For the sake and safety of our next generation, we should be looking at earlier interventions to keep a family together and show that solutions are possible. Unpopular as this may be, our children deserve at least further exploration.

 

 

Home and a Front Door Key

Life is full of ‘what ifs ‘ and during my journey through the CJS,one of the glaringly obvious stand-alone issues, I faced, was that I did not have, a mental health illness and/or a substance misuse problem. It is not a lie when I say I was unable to get any help to secure a roof over my head. I was often asked if I had a drug addiction, or a mental health illness. Computer said no, so many  times to me.

I would go as far to say, not having any of the above, made it nigh-on-impossible to get any help. I have worked with three women this week, all have had contact with the CJS and despite their chaotic lives, primarily having no home, these are bright,streetwise, tough and incredibly resourceful women. The beautiful aspect of all the ugliness they have been through shines through in having the simple things in life. Like a bathmat, sanitary items, bubble bath and hot water. Essentially, a place called home. These women had no home and now they do. Three women who came to me via different agencies, have bonded over a coffee and talked to each other on how they could live together. All were sofa-surfing, on two-seater sofas, or mattresses, living under other people’s roofs and tip-toeing around their hosts.

But no longer. These three women now have a home, their own home, they have put pictures up on the wall, sorted out whose cupboard is whose. These women have run homes, raised children and lost everything. I know what that is like. It is soul destroying.

I know and understand where these women have been. Two of these women have dealt with their substance misuse prior to coming to SHE. They had done the hard work while sleeping on someone else’s sofa. I watched them on Friday as they unpacked their food and proudly placed them in the kitchen cupboards. I simply leaned against the wall and smiled. For those familiar with my story, I remember that feeling well. To hand these women, their own front door key was the best feeling for them and for me.

The first ‘live’ week of SHE is spearheaded by these three women, who never knew each other and now work together to begin a journey. Three very different journeys, yet united in circumstance.

Now these women can begin in the safety of their own home. From the sofa of others, to responsibility of running a home. They are all going to write to our women in US prisons and with links into courses, craft classes, wishes to end their dependency on benefits, entering a court dock is the furthest from their minds.

In its first week, SHE has housed three women, that is down to hard work from the community, Graham Lightbown, Lancashire Constabulary, Inspire, Community Solutions and the support of the team who work alongside me, not to mention the great team at BRPCVS.

I am highly protective of SHE. Built from the canal towpath, a pen and a tatty notepad, to a live project with a multi-agency approach. No politics, just a simple little piece of metal for three women who were mentally & physically exhausted because of their living circumstances after being in prison and a community-based sentence.

A home is safety & security. Without this, there is nothing. Only then can any person begin to build a life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parent’s “Snatch” Child from Hospital

i will not calm down

 

What a week in the “news”. Yesterday, I was amazed when I read a headline claiming two parents had “snatched” a child from a Hampshire hospital. These sort of headlines grab my attention as a mother. Even though I am without my children, I know the brokenness of this and how I have felt at times over wanting another child to replace the feelings of loss. The mind is a fragile sphere and my own thoughts at times have scared the shit out of me. Back to the headline, on further probing, it emerged the parents who snatched a child, had taken the decision to collect their child from said hospital. I first came across the BBC report. The words that stood out for me in that report were “without consent”. Later news reports declined into “snatched” and the caring British public began to comment on how these parents were abusive, selfish and a number of other adjectives appeared. A “major” investigation was launched and Hampshire Police appeared on camera detailing their concern for the five-year old little boy who is seriously ill with a brain tumour. It has to be said, I have no issue with the police being concerned over the welfare of a vulnerable child, (lest we forget Rotherham) I appreciate the police have to look into a hospital reporting a missing child.

That said, I want to explore why a mother and father, parents of five other children have been subjected to such crucifying headlining by mainstream media. I want to place myself in the shoes of these two parents who have a seriously ill child, are loving parents to all of their children. They are, according to reports, Jehovah’s Witnesses, but whatever their beliefs, as parents in the UK, they have a choice in the medical decisions around their child. As far as we know, the little boy was granted home leave under the supervision of his parents and there have been no reports claiming any of the six children are the subject of any child protection orders. The child protection remains the responsibility of these two parents. Youtube clips of a loving brother telling of his pain at the hands of his poorly little brother have been aired and pictures of a loving mother at the side of her desperately ill little boy have been printed.

The parents have broken no laws. They removed their child from the hospital, as they have not responded to any of the reports in the press, their reasons are speculation only. As a mother, were my child dying, I likely would do the same. I would take my suffering child and spend as much time with him/her as I could and if the end was near, I would rather my child was surrounded by his/her loving family and be there, as a mother holding that little hand as my child passed on into the next world. As a mother, I would want to ensure that passage was safe and be there. That is what I would do as a mother amidst the grief and loss I knew I would endure. I can look back and state this, given I could no longer tear my children up from a war between their mother and father, not knowing the loss and pain I would endure. Ten years of pain, slaggings off from those around me, that I was an unfit mother et al. My children are alive and I may at some point in the future be able to build and form strong bonds, the mother of this little boy does not have this hope.

It is a lonely place at times, being three-dimensional. Of course, the welfare of this little boy must remain paramount. I stand by that, but isn’t the welfare of this little boy the responsibility of the parents who have chosen for him not to be treated at the said hospital they “snatched” him from?  There were no concerns previously over him being under the care of his parents during his home visits. The press frenzy around this is piss poor and on the back of the Rotherham abuse of 1400 girls, it appears orchestrated to turn the attention of the public away from what is systematic abuse of young girls to two parents who are loving and their dying child.

These two parents did not “snatch” their little boy from a Hampshire hospital. They took their seriously ill little boy out of the hospital lawfully and as loving parents.

What is scandalous, is the headlining of these two parents as child snatchers and the press should be ashamed of themselves.

As always, comments are welcome.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/11062841/Major-investigation-as-parents-take-five-year-old-boy-with-a-brain-tumour-from-hospital.html

GETTING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM WE CHOOSE Part 3: The Philosophy of the Criminal Justice System:

PBA0105 

Mark Fletton writes:

 Let me pose another question. What do we mean when we say ‘the criminal justice system’? It would be an interesting experiment to simply stop now and invite responses. It is a phrase which is used frequently, and yet we rarely stop to consider what it actually means. If we want to feel ‘safe’, and maybe not think too much, we could simply go to one of the many online or ‘hard copy’ sources and lift a definition. If you do that, you will probably find a definition along the lines provided, for example, by Oxford Dictionaries which provides that a ‘criminal justice system’ is ‘The system of law enforcement that is directly involved in apprehending, prosecuting, defending, sentencing, and punishing those who are suspected or convicted of criminal offences.’

All very neat, isn’t it? In twenty-five words we have encapsulated the essence of one of the most vital components of our society: one that deals with protecting the citizenry from all manner of ‘harms and wrongs’ and ‘punishing’ those who perpetrate those wrongs. And it covers a huge production line, from initial apprehension of suspects (normally undertaken by an organisation established and dedicated to that purpose) to those who undertake and dispense ‘punishment’, and all stations in between. The same dictionary uses twenty-eight words to define ‘elephant’.

‘Systems’ are good. A system is a set of things working together as parts, forming a complex whole. A watch is a system, the pipes which bring water into your home comprise a system, and your body is a system – a system which contains many other systems. Notice anything about these systems? Well, they all work together with a simple purpose. If a spring goes in your watch, you can’t tell the right time. If a water-pipe bursts, you can forget a cup of tea in the morning. And if your blood gets infected, you are going to need a doctor, quick.

I am going to argue that the criminal justice ‘system’ (if we adopt the simple definition above), as it has evolved, is really not a ‘system’ at all. I would describe it more as an ‘industry’, although in many ways an industry at least seems to have the advantage of having some idea of the reason for its existence and its primary goals. The car industry exists to produce metal boxes with wheels to make people’s lives more comfortable and enjoyable, and to make as much financial profit as possible whilst doing it. The management and employees all know what they are striving to achieve and generally all pull in the same direction to achieve it. The criminal justice ‘industry’ is a huge undertaking, mainly financed from the public purse, and employing an eye-watering number of people. There are some 130,000 serving police officers, for example, and that is before we begin to count the number of Police Community Support Officers and staff in support roles. Then you have court staff up and down the country, the CPS and its support staff, solicitors, barristers, judges, prison staff, probation staff and on and on. This is, on any view, a sizeable enterprise.

Criminal legislation generally begins in Parliament, when the governing political party, or parties, decide that a particular activity or behaviour should be deemed a criminal offence. This is often, though by all means not always, driven by what they perceive the general public consider as important (and which political party wants to dent their prospects of electoral success?) or as a response to specific events (eg terrorist attacks – consider the volume of criminal legislation this has driven in the past thirteen years!). Of course, the politicians would say that they are taking steps to protect the public; which, by happy coincidence, helps to obtain the support of the electorate if they can convince them they have protected them by passing the legislation, and shown them they are ‘tough on crime’. The police, of course, have the task of apprehending those who they deem to be breaching these laws. They then pass the person accused of a crime to the court system, where eventually evidence is tested and guilt established, or not, as the case may be. If guilty, the convicted person then moves into the ‘punishment’ regime, the sausage meat end of the process.

I suggest that any system is ordinarily judged by success in achieving what it is designed to do. A watch is designed to tell the time, water-pipes to deliver water, and your body to stay alive, and if any of these things don’t result we would have no hesitation in saying the system has failed. The failure of one component in an integrated task will defeat the purpose. But what is the purpose of the ‘criminal justice system’, and what are the criteria for ‘success’?

Although some readers may regard it as cynical, a government passing laws will see the success of what they are doing in essentially keeping the electorate happy, and getting re-elected. The police will see success in terms of arresting people they believe have broken the law, and hitting their ‘targets’ as efficiently as possible. The Crown Prosecution Service, charged with the task of prosecuting those in the court system, sees ‘success’ as achieving as many convictions as they can. Defence solicitors and barristers see ‘success’ as the acquittal of as many of their clients as possible. Judges see ‘success’ as passing what they deem to be a sentence ‘in accordance with the law and guidelines laid down’ to the point where they are not the subject of too many successful appeals. Those involved in running the prisons see ‘success’ as implementing a regime where prisoners are kept secure and don’t escape. Probation officers, and probably prison governors also, may see ‘success’ as their charges not returning to a life of crime. Of course, each one of these integral parts will say they don’t view ‘success’ in the way I have suggested: the Crown Prosecution Service, for example, will try to suggest that ‘success’ is in ensuring only the guilty are convicted. This overlooks the fact that they are not ultimately responsible for that outcome; a jury or bench of magistrates are, and all the CPS can do is ask itself ‘is there a reasonable prospect of conviction of person X on the evidence we have’ and, if so, try to secure a conviction against them; otherwise why bring the case? It can be seen that the criminal justice system really is not an interlocking mechanism of parts all vital to produce a successful outcome. It is a smorgasbord of bodies and people who have different aims, different interests, and who have different primary outlooks on what counts as a ‘success’.

I would liken the criminal justice system to a pantomime horse. It is a combination of parts, none of which quite know what the other is exactly doing, or more importantly why. What holds it together and provides it with some semblance of cohesion is a great brown big cloth, designed to create the illusion of a horse. The reality of course is that we all know it isn’t a real horse but is just doing an impression of one. All we need to do is suspend our disbelief for a while and our imagination can do the rest. For a time, the two people bent double under the cloth and moving on stage are a horse.

As I mentioned in Part 1, there are plenty of people who will try and convince you that the criminal justice system, as it may be traditionally understood, is based on Judeo-Christian values. For a variety of reasons that I need not go into, I don’t subscribe to that particular piece of casuistry. I do, however, concede that there is one element of the Judeo-Christian tradition which has been the bedrock of the criminal justice system for many centuries, namely that individuals have been born as moral free-agents, possessing absolute free will when it comes to thought and action. The Judeo-Christian theology, which has permeated every part of the life and culture of England and Wales, again for many centuries, is predicated on the notion that everyone is free to think and act as they wish. Moses came down from Mount Sinai with a list of ten holy commandments, among them several ‘thought crimes’, including coveting your neighbour’s goods and his wife. The last two parts of this series have attempted to provide cogent reasons why thoughts are out of your control, and why you cannot be ‘blamed’ for them. And yet our entire system of ‘justice’ rests upon assumptions about human nature, and principles carved out of stone by the finger of God on a mountain several thousand years ago; namely the notion that you can control your thoughts, and your actions (and I will return to address that in a later part), and that if you don’t you will receive punishment, and the moral outrage of your fellow citizens. We have allowed Bronze Age assumptions to journey with us unthinkingly through thousands of years, never putting the bags down long enough to ask whether they actually reflect what human beings really are and how they really operate, within the context of how best to protect society from ‘harm’.

Borrowing from the publication that brought us Moses and the holy commandments for a moment, in Matthew 7:24-27 we are taught the parable of the wise and foolish builders. Essentially, if you build your house on a foundation of sand, sooner or later it is going to be found out by an influx of water. I have long argued, rather like Noah, that the rain is coming and that eventually the cracks in the ‘criminal justice system’ will be too large to ignore. If the ‘system’ is predicated on a premise that is false, the conclusions will be flawed and the outcomes will not be ‘justice’. If free will is the illusion I contend it is, then ‘punishment’ is futile, and indeed the very word becomes meaningless. This is not to say that society does not need either laws or procedures in place to both protect its citizens and, wherever possible, to remove as far as possible the risk of those who have caused harm from doing so again. But if free will is an illusion, we need a new approach and a new vocabulary for the reality we actually face, rather than continue to suspend our disbelief and seeing the pantomime horse as the real thing.

Very few people want to lift this particular stone for fear of what they might find underneath. It is far easier to keep holding the security blanket of history and the overarching, but rationally and scientifically threadbare, beliefs which now seem ingrained into our psyches. So instead of asking ourselves what this ‘system’ is trying to achieve, and by extension asking ourselves how we are going to achieve it, we just ignore the issue and carry on, but in an increasingly frenzied way. What ‘justice’ meant for the Blair administration, for instance, was to pass some three thousand new criminal offences in a nine year period. During this ‘law-fest’, activities such as selling grey squirrels and impersonating a traffic warden became criminal offences. Had a law been passed making it compulsory for traffic wardens to impersonate human beings, I might have had rather more sympathy. But the prevailing attitude now for some time has been to increasingly regulate people and their behaviour by the creation of criminal offences, to the point where you begin to ask yourself whether the true intention is to ensure that everyone secures themselves a criminal record sooner or later, with all the baggage that brings with it. What is really needed is to ask ourselves ‘what are we trying to achieve by doing this, and what is the best way of doing it, based on hard realities and a true assessment of ourselves as human beings?’

And if free will is an illusion then, as I have suggested, ‘punishment’ becomes futile, and we need to look afresh at what we are trying to achieve in each individual case. We send people to prison, only to find out they are released and ‘reoffend’. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Justice in 2013, one in four ‘criminals’ reoffend within one year, committing five hundred thousand offences between them. For those leaving the prison system, the reoffending rate was 47.2%. Is this meant to represent ‘success’? Bearing in mind the statistics are not broken down by individual offences, it is hard to know how many of these ‘reoffenders’ fall into the category because they sold a grey squirrel or acquired a fetish for traffic warden uniforms.

What religion and the criminal justice system have in common, for sure, is that they both rely on faith to survive. As long as you have faith that what you see is a horse, you will ignore the brown cloth and cardboard face and continue to try to feed it a sugar lump. What is not so sure is how much longer faith can be maintained in the face of the overwhelming evidence that the ‘system’, from first to last, is deeply flawed and operating against the very thing it should be doing, namely protecting the public.

Mark Fletton is a former barrister, a hardened and devoted Sheffield Wednesday FC supporter. He is now a writer/researcher and lives in Exeter, Devon.

SHOW OF FORCE: Search for justice in naming a ‘suspect’ pre-charge

wave-of-the-hand

 

On the afternoon of Thursday 14th August 2014, police attended at a Berkshire residence to carry out a search of the property. They had apparently received a complaint from somebody and decided that searching the property was something that should be done in order to investigate the complaint. Nothing so unusual about that, you may think. After all, it is something that happens daily, up and down the country, when complaints are made to the police.

What happened in this case, however, is slightly more unusual. According to Amanda Platell in this morning’s Daily Mail*, the police admitted that they had confirmed to the BBC that they were going to search the property. Having received this information, the BBC then obviously do what any self-respecting national television station would do and turn up at the property to secure as much footage as they can about the ‘story’.

Amanda Platell may be a veritable bottomless pit of misplaced moral outrage but I suspect, rather like the broken watch that tells the correct time twice a day, she has probably hit upon an issue here which, in the interests of justice, needs to be addressed, and quickly.

The person whose home was being searched last Thursday is a ‘national celebrity’. That fact, obviously, secures him no immunity from the law and its processes. What it does do, however, is mean that in the event that ‘plod’ comes knocking at his or her door, it is going to arouse the interest of the media if and when they find out there is a criminal allegation being made against them. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the media has an economic interest in stories involving ‘celebrities’. And if these ‘stories’ involve allegations of some of the most detested and detestable human behaviour, the more interest there is going to be. The media know that the public is now almost seemingly intoxicated by the cult of celebrity, and will milk that for all it is worth.

The media, like all of us, are subject to restrictions on what can or can’t be said about a story like the one I have described above. Why not? Because in the event that the matter comes to trial, it is essential that the individual concerned can secure a fair trial by a jury who have not been influenced by extraneous material and by soaking up what is often little more than the groundless opinion of others. The legal process often involves, for example, applications being made by the defence for certain evidence to be excluded under statutes such as sections 76 and 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and others. The more the case has been discussed and commented on in the media, the greater the likelihood that the jury may become aware of matters which, if they are deemed legally inadmissible, they should not. The fairness of any trial is then thrown into doubt.

But the possible legal implications are not the only ones that are at play here. As Amanda Platell probably rightly suggests, the implications of how this particular story has been reported go beyond legal issues. It touches upon how we, as human beings, respond when we are told that an unnamed complainant has suggested the commission of a repugnant criminal offence by another, ‘celebrity’ or otherwise. Many of us may be able to look at matters such as this objectively, and say something like ‘Well, he (or she) is innocent until they are proven guilty’, but should we have to?

Anyone who knows me will know I am a hardened opponent of any but the most necessary legal regulations to ensure that society functions in a way which creates the most harmony for the most people, and in any event justice and fairness for all. What I question about what has happened since Thursday lunchtime, when this story broke, is why the person was ever named, or details of the search disclosed. The inevitable media frenzy creates potential injustice and unfairness, and an atmosphere in which an individual (whatever the eventual outcome) has had his or her reputation brought into the public spotlight for examination.

None of us should engage in any kind of comment or speculation in relation to the individual concerned. Although we all now know who it is, I have deliberately refrained from using his name, and the only reason for mentioning the incident at all is because it highlights something I suggest we need to address now, particularly bearing in mind the ongoing police operations and enquiries into serious allegations of child abuse by ‘prominent’ people.

I have two questions arising out of all of this. Firstly, should the name of anyone who has not been charged with a criminal offence ever be made public in relation to an ongoing criminal investigation? Whilst in the vast majority of cases, the press have no interest in reporting pre-charge (or even post-charge) criminal cases, I suggest that cases like this serve only to run the risk of blighting someone’s reputation unnecessarily and increase the prospects of a trial being rendered unfair. Secondly, should the name of an accused person after being charged with a sexual offence ever be made public prior to conviction? This is, perhaps, the more debatable issue, bearing in mind it cannot be denied that releasing limited details of the name of an accused and some information about the charges may lead to other victims coming forward and making the case against him/her more compelling.

As I invite responses to these questions, I make one appeal. Please do not mention the name of any individual who has not been convicted of any criminal offence. It is not necessary to make your point, and the questions are aimed at stimulating a debate about the general issue, and not specific individuals.

* ‘Cliff Doesn’t Deserve This Lurid Trial By Television’: Amanda Platell Daily Mail 16th August 2014: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2726393/PLATELLS-PEOPLE-Cliff-doesnt-deserve-lurid-trial-television.html

 

Mark Fletton is a former barrister. He is now a writer/researcher and lives in Exeter.