A Very Happy New Year to everyone. So, 2018 didn’t quite start off with the bang that I was anticipating. Just before Christmas I felt as if I’d turned a corner in relation to physical and mental health issues. In fact, I had the most amazing pre-Christmas week with friends and family and managed to squeeze in three concerts in one week (I’d been saving up all month) and the loveliest of Christmas dinners with family. Then the lurgy hit, the same one that half the country mind, so I know I was not alone. Then the shock of dear friend’s sudden death a couple of weeks ago took the wind completely out of my sails. RIP and sleep well Mr Jimmy Donaghy (Jimmy was an advocate for prisoners rights here in Northern Ireland). As with all things patience and time allows one to bite the bullet and get on with life. I’m just back from my first gym session of the year and realised that I have gained all the weight I’d managed to lose over the past year. Back to the drawing board me thinks. Which brings me nicely to the purpose of this blog.
It’s been a rather interesting week in the Narnia of prisons and criminal justice. On Tuesday I watched the Justice Committee debate on HMP Liverpool. You can watch the whole session here if you haven’t already seen it – http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/58eb5044-3476-4100-8bc6-f2be25185c85. I listened with great interest and as per usual ended up shouting at the TV in the privacy of my own home. I’m glad there are no flies in this house. As always, not all of us see things in the same way and my views and opinions are mine. I’ll not comment on Michael Spurr as I don’t have the time or inclination to do so. I do however, welcome and applaud the comments made by Mr Rory Stewart, poor man, what a poisoned chalice he has inherited. I do like the fact that he unknowingly agrees with me.
Since my release in 2013 (and before) I have attended and spoke at many different academic and political gatherings on the state of the institution of prison and my experience of it. At most of these gathering I have been posed the question “Ok Michael, so what is your solution to prisons?” My answer has and still is the same “A clean sheet of paper and start again.” There is a slightly different, not so polite version, some of you will know what that is. I feel it’s ironic that Mr Stewart uses ‘Broken Windows’ as starting point. This is of course a great place to start but I’ll not rehash old ground as it’s not just the windows that are broken in prisons and criminal justice.
Is it just me or are we all blind? This is the same Government that has caused the current crisis. The cost to the taxpayer of a prison place needed to be reduced. So, the great and the good decided to get rid of long term prison staff. And now, low and behold they need to recruit more staff. Before the cull started in and around 2010 I had the pleasure of serving in four prisons in England and Wales between 2007 and 2009. There were 22 hour lock ups then due to lack of staff. Would this be any different under a Labour Government? When will people realise that the institution of prison has survived numerous changes in Government since the introduction of The Prison Act of 1952 (and before). Prison as an institution does not fit the purpose of a modern so called democratic society.
So, what are we going to do about it? I came across this article from last year “8,000 UK Veterans form political party to start ‘war with politicians’” Metro online – http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/29/8000-uk-veterans-form-new-political-party-to-start-war-with-the-politicians-6742304/. Given the number of ex-veterans who are in prison and or are homeless would this be such a bad thing? Take it a step further and consider the prospect of a political party made up of ex-vets and ex-prisoners? Is this why prisoners still don’t have the vote? Imagine if we all stood together due to the failings of Government and our society.
This leads me to an article by Professor Shadd Maruna in the Irish Probation Journal discussing the future of desistance stating “I argue that the most fruitful approach would be to begin to frame and understand desistance not just as an individual process or journey, but rather as a social movement, like the Civil Rights movement or the ‘recovery movements’ among individuals overcoming addiction or mental health challenges. This new lens better highlights the structural obstacles inherent in the desistance process and the macro-social changes necessary to successfully create a ‘desistance-informed’ future.” (Maruna, S. 2017, P.5,) Desistance As A Social Movement, Irish Probation Journal, Volume 14, Online
This then brings into the politicisation of academia. In 2015 my PhD application to a University in England was declined as my views were more political than academic and never the twain shall meet. I recall showing this to Shadd and seem to recall he was not too impressed. There are plenty of us out there with first hand experiences of prison who have walked the walk, now know how to talk the talk and are not frightened of telling the truth to power. After all it is only the truth of experience. I refer here to two News interviews with Shaun Attwood and Jack Hill. One on SKY and One on Channel Four News. Both are a must watch if you haven’t already seen them.
Shaun Attwood –
For me my message is simple. Let someone in Government grow a set and employ us. Create a team of people like Shaun, Jack, myself and way too many more to mention here. Let’s face it, most of us are much more qualified via academia and experience than those currently in charge, to make a difference. Combine our knowledge and experience, include us and let us bring some truth and reality to this broken and damaged institution of prison and hopefully we can make our society a better place to live. After all, is that not what we all want? Time to reinvent the wheel or simply get back to basics?