There is a disturbing story currently circulating of a brave woman called Faith Spear who comes from Ipswich where she served as a volunteer chair of a body known as the Independent Monitoring Board of Her Majesty’s Prison & Young Offenders Institute Hollesley Bay based near Woodbridge in Suffolk. Although as the name suggests, the IMB is supposed to be Independent of both the Prison and indeed the Ministry of Justice, it appears that Mrs Spear was prevented from raising concerns about the way in which the prison was being run. Rather than resign, she chose to write an account of how difficult it is to explain the issues that the IMB identifies as part of their work. She did so under the pseudonym Daisy Mallet which was published in the 2016 Prisons Handbook. In April 2016 she was identified as the writer of the piece by other members of the Board and in January 2017 according to this news report she was sacked from her role by Sam Gyimah who is MP for East Surrey and the prisons minister from July 2016.
As I have written before in this blog, the role of a Police and Crime Commissioner is intended to focus not just on policing but also on the rest of the Criminal Justice System which the designer of the PCC role pointed out back in 2010/11 is far from a coherent system. The Criminal Justice system includes the Courts, Probation and of course the Prison estate itself. Unless there is a level of coherent governance across these various elements, the system will continue to perform badly and lead to lives being damaged as a result. If the PCCs were elected from non party political backgrounds they would be in a position to ensure that Policing and Prisons, Probation and the Courts would have a directly elected advocate in the area concerned who would speak up on behalf of the community and ensure that the Government was challenged whenever it acted in a way that was detrimental to the impact the CJS has on society as a whole including criminals and victims of crime. Under such conditions the PCC for Suffolk would be an actor in the dispute between the MOJ, Hollesley Bay and Faith Spear. However the PCC for Suffolk is Tim Passmore who is a Tory. He was leader of Mid Suffolk Council before being elected as PCC for the County and according to the PCC website he remains a Councillor.
Asking Tim to stand up to Sam Gyimah either in private or publicly is a tough call. Sam had already sacked Faith and Sam and Tim are members of the same political party. Tim in any case depends on the local party for his support as both a Councillor and as PCC. However public office, like that of the Independent Monitoring Board is supposed to mean that society is well served. Clearly in the case of Suffolk residents, the Tory Party is letting them down very badly and they should consider electing an Independent PCC in 2020 who would be willing to stand up against all Governments irrespective of its dominant part(ies).
A wider question is how suppressed are the views of the IMB’s for prisons across the UK. Is Faith Spear an exception or is she the first of many to find the IMB a group that is denied its voice?