Injustice – the need for our prisons to change

wormwoodOn Wednesday afternoon at the University of Sussex, there will be a public showing of a film called ‘Injustice’ which focuses on the crisis in our prison service. The film explains that we need to see a major change to the way in which people who break our laws are treated and indeed the way in which vulnerable people in society are cared for. It is deeply concerning that 6 years after the introduction of the role of Police and Crime Commissioner, that there has been no significant positive change to the way in which the victims or perpetrators of crime are treated as a result of the work of most PCCs. Had the breadth of the ideas behind the PCC role which Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel helped to shape been followed through by Theresa May and subsequently Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Home Secretary, the current situation could be significantly different. An alternative would be to change the name of the Commissioner to the Police Commissioner, or in the light of their interest and that of our own PCC, Blue Light Commissioner as they have all sought to connect the work of the PCC to that of the Fire and Rescue Service, completely ignoring the rest of the Criminal Justice System (CJS). To their credit a small number of PCC’s across the country have attempted to fulfil the Crime Commissioner element of the post. However such attempts have been met with a great deal of resistance by the Government when challenges are made to the way in which the Courts, Probation and the Prison Service operate. Nick Herbert explained in 2011 that the term CJS was rather misleading as the idea of a coherent system was a long way from the way in which the various elements connect and work together.

A large number of people who are taken into our prisons as a consequence of them breaking laws, are simply held against their will in an environment that is both dangerous and lacking in any support for them, so that when they are released with little or no preparation and external support, the prospects of them repeating their behaviour is high. No one I have met who works for charities that try to support people who have spent time in prison such as Sussex Pathways which I am proud to say I helped to establish back in 2008 would argue that law breakers should not face punishment for their crimes. However punishment alone does little to protect society from the laws being broken again. A large number of people every year break speeding laws and when this is their first time and their speed is not dramatically high compared to the speed limit, many are invited to attend a speed awareness course which explains about the risks of this behaviour and why the laws are set as they are. The prospect for these same people of sitting alone in a room for a few hours would be a great deal less effective than is the case for those who attend such courses. The cost of doing so would not be much different but the whole point of the speed awareness courses is to change the behaviour of the offenders and there are indications that such courses do have a positive impact on some of those who attend.

The purpose of prison is supposed to be fourfold. The punishment or retribution element is clear to most people outside of a small number of reactive politicians and journalists and a small proportion of society. Anyone who questions this should visit a prison and find out for themselves. However there are numerous ways that society can punish people that does not rely on them being locked away from the rest of society at a significant cost to all of us. The next two elements are deterrence and rehabilitation which are a focus on how the people concerned will behave in the future. Almost no work is carried out to achieve these objectives in most of our prisons which is why there is such a clear revolving door statistic but this activity if it was available could be achieved just as easily outside of prison as inside without any difficulty

Finally there is a protection or incapacitation element which is an attempt to protect society and those who have broken laws from their own actions. In reality very small numbers of people who are locked up in prisons would put society or themselves at risk if they were not locked up, however these few cases clearly need to continue to be treated in this manner, at least until these people are able to change their behaviour following an effective rehabilitation and deterrence programme.

Posted in Charities, Justice Issues, Parliament and Democracy, Police & Crime Commissioner | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Politicians & Media must focus on peace

Churchill and StalinOur historic connection with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as demonstrated in this image shows that historic photographs showing various evil people with Jeremy Corbyn and lists of his widely known meetings with such people in the past should be treated very carefully. Churchill’s historic connections were far from clean and the stupid comments on social media by those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn from the news media, and Tories and some within the Labour Party need to re-focus on the real challenge facing our nation today. Stalin was widely known to have killed millions of people and evicted many more from his series of nations, few people in the modern Conservative Party and those who are accusing Corbyn, would agree to our association with Stalins successor, yet they would not question Churchill’s judgement if faced with those challenges. According to some reports from Theresa May’s speech in London yesterday, she argued that any deaths on British soil act as a line in the sand. Surely our Government and indeed all credible Governments across the world should be seeking to end deaths in all nations, irrespective of the nationality of those involved. Our own nations involvement in deaths in Yemen and Syria as two specific examples mean we need a different approach to the way our Government currently acts. Our willingness to stand up against the American approach to weapons is just as relevant, as we hear story after story of children being murdered in Schools and Colleges. We need to see parties working together and acting in a way that brings peace to our world and that will require tough decisions such as the ones taken by Churchill in the 1940’s and world leaders (and leaders of the opposition) now!

Posted in Parliament and Democracy, Syria, Yemen | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Visible Policing – A mixture of views

Visible PoliceThis morning three stories or issues are alive on social media that relate to the actions of police forces. The first I spotted was the news of the tragic shooting of two women in Bexhill last night. The fact that there has been an arrest and that the police are on the scene will not put the clock back for the two dead women, but hopefully it will reassure the local community that the hard work is underway to ensure that the community is safe and the crime is being fully investigated. Then I spotted a nameless columnist in the Uckfield Observer writing a letter to Katy Bourne who is the Sussex PCC, regarding the Police precept. I agreed with several points the person made, but their demand for visible policing, distinguishing this from seeing police officers in cars is unfortunately not something that will assist in cases such as the Bexhill murders, or indeed the work of the police more widely. If it was essential to have police officers walking the streets throughout Sussex last night, the number of officers available to focus on the crime would have been severely diminished and the murderer may well have been at large today. Finally the third strand came from a report in the Daily Mail of PCSOs and Police Officers in Longton, Staffordshire who were engaging with their local community and had focused on matters such as clearing the streets of rubbish as part of their campaign which was clearly focused on one local community. This had led to an outpouring of criticism from local people that they were not addressing matters of a criminal nature. Now the Daily Mail is a regular demander of visible policing so their hypocrisy stands out very clearly. However the fact that some people are not wanting visible policing is a true reflection of how society sees such issues. Some people would like to see a police officer walking along their road whenever something has gone wrong, yet most people are bright enough to work out that any paid official on their streets when there has been no problems is a waste of resources. The value of engaging with communities may not be understood by most people who read the Daily Mail but it is one of the purposes of PCSO’s and so should also be commended, but perhaps the people who have allowed litter and furniture onto their streets should be the real culprits of that story and maybe the MOS could at least have raised that point too!

Posted in Community Safety, Journalism, Parliament and Democracy, Police & Crime Commissioner, Policing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A failure to grasp a vital issue

BussesThe image shown here is from the ‘They work for You’ website which displays how our MPs and Peers who are paid to represent us handle the public speeches they make in Parliament. The question from Robert Halfon is an important one and makes sense to anyone who has ever tried to get to Hospital by public transport. The tragedy is that Nusrat Ghani seems to have answered it as though she lives in a world that is not where her constituents live. Her Constituency, Wealden is one that has very little provision for hospitals. There is a small hospital in Crowborough and another small one in Uckfield. However any serious treatment for her constituents needs to take place in Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, Haywards Heath or Tunbridge Wells. The only reliable and regular public transport to any of these locations from the constituency is by bus. However to get to hospital from over such distances is far from easy and to leave such matters in the hands of bus companies and even local authorities seems completely wrong. The need for the NHS to work with local authorities and for regulations to be applied to those operate bus services which clearly also requires funding, is vital in a rural constituency like Wealden and indeed in many other parts of the UK. Let us hope that Nusrat Ghani will take the time to reflect on her answer to this important question and see this as a matter for her to resolve, not leave the bus operators to make decisions on!

Posted in Brighton & Hove, Health Reform, Parliament and Democracy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A poor matinee after a genuine tragedy

SkripalIt is very hard to understand how our government can store up information about the ‘spying’ profile of staff in any London based Embassy and do nothing about it until the Government which owns the Embassy is accused of an attack on two people in Salisbury, with the added impact on a hard working police officer who was caught in the chemical cross fire. On the other hand how does removing a handful of foreign Civil Servants from a high profile building in our Capital assist our nation in making sense of what has happened and what needs to be done to protect our own residents including police officers and those we have provided sanctuary to. This seems to have all of the hallmarks of a theatrical performance and when placed in the centre of the House of Commons debating Chamber perhaps it was more like a Circus or Pantomine.

The text in Wikipedia suggests that Sergei Skripal “acted as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services during the 1990s and early 2000s. He settled in the UK in 2010 following the Illegals Program spy swap.” Assuming this is true then our own hands are dirty as Mrs May will surely know very well. The idea of the Russian and American Governments using the attack on Skripal and his daughter to launch their own performance on the stage of the United Nations is just as disturbing, particularly as it is played out on our screens and there will be an impact on our nation. How many American ‘intelligence’ staff are based in their embassy and indeed how many live in the UK based embassies of other nations that have a track record in using embassies and consulates as a base for state terrorism? 

In the short term there is no doubt some benefit to be gained by the Government and Theresa May for the way she responds publicly to what happened in Salisbury on 4th March. However such matters will quickly slip off the newspaper front pages. What really counts is how to improve our security as a nation and how to strengthen the security of UK residents who visit nations such as Russia. The idea that we can be expected to believe that all of these problems are caused by a few spies in an Embassy in London or even by a few people in the Kremlin is foolishness. Once nerve agents are created and made available to such people, they eventually end up in the hands of other people who are on the periphery of foreign governments including our own. The same is true of all weapons including those that Tony Blair defined as weapons of mass destruction. Whilst the attack on three people in Salisbury is something that will have impacted many of us, the real truth is that as residents of the world, the violent death of a single person in Syria or Yemen or anywhere in the world is also a threat to us all. We need the Governments of our world to focus on meaningful peace, not on retaliation!

Posted in Community Safety, Parliament and Democracy, Police & Crime Commissioner, Policing, Syria, Yemen | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The vital need to inspect Children’s Centres

OFSTEDAccording to its own website: “Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. It therefore seems bizarre that for the last three years it has not inspected a single Children’s Centre in its entirety. This news came in this article which explained:‘The government suspended Ofsted inspections of children’s centres in September 2015 “on a short-term basis” pending a consultation on their future, which is still yet to take place. The suspension came after the announcement of the consultation by former childcare minister Sam Gyimah in July 2015 and a promise that the government would launch an open consultation on the future of children’s centres in autumn 2015.  According to analysis by Action for Children, had inspections not been suspended, an estimated 969 children’s centres – around 40 per cent of the total – would have been assessed for quality of performance and impact. Before the suspension, Ofsted was required to inspect centres no later than five years after the previous inspection. Inspections collect evidence on aspects such as the safety of the centre, how its public finances are managed, how well it serves young children and parents in the area and its success in identifying prospective families in most need.

The Childrens Minister, Nadhim Zahawi was recently asked this question about Childrens Centres by Dan Carden who is the MP for Liverpool Walton. The question and part of the answer are:

DC: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of the closure of Sure Start children’s centres on the school readiness of children in Liverpool Walton constituency.

NZ: Due to the wide range of services that affect educational outcomes for young children, it is not possible to draw a causal link between children’s centre services and a child’s educational attainment….If a council decides to close a children’s centre, statutory guidance is clear that they should demonstrate that local children and families would not be adversely affected and local areas continue to have sufficient children’s centres to meet their needs.

Now clearly if the Childrens Centres were being inspected, there is a possibility that Nadhim Zahawi would have been able to answer this question with a bit more background knowledge. However it is not just Zahawi and his predecessor Gyimah who is now the Minister responsible for Higher Education who seem oblivious to the needs to carry out a comprehensive assessment of Children’s Centres. According to this article the Chief Inspector at OFSTED, Amanda Spielman explained to MPs that she is unconcerned that the regulator has not inspected a children’s centre for nearly three years, adding that a decision on future oversight is a matter for government. Appearing before the education select committee, Spielman said she is satisfied that current arrangements are sufficient. Responding to questioning from Labour MP Lucy Powell, Spielman said: “The short answer is I’m not concerned.” it is “a matter for government” to consider what the most appropriate mechanism for overseeing children’s centres is. “I’m not convinced from what I have seen inspection is the right tool to look at whether children’s centres are as effective as they should be. “I think it is fundamentally a question for the Secretary of State [for Education] about the future of children’s centres and the oversight of them.”



It seems reasonable for the OFSTED inspector if she does not believe an inspection is the best way of overseeing a children’s centre to express her view regarding what is the best mechanism and while she is expressing that, perhaps she can explain to MPs and the rest of society, if OFSTED inspections work for Schools, Prisons, PreSchools and Local Authorities?

Posted in Education, Parliament and Democracy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Home Office needs to be challenged

Home OfficeEvery few months I hear a story about someone who the Home Office is about to deport despite the fact that they are making or have made a huge contribution to society. Sometimes the story emerges of a person I know, and sometimes someone else. However almost every time I am left wanting to hold our Home Office to account for potentially destroying communities through a hardline approach to rules that seem at need a great deal of flexibility.  A few days ago a friend of mine Dani Ahrens wrote this amazing blog about her own life as an immigrant and compared it to the life of Albert Thompson who after 44 years living in the UK, paying taxes and contributing to our society, is being told that his cancer treatment will cost him thousands of pounds, a sum that another person whose paperwork was handled in a different manner would be covered by our national health service. No doubt the rules being applied to Albert are those designed to stop health tourism. After 44 years no one would describe Albert as a tourist to the UK. Then over the weekend the story emerged of a couple, currently staff members at Durham University with their 11 year old daughter who are all about to be deported for breaking a rule that on the face of it should be open to a flexible approach. The couple are Dr. Ernesto Schwartz-Marin and his wife Arely Cruz-Santiago who is a research postgraduate in Geography. Apparently they have a tier 2 visa and in the academic year 2014-2015 spent too many days in their home nation of Mexico. Now it appears there is a flexible element to the rule relating to the time spent abroad, which is that it can be waived if the people concerned are ‘attending to a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis’. According to this petition I have just signed they were helping to establish a DNA database for families in Mexico whose family members had disappeared due to gang related and/or drug violence. Now apparently this does not fulfil the Home Office’s definition of a humanitarian crisis. I think the people in the Home Office need to be held to account for their grasp of how decisions impact society. They do after all have rules about deporting people who have broken laws and have been prosecuted. This is explained as a way of protecting our society. Surely the same logic should be applied to the lives of Albert and Ernesto. If they are making such a positive contribution to the community where they live, the need for flexibility even where pedantic rules have been broken or not followed when they first arrive or when they are spending time abroad must be taken into account. Deporting Ernesto and Arely and charging such a large sum to Albert makes no sense to people who they know and who learn from them. Indeed it doesn’t take long for people who don’t know them to see that this is a dreadful way of interpreting such situations. The big question is how do people like me and Dani and the thousands of others who are supporting all of these people get a chance to speak up demanding that the Home Office becomes more focused on the communities it is supposed to be protecting?

Posted in Brighton & Hove, Community Safety, Justice Issues, Parliament and Democracy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment