I’ve always believed in the proverb ‘actions speak louder than words’, be them for negative narcissistic reasons or in search of a better life for others and oneself. As we, appear to, head into a season of meetings, seminars and conferences around justice and prison reform , my mind is drawn once again to the adage.
I have been in the fortunate/unfortunate (delete where necessary, to your own perspective) position of serving time in a prison, in each of the decades since the 80’s, and I’m sorry to say, the issues and narrative are the same now as they were then. Overcrowding, drugs, violence, lack of purposeful activity, no availability of accommodation, although I’m now hearing that the term accommodation is considered dehumanising. No doubt decided by those in 3/4 bedroom houses, and not those in sleeping bags. Therein, lies one of the issues, among many, as to why nothing has really changed in the 40 years I’ve been involved in the system as a service user.
If as much passion, desire and effort, as some put in to the terminology we use, was put into other areas of reform, I bet we would have moved on so much further. In my opinion, I believe terminology becomes an issue when there are no other solutions or answers to be given. The system itself, is addicted to terminology changes, rather than provide an answer, they change the name or job title, yet repackage the same old crap that wasn’t working before. It seems the addiction is spreading.
As I view Tweets, comments, replies and Retweets, obviously on Twitter, I get the feeling those involved, in whatever way, have forgotten why they are employed by, or make a living from the system, and that is the service user (or whatever term people wish to attach). One of my major concerns has been, that as we edge closer, in my opinion, to a fully privatised criminal justice system, it will always come down to profit over person. I fear my concerns have been confirmed. I do not begrudge anyone earning a pound note, as long as the conscience is clear with warranted principles. I can just see a high court judge in his red robe, sponsored by Coke. The drink that is. I wasn’t referring to judges already in the pockets of organised crime leaders.
As a side note, organised crime will never be defeated. Governments need organised crime in order to hide the crimes of government organisations. Again, in my opinion, a reason for the Hatton Garden job. However, I am not a conspiracy theorist, just a realist.
There are also some great agencies, organisations and charities out there who are doing some incredible work. We have some of our prisons rising out of the pack through determination, motivation and a pride in what they do. Yes we have lots of inexperienced staff within our prisons, and yet, I am seeing more good being done in prisons, and on such a regular basis, than I can recall in years. Maybe that may have a lot to do with the fact, of how many of our prisons now have a social media presence with direct access to the public. They are able to share all that is good within our prisons. And there lies the answer.
How many of you, who are involved with the criminal justice system, be it employer, employee or service user, can honestly say that you would care about the system if you wasn’t involved? I’m not sure, given the negative media headlines and stories, if I would.
So, how do you influence a society, that has been bombarded by negative tales for years, to care about some of societies most vulnerable, prisoners?
You can’t, not happening, no chance, not a Scoobie, not a Danny or whichever terminology sits comfortably with you.
A fault of the system itself, due to its historic lack of information provision, thereby, creating an information vacuum that the media filled with their own narrative. One it seems, that hates prisoners.
What can we do then?
Prison is shit. Prison is not working. Prison is a very dangerous place. Prison is broken. A precarious house of cards, with high winds in the forecast.
Talking about justice reform and prisoner reform does not win votes for those talking about it. However, the only way that we can fix the system is with everyone’s involvement, including society, well, everyone except the media of course, who needs them now we have social media? Social media allows us an opportunity to take back control of the narrative. An opportunity I think we should grab with both hands, and immediately. Leave the negative stories to the media and let us, in deed, follow the example set by the director of the Butler Trust, Simon Shepherd who spent 17 months travelling our prisons to ask one question: “What’s good about this prison?” (Read more here: What’s good about prisons – and why it matters by clicking on the link). Another wonderful positive story recently is that of John McAvoy. John should be the new positive face of our criminal justice system. Who, whatever your views of the CJS, could not be impressed by John’s story and his journey? Who doesn’t like a story that starts with misery and ends with such success?
So, so much good is happening in our prisons that it saddens me when I see so many negative stories that bury the good ones. It also saddens me when I read some of the comments on the Tweets of positivism that our prisons post, the negative attacks against any prison serves no purpose. We can no longer accept the majority being tarred with the same brush as the minority in respect of our prisons. Prison is, like I said, shit, but ever since the inception of prison as a place for punishment rather than transportation, approximately 200 years ago. The narrative has always, always, always been negative. Surely Einstein’s quote of “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” – which incidentally, was misattributed to Einstein and is, in fact, a quote from Narcotics Anonymous – never suited a situation as well as the criminal justice system.
Let us begin to share everything that is good within our prisons, believe it or not, there is more than you think going on, and consistently. And in a look back at the recent quote, the ideas most successful are the fresh inventive ideas. Just see what HMP Parc are doing for evidence of that. However, a glance towards HMP Liverpool and the fantastic work they are doing is also evidence that getting the basic right is also fundamental to running a prison fit for purpose. Let’s draw a line in the Grayling sand. I am not saying we should forget the past, however, what we shouldn’t do is continue to rake over the ashes and instead take the lessons learnt as we take this fresh positive approach in highlighting our prisons. I will leave you with a quote from the great writer William Shakespeare:
“A rose by
any other name
smell as sweet.”