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“It was exactly 10 years ago that I discovered that my partner of six years was actually a policeman. He was a fictional character - his identity was fabricated and he was put into my life to deceive me, by his employer, who knew that one day they would remove him.”
The words of a woman who spent six years in an intimate relationship with undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. She is one of at least 30 women tricked into relationships with undercover police officers.
All told, the police are estimated to have infiltrated more than 1,000 activist and campaigning groups since the late-1960s.
When, in 2017, we published a review of the undercover policing of political protest, we warned that the police had built a near “impenetrable wall of silence” around their activities.
In the intervening years, nothing has changed. This week the lawyer for Doreen Lawrence, Imran Khan QC, told the public inquiry that she was “losing confidence, if she has not already lost it, in this inquiry’s ability to get to the truth; the truth as to why she, her family and supporters were spied upon by the police. This inquiry is not delivering on what she was promised and is not achieving what she expected”.
The police remain one of the most powerful, and unaccountable, agencies in public life. If a public inquiry cannot shed adequate light on some of the police’s most disturbing and sordid activities, many may wonder how they will ever be held to account.
Earlier this week I spoke at an event as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, hosted by the University of Birmingham on behalf of the ‘Is it a crime to be poor?’ alliance.
The prosecution and criminalisation of those living in poverty, I told the event, was nothing new. Karl Marx coined the ironic term “voluntary criminals” to describe the rural peasantry who, from the late-fifteenth century on, were transformed into vagabonds and paupers through expulsion from the land. It was assumed, Marx wrote, “that it was entirely within their powers to go on working under the old conditions which in fact no longer existed”.
Today’s “voluntary criminals” include those prosecuted for council tax and TV licence non-payment, for begging and rough sleeping. They could choose to pay, or not to beg or sleep rough, the implication appears to be, but choose not to do so.
In theory, I told the event, we may be equal before the law. In practice, the law reflects and reproduces the inequalities in wealth and power of British society. So it is that we devote a portion of our social wealth to processing as criminals those living in poverty, while failing to use that social wealth, or organise our society, in a way that stops them being poor.
I was saddened this week to learn of the death of David Faulkner. A former Deputy Secretary at the Home Office, David was a font of knowledge and wisdom on criminal justice policy. He was also a kind and gentle soul who was generous with his time.
Join us at our upcoming webinar, 'Coronavirus in Prison: What's happening across Europe?'
We'll be joined by Alessio Scandurra (Antigone's Observatory on Prison Conditions), Cecile Marcel (Observatoire International des Prisons), Emma Jardine (Howard League Scotland) and Matt Ford (CCJS) to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on cross-European prison populations.
We've had a lot of interest in our After Woolf conference taking place across five days in February. Register your interest and we'll keep you up to date with news and commentary on the event. In the meantime, check out our work on Strangeways which includes podcast documentaries and blogs from a range of contributors.
Interested in our reforming short sentences project? In this video Helen Mills shares some of the ideas that are currently informing our work.
Keep an eye out next week on JENGbA's website for the release of a new report by Becky Clarke and Dr Kathryn Chadwick on the criminalisation of women convicted under joint enterprise laws. Becky previously produced award-winning research with Dr Patrick Williams for us on joint enterprise, gangs and racism.
We recently published two articles in response to the White Paper, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing by Helen Mills and Andrew Ashworth. You can find more information on our project around short sentence reform here.
If any of our readers are interested in cleaning services, we use Mtd & Son for our office and highly recommend. Get in touch with Tunde Tope on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whilst our focus at the Centre is on criminal justice and crime in the UK, there have been some interesting and instructive developments within criminal justice in California. As the debate continues over the long-term effectiveness of the movement to defund the police, L.A County has introduced Measure J, a charter amendment to ringfence funds (10 per cent) for preventative, public health initiatives to reduce reliance on imprisonment. Measure J is a result of a public vote – 57 per cent voted in favour of this initiative – and shows that perhaps public appetite for punishment rather than alternatives to incarceration, is not as fervent as it may seem.
Scotland has passed a member's bill banning the smacking of children, joining 57 other countries. With overwhelming votes in its favour (84 in favour, 29 against), Scotland is the first of the UK nations and regions to ban smacking and remove the "justifiable assault" defence in law. Northern Ireland and England currently allow for "reasonable chastisement" whilst Wales also introduced legislation, yet to be passed, to ban smacking, in March 2019.
We've launched our Just Giving page so if you want to support us in our work, you can donate here.