eBulletin, Friday, 5 March

Monday, 8 March 2021

“The ultimate expression of law is not order – it’s prison”

Joe Sim recounted the words of the US activist George Jackson, during the final of five webinars we held last week. The webinars marked the 1990 Strangeways prison protest and the official report into those protests, which was published thirty years ago last week.

We had originally planned to hold a one-day conference on 1 April 2020, thirty years to the day from the start of the 25-day Strangeways prison protest. The coronavirus crisis put paid to our plans and, as the crisis dragged on, we concluded, reluctantly at first, that we would have to hold webinars instead.

I am glad that we did.

While webinars cannot emulate the buzz and shared experience of a good conference, they can reach far more people than the relatively select number likely to attend a conference on prisons. Over 600 people, from across the UK and beyond, registered to attend one or more of the webinars.

Spread over five days, the webinars offered bite-sized discussions of a range of issues: from the state of prisons before, during and after the 1990 Strangeways protest, to some of the current problems in the prison system, and the possibilities of decarceration and abolition.

The videos of all five webinars are available to watch via our website.

From the feedback we received during the webinars and since, a frustration with, and an enthusiasm for, moving beyond the ‘stuckness’ of our current approaches to prisons is clear. As one attendee put it, the webinars were “not just ‘useful’ and informative”, they were “galvanising and inspiring”.

We are still catching our breath from what was a busy and intense week for all those involved in the webinars. When we do so, we hope to work with a range of people, including those who attended the webinars, to build on the energy and enthusiasm the webinars generated, and move beyond the stuckness of the present.

Richard Garside

Coming up

Our next webinar - Covid-19 in prisons: strategies for preventing infection and death - is happening on 17 March. We'll be joined by:

  • Professor Richard Coker, Emeritus Professor of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Dr. Alves da Costa, working for WHO EURO Health, Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health Programme
  • Professor Nick Hardwick, Professor of Criminal Justice, Royal Holloway University, and former Chief Inspector of Prisons
  • Samson Nseko, Project Coordinator for Prison Reform International's Africa Programme in Kampala, Uganda

Read more about the event and register now.

News and Commentary

Last week we held a series of five webinars remembering the Strangeways protests, the official report into the protests, and the state of prisons past, present, and to come, featuring a host of speakers. The videos of all five webinars are available to view on our website.

Our Director, Richard, spoke at the fourth Strangeways webinar, on the politics of prisons and protests. You can read his speech here.

The second piece in the Critical Care series by Khatuna Tsintsadze, Whitney Iles and Charlie Weinberg probes the meanings of leadership, agency, power and change. Read Idols, ideology and ideals.

This month, Mike Guilfoyle recounts supervising someone who tried to use her experiences within the criminal justice system to support others, with some obstruction. Have things changed? 

Projects latest

Back in November, Helen sketched out the options for short sentence reform in a short video. In her latest comment piece, Thoughts from the reforming short sentencing postbag, she feeds back on the responses she received after publishing her video.

An eye on criminal justice

Over two days this week, a judicial review of the Ministry of Justice's policy of placing some male transgender prisoners in women's prisons was held at the High Court. Our Director Richard Garside, and one of our Trustees, Professor Jo Phoenix, both submitted witness statements in support of the judicial review. The judgement is not expected for a few months, but the proceedings revealed a fair degree of confusion, including about which prisoners qualify as transgender, and how this relates to the Equality Act. The Prison Service also appears not to be collecting accurate data on trans prisoners, making the implementation of a consistent policy virtually impossible. The Court also heard claims that the Ministry of Justice had failed to consider fully those protections in the Equality Act that allow for the provision of single-sex services, including female-only prisons.

Elsewhere, we noted the new report on stop and search from the police Inspectorate. Two years ago we published research by Professor Ben Bradford and Dr Matteo Tiratelli, which found little or no evidence of impact of stop and search little evidence of impact of stop and search on a range of crimes. Last week's report from the Inspectorate argued that the police risked losing public trust if it could not demonstrate that stop and search practice was fair and proportionate. “Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation,” the report notes, “no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers. Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why.”

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