eBulletin, 13 May 2022

Friday, 13 May 2022

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In the last bulletin, I referred to the new organisational strategy the trustees and staff are finalising.

The strategy will guide our work over the the rest of this decade, as we approach our 100th anniversary in 2031.

We have been without a strategy for a few years, with the uncertainties of lockdown making meaningful planning difficult. The interim statement we agreed during lockdown, to provide some coordinates for our work, expressed a vision of “a society less dominated by criminalisation and punishment, because we find better ways to prevent and address the problems we face”.

This commitment to thinking big, and to aspire to transformational change, is something we will hold on to. But as I argued in this piece in March, big ideas and inspiring visions, however uplifting, can run the risk of being dismissed, or lacking focus, if they do not connect with the concrete realities of the here and now.

The criminal justice system is such a concrete reality. For many citizens, it has grown too big, too oppressive: too many police, longer sentences, a much larger prison system, the systemic racism that characterises so many of its institutions and practices.

Some, quite rightly, feel over-policed and unfairly punished. Others, though, are left feeling under-protected or ignored by those agencies charged with their safety. As we have discussed in several editions of our monthly Zoom programme, Last month in criminal justice, very few male perpetrators of violence against women and girls are prosecuted. This has led to claims that rape and sexual violence have in effect been decriminalised.

The choice should not have to between protection by the police, or no protection at all. As our Lunch with... guest next Wednesday, Alex S. Vitale, puts it, “we should demand safety and security – but not at the hands of the police”.

The failure of criminal justice agencies to live up to expectations, can, though, breed a wider cynicism about the possibilities for meaningful change. It can also feed performative politics, punitive legislation and unjust policies.

As part of our strategy, we are therefore taking seriously what a genuinely fair, effective and accountable justice system should look like. For we recognise the important role that trusted public institutions can play in preventing harm, protecting citizens, and resolving conflicts.

Richard Garside

Coming up

"The problem is not police training, police diversity or police methods... The problem is policing itself". So argues Alex S. Vitale in his best-selling book, The End of Policing. Described by The Nation as “a compelling digest of the dynamics of crime and law enforcement”, The End of Policing was denounced earlier this year in the United States Congress by the Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, propelling it up the best-seller charts.

Alex S. Vitale will be joining us on Wednesday, 18 May for the next in our Lunch with... series.

We will be discussing what compelled him to write The End of Policing, and what he has been up to in the five years since its publication in 2017. Also among topics up for discussion: his civil rights work among the homeless in San Francisco in the early 1990s, and whether police researchers are too close to their subject.

More information, and to book your place for Lunch with Alex S. Vitale, here.

For our next Last month in criminal justice, on Wednesday, 8 June, our director Richard Garside will be joined by Claire Fitzpatrick of Lancaster University, Helen Mills of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and other guests. Items up for discussion include:

  • Why are women and girls with a background in care ending up in prison?
  • What's next in the long campaign against joint enterprise prosecutions?
  • The Queen's Speech: The good, the bad and the ugly
  • Latest developments in the spy cops inquiry

You can book your place and find out more about all our current programmes and events, on our events page.


For the April edition of Last month in criminal justice, Dr Hannah Quirk (Kings College London), Deborah Sangster (Stop Watch) and Andrew Neilson (The Howard League) joined Richard Garside to discuss, among other things: the rise in child imprisonment, reform of police stop and search powers, and the perfect storm of backlogs and strikes in the courts system.

You can watch the programme here.

Commentary and analysis

"I am exercising my right not to self-incriminate". Mike Guilfoyle writes on the challenge of probation supervision with a client who does not want to be supervised.

From the archive: With a new report on the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence expected soon from the House of Commons Justice Committee, here's a piece from last year by our Research Director, Roger Grimshaw, on the psychological impacts of the sentence.

Roger is currently finalising a new report of the psychological impacts of the IPP sentence, which we'll publish in the next few months.

Eye on criminal justice

“Women often tell us that they turn down some options because of safety concerns - such as a hostel shared with men. Some women have suffered a history of domestic violence and are left with an impossible choice between returning to live with an abusive partner or sleeping on the streets”. So said prisons inspector Sandra Fieldhouse, who led a recent inspection of Bronzefield women's prison. Inspectors found that almost two-thirds of women leaving Bronzefield, the largest women's prison in Europe, left without suitable long-term accommodation. Read Sandra Fieldhouse's account of their inspection.

Convicted girls and women who have been through the care system should be diverted from prison sentences wherever possible, according to a new report out this month. Disrupting the Routes between Care and Custody for Girls and Women, was produced by researchers at Lancaster University, Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Bristol. One prisoner, Jodie, told researchers, “We're just threw out them gates, got to walk over there so you can get a bus, haven't got nowhere to live, back out on the streets... I'm better off in f------- jail I am” Read Russell Webster's useful summary of the report here.

“All of us began by thinking that the men had in some way genuinely cared about us – even after we discovered that they were undercover officers... As we talked through what happened to us, we saw so many patterns; it really rammed it home that there weren’t any genuine moments – they were purely manipulative and abusive”. The activist Helen Steele, speaking this week to The Guardian about her relationship with spycop John Dines. Her interview came in the week that public hearings in the long-running, much criticised and delayed, Undercover Policing Inquiry restarted. More information on the Inquiry here.

We’ll be discussing these, and other developments, in the June edition of Last month in criminal justice.

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