This edition of the Prison Service Journal is the culmination of a year-long collaboration organised and coordinated by Anastasia Chamberlen at Warwick University. Safe Ground got involved when Anastasia became aware of our creative work with people in prison and invited us to be part of the project.
The collaboration with Howard League as policy influencer, Warwick as academic, and Safe Ground as practitioner was about curating a year’s worth of events. The first of which was an arts celebration, and the second was an academic conference featuring and centring the voice of academics with experience of the criminal justice system.
This edition was a follow up to that event, building on the theme of ‘can we do better than this?’ and exploring the ways in which systemic issues of neglect, abandonment and binary notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are so entrenched in our understandings of justice.
This edition is therefore a reasonably eclectic mix of voices consciously designed to amplify a range of perspectives including the formally appointed Inspectorate lead, a serving Governing Governor and, amongst others, a series of voices from people in and or, released from prison.
The idea of chaos and crisis relates, for us as editors, as much to the internal systems of individuals (who doesn’t at least experience some level of personal chaos?) as it does to the administration of criminal law nationally. We wanted to offer a space to think about how the individual and the collective coincide and how the impact of our prison system affects social dynamics.
The fact that the edition is committed to the memory of one of the contributors is a tragic irony. Gus designed the cover for the edition, drawing his feelings and concerns about the chaos and crisis he experienced. He was, very sadly, found dead in his cell before final production. This last contribution to the radical rethink of our prison system will be another memento for his family.
The chaos and crisis in our criminal justice system is, I believe, a symptom and a symbol of a much more profound chaos and crisis in our cultural thinking as a nation state. As one of an editorial team I cannot speak for all of us, but for me and on behalf of Safe Ground, this edition was intended to set out some parameters within which we might reconsider how we think of prison and why we are so reliant upon it as a place to house what, as Susie Orbach says, is too painful to ‘digest’ about ourselves.
Charlotte Weinberg is the Chief Executive of Safe Ground