When I trained as a Social Worker back in the early 80s one of my placements was 6 months in the Dorset Probation service - while I never pursued that line of Social Work it was nevertheless an eye opener and for years since I have continued to have an interest in the reform of prisons and punishment - hence it is great to hear of this new group in Glos - but more of that later.
Photo: A friend who works in the prison service let me photograph her marmalade from one of her colleagues!
First a bit re stuff in Glos - we have seen locally Gloucester prison having one of the highest suicide rates and being deemed 'unfit for purpose' - and the terrible number of deaths amongst women prisoners - including 9 at Eastwood Park at Falfield, near Wotton-under-Edge (see my here press release last year re this and 2006 here - there are several others but here are answers from 2005 re dealing with crime). That's not to say that all at Gloucester is bad - their Time Bank project is a great example of positive project, as is the project to keep fathers in touch with their children.
Greens have also weighed into the ASBO debate when they were first introduced (see here) - this didn't go down well with The Citizen whose editorial condemned Greens for being naive especially when I criticised their 'name and shame' approach - most charities and organisations working in the field supported our view but they never printed my letter coming back to them - see here. Last year on this blog I wrote about my disgust that prisons were exempt for 3 years from the Corporate Manslaughter Act and some of the absurd reasons people are sent to jail for (see here). It seems things are improving but we still have a very long long way to go.
One of our great losses recently was the death of prison campaigner Pauline Campbell (see my blog here). Britain has the highest prison rate in Europe - and our Government is building evermore prisons - on dreadful hugely costly PFI schemes. All the stats show prison isn't working: huge numbers of offenders reoffend within 2 years of release. Prisons, of course have an important role to play but many petty offenders should be in mental health or drug treatment programmes.
Greens have long called for 'Restorative justice' in which criminals face their victims in truth and reconciliation sessions and undertake some form of 'pay back'. Trials have had impressive results cutting violent crime re-offending rates. Where prison is the only option sentencing should be in keeping with the offence and include rehabilitation. It is pointless spending huge amounts of tax on prosecution and £40,000 plus a year on imprisonment if you are just going to release people into an even more hopeless world, with fewer prospects than when they were sentenced. Having said all that Greens need to do more work on all of this...
The three main parties fight to be toughest on punishing criminals, but what matters most is actually cutting crime. It is therefore great to see the emergence of this new group - Positive Justice Gloucestershire. I was delighted to read in a letter by a Polly Wallace of this group - she wrote to The Citizen challenging the absurd and ill-informed criticism of their columnist Martin Kirby for the prison wasting money on a job for a Gloucester Prison Library. Her letter makes all the right points about the need for restorative justice and the value of libraries - indeed the project mentioned above re fathers keeping in touch with their children is part of the librarian's role.
Anyhow to find out more go to their website or the meeting...
They have a public meeting planned 'Crime and punishment - where's the justice?' on Nov 21, 2008 at 7:00pm at Oxstalls Campus, University of Gloucestershire, GL2 9HW. (near junction of A38, Estcourt Rd., and B4063, Cheltenham Rd.). The speaker is Erwin James, Guardian columnist, author of 'A life inside'. County councillor Brian Oosthuysen is chairing the meeting which is followed by a panel discussion - panel to include: Bishop of Tewkesbury, Andrew Neilson, Assistant Director, Howard League for penal reform, Jill Saward, rape victim and campaigner and Nigel Whiskin MBE, Associate Director, Restorative Solutions. Free admission, free parking. All welcome. Telephone: 01453 759438
See more at their website: www.positivejusticeglos.org.uk
See more on Restorative Justice on this blog here when I counter a call for prison treadmills to be introduced and here another blogger's view. Lastly see here Chris Jordan - Seattle-based photographer - scroll down to see his photos that depict 2.3 million folded prison uniforms - equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005.