prisons

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Cruel and Unusual Nourishment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2022 - 1:22am in

The quality of food in prisons has reached crisis levels.

Born in the USA: The Americanisation of Reactionary Politics in the UK

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/06/2022 - 9:04pm in

From dark money think tanks to health privatisation, the influence of the American right on British politics is greater than we think, says Rachel Morris

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As a nation we’ve gone from running America, to being at war with it, allied to it, in a ‘special relationship’ with it, to consuming its wares.

Gum and stockings were the WWII thing; jeans, burgers, peanut butter and TV are more recent imports. The Cadbury’s chocolate of childhood tastes sort of the same, but you get less for more, and it’s shinier – more ‘perfect’ and more American, because it’s American-owned now.

Britain has turned its back on Europe, though we haven’t landed in the lap of America, even if that was part of the Brexit plan. The trade deal that was supposed to mitigate our economic losses hasn’t materialised. Donald Trump was part of that plan, but a win for Joe Biden in 2020 put a stop to that.

Yet the Americanisation of British politics was further propelled by Brexit – via the dark money that lurches from one side of the Atlantic to the other. And you can spot it by watching the reactions of some parliamentarians to recent, regressive American political developments.

When Roe v Wade was overturned last week, Conservative MP Scott Benton retweeted – though subsequently deleted – a Republican Party tweet celebrating the reversal of US abortion rights. During the 2019 General Election campaign, Benton’s opponent raised his links to the homophobic, anti-abortion faith group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).

Benton said that he was no longer linked to SPUC, because as a gay man he remains anti-abortion but supports same-sex marriage. SPUC is British, but received more than £72,000 between 2020 and 2022 from US donors using an agency to make the transactions opaque.

Conservative MP Danny Kruger told the House of Commons that he “disagrees with those who think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter”. His colleague, Peter Bone, told LBC that he’s disappointed the BBC uses the term ‘anti-abortion’ rather than ‘pro-life’.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has in the past said that she wants to stop clinics from giving abortion counselling. Conservative MPs Richard Drax and Jacob Rees-Mogg have promoted ‘pro-life’ ideas in Parliament. As revealed by Byline Times, Conservative MP Rehman Chishti is being paid £22,400 a-year to work part-time for a religious pressure group in the United States linked to anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ efforts

There are more evangelical Christians in Parliament, or those who adopt their positions, than many realise.

This serves as a reminder that, in 2019, 99 MPs voted to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland. It isn’t the ‘wedge issue’ here that it is in the US, but some seek to make it one. Simply remarking on American rulings draws it further into our discourse.

The same conglomeration of dark money-funded ‘think tanks’ and their adherents who backed Brexit are fuelling imported culture wars, such as promoting ‘woke’ as a pejorative, and arguing for reduced reproductive rights: these include the Adam Smith Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), Net Zero Watch, the New Culture Forum, Turning Point UK, and Young Voices UK.

Some huddle under the opacity and respectability of being registered with the Charity Commission while promoting reactionary American values via Fox News-lite platforms such as GB News and TalkTV. None of these organisations or outlets are elected – they are arguably unknown by most except on the fringes – yet they have an enormous impact on our discourse, and perhaps even our laws.

As Peter Geoghegan, author of Democracy For Sale, has written: “Britain’s politics looks increasingly like America’s, with private money buying ever more access and influence inside the corridors of power”.

Some such money is – at least indirectly – dollars, provided via right-wing funders like the Charles Koch Foundation, which helped to sponsor the notorious pro-herd immunity ‘Great Barrington Declaration’, and the Mercer family, that funded Cambridge Analytica.

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Imprisonment-for-profit is another import. Private prisons were introduced in Britain in the 1990s and there are now 14, managed by outsourcing giants like G4S and Serco.

The credit scoring system used to filter people wanting to rent property is an American practice barely seen here before the year 2000.

And education is being commodified – with British students competing with their American cousins over their comparative levels of post-graduation debt. Free or heavily discounted tuition, meanwhile, is still commonplace in the EU.

Domestic schools are gradually being converted into academies, still state-funded yet independent of local authority control. Hundreds of ‘multi-academy trusts’ (MATs) run thousands of such schools, the idea being that high-performing ones will help struggling ones. But in some cases, unqualified management has proved corrupt and education has been badly impacted, a normal outcome of American-style marketisation and self-regulation.

More than 70% of secondary and 27% of primary schools are now academies, despite limited evidence of higher standards. MATs are often run by businessmen and hedge fund managers, not education experts, with public funds invested in high pay rather than facility improvements.

One Nation Under GOP

In healthcare also – a lodestar of collectivism in a fragmented Thatcherite consensus – GP surgeries and some of our data are now owned by American companies, while trusts face strikes by privately-employed staff who receive less pay and fewer holidays than NHS colleagues.

The NHS will shortly become an umbrella brand for 42 separate ‘Integrated Care Systems’, that will allow private health company representatives on their boards. Privatisation and profit is creeping into our cherished NHS, without popular awareness.

One of the most divisive tropes in the US, especially under George W. Bush and Donald Trump, is accusing those you disagree with of being unpatriotic. This age-old authoritarian polarisation has become fully clothed in the stars and stripes in the culture war era.

In Westminster, both Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Attorney General Suella Braverman have launched their own ‘patriotism’ campaign in recent weeks to justify their ludicrous Brexit provocations, while Labour is repeatedly accused by Boris Johnson – himself born in New York – of ‘talking down’ Britain.

If you’ve experienced the USA’s size and diversity, flag-grabbing makes sense. In some ways, it’s the only thing holding the country together.

Despite the UK having a different profile entirely, this trend is on the rise here too. No politician seems able to appear in their office without multiple union jacks on display. The bigger, the better.

Post-Brexit, the UK isn’t bound by EU regulations on workers’ rights, safe data, or a healthy environment. Charter cities, known here as ‘freeports’, are seen as a way of delivering tax-free, low-rights, non-transparent commerce. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, a disciple of American Professor Paul Romer, who tried and failed to start charter cities in Honduras, keeps popping off to meet with US interests. Sunak held a US green card, allowing permanent residence there, until last year.

Rees-Mogg wants to see a forest fire of regulations, grounded in Ayn Randian clean slate libertarianism and late stage vulture capitalism. Dominic Raab is seeking to introduce a British ‘Bill of Rights’ – the US Bill of Rights contains the first 10 amendments to the US constitution – potentially usurping the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci described the Americanisation of Europe as, “the gradual infiltration of the conviction that we moderns, practical and unscrupulous, must despise everything that does not concern our immediate profit”.

And if you think ‘it’ can’t happen here, watch Kate Andrews, the American-libertarian former director of the IEA (now economics editor of the Spectator magazine, formerly edited by Boris Johnson) banging the drum repeatedly for privatisation on the BBC’s flagship political programmes.

The IEA does not declare its funding sources, yet its current and former staffers are propelled into the public limelight – key actors in our contrived, Americanised culture war.

Perhaps most insidious of all, the Conservative Party appears to be adopting the playbook of the GOP in curtailing voting rights for the marginalised and disadvantaged. As Republicans gerrymander seats to artificially create a perpetual right-wing majority, the British opposition believes that millions of voters – those least likely to vote Conservative – could be disenfranchised under Johnson’s plans.

We must declare independence from creeping Americanism, before we’re too cooked to jump.

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California Says Insects Can Be Protected as Endangered Species

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/06/2022 - 12:48am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Bee happy

In a decision one advocate hailed as “a win for all imperiled invertebrates in California,” the State Supreme Court has ruled that insects are eligible for protection under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

The decision rests on a bit of legalese. As the law is written, only “birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants” can be protected by the CESA. However, the California Fish and Game Code defines “fish” as any “mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate or amphibian.” As insects are invertebrates, they are now considered akin to fish for the purposes of legal protection.

The ruling couldn’t have come soon enough. Already, 28 percent of North American bumblebees are at risk of extinction, and one-third of food production relies on pollinators like bees. Since the ruling, conservation groups have moved to have several species of bees declared endangered in California — they’ll be granted interim protections while their official designation is processed.

Read more at Reuters

A new chapter  

Mass incarceration, the history of the KKK and the n-word — these were all topics discussed between California students as part of a virtual literacy society known as Black is Lit. Through weekly video chats, the program is creating a safe space where Black kids can fall in love with books and interpret literature that reflects the Black experience. 

 

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A California teacher created Black is Lit after noticing a decline in reading and language arts scores. Focusing on a book each year, the selections hone in on a social justice topic that impacts the Black community. Some students have found that analyzing the texts has allowed them to translate those skills to other classes, while others have said it has made them more empathetic to others’ lived experiences. In the fall, the program will be expanded to more public schools in California. 

“This was one of the first clubs that I felt connected to or that I could relate to,” said one student. “We were able to just express ourselves, and that’s not something that a lot of students get on campus.”

Read more at Word in Black

Harvesting change

On a 13-acre permaculture farm in rural North Carolina, formerly incarcerated women are rebuilding their lives in a place where post-prison opportunities are often hard to come by.

 

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Even though they have less crime than urban areas, rural communities have higher growth in incarceration rates due to rising rates of pretrial detention and financial incentives to jail more people. Benevolence Farm has been striving to change that by providing safe housing, a guaranteed agricultural job, career-building classes, health appointments, and transportation for formerly incarcerated women since 2008. The need is particularly acute in these regions, where basic needs like health care, jobs and housing can be scarce. As of May, the farm has helped 32 residents, 84 percent of whom continue to live freely in Alamance County. 

“They literally saved my life. And not only that, they helped me rebuild a relationship with my children,” said a mother of four who stayed at the farm for nearly 14 months before moving into her place. 

Read more at Southerly 

The post California Says Insects Can Be Protected as Endangered Species appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

When a Missed Piece of Mail Sends Someone to Jail

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

This story was originally published by Next City

Early this year, George Harris (not his real name) had two pending court cases in St. Louis County. He was unaware of one of those cases due to a common error: The notice was sent to an address he no longer resides at. He missed his court date and the county issued him a warrant for failing to appear.

An open warrant meant that if Harris had any encounter with the police, he would be arrested and incarcerated at the St. Louis County jail — all because of a wrong address and a missed court appearance. But this February, Harris visited the Tap In Center, a resource designed to address this very problem. Inside a local library, he worked with a volunteer attorney who heard out his issue and relayed it to the county prosecutor, who ultimately recalled Harris’s warrant.

“They helped me stay in the community, stay with my family and take care of my kids,” Harris says of the service. “I could have been locked up on that warrant.”

The Tap In Center is an experimental service that launched at the Florissant Valley Branch of the St. Louis County Library in fall 2020. At the center, volunteer attorneys work with people who have open warrants with the goal of recalling them. In 17 months, nearly 300 residents were served and more than 300 warrants were recalled. This April, a second Tap In Center opened at the Lewis and Clark Branch of the St. Louis County Library to increase the impact.

The Tap In Center is one result of years of community organizing with the goal of reducing racial disparities in St. Louis’ justice system and lowering the jail population. One major player has been The Bail Project, which in 2018 began providing free bail assistance and community-based pretrial support.

tap inVolunteer attorneys work with people who have open warrants with the goal of recalling them. Credit: Tap In Center

The Bail Project has served over 3,000 people and gotten the jail population low enough to lead to the passage of a 2020 bill to close the city’s medium-security jail. In this work, bail advocates realized that much of the jail overcrowding was caused by people incarcerated due to open warrants. This isn’t unique to St. Louis — around the country, the most common type of warrant is issued by the court when someone fails to appear for their court date.

The Bail Project’s work intersected with the St. Louis County Safety and Justice Challenge, which began in 2015 following the police murder of Michael Brown. In response to the DOJ investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, which found that municipal court practices exacerbated racial inequities in the St. Louis County justice system, members of the Safety and Justice Challenge prioritized the courts in their larger goal of keeping people out of jail.

In 2020, the groups came together to focus on the bench warrants issued due to failing to appear at a scheduled court date. “We started talking about what amnesty, or warrant forgiveness, could look like and who would need to be involved,” says Miranda Gibson, a grant manager at the St. Louis County Department of Justice Services who now coordinates the Tap In Center.

“There’s a common misconception that if someone doesn’t show up to court, they are flagrantly evading prosecution, running from the court or committing crimes,” she continues. “Usually it’s very benign, or just a misunderstanding — anecdotally, most people just don’t know they have a court case or a court date.” Court notices are sent to the address listed on someone’s identification card, which is frequently outdated.

To assess feasibility, the groups started talking with public defenders and judges who participated in the Safety and Justice Challenge. “We wanted to do it where we’d have the most buy-in possible,” Gibson says. The goal was to convince county prosecutors, who’d make the final decision to recall warrants. “The program could not live without the prosecutors,” notes Gibson. “Ultimately it helps their caseload. They don’t want people out in the world with a bunch of warrants either.”

As they pushed for buy-in, they discussed potential locations. “The Bail Project was really good in framing why we’re doing this and pushing that it should not be at a government building like a jail or courthouse,” Gibson says. William Newsome, a client support specialist for The Bail Project who now helps with the Tap In Center, notes that police departments across the country advertise “warrant recalls” only to arrest the people who come seeking support. “The issue was that no one was going to believe that they could access this service and not get arrested,” Newsome says.

The group was drawn to the library, and after some cold emails, the St. Louis County Library leadership was quickly on board. “We were looking at where the warrants were coming from, where there was a high area of open warrants, and then talking with the libraries who know their communities well,” says Gibson. They settled on the Florissant Valley Branch, which is accessible to public transit, about a 10-minute drive from Ferguson, and serves patrons who have been impacted by warrants, arrests and over-policing.

The Tap In Center opened there in September 2020. Every Tuesday, between 6 and 8 p.m., volunteer attorneys and a representative from the Bail Project meet with clients who have open warrants. “We’re right downstairs where the kid’s library is; it’s very relaxed,” says Newsome. “The entire staff of the Tap In is making you feel like this is a safe space; no one is calling the police.” He adds that the team even thought out what they’d wear: “We dress comfortably … if you walk in and see a bunch of people in ties, you’ll get leery.”

During the service hours of the Tap In Center, the county prosecutor’s office is on hand to take calls from the volunteer attorneys. The prosecutors have the authority to make decisions on recalling a warrant that same night. “We’re looking at the history of the case, we call the prosecutor, and the prosecutor tells us if they’re able to dismiss the warrant,” says Taylor Burrows, a volunteer Tap In attorney. “If the prosecutor has concerns [about dismissal], we go from there to address those concerns.”

“The answer is not always ‘yes,’” Gibson points out, “But we have had a lot of success.” The client can usually leave the Tap In Center after 20 minutes and know if the warrant is going to be recalled, and if so, know they will have another court date set.

There are 91 municipalities in St. Louis County, all with their own courtroom policies and rules around warrant recalls. “It is byzantine,” Burrows says. Some of the volunteer attorneys put together an exhaustive list of court procedures for each municipality, with the goal of streamlining the process. “We want to understand their policies for warrant recalls, policies for payment plans, where people should direct questions, and what steps they should be taking to deal with their warrants,” Burrows says.

As the attorney addresses the warrants, a Bail Project representative offers wraparound services. “We tap our clients into community partners who do everything they may or may not need,” says Newsome. “It’s all voluntary, you can come to the center and have a substance abuse problem but if you don’t want to deal with it, we won’t force you.” Crucially, the Bail Project helps clients attend their new court date by signing them up for automated reminders and offering transportation.

According to anonymous testimony provided by Tap In clients, recalled warrants have a profound impact on their lives. “It kept me out of jail, which allowed me to continue to work, stay in treatment, and mainly stay out of the system,” one client said. “Once you’re in the system, it’s hard to get out. You get no treatment when you’re in jail, so you guys really saved me from that.”

Another client missed their court date due to confusion. One day after they visited the Tap In Center, the judge recalled the warrant and scheduled a new court date. “I didn’t know what was going on with the case at the time,” the client reported. “There was a miscommunication because of Covid, I didn’t intentionally miss anything, and you guys made it so I didn’t get locked up.”

Visits to the Tap In Center increased as word got out through word of mouth, outreach from all the participating partners, and direct referrals from judges, prosecutors and attorneys. But the team noticed that many of the clients weren’t coming from a neighborhood with a significant percentage of open warrants. So in April, the Tap In Center expanded to the Lewis and Clark Branch to serve that population.

With volunteer support and a free space provided by the library, the team feels this is an easily replicable service — it’s just a matter of getting judges and prosecutors on board. “Just the fact that our prosecutor is open to looking at these cases is huge … I know a lot of prosecutors are not willing to do that, which is why we haven’t expanded beyond St. Louis County,” Gibson says.

“This could work in every community,” says Newsome. “Anywhere there’s over-incarceration, this can help.”

The post When a Missed Piece of Mail Sends Someone to Jail appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

India’s ‘Open Prisons’ Are a Marvel of Trust-Based Incarceration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

During all of the 11 years that Arjiram spent in a conventional Indian prison, the numbardar — the man who conducts the daily roll call — never once called his name.

“He used to just count our heads,” says Arjiram, who was convicted of murder. The sense of anonymity was so intense, he says, “I began to even forget my name in the closed prison.”

Indignities like this defined Arjiram’s experience while he was incarcerated, piling up one by one in a years-long process of dehumanization. His experience was typical of prison life in India: he lived in cramped, unclean facilities, lacked basic amenities, and shared bug-infested blankets on crowded floors. “To ward off dark memories of the closed prison, I started feeding ants during my roll call at the open prison to keep myself from a disturbed state of mind when memories from the closed prison would persist,” he says. “Feeding these ants gave me a sense of purpose and a lesson in treating every creature with respect.”

Arjiram and his wife at Sanganer open prison. Credit: PAAR

Then, in 2014, Arjiram’s life as a prisoner transformed in an instant when he was transferred to a different type of correctional facility: Sanganer open prison.

Though the people held at Sanganer open prison are technically incarcerated, they can leave the facility during the day and travel within the city limits. Almost immediately upon his arrival, Arjiram’s sense of self-worth grew. “It didn’t feel like I was in a prison,” he says. “I could go out and work and come back, and the best thing was they trusted me.” After being faceless and nameless for over a decade, he felt like a person again.

According to the country’s National Crime Records Bureau, there are about 88 open prisons in India, the largest share of which are in the state of Rajasthan, where the model is being pioneered. India’s open prisons are defined by minimal security. They are run and maintained by the state, and those incarcerated within them are free to come and go as they please. At Sanganer, the prison is open for up to 12 hours each day. Every evening, prisoners must return to be counted at an end-of-day roll call.

Designed to foster reform as opposed to punishment, the system is based on the premise that trust is contagious. It assumes — and encourages — self-discipline on the part of the prisoners. On a practical level, letting incarcerated folks go to work also allows them to earn money for themselves and their families, build skills, and maintain contacts in the outside world that can help them once they’re released.

open prisonThe outside of Sanganer open prison. Credit: PAAR

This model has deep roots in India. One of the earliest open prisons was established so its inmates could help to construct a dam in Uttar Pradesh in 1953. Over the next couple of decades it evolved as a rehabilitation-oriented system, promoted in particular by Sampurnanand, the governor of Rajasthan in the 1960s.

Today, while open prisons are not the norm across India — they house less than three percent of the prison population — they are growing in number and represent a remarkably progressive approach to incarceration. The model puts India among an elite group of countries that offer open prisons, such as Finland, a place often celebrated for its forward-thinking justice system. But Finland is a small, wealthy country of just over five million people and relatively little violent crime — it registers only a few hundred murders each year. India, on the other hand, is home to 1.4 billion people and tens of thousands of murders, rapes and assaults. Its sheer size makes its open prison system improbable, but it works.

Admittance to India’s open prisons is similar to how parole works in many countries: prisoners are transferred from conventional prisons into open ones based on a range of criteria, such as behavior, motivation to reform, and physical and mental fitness.

They’re not only for those convicted of petty crimes. Hari Singh (not his real name) was convicted of murder and, after serving time in a closed prison, was moved to Sanganer open prison five years ago. Before his incarceration, he worked in construction. “Now I ride an e-rickshaw and earn 600 to 700 rupees ($8 to $9 USD) per day,” he says. “I spent eight years in the closed prison where we are shut out from the world and there was constant worry about everything. Here, we lead a stress-free life — kamao aur khao (earn and eat).”

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In addition to allowing inmates to support themselves, open prisons require far less staff, and their operating costs are a fraction of those in closed prisons, which average monthly costs of 7,000 to 10,000 rupees ($92 to $130 USD) per prisoner. And while there is little reliable recidivism data available in India, Scandinavian countries with open prisons have among the lowest recidivism rates in the world.

But the most visible benefit of open prisons is in the humane conditions they provide for those who reside there. As in many countries, prison overcrowding is a major problem in India, with profound implications for physical and mental wellbeing. Open prisons help to solve this.

“Color is the one thing we miss in a traditional prison,” says Pooja Chabra, who was transferred to Sanganer open prison from a closed prison in 2015. As soon as she moved into Sanganer, Chabra started planting flowers. “I planted some marigolds outside my residence in Sanganer open prison,” she says, “which suddenly provided color to my otherwise colorless life.”

open prisonPooja Chabra with her flowers. Credit: PAAR

Chabra found more than just color at Sanganer — she found love. It was there that she met Kishan Devagowda, who was also incarcerated. “I am living the second phase of my life here and these are possibly the happiest years of my life,” says Devagowda.

Single women are not typically allowed in open prisons, but some have found ways to get themselves transferred into them regardless. In some cases, a group of single women will declare that they are a family. “We decided to become each other’s family — life changed from that moment onwards,” says Geeta Sharma, who was sent to Sanganer open prison along with her “family” of other single women.

India has other types of open prisons, as well. The open prison at Cherlapally, Hyderabad in Telangana is spread over 120 pastoral acres. Those who reside there are paid to tend crops, fish and raise chickens. While offering somewhat less freedom than Sanganer open prison, the prison in Cherlapally nevertheless allows the people there to build skills, have family come visit and generally live a more normal, less confined life.

“The prisoners work on the farms and the poultry,” says a deputy superintendent at Cherlapally open prison who asked to remain anonymous. “They learn new techniques of cultivation which will enable and prepare them for livelihood after their release.” The Telangana State Prisons Department even set up an outlet called “My Nation” in the recently held All India Industrial Exhibition at Hyderabad. The outlet sold articles such as bedsheets, towels, doormats, steel cupboards, stools, and cleaning and bakery products made by the prisoners, all of whom were paid for the work.

Smita Chakraborty founded the prison reform organization Prison Aid and Action Research (PAAR) in 2018 after more than a decade of working with incarcerated people. Perhaps more than anyone else, she has pioneered the concept of open prisons throughout India. “If they can think of a parole system,” she says, “they can think of an open prison system, too.”

This advocacy has been successful, and India’s share of open prisons is growing. In 2017 the country’s Supreme Court ordered the central government to arrange discussions with authorities across India to build more open prisons. Since the ruling, 30 new open prisons have been established throughout the country.

A prisoner at Sanganer open prison with his son. Credit: PAAR

Chakraborty points out that fewer than one percent of those in India’s open prisons are habitual offenders, and the vast majority are nonviolent and pose little threat to society. What’s more, hardly anyone “escapes” from an open prison. The trust-based model appears to foster a meaningful level of mutual respect between the state and those under its supervision.

If anything, the open prison model has been criticized for being too conservative, particularly in regards to which prisoners it will accept. What some critics see as unnecessarily strict eligibility criteria mean that many prisoners who likely pose no threat remain stuck in closed prisons. As of 2021, India had the capacity to house 6,213 people in its open prisons, but only 3,075 were residing there.

If solving this problem lacks urgency, that may be because of the public’s relative indifference to the plight of prisoners, who are often viewed as socially irredeemable. But as open prisons become an increasingly visible part of India’s justice landscape, that may change. “There is a possibility that this concept could emerge as one of the major reforms of the 21st century,” says Ajit Singh, ex-director general of prisons in Rajasthan.

The post India’s ‘Open Prisons’ Are a Marvel of Trust-Based Incarceration appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Families of People Killed by Police Are Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/03/2022 - 8:30pm in

The Families of People Killed by Police Are Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

‘Almost none of us have got justice. The first was Sarah Everard’, said Marcia Rigg, who is part of a new campaign to secure justice for people killed in police custody

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This week marks a grim anniversary: one year since the murder of Sarah Everard. The killing by a serving policeman, PC Wayne Couzens, shook the country. But for the families of others that have died at the hands of the police, it was exceptional for another reason: it is one of the few times in England’s history that a policeman has been sentenced for killing a member of the public. 

Christopher Alder was an ex-British Army paratrooper, training to become a computer programmer. He had served in the Falklands War and was commended for his work in Northern Ireland. He served the state, and was killed by it, dying in police custody at Queen’s Gardens Police Station, Hull, in 1998. 

After being assaulted outside a nightclub, he was taken to hospital, where his behaviour became unstable, potentially as a result of his head injury. He was dragged into police custody, unconscious and handcuffed. 

CCTV footage showed officers making monkey noises at the young black man. These officers would later argue – successfully – they were only laughing. Then they realised he wasn’t breathing. 

The post mortem indicated that the head injury alone would not have killed him, and a coroner’s jury in 2000 returned a verdict that Alder was unlawfully killed. Five officers went on trial in 2002. But all were acquitted. 

A 2006 IPCC report found that four of the officers in the custody suite when Alder died were guilty of “unwitting racism” and the “most serious neglect of duty”. Five years later, the Government formally apologised to Alder’s family in the European Court of Human Rights. And yet after all these years, no one has been brought to justice.

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At least 1,300 stories

Christopher’s story is sadly one of many. Since his death in 1998, more than 1,300 people have died while under the apparent ‘care’ of the police in England and Wales, according to figures compiled by the charity Inquest. 

These were all people, with families, futures and lives. Yet they are at risk of becoming just a set of statistics, as we become immune to their deaths. 

“They’ve fallen by the wayside. We see a pattern. Our families have been dismissed and ignored,” Janet Alder, Christopher’s sister, told Byline Times

The victims are, with depressing predictability, disproportionately young and black. Examples of the officers involved going to court are, it would seem, disproportionately rare compared to the numbers of deaths.

The families of those killed in custody have dedicated years of their lives fighting for justice. Many are traumatised, with their trauma compounded by their treatment at the hands of the state.

Janet, for example, was put under surveillance, with investigators following her at her brother’s inquest. “I was staying in a little hotel,  and the police were there,” she explained. “They had orders to follow me around Hull, using video equipment”.

In 2019, Humberside Police apologised to Janet, a year after two of their officers were cleared of gross misconduct for the “unauthorised surveillance” on her and her barrister. 

Despite this, the Crown Prosecution Service said there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. Unsurprisingly, the decades of injustice have taken their toll.

 “I’ve got children I’ve had to let down. It has affected my life immeasurably,” Janet told Byline Times

Not only was Christopher unlawfully killed, 11 years after his death, the family made a shocking discovery. They had been mourning the wrong body. 

The authorities had buried the wrong body: that of Grace Kamara, a 77-year-old Nigerian woman. She had died a year after Christopher, from natural causes. As Janet wrote in the wake of the George Floyd protests, it was not until 2012, 14 years after his death, that the family could mourn his actual body. Once again, nobody was charged for the ‘mix up’.

Racism exposed, ranks closed

The cases follow a depressing pattern: the Independent Office for Police Conduct investigates. In many cases, it finds wrongdoing. Then, it goes nowhere. They have no power to sack officers so instead, it goes back to the force to police itself. 

It is more reflective of a court martial system than an independent process. The Police Federation defends its officers vigorously, and shorn of the power to strike, the trade off is that sacking an officer is incredibly difficult even when the will is there. “Not many people are willing to take officers on, because they’ve got the Federation on side,” said Janet. 

That same closing of ranks in recent weeks after the ousting of Met Police boss Dame Cressida Dick. Sadiq Khan had declared he had no faith in her plans to reform the force, after the damning Operation Hotton investigation found sickening racist and sexist messages shared by serving officers. 

Nine of the 14 officers investigated kept their jobs, including two who were promoted. The IOPC was clear: this was not a case of a few bad apples. The barrel itself is rotten. 

Cressida Dick and the wider Met had lost the public’s trust. Yet instead of recognising the scale of change needed, the Metropolitan Police Federation hit out at the mayor, saying it had “no faith” in him. 


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Off the Hook

Families of those who died in police custody were not surprised by the row. 

Marcia Rigg is the sister of Sean, who died in Brixton police station in 2008. Police had applied pressure to his neck and shoulder areas for around eight minutes. Decades later that would be echoed in the police murder of George Floyd, who was choked for nine minutes by law enforcement. George Floyd’s killer went to prison, while three former Minneapolis police officers were found guilty for failing to intervene as they choked Floyd to death. 

All the officers involved in Sean Rigg’s death were cleared of gross misconduct. Marcia has never been afforded a meeting with the Met commissioner over what happened. This month we learnt that half of police employees found guilty of gross misconduct were not dismissed. Of 118 cases where a clear breach of rules was proven by forces’ internal disciplinary panels, just 55 led to the officers being sacked.

Marcia says the IOPC report has “laid out the Met’s dirty washing” for all to see. But there is more foul play yet to come out, not just in London, but across England and Wales.

Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

The United Friends and Family Campaign is a group of families – including Janet Alder and Marcia Rigg – working together after the death of their loved ones by the state. They are united not just by the deaths, but the fact that none have seen “any accountability whatsoever”.  

Their cases mirror each other: alleged cover-ups, police forces closing ranks, campaigning efforts disrupted and dismissed. 

This year, families failed by the state are set to take matters into their own hands. The UFFC’s People’s Tribunal – launching this October – aims to give families of those who died in police custody a voice. They will show evidence that hasn’t yet been shown in court. “We need transparency, accountability. And a will to do something. The state just stonewalled us all,” Janet says. 

“We intend to put the state on trial. We will be the witness and present the facts on 20 deaths in custody,” Marcia adds. 

The hope is that if people see, for instance, the video of officers making monkey noises about Christopher Alder, the groundswell for institutional, root-and-branch reform could grow. That footage was never shown to the jury. 

“We were a family brought up in care. We have always been at the hands of the state,” Janet said. The state has led them down, repeatedly, and catastrophically. Perhaps this will be the year that starts to change.

 Josiah Mortimer is a journalist, and City Hall Editor for MyLondon. He has a particular interest in the police and social movements.

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Experts Raise Alarm Over Prison Overcrowding as Government Pursues Draconian Crime Bill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/01/2022 - 4:40am in

Experts Raise Alarm Over Prison Overcrowdingas Government Pursues Draconian Crime Bill

Sascha Lavin explores the ticking time-bomb at the heart of the criminal justice system

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Overcrowding has persisted in prisons despite COVID-19 measures to reduce inmate populations, new analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal, as experts warn that these figures “raise serious questions as to what happens next”.

The issue continues as the Government’s Police, Sentencing and Courts Bill aims to introduce longer prison sentences for non-violent crimes such as vandalising statues.

Analysis of Ministry of Justice data found that, despite efforts to reduce the number of prisoners sharing cells in England and Wales in order to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, by November 2021 there was only a 7% decrease in the percentage of prisoners held in crowded accommodation compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Even as the country entered the second wave of the pandemic, 18,672 prisoners continued to share cells designed for fewer people.

Experts have expressed concerns about the future of prisons in England and Wales. Overcrowding in cells has been linked to an increase in poor mental health as thousands of prisoners must eat, sleep and use the toilet in one shared space. Overcrowding has also been linked to increased rates of violence, suicide and self-harm. 

COVID Inaction

Public Health England urged the Government in April 2020 to reduce it by 15,000 prisoners. Healthcare officials advised that an end to sharing cells was the most effective protection against the virus. 

Within six months of the warning, however, there were only 4,005 fewer people in prison, falling more than 10,000 short of the recommended reduction.

Research by Nuffield Trust subsequently found that COVID-19 case rates were higher in prison than in the general population. Between the start of the pandemic and the end of December 2021, there was an average of 75 cases per 1,000 population in prison, compared to 46 cases per 1,000 in England and Wales overall. By the end of 2021, 177 prisoners had died either having tested positive for COVID-19 or where there was a clinical assessment that the virus was a contributory factor in their deaths. 

Despite these high case rates, the Ministry of Justice only released 275 prisoners under its early release scheme. The scheme, which ran from April to August 2020, promised to avoid high COVID infection rates in the prison estate by temporarily releasing prisoners.

As a result, some prisoners were forced to spend up to 23 hours a day in cramped conditions, leading the Independent Monitoring Board to question whether the policy was “fair or humane”. Its report on HMP Bullingdon highlighted that, for 23 hours a day, more than 500 prisoners were eating meals and using the toilet in shared cells designed for one. 


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Compounding a Crisis

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, overcrowding has been an increasingly serious issue in the prison system. In 2018, 71 prisons in England and Wales were operating at overcrowded levels, and 20,695 prisoners were found to be living in crowded conditions. 

The pandemic presented a chance to help relieve the pressure on the system with early release schemes. But, according to Dr Nasrul Ismail, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Bristol, the Government’s inaction was “a missed opportunity to lessen the overcrowding issues in prisons”. 

“While it was claimed there was a duty to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system, this consideration was peculiar, especially since the decision endangered prisoners, prison staff, and the public,” Dr Ismail told Byline Times

Now, with a backlog in the criminal justice system, plans to increase the number of prison places and a bill that seeks longer custodial sentences for some non-violent crimes, there are concerns that not only was overcrowding not addressed during the pandemic, it is on course to become a greater issue in the future.  

Of the statistics revealed by the Byline Intelligence Team, Andrew Neilson, campaigns director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “These figures not only show that many prisons are still bedevilled by overcrowding but raise serious questions as to what happens next.”

The prison population of England and Wales was 79,086 as of 7 January 2022 and is projected to increase by a quarter to 98,500 by 2027, figures released by the Ministry of Justice show. This marks a dramatic jump from pre-pandemic trends: in August 2018, the MoJ predicted a 4% rise in prisoner numbers over five years. 

The Government has promised to tackle overcrowding in prisons by creating 20,000 new prison places. However, experts contest the logic of this, arguing that this risks exacerbating the issue. 

“Building new prisons leads to more imprisonment, which does nothing to address the existing overcrowding issue,” Dr Ismail told Byline Times. “Given the previous political announcements of additional police resourcing, the extension of stop and search, and increased sentences for serious offenders, overcrowding will continue to persist.”

The Private-Public Divide

Data analysed by the Byline Intelligence Team also suggests that, as of November 2021, 77% of private prisons were overcrowded, while only 56% of their public counterparts were. Private prisons were also found to be slower at reducing overcrowding during the pandemic, according to MoJ data. 

Although there was a small improvement in overcrowding in all prisons between November 2019 and November 2021, the number of overcrowded public prisons reduced by 25%, whereas overcrowding reduced by just 10% in the private sector. 

In the year to March 2021, rates of overcrowding were highest in male local prisons, which are more likely to be run privately, with 45.6% of these prisoners held in crowded accommodation.

A 2020 report by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee also warned that overcrowding can contribute to high levels of violence in prisons. 

During the pandemic, violence in prisons was significantly reduced, as restrictive measures meant that prisoners were in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. But further analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team reveals that private prisons have proven more violent than public jails.


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In 2020, there were 70 more prisoner-on-prisoner assaults per 10,000 prisoners in private adult prisons in England and Wales compared to their publicly run counterparts. 

In 104 publicly-run adult jails, there was an average population of 68,327 with 10,868 assaults: 1,590 per 10,000 prisoners. In contrast, in the 13 privately-run adult prisons, there was an average of 1,660 assaults per 10,000 prisoners. 

The Byline Intelligence Team also found that over the past decade, four out of five most dangerous prisons in England and Wales – based on the number of serious violent assaults – were privately run. Over the 10-year period from 2010, Forest Bank, Doncaster, Parc, and Altcourse prisons recorded 3,251 serious assaults. 

The latest HMIP report of Doncaster prison, for instance, concluded that the Serco-run jail was “badly overcrowded” and “overall levels of violence were higher than in similar prisons”. 

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We carefully monitor the prison population and adjust our plans when necessary to ensure that we will always have sufficient capacity. Our £4 billion prison building programme is the largest in more than a century and will deliver an additional 20,000 by the mid-2020s. Our spending review settlement included an extra £250 million to fund up to 2,000 temporary places while new prisons are built.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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The post Experts Raise Alarm Over Prison Overcrowding as Government Pursues Draconian Crime Bill appeared first on Byline Times.

Dominic Raab’s ‘Operation Red Meat’ Justice Plans Will Backfire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 10:37pm in

Dominic Raab’s ‘Operation Red Meat’ Justice Plans Will Backfire

Increasing the powers of magistrates will only put more pressure on the already strained crown court, says Gareth Roberts

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As part of its ‘Operation Red Meat’ plan to deflect attention away from the Prime Minister’s problems, the Government has this week announced plans to increase the sentencing powers of magistrates courts from six months to one year. 

This increase, brought in by the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, will release the pressure on the crown courts and reduce the backlog of trials, which currently stands at 60,000.

At present, magistrates courts’ sentencing powers are limited to six months which means that, if they conclude that an offence is so serious that a term of imprisonment greater than six months may be warranted, then they have to send the case on to the crown court to be dealt with by a crown court judge and potentially a jury.

The Government hopes that by doubling this cut -ff from six to 12 months, magistrates courts will keep more cases for themselves, thus reducing the burden on the higher courts. 

Unfortunately, this policy displays a lack of understanding of the criminal justice system. 

At the beginning of the process, a criminal case will be brought before a magistrates court for a hearing to determine which court will ultimately dispose of it. ‘Summary only’ cases (such as minor violence or public order matters) will stay in the magistrates court; ‘indictable only’ cases (usually sexual offences, more serious violence, drug supply and offences of dishonesty involving violence or high value goods) will be sent immediately to the crown court; whereas ‘either-way’ offences (offences grave enough for the crown court to consider but not so grave that this would be automatic, such as assault occasioning actual bodily harm), can find their way to either the crown court or remain in the magistrates. 


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The Government’s announcement intends for more either-way offences to stay in the magistrates court, as it is hoped that with their increased powers of sentence, magistrates will not deem it necessary to send such cases up to the crown court.

However, the decision does not just lie with magistrates – a defendant charged with an either-way offence can elect to face a crown court trial if they wish. 

Most solicitors believe, rightly, that their clients have a greater chance of acquittal in the crown court before a jury, than in the magistrates court, where magistrates may be more inclined to convict. 

At present, with a sentencing maximum of six months, most solicitors are content to advise their clients to keep an either-way offence in the magistrates court as there will be a good chance that they will receive, at worst, a short period of imprisonment should they lose their trial or plead guilty. 

That decision would become less straightforward if the magistrates court had powers to imprison for twice as long. Under the change, a defendant charged with a minor offence of violence – perhaps with a potential to run a self-defence or mistaken identification argument – may decide that, given the possibility of a longer sentence, they would rather elect for trial in the crown court, as is their right, than face a sentence of up to a year.   

If this happens, and it will, then Raab’s policy designed to reduce the burden on crown courts, could actually have the opposite effect. And that is not the only flaw in Raab’s plan.

The first point of appeal from the magistrates court is to the crown court. Crown courts are already jam-packed with those who seek to appeal either their sentence or conviction by magistrates or district judges. By increasing the sentencing powers of the lower courts, it is inevitable that the number of appeals by those who believe that the sentence was excessive or that the conviction was unsafe will increase.

This will take up even more valuable time in the crown court and prevent judges and magistrates from their usual work – thus potentially increasing the backlog in both types of court. 

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The other side-effect of the proposal would be the increase in the pressure on prisons. Prisons are already heaving, having seen a massive increase in their numbers in the past decade, and further expansion in numbers would risk taking them close to breaking-point. 

It is right that the backlog in undetermined and ongoing criminal cases needs to be addressed – the crown court now has a backlog of over 60,000 cases, while the magistrates courts have a whopping 395,000 cases still to be heard. 

For years, pressure groups such as the Criminal Bar Association, have argued that the only way to properly address this is to increase funding for the criminal justice system and expand legal aid rates to ensure that advocates are able to appear in cases and that there are enough courts, judges and staff to process them properly. 

Dominic Raab’s announcement may deflect from the travails of his boss, but it will do nothing to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.   

Gareth Roberts is a barrister

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The post Dominic Raab’s ‘Operation Red Meat’ Justice Plans Will Backfire appeared first on Byline Times.

‘A Life-Threatening Situation’: How Prison Fails Mothers and Children

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 10:11pm in

‘A Life-Threatening Situation’ How Prison Fails Mothers and Children

Three years after a parliamentary committee recommended the Ministry of Justice records how many mothers are in prison, the National Audit Office criticises lack of progress on supporting female offenders, including lack of data collection on women with dependant children

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Holding her baby in her arms, for the first time in her life Beth felt she was good at something. Her short life had been dogged by abuse and hurt. That started to change when she became pregnant at 19 and had a much-loved daughter. 

Four months later, Beth was sent to prison. She was still breastfeeding when her child was put into care and the life she had planned for her small family fell apart. 

Beth wasn’t in prison for very long. But those months apart meant that when she returned home, her baby no longer knew her. The family, the future, the recovering self-esteem and her little girl – it had all been taken from her. 

Unable to cope with the separation from her child, the impact of prison and her depression, Beth took her own life. Her crime? Shoplifting. 

“It is a life threatening situation for many mothers in prison,” Lucy Baldwin told Byline Times. Baldwin has published extensively on the impact of prison on mothers. “Many of them will resort to self harm – sometimes for the first time – out of frustration and not knowing how to manage the pain of being separated from their children.”

Beth’s daughter was one of thousands of children whose mothers are in prison, often serving short sentences for non-violent crimes.

The exact number is not known because – three years after a parliamentary report into women offenders and the right to family life recommended the Ministry of Justice record how many women sent to prison have children – this data is not systematically recorded.

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) into the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) female offender strategy, published this week, “identified a lack of joined-up data across the system and specific gaps in outcomes data on differential characteristics, such as whether women have dependent children”. The Ministry told the NAO “that work to address these issues is now under way”.

The most recent estimate, published by the Howard League in 2011, believed 17,240 children are affected by maternal imprisonment every year. 

The National Audit Office also accused the Government of making “limited process” in its stated aims to “improve outcomes for women”. 

The Government rejected amendments to its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would oblige a sentencing magistrate or judge to state how they considered the consequences for the child when sentencing the mother. It also rejected an amendment that would make the welfare of a child (with the inclusion of the unborn child) a distinct consideration in determining bail for a primary carer.

Instead, the Government plans to increase sentences for some non-violent offences, alongside increasing the number of women’s prison places – contradicting previous objectives to reduce the number of incarcerated women like Beth. 

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Stigma and Shaming 

Because most women commit non-violent offences which don’t always lead to a custodial sentence, being sent to prison is often unexpected. Mothers will drop their kids off at school before going to court, planning to be home in time for dinner. 

Children then come back to an empty house, as childcare is hastily arranged. Most children will be looked after by grandparents, while others go into social care or siblings take on the role of caregiver. The shock of separation can result in bedwetting, nightmares and flashbacks for years following their mother’s arrest. 

For mothers, the pain of not being able to say goodbye to your children and not knowing how they will be cared for is deeply distressing.

“Imagine your first night in prison,” Baldwin said. “Imagine being in that space, not having access to a phone, not knowing who’s going to pick up your children, not knowing what your children are going to be told.”

The mother’s worry for her separated children can drastically affect her mental health. Rates of self-harm in 2017 were nearly five times as high in women’s prisons as in men’s jails, although the percentage of imprisoned mothers who self-harm is not recorded. 

Fears for their children are often combined with a sense of shame of being a ‘bad mother’.

This was the case for Mary, who had no contact with her sons for more than 30 years. She believed they were better off without her as she had been in prison. She liked to imagine they were being fostered by a middle class family with a ‘good mother’ who took them to art galleries on weekends. In reality, they were passed around the foster care system and themselves ended up in prison. 

Throughout Baldwin’s 35 years working in criminal justice, she cannot recall a single woman whose mothering has not been judged at some point in the criminal justice system. Often, Baldwin said, mothers receive a harsher punishment because of the very fact they are mothers – that they have transgressed in some way and need to be made an example of. 

One young mother was sentenced to six months in prison for receiving a pair of stolen shorts during the 2011 riots, because the judge believed that as a mother and as a role model to her children she should have behaved better. 

When mothers are imprisoned, their children are also punished. Three-quarters of children supported by the charity Children Heard and Seen were negatively impacted by their parent’s imprisonment, with many becoming disruptive at school and some even leaving education altogether. Children whose mothers are imprisoned are more likely to commit a crime, suffer from mental health problems and have a drug or alcohol addiction. 

Lillia, who was separated from her children when she was imprisoned, told researchers at Coventry University: “I’m still being punished and so are my children, they are innocent but when you sent the mother to prison they suffer greatly.”

Because of the lack of joined-up data, it is difficult to know how many children have a mother in prison, making early intervention to prevent negative outcomes much harder. 


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Short Sentences, Long Impact

The Female Offender Strategy, published by the Ministry of Justice in 2018, committed to holding fewer women in prison, with an increased focus on community orders and women’s centres. The MoJ allocated £5.1 million in its strategy to support women’s services in the community for 2018 to 2020.

However, the aims in the strategy appear to be at odds with the Government’s ‘tough on crime’ agenda. In 2019, the Government committed to recruit 20,000 more police officers (replacing those lost to austerity cuts), a move that prompted the creation of 500 more women’s prison places at the cost of £200 million. 

This response has been questioned by the NAO, which said the decision contradicted the stated objective of its Female Offender Strategy.

“The ministry did not factor in the strategy’s aim of having fewer women in custody when estimating how many more prison places it might require due to the Government’s commitment to increase police numbers,” the report said. 

Lucy Baldwin is calling for much more substantial change that puts the different experiences of male and female offenders at the heart of the prison system. 

“It was designed by men for men, and that legacy persists,” she told Byline Times. She cited the example of handcuffing women in labour en route to hospital or en route to ante-natal appointments – a male-default policy that doesn’t recognise women’s specific vulnerabilities. “We still make these decisions based on men, with no recognition of the impact on the female estate. That needs to change.”

She is cautiously optimistic, however, not least because conversations about mothers in prison are finally taking place. “There’s a renewed vigour for looking at the gender issues,” Baldwin said. “It’s a more positive time in some ways than it has been for decades, because the evidence about the harms of female imprisonment and the impact on children is out there. It now needs to be listened to and acted upon.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We launched the Female Offenders Strategy in 2018 with the aim of steering women away from crime and since then the number of women entering the criminal justice system has fallen by 30%.

“We are investing tens of millions of pounds over the next three years into community services like women’s centres, drug rehabilitation and accommodation support so that fewer women end up in prison.

“We are implementing changes to how we collect information from prisoners which will inform us how many primary carers are in custody and how many children under the age of 18 are affected by their imprisonment. These changes are due to occur in early 2022.”

This article was updated at 5pm on Wednesday 19 January to include an additional statement from the Ministry of Justice.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

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The post ‘A Life-Threatening Situation’: How Prison Fails Mothers and Children appeared first on Byline Times.