Rooting for success: ex tutor’s perspective

Author: | 11 Jul 2019

 

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a tutor in prison? For Longford Blog, a former tutor (and now mentor) reflects….

 

 

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. Maya Angelou

What a powerful quote, it catches me every time. These inspiring words from the late, great thinker and civil rights activist Maya Angelou hung in my classroom at the men’s prison where I worked in education for seven years. A group of university degree students made the sign for me which gave it even more meaning.

Up until Christmas 2018, I was a Tutor in prison, firstly teaching Social Skills and in the last couple of years overseeing Distance Learning.

I really enjoyed my work, feeling privileged to have worked with hundreds of students during that time.  Although, as far as I was concerned, I was just doing my job, the men I worked with constantly told me I was different from most staff they had come across in the system… that it was obvious I believed in what I was doing. I’m not sure if they were right about others. I do know what I believe. Education has the power to rehabilitate and steer people away from crime into lawful, productive lives where they can reach their personal potential. Every day I saw that and every day that’s what I strove for.

It still makes me smile, proud to think of the many men who started their transformation by learning in our department.  The journey often began because they had to study a course as part of their sentence plan. Then some – many more than you might think but not all, being honest – just got the education bug. After that they couldn’t get enough, completing every course on offer.

On a mission for every individual to achieve their potential….

So how was my unshakeable core belief in the power of education and the human capacity to change reflected in how I did my job? First things first, I tried to be student focussed in my approach. In addition, I was always solution- focussed. A ‘problem’ was something to be tackled. Perhaps most importantly though, I held every man I worked with in positive regard. What this meant is that they rewarded with confidence and respect for me.

Overcoming barriers to education in prison were part and parcel of my working life. From downloading post-graduate students’ academic texts from their online OU accounts, to allowing new students who had arrived from other prisons to access the Distance Learning room promptly so they didn’t fall behind. I was always trying to find practical solutions within the regime’s rules. If anyone had been a fly on the wall, they would have seen me running around the corridors delivering learning materials, mail and email messages from tutors to students.  I’ve heard too many stories of Higher Education students in custody held back by lack of access to course materials and resources. It can be as basic as receiving materials late – due to the slow progress through the prison system to the student. It always struck me that students in prison are often doubly disadvantaged before they even start a course. If I could do my bit to make the basics of learning in prison better, then I would.

So yes, my mission was to ensure every student had the best possible chance of fulfilling their academic potential.

As well as the practical side of things, I saw my role as helping to keep students positively motivated – especially when they were locked in their cells during evenings and at weekends.  I am a firm believer that motivation in studying translates, without doubt, into people’s long-term positive change in behaviour. Judging by my leaving cards the men noticed, writing things like,

Many people walk in and out of our lives. Yet few make an imprint. You are one of those people to make an impression that motivates and encourages without judgement.’

Another reads,

I’ve realised I am actually quite smart.’

Another talked of me never stopping for breath to help encourage and support.

Going above and beyond didn’t feel like a choice.  It was particularly exciting when men started to look for education which they could access from outside prison to quench their thirst for knowledge.  That was a brilliant moment. I can’t describe the joy a teacher feels when you see a student grow, develop and change. I don’t just mean their behaviour, but their attitude and sometimes their whole world view.  It is nothing short of a privilege to witness them transforming into happier, healthier and more positive human beings than they first set foot in a prison education department.

I honestly believe and feel proud to say that my role as tutor – and my former prison tutor colleagues – was pivotal in the students’ ability not just to succeed in their educational quest, but also for their own longterm change and rehabilitation.

Bringing the outside in….

Looking back on my time as prison tutor possibly my proudest achievement is bringing educational groups from outside into prison, breaking down the ‘us and them’ divide that prison walls too often impose.  For instance, facilitating a Post-Graduate Reading Group in partnership with University of Westminster where incarcerated men study alongside university students. Welcoming mentors – including Longford mentors who offered valuable belief in and support of several scholars – was also a legacy I am proud of, knowing that our scholars really appreciated the time their mentors took to visit and write to them. Working with the Open University, Prison Reform Trust and the Prisoner’s Education Trust is also a major achievement. These external organisations facilitated student forums, focus groups and workshops to ensure people in the criminal justice system are involved in the decision-making process. I’m very proud of the contribution the Distance Learners at the prison where I worked has made to improve not only the educational experience but also the whole custody experience for their peers and prisoners nationwide.  Their educational journey has allowed the students to grow and develop so they can articulate well to decision makers about changes to improve the experience of imprisonment.

My hopes: remaining open to new ideas and change ….

Although, just at the moment I am not directly involved in the education and rehabilitation of prisoners, I found my seven years teaching in the education department the most rewarding work I have ever done.  I was always busy, happy to support the men to make more positive choices and decisions.  I’m privileged to have been part of my learners’ journey through a spiritually oppressive system. I always rooted for them to succeed, doing my bit to help them carve out a brighter, more fulfilling present and future. I hope that my encouragement and support to the men that passed through our class, has enabled them to achieve, remain open to new ideas and change, continue learning, and achieve more. I plan to become a Longford Trust mentor and hope to support another student in a secure environment later this year.

I will forever hold Maya Angelou’s inspiration dear, because they know better, they do better and will continue to do so.

 

Please share our article

Lord Longford: setting the record straight

Author: | 27 Jun 2019
You may have seen disturbing claims in the media about Lord Longford and his involvement with Moors Murderer, Ian Brady. The Longford Trust was founded in memory of Frank’s commitment to justice, education and penal reform.

In this blog – first published with the Justice Gap – Longford trustee and former prison governor John Podmore sets the record straight…..

 

There was rightful indignation yesterday when newly released Home Office files revealed that Moors Murderer Ian Brady was able to mix with vulnerable borstal boys in Wormwood Scrubs prison for more than five years, even after one young prisoner alleged that Brady had raped him and no action was taken for several months.

Brady was convicted in 1966 alongside his girlfriend Myra Hindley. He was initially held at Durham prison, then sent to Parkhurst, and transferred in 1974 to Wormwood Scrubs in London. He was placed in the segregation unit for his own protection given the horrific nature of his crimes against young children. He began a hunger strike in the summer of 1975, and was eventually moved to the prison hospital. He was allowed to stay there even after he began eating again in a room on the ‘mental observation landing’ known as G2.

Remarkably at that time, children from Feltham Borstal could be sent to Wormwood Scrubs hospital if they were suffering from mental health problems. They could be as young as 15 – a similar age to some of Brady’s victims.

Brady and his fellow murderer, Myra Hindley, both now dead, continue to generate huge media interest. This is a particularly egregious example of how both these killers traded on their notoriety in the prison system and became adept at conditioning and manipulating those around them over decades in penal and mental health institutions.

The reports of the time talk of Brady benefitting from support from the penal reformer Lord Longford, a former Labour cabinet minister. What they don’t mention is that in reality, Longford undertook a fourteen year struggle to have Brady sectioned under the Mental Health Act and transferred to Ashworth Special Hospital, a secure mental institution far more suited to his personality where he could be better treated and monitored. Longford himself records that Brady, soon after arriving at Ashworth, in 1985:

‘not only cut off communication [with me] but, according to one newspaper, referred to me as a “Home Office lackey”‘.

It is right to reflect on how 40 years ago Brady was able prey on vulnerable people even while in prison. And it is not the only example of historic sex abuse in prisons with the scandal of Medomsley detention even now still unfolding.

Attempting to lay some blame on Longford who from 1930 to his death in 2001 visited on average three prisoners a week is, to put it mildly, disingenuous.

The MoJ in their response to the BBC report state confidently that things have changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Have they?

It is fair to say that children would not now be transferred to an adult prison although it cannot be said that poor mental health in prison is being properly dealt with. Treatment of those under 21 is still a challenge and many would argue that 18-21 year olds mixing with older adults is inappropriate. Some 23 year olds can be more vulnerable than 17 year olds and age alone cannot be an automatic indicator of maturity and vulnerability.

What this story should trigger is an examination of sexual violence in prison, a stone which HMPPS and the MoJ repeatedly refuse to look under.

To date only the Howard League has grasped the nettle with its Commission on Sex in Prison, which published its report in 2013 having throughout its work received no co-operation from the Prison Service. The commission focused on three broad themes: consensual sex in prison, coercive sex in prison and healthy sexual development among young people in prison.

It was an important piece of work which has largely been ignored even before the current prisons crisis. Fundamentally it attacked the complacency within Government and the Prison Service over the extent of the problem and any measures to deal with it, as aptly demonstrated in comments in the light of today’s BBC report. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘There have been huge changes in the criminal justice system in the last 40 years and allegations of sexual assault are taken extremely seriously and reported to the police.’

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, says rather more succinctly: ‘What happened, and what he did in prisons, I think, is not extraordinary. Actually, I think it happens and has happened every day for years, and is still happening.’

There aren’t many things we would want to emulate in USA penal policy but the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is one. The legislation was passed in 2003 with unanimous support from both parties in Congress. The purpose of the act was to ‘provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape’.

In other words, we have a problem. We need to know how bad it is and what to do about it. They could have added ‘or we will be sued for millions by victims’.

Earlier research made for horrific reading. A 1992 estimate from the Federal Bureau of Prisons estimated that between nine and 20% of prisoners had been sexually assaulted. Studies in 1982 and 1996 put the rate somewhere between 12 and 14%. A 1986 study put the number at around 23% for maximum security prisons in New York. Most alarming of all was that not all perpetrators were alleged as being other prisoners.

The MoJ has refused to carry out such research here and we have to ask why.

For the MoJ to glibly assert that all allegations are taken seriously and reported to the police is to misunderstand the world outside prisons let alone within their walls. Rates of reporting, prosecutions and convictions in the community are low and victims still report emotional and practical problems in coming forward despite undeniable progress in police attitudes in recent years. Reporting from within a prison setting is a whole new ball game and something where neither prison, police or courts have even begun to scratch the service.

And to make things worse, we have the elephant in the room which is cell sharing. Our newest, biggest and most prestigious jails, designed to hold (eventually) some 2,100 souls has 70% of its population in shared cells. The argument goes that many prisoners like to share and for some vulnerable individuals it can be a lifeline – not least young people who may never have slept in a room alone in their entire lives.

For others it can be a violent hell of physical and sexual abuse and tragically for some a death sentence as it was for Zahid Mubarek murdered by his racist cellmate in HMP Feltham in March 2000.

The decision to place people in one cell is primarily economic – it makes for cheap custody and the holy grail of ‘lower cost per place’. The decision itself is called a cell-sharing risk assessment made thousands of time a day by hundreds of overworked, harassed and increasingly inexperienced prison officers based on at best inexact information and at worst a wing and a prayer.

The public inquiry into the murder of Zahid Mubarek recommended the abolition of enforced cell sharing as do the Mandela Rules, the UN’s international minimum treatment standards for prisoners.

The government’s strategy in building ‘21st century prisons’ is flagrantly ignoring both and remains unaccountable for its decision.

Sexual violence in closed institutions is more in the public gaze than ever as scandals still begin to be exposed. The Brady papers reveal an alarming old story but they should stimulate a debate for now and the future in our prisons. For now it remains out of sight and out of mind.

 

This blog first appeared on the Justice Gap platform. 

 

Please share our article

From Prison Cell to The Walls of The Royal Academy of Arts

Author: | 10 Jun 2019

From Prison Cell to The Walls of The Royal Academy of Arts

For the Longford Blog, scholar Paul Grady reflects on his journey towards last year’s prestigious Summer Exhibition

Do you know where you were on Christmas Day, 2012? I do. I was in a prison in Somerset, many years into my sentence and still a few more to go.

 

Working on a distance learning art degree, I was looking for inspiration. Trying to come up with a project that would take me away from traditional prison art: pencil portraits from burn (tobacco), painting landscapes from photographs torn out of magazines, sculptures made from bread or matchstick models of boats and clocks. I have always been interested in the process of art and how it can be created in so many ways. Wanting this project to last a while, with New Year approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to create something over the whole year of 2013, from January 1st to 31st  December, to mark the passing of time. Almost as if I was crossing off the days.

 

With this seed of an idea, I had to decide how to get it onto paper and let it grow. How often would I sit down and draw? When, and for how long? If I was going to use this project as a way of marking off the days, then it stood to reason that it would have to be done every day of the year ahead. To work around my job in prison, I came up with the idea of drawing as soon as I woke up and let the inspiration flow from that first day. See where it took me.

 

The first day of January dutifully arrives, my alarm rudely awakens me from my slumber at six a.m. and I grab the board that I use for drawing, tape a large sheet of paper onto it and reach for a black ballpoint pen. Now what? Do something. Start. Make a mark. So that is exactly what I did, right in the middle of that huge piece of paper I drew a shape, a small circle that looked so lost on that expanse of whiteness. I drew more shapes around this circle slowly spreading outwards, I was starting to enjoy this. Let my hand flow, make marks that follow on from the last one, allow the drawing to grow organically. After an hour or so I wondered how to bring this first day of drawing to a close and allow me to begin again the next day? A membrane! Small circles around this shape, with larger circular globules within the membrane. I’m done and the door is about to be unlocked ready for me to face another day behind the highest prison walls in the country.

 

2nd January and the alarm screams at me to wake up. I grab the board from under my bed, put it on top of my still warm quilt and reach for my pen- blue today. Starting with a part of the membrane next to my first day’s drawing I figure out what shapes to put in the middle. These are totally random, allowing my hand to control the pen and make marks. When I feel it’s done I close off the membrane and wait for the sound of keys in the door.

Day three, the alarm trills and I’m up. A green pen waiting, ready to be used, the rules have become clear. The membrane stays the same, inside I can let myself be free and put any shape that feels right that morning, no colour will touch itself and the minimum colours I can do this with is four. Tomorrow I will use red. The next hour and a half rushes by and before I am finished, I hear the turn of the key in the lock before the bolt crashes back. I close this cell, as that is what each day’s drawing resembles, making up what, I do not yet know. What I do know, as I head down for breakfast, is that I want six a.m. to come around again.

 

The fourth day. I’m awake before the alarm. The board is on the bed before it sets off and I’m there, red pen in hand making marks. I begin to get a sense that something is happening to me, that I am ready to invest in this artwork like never before. As the prison door opens for the first time that morning, I’m putting the last few circles on the paper, my first series of four colours is complete. Bring on the rest of the month.

 

The last day of January is upon me and I must bring this drawing to an end. I have marked the passing of one whole month. In that month I have learnt that the prison I am in is going to close. I will be moving, it could happen with very little warning and I must be ready for it.

 

February arrives and I get a new sheet of paper, the only one to hand, a smaller piece of watercolour paper. Over the next few days the rules make themselves clear to me. It is during this month that I get two days’ notice that I am moving. The morning of the move I get up as usual at six and get to work on my drawing, the only thing that I haven’t packed and sent to reception. I am just about finished, the key turns the lock for the last time in that cell for me, I have to go and complete this somewhere else.

 

I have no job in the new jail and as a distance learner I have been told I must be locked in my cell for the core day. It means I now spend hours each day drawing tiny circles on a piece of paper. It is at this point that the title for this project makes itself known to me, ‘Twelve Months Hard Labour’, quite fitting don’t you think?

 

In the next ten months I’m on the move again, this time to an open prison. I experience my first day in years outside prison walls. I can prepare for a future where there will be no more keys heard early in the morning.

 

In the open prison I apply to university to study art. I use the twelve drawings as part of my portfolio at my interview, the tutors are very interested in the concept and process. I find myself explaining each drawing, why I chose the medium, the colours and the two different sizes of paper. I carried on using the smaller watercolour paper for all the months that were less than thirty-one days. All because it was the only decent sized piece of paper that I could find on the first day of February.

 

Fast forward to last Summer. Released, I have completed my university course and with the help of The Longford Trust as a Longford Scholar I have gained a First class degree in fine art. Not only that, my ‘January’ drawing from ‘Twelve Months Hard Labour’ has been entered into The Royal Academy Summer Show. It’s made it through the first round of judging. I take it down to London; everyone is excited. I don’t know why, it’s not as if it’s in the final cut yet.

 

I arrive at The Royal Academy to drop off my drawing and see how many people are there, as well as the television cameras. Maybe this is a big deal afterall.

 

A few weeks later I get the email, Congratulations. I got in! I’ve won my place in one of the biggest, most prestigious art shows in the world. Thousands will see my work. It’s real. My drawing, completed on a bed in a prison cell, will hang on the walls of The Royal Academy of Arts. I’m a full-on artist now.

 

You can see more of Paul’s work here: https://www.facebook.com/Pagartist70/

 

Please share our article

Homelessness and prison: a personal experience of the perverse cycle

Author: | 5 Jun 2019

Homelessness and prison: Longford scholar Shaun looks at a personal experience of the perverse cycle

 

This is the best I can do.’

These were the words of my probation officer as she produced a tent and a sleeping bag at the end of my fourth prison sentence. Another taste of freedom after prison. To say I was gobsmacked is no exaggeration. I’d already accepted the harsh reality that once I left Her Majesty’s Pleasure I had nowhere to call home. But for a brief moment, I’d entertained the hope of three nights in a B& B while I looked for accommodation.

Sadly, those hopes were dashed. Camping it was.  Suddenly I typified the media horror stories – the ones any reasonable person doesn’t want to believe.  My make-do home was a tent.

Let me take you back to how this whole sorry cycle of prison and homelessness began for me.

Losing my home….

On my nineteenth birthday in October 2007 I found myself starting a two year prison sentence, the first of five visits to one of Her Majesty’s finest establishments.

Whilst on remand, waiting to be sentenced for that first time, I was told my rent would be paid but would continue only for a few months. After that point, I would lose my accommodation as the landlord sought possession of the property. Unless of course I had some money stashed away. I didn’t.

Realising I was due to become homeless, I sought help from the resettlement team to try and get re-housed on release. I was told to sit back and wait. There was nothing they could do for me until I reached the last three months of custody. Great, so now I was on edge worrying, with no idea where I’d live after prison! I held onto the hope that, at worst, I’d end up in a hostel. As a ‘high-risk offender’ (according to probation assessment) surely they’d prioritise me having somewhere to live – an address at least. If not somewhere to call ‘home, somewhere the authorities could check up on me.

What are my chances? ….

Sure enough, three months from my first release, the resettlement team helped me fill out multiple application forms for different hostels/housing providers. “What are the chances of me actually securing accommodation?”, I asked. Unlikely, came the answer, with so many applicants and limited spaces available. Almost impossible to get it in an area you are familiar with. Wow! That’s reassuring, I thought. Quite alarmed, I mentioned I was classed as a high-risk offender. “Does that increase my chances of securing accommodation?” I asked.

You shouldn’t be released homeless. However, I’ve seen it happen frequently over the past few years,” she replied.

I’d better cross my fingers and hope for the best I thought!

Fast forward to my release date after that first sentence. You might expect, despite the worries about where I’d sleep, I’d be excited, eager to get going and get away from prison. I wasn’t, not at all. All I could think about was how I’d cope with life on the streets.

Turning to crime and alcohol ….

After one more fruitless attempt to get help on the same day I got out, my thoughts turned to crime. What kind of crime could I commit to land me a custodial sentence, something that wasn’t too heavy? That would get me a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head, just to get me through. May be next time inside I’d get lucky, get help with somewhere proper to live.

So, I’d be on the lookout for a ‘move’ (a burglary). I preferred a non-dwelling to a house. My reasoning was that no one needed to get hurt, I’d be in and out in the early hours and the business could claim the losses on insurance. Back then, that’s how I justified my behaviour. Of course, as I’ve come to realise, it didn’t matter if it was a business, who got hit or somebody’s home. There was always a victim.

With nowhere to live though, I didn’t really care about life. With a mere £46 discharge grant, my thoughts were, that if an opportunity arose to earn some money, illegally, I would almost certainly take it.

And so, the only other way I felt able to cope with being homeless, was alcohol. It enabled me to forget and escape reality. It gave me that ‘Dutch-courage’. Without it I’d never have the nerve to put a shop window through and clear it out sober! Drugs and alcohol made crime possible for me. Sorry to say, drinking and drug-taking became the norm every time I was released with nowhere to go. I was going around in circles.

Prison….

released to homelessness….

drinking for confidence to ‘do a move’…

back to prison.

 My last sentence proved pivotal….

February 2017, and the familiar three month mark before release had come round again. Walking around the yard speaking to fellow prisoners, all of us were experiencing the same thing time after time, being released homeless. Furious, they moaned about how the ‘crack heads’ get more help.

The only way you get support is if you’re a gear head or pretend you’re getting beat by your missus,” one lad said to me.

Now, I never really thought about this before. I always ticked the boxes indicating that I required no support with drug and alcohol abuse when I came into custody. Well, it seemed I needed to change tack. With nothing to lose, I reached out to the drug and alcohol team in the prison.

I never considered myself a serious drug or alcohol user. My reasoning was, I drank and took drugs dependent on my environmental factors, such as whether I had a place to live or not. Without a home I couldn’t find focus or motivation whatsoever. This time I told the relevant services I was concerned about going back to a full-on life of crack, heroin, prescription pills and alcohol, that I simply had to reach out for help. I pleaded with them to help give me the best chance of staying clean outside of prison.

Well, within a month I had secured accommodation in a hostel for ex-offenders with drug and alcohol addictions to live a sober and crime-free life in the community.

Looking back, it’s sad I had to resort to lies and deceit to secure accommodation, potentially taking away a space from another individual who may have needed it more than me.

I believe having a place to call home has played a fundamental part in my reintegration  back into society. I’m now approaching 12 months crime-free in the community. I have faith, confidence, hope and an eager desire to move forward and make something of my life. I’m a Longford scholar scoring top marks in my degree. No way could I have done that on the streets. I couldn’t see past more than a day. Now, I see the future. I can plan, set and achieve goals.

I’ve made a personal change, now the system must change. If re-offending rates are to be reduced, then increasing support and services for housing offenders on release from custody must be improved drastically. Lives are wasted because of a simple lack of basic needs. How can it be that in the 21st Century in a First world country, some of our most troubled in society, all with potential and something to give, have no shelter to rest their heads at night? It just didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t!

Please share our article

Wasting potential

Author: | 30 Apr 2019

Wasting prisoners’ potential to change their lives through education: Dame Sally Coates reviewed prison education for the government.

Here’s her verdict for Longford Blog on the newly-introduced reforms that followed her report….

In my own education world, I often hear teachers complaining that ministers in Whitehall move too quickly in introducing reforms without allowing them time to bed in. When it comes to prisons and the Justice Department, however, the opposite seems to be the case.  “Unlocking Potential”, the independent review that I lead into prison education at the request of Michael Gove, the then Justice Secretary, was delivered in May 2016.  Three years on, some of what was recommended is finally starting to trickle down into our jails.

Despite the delay, I welcome it as good news. Too many reports on how to improve our prisons end up gathering dust on shelves in Whitehall – though I can’t help remembering that Michael Gove did promise me, at the public launch of my report, to implement it, “without hesitation, repetition or deviation”.

Governor autonomy: a vital first step

His successors may not have fully honoured that commitment, but giving prison governors autonomy over how their education budget is spent, as is now happening and as was suggested in my report, is a vital first step. Governors have to take ownership of the education that is provided in their prisons – just as, for example, they take responsibility for security – rather than see it as something handed down from Prison Service headquarters.  When I was visiting prisons for my report, I came across governors who didn’t even know which organisation was providing the education in their jail.

In schools, headteachers are held to account for the education they deliver.  That is the strongest lever we have over their performance.  Prison governors need to be subject to similar scrutiny.  Having autonomy over the education budget is the best way to introduce that.  Progress is being made at last, for which two cheers out of three.

How it will work in practice….

It is not a full three because, under the new arrangements, the contracts for delivering education in prisons have been awarded to the same four providers as previously. What I had envisaged in my report was that there would be multiple providers coming into the system.  Now there is nothing wrong with sticking to the same four, if they are all good, but if governors truly are to have autonomy, then they have to be able to change providers if they aren’t satisfied with what is being delivered in their prison.  And I am not convinced that this is going to be easy to achieve under the new system.

In theory it may be possible, but because prisons have grouped together to work with particular providers, if one governor wants to hire and fire teachers, he or she can’t act autonomously but will have to go to the education provider, who employs those teachers.  If the provider then refuses, it is far from clear what happens next, but one thing is for sure. It is not going to be straightforward. Governors have a lot of other pressing matters to cope with rather than tackling poor teaching.

Room for innovation….

There are, I must stress, positive aspects to the new governor autonomy.  The DPS – or Dynamic Purchasing System – that has been introduced will give governors a budget to let out one-year contracts to bring other education providers into the prison to run individual courses. This will incentivise trying out new approaches and increase the range of options on offer to prison learners, especially in vocational subjects that don’t always sit easily in classrooms.

What’s not included?

To see if such innovation is actually delivering, though, we have to be able to monitor and evaluate it. And for that reason I am disappointed that my recommendation that every prisoner should have an individual learning plan – that follows him or her through the system, and allows the education provided to be measured against what has been agreed – still hasn’t become routine.  It remains, I am told, an ambition.  Yet without it how can governors be held to account over whether the education they are using their budgets to provide is genuinely meeting educational needs?

And where, too, is any improvement in IT access to promote education for which I argued strongly? Yes, there are now at best a handful of prisons allowing limited digital access in cells via tablets, but rarely is it set up to be used for learning.  That is such a waste! How effective it could be in encouraging prisoners to use their time in their cell to learn, and all without officers having to be involved to escort them to the education wing or the library?

Without radical reform, prisoners’ huge potential wasted….

My core belief back in 2016 was that good, targeted education is absolutely fundamental in bringing about prisoner rehabilitation.  That is why I argued in my report for a radical overhaul of the education system in prisons. What has now been introduced, however, doesn’t sound anywhere near radical enough. And that means the huge potential of prisoners to change their lives through education is continuing to be wasted.

 

 

 

 

 

Please share our article

An Unexpected Opportunity

Author: | 24 Apr 2019

Making the most of an unexpected opportunity, Longford scholar Gareth Evans reflects on his internship with a Police and Crime Commissioner….

 

The chance to do a paid internship at the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s office in September came late in the day just as I was firming up my summer plans. I didn’t hesitate to jump at the chance. Though, a small part of me worried a policing institution might simply have an ‘ex-con’ in for a few weeks to make the tea. I wouldn’t want to overstate this, but it was a niggle at the back of my mind. I needn’t have given it a second thought.

 

First impressions….

On arrival, I looked around the office in central Birmingham and was asked to decide what I could best help with.  I had been told to expect the organisation to be welcoming and open-minded. I couldn’t have asked for more. As a criminology student, I am determined not only to apply my adverse experiences to academic theory but also to offer positive, real world social value for others. This was my chance.

 

Working together….

Initially, I chose to focus on an ambitious project to improve young offender services, particularly for those in insecure housing after release from prison. To begin with I reviewed the academic literature and local provision.

We know that policies don’t always translate perfectly into services on the ground. We also know that typically those with first-hand experience of policies and their shortcomings, are best placed- but least likely – to be asked for their insights. Basically, I thought it would be a good idea for everyone to work together!

I began to envisage what a more holistic and sustainable intervention could look like. The question was, how could we gain the support of lots of different organisations with their own unique character and purpose? In the process of seeing up-close how social policies are implemented it became clear that each bit of the jigsaw – the NHS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police- all have their own resource constraints and are driven by often incompatible bureaucratic demands. Regardless of how much people realise things need to change – and everyone I met did- it struck me that breaking out of current practices is not easy.

Beyond scope….

And, so I wrote, in an email:

“…However, the extent of further work needed… I fear, is beyond the scope of my internship.”

But I’m pleased to say the story goes on.

By the end of my four weeks, exceeding expectations for myself, I had devised a housing strategy for young offenders; reviewed and revised the regional Drug Intervention Programme; and contributed to efforts to address gang violence. And what I did matters. For instance, I was delighted when I was then invited to meet the Housing leads for the West-midlands Combined Authority.

My proudest achievement….

However, my proudest achievement from the internship, so far, was involving the real experts, those who from personal experience, know where things feel most difficult. My best memory is of sitting in a meeting with Marie-Claire (of New Leaf C.I.C) an awe-inspiring social entrepreneur who is doing remarkable work to help people make positive changes after prison. The opportunity to make the most of my own and others’ experiences to influence top police commissioning representatives in the West-midlands, felt empowering. It reinforced what is possible when the right people are in the room listening to each other.

And it doesn’t stop there. A flourishing relationship has begun, where the people who ultimately make the decisions about how to address some of our most troubling social concerns have the right information. At the same time, those of us who have lived in, through and been the cause of these issues now have a place in the room.

As a Longford scholar coming towards the final few months of my degree, I hope I have helped honour the trust and the opportunity they and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office offered me. I continue to talk with my now friends in Birmingham and am grateful for the opportunity. The work continues and new relationships are being fostered between those who deliver services and those who have direct experience of them.

Hopefully, my placement is a sign of a wider culture change.

Grabbing the opportunity….

And finally, to anyone offered an opportunity like this, I say grab it. It’s an adventure with unexpected opportunities and friendships. You won’t regret it.

 

Please share our article
Peter Stanford

Introducing you to our new Longford Blog. Join a Big Conversation….

Author: | 25 Mar 2019

You get used to negative responses when you run a prison reform charity. Not always, of course, but on occasion I have had doors shut in my face when talking about the Longford Trust, what we do, and those we work with – shut metaphorically, I should add, in the sense of closed or hostile minds, rather than actually, in most cases.  The experience has been sufficient to give me some small insight into how much worse it must be when what is being shut out is not a charity but yourself, and your future. 

It happens for a whole variety of reasons, but principal among them is that the stereotypes surrounding people who’ve been to prison remain extremely hard to shift. These are stereotypes that deal in generalities rather than individuals, that play on fear rather than fact, that are informed by negative newspaper headlines and crowd-pleasing politicians rather than real people with real lives. 

At the Longford Trust, we have always been about people who have been to prison and are working really hard for a second chance. We try to understand – but not excuse – the many obstacles that stand in their way so that they can be overcome and best of all removed. By launching our new blog on the trust’s website, promoted on our Twitter feed and other social media, we want to extend that work further to give those we work with, our Longford Scholars, a platform to talk about what they are doing, how the world looks from where they are. What works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change. 

The trust’s starting point back in 2002 when we set up was a belief in the power of education to transform lives – something Frank Longford (in whose memory we were established) said throughout his long life on the political front-line, and on newspaper front pages. Over 70 years in the limelight, he also (usually quietly) visited prisoners. Frank Longford said many things but one in particular informs all we do. If you write off any individual’s capacity to reform and rehabilitate themselves, then you write off not just them, but yourself as well.  

So let’s stop doing something so damaging.  Let’s turn to this new platform for discussion about what taking on such a positive challenge means in practical terms. Let’s listen to those who know this pathway inside out, and want to support and encourage others to walk the same road. We hope to inspire those in prison or have been to prison, who might think university and a degree might not be for them, to look at others and think if it might actually be in their grasp. With the right support, could you do it? This Longford Blog offers a platform for scholars – occasionally mentors and other supporters as well- to air concerns and offer solutions about studying when you have been to prison, about ways to make the most of employment opportunities. Alongside the efforts of many others, up to and including some ministers, let’s keep pushing forward with making prison sentences a start not an end. 

If you really care about something and want to blog as part of a big conversation, please let us know. Email: office@longfordtrust.org

Peter Stanford

Director, Longford Trust

Please share our article
New Longford Scholar, Class of 2018 reflects on the leap from prison to university.

New Longford Scholar, Class of 2018 reflects on the leap from prison to university.

Author: | 25 Mar 2019

From disclosure to unexpected furniture funds, read Saskia’s account….

Going to prison in my mid-twenties was a game-changer. Whilst it would have been easy to spend my entire sentence hiding under my blanket in despair, I knew if I wanted any chance of a normal life I had to make some big changes. You can’t do that if you choose to wallow in self-pity.

So, first things first, I wrote down everything I wanted to achieve in life: successful career, fancy car, big house (hopefully) etc. Then the things that might get in the way of all that: family dramas, a degree, finances. I was able to work out a solution to the first problem, but my goal of returning to education presented a different challenge. I have to be honest, knowing I’d have to declare my criminal record put me off to begin with.

The disclosure decision….

Just a few days before Christmas day in 2017 I was released. I had just over three weeks to select both a course and the universities I’d apply to before the mid-January deadline. With no time to waste I had to decide how I would broach the matter of my conviction. Confused?  I know UCAS (the organisation which oversees all university applications) have since changed the rules on disclosure, so that from applicants from 2019 onwards no longer need to declare their convictions. But back when I applied, the ‘box’ was still in force. Plus, I know the Longford Trust still requires potential scholars to declare their conviction in the interests of transparency.

So I decided to get creative, and used my personal statement as an opportunity to explain how my prison experiences had motivated me to turn my life around. Although I didn’t elaborate on what my conviction was, I did mention the courses and activities I undertook whilst I was in custody. It worked. Despite the fact that I didn’t supply a reference, I got accepted into my first-choice without an interview.

Student first not former prisoner….

Before being made an unconditional offer, I was contacted by my course department who asked for a reference from my probation officer. Most universities do this as part of their safeguarding measures, regardless of the type of conviction. While this extra level of scrutiny can feel a bit uncomfortable, my advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is not to worry. Universities are keen to get students from all walks of life (yes even ex-prisoners) and I would say as long as you engage with probation never allow the fear of disclosing from stopping you pursue your dreams, otherwise you’ll be running your whole life. And of course, anything you share with the university is kept confidential, so your personal tutors and lecturers are never made aware of your personal circumstances. Which I find to be a good thing as I’d like to be seen as student first rather than as a former prisoner. 

Where could I find the money? …..

With the benefit of hindsight, the easiest part in this whole process was getting in. Once reality hit, I questioned how I could afford it all. I had previously studied a few years ago. That did not result in a degree as I withdrew in my final year, so unfortunately, I was not entitled to a tuition fee loan. This meant I had to come up with £9,250 each year for the next three years. No easy task, only a few months after release. In addition, at the time I was living in emergency accommodation and knew that very shortly I’d be made a permanent offer of housing. Very shortly I’d have to factor in the cost of furnishing my new home as well as managing everyday expenses of food and bills and study materials.

Cue the Longford Trust….

I’d become aware of the Longford Trust during my time in prison after reading the Hardman Directory and did not delay in applying. I knew even if my application was successful, I’d still have to make up the massive shortfall. My first step was researching other educational charities, and I’d recommend reading the Directory of Social Change that contains a list of grants for individuals, available in most libraries. I was able to secure a few grants to assist with the costs of a laptop and books. The Hardman Directory also contains a list of grants for ex-offenders that I also had some success with.

More from universities than you might think….

It’s easy to overlook what the university itself can offer in terms of financial help too. It takes time and digging around. It’s worth doing your homework. My university’s scholarship page was a good source of help. Nearly all universities have a Student Hardship fund for those who experience extra financial difficulties. You can only apply for these additional funds after enrolment and, without doubt, I recommend exploring this avenue. It’s also always worth checking with your university’s Widening Participation department to see if they make discretionary grants. When I finally moved into my new home in the middle of the semester I was given an additional grant – not advertised on the website- that allowed me to purchase the essentials, such as fridge, cooker and bed. How I could I study if I didn’t have anything to sleep on?

So, looking at my own experience, I recommend finding out how much support each university offers to incoming students and use that as a key factor to decide which university to apply for in the first place, and certainly if you’re in the happy position of needing to decide which offer to accept.

How’s it all going now? ….

Here I am a fully-fledged student at a well-respected university, five months into my degree and I couldn’t have made a better choice. I’ve got a few internships lined up for the summer, and feel confident that when I graduate two years down the line that I’ll be able to get the job I want. It’s entirely up to you but in terms of obtaining part-time work while you study, again your university might have more to offer then you expect. If you wish to share your situation with the Widening Participation department there may be jobs on campus that they earmark for you. At the moment I temp through my university. Unlike most employers they don’t require applicants to disclose for most posts. Not only is the additional income helping with my living costs, it’s a good way to build up your CV and network with staff across different departments.

One last piece of advice

My last piece of advice to anyone about to embark on this exciting journey is to plan early. If you need a lot of financial support, remember that a lot of grant-making charities have strict deadlines, so you can’t afford to leave things until the last minute. Be focused. It’s tempting to go to university and get excited about the pub crawls but nearly all graduate employers want to see evidence of high grades and work experience. You can’t afford to leave this until your second year. Be realistic about the challenges you’ll face and find ways to overcome them.

On a final – and perhaps a little contradictory – note, remember to enjoy yourself! Life will change so much over the next 3-4 years and you’ll surprise yourself how much you’ll end up achieving. 

You can find out more about Longford scholarships and Frank awards here.  

Please share our article