photo by Dom Fou Unsplash

Turning a sentence into a degree: one scholar’s remarkable story

Author: | 9 Mar 2022

Turning a prison sentence into a university degree is what Longford scholars do. Second chances and a personal approach are at the heart of what we at Longford Trust do. A scholar is supported both financially and with a one-to-one trained mentor to help achieve their potential.  

More than 80% of scholars successfully graduate and get a degree-level job. Increasingly, scholars take advantage of Longford employability training and support. 

Applications for 2022 scholarships are open for 2022/23 academic year (see below for more)

One scholar who joined last year has written for Longford Blog about her journey to university….

There’s plenty written about what people lose when they go to prison. We lose our homes, our jobs, our families, every bit of normality that we may have ever had. Coming to prison at the age of 19 changed everything for me. Alongside the crushing realisation that I’d lost everything, I distinctly remember thinking about something else on my first night in a prison cell – what could I possibly do with my life in a new world void of opportunity?

Fast forward to the age of 20, I was working on the induction unit. A group of fresh-faced criminology students from a local university entered the wing as part of a prison tour.

I remember that feeling – the feeling that they were just like me but were totally different. All the doors that were closed to me were wide open for them.

They asked me questions about my time in prison, eager to know what life was like in our hidden world. When they left, I couldn’t shake the realisation that I would never have that kind of opportunity again. That feeling stayed in my head for months, serving as a constant reminder that my life had finished before it had started.

A year later, I was working as a Peer Advisor in the same prison. I was asked to conduct a talk for a group of first-year criminology students in the visits hall. I was immediately reluctant as I was sick and tired of being wheeled out as a reliable performer, ready to speak highly of the prison to any visitor in a suit at the drop of a hat. Persuaded by the promise of a sausage roll and a biscuit, I gave in and delivered the talk.

For once, I was honest about prison.

Honest about the inequality and deprivation that has filled our prison system to the rafters. I was honest about the reality that prison is a profitable method for throwing away everyone that society doesn’t want to see. For every ‘proper criminal’, there are another 50 women with the type of trauma histories that could keep you awake at night for the rest of your days. New to the world of criminal justice, the group of students were blown away by my stories and the simple fact that our prison system does not work.

The head lecturer of the group approached me just as the students were leaving. He asked about my release date, insisting that I should be at university. I still had three years to serve, so he suggested that I should start university as soon as I was eligible for open conditions. There was a continuous trail of communications between myself, the university, my family and the prison. There were so many challenges from every direction, and so much red tape that I never believed it would come to fruition.

I was given my ‘open status’ (where I could leave the prison on day release for study or work) in September 2020, just one week before the start of the course.

Walking into the lecture theatre for the first time….

felt just as unfamiliar and frightening as walking onto the wing for the first time. As terrifying as it was, I somehow felt like I was at home. I started to relax as soon as I realised that I wasn’t really that different from everyone else in the room.

I would learn that my experience would end up being an asset instead of holding me back.

I came across The Longford Trust whilst trying to find financial support during my first year of university. Though I was too late to apply for that year, I became a Longford scholar in my second year at university. It was incredible to know that there were other people on the same exciting journey as me. The Longford Trust partnered me with the perfect mentor. We now meet every two weeks and discuss all things criminal justice.

There have been plenty of challenges.

I often say that studying at university whilst in prison is akin to climbing Mount Everest whilst walking backwards and wearing flip flops.

Though this is the case, I’d recommend my journey to every single person in my situation. The opportunities that have been available to me since the start of my university experience are beyond what I ever thought possible. Alongside my studies and research, I work as a part-time lecturer. I am fortunate enough to be able to offer a rare insight into our world and educate prison staff about the important things that you’d never find in a textbook. To even consider what my life was like four years ago is truly unimaginable now.

I’ll end this blog with a short message of advice to every single person in prison. There are people waiting to hear your story. There are opportunities out there that are beyond the reach of the prison education department. There are people out there that are waiting to support you at every stage of your journey.

Believe in what you want to do, whatever that is, and stay tremendously interested in it.

It is only by running head-first at your passion that you’ll make your future what you want.


Have you got plans to study a uni degree? Are you close to release or recently released? preferably in your 20s/30s, check out our 2022 application here: 

 The closing date is 5th June 2022.




We need more lived experience leaders in the justice system…like you!

Author: | 21 May 2021

CJ Burge has recently been appointed a new Trustee of the Longford Trust, alongside another former scholar. Here the First class degree graduate reflects on her journey from prison to boardroom, offering hope and advice to other upcoming leaders who have personal experience of prison.



I was bowled over when I got the call from the Longford Trust’s Chair to say that they would be delighted to have me as a Trustee on their Board. I was thinking “I’m the one who’s delighted, humbled, elated….!”

You see, even now, years on from my release from prison, I still suffer from impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is the feeling that I shouldn’t be where I am, doing the things I’m doing: sitting amongst these professionals; leading this partnership meeting; speaking on a podium to a national conference of experts; being asked for my perspective by senior government officials, and the list goes on….Impostor syndrome in this context is institutionalisation’s best friend, waiting to confront you as you leave the prison gates, hiding in your shadow as you stride forward into your new life. Although it has never quite gone away, I’ve learnt to live with it, and I’ve found that over the years, the more I’ve challenged myself to do new things, and be in new settings (that quite frankly have filled me with trepidation), the more I’ve conquered and silenced my unwelcome friend from prison.

If you’d have asked me 7 years ago, when I started my degree in prison, whether I’d be where I am today – Trustee of two remarkable charities, and a National Service Manager at another – I’d have smiled at you in incredulity and utter disbelief.

Incarceration and the prison system are far from the vessels of hope and transformation they really should be in a progressive 21st century society like ours.

Reflecting on what has got me here and how it has been possible, I’ve boiled it down to a combination of actions, mindsets and opportunities that have accelerated my path to being in leadership positions, just four years out of prison.



The one thing I knew for sure in prison was that I needed to re-educate myself. If I was going to go anywhere or do anything of significance, I needed to use the thousands of hours at my disposal to better myself as a human being, so that one day I could effectively give back to the community I would be re-entering. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship through the Longford Trust to study Law, and with that came an amazing mentor who encouraged, inspired and challenged me, in equal measures. At the end of my degree, the opportunity to do a placement at the Cabinet Office arose, again through the Trust, and this short immersion in all things government and policy lifted the lid on what I thought was possible. It enabled me to dream the dream, that people like us could one day be in positions like those, not just as some summer intern, or token achiever, but for the knowledge, skills and much-needed lived experiences that we bring of the criminal justice services and social systems that see people at their lowest, most vulnerable state, and in much need of help.



The number one mantra for me has been to embrace challenge positively. I’ve known all along my journey, from 9 months’ solitary confinement in a Japanese prison, to having my daughter taken away from me at birth, to speaking in front of hundreds at a Longford Lecture or even delivering the first TEDx talk in a prison in the UK, that this would be hard, well more than hard, potentially soul-destroying if I allowed it to be. Very early on I had to come to terms with my actions that had led me to where I was and the hurt that I had caused others. I made a decision that this wasn’t the end, that no matter what, I could turn it around and, though now through a more colourful path, still fulfil my life’s ambitions to help others. Notice I said embrace challenge positively? Well positivity and gratitude are the two other mindsets that have smoothed the rocky landscapes that I have traversed. Without these I would have probably been bailing out of every challenge that came my way, but it was the positive thinking and the gratitude that kept me both buoyant and grounded, at the same time.


The very definition of opportunity, a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something, may have you believe that you need to wait for those sets of circumstances to arise before you can even get a whiff of an opportunity. I see it a bit differently though, that we can engender the right circumstances by preparing and getting ourselves in a position to have opportunities line up at our door.

In my case it started with volunteering I undertook a qualification in prison delivered by St Giles in Information, Advice & Guidance, and became one of their Peer Advisors, supporting women in prison with resettlement issues. A bit later I volunteered whilst on day release (or ‘RoTL’ as it’s known) in the community in the St Giles’ Peer Advisor Contact Centre. I also secured a volunteer placement at the Southwark Law Centre.

Volunteering gave me the skills and knowledge to apply more confidently for jobs, and fortunately I secured a paid role coordinating for the award-winning educational and preventative SOS+ Service at St Giles. I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I was when I landed the job, it reduced me to tears knowing that someone out there valued me enough to pay for my contributions. Volunteering gave me a steady foundation, a base to jump off from, but that first job, being paid for the hard work I was putting in, that cemented and deep-rooted a new sense of self-worth, identity and value.

I am passionate about rehabilitation and second chances, which is why everything that the Longford Trust does resonates with me. For the last five years I have given my absolute all to developing a service that champions the potential of people with lived experiences of the criminal justice system, by providing opportunities to learn and develop skills that lead to sustainable career prospects. I am a staunch advocate for meaningful opportunities for people who leave prison, having seen first-hand the multitude of barriers for those with convictions, and the incredibly difficult circumstances many who find themselves in prison have faced. As a Trustee of the Criminal Justice Alliance (‘CJA’), I chair their Lived Experience Expert Group that meets quarterly to bring together CJA members to provide advice, support and expertise to our work on lived experience and improving the diversity of the criminal justice workforce to include, at all levels, those with lived experiences.

We need more employers and organisations in the justice sector to recognise, value, include and recruit into leadership and influencing roles people with lived experiences of the criminal justice system,

if we are “to (re)build a system that learns from those with crucial insights into the challenges that undermine the system’s key objectives” (Change from Within, CJA report 2019). Moreover, the benefits of having lived experience on non-profit boards are numerous: from “improving the quality of evidence based decision making”, to providing “credibility, legitimacy, efficiency, effectiveness,… authentic representation and a better understanding” to the issues in need of tackling, as academics from Cass Business School have found.

I am really glad to see incremental positive changes taking place across our sector with trailblazing charities, like the Longford Trust, leading the way by walking the talk and valuing lived experience. I end this blog echoing the Change from Within report’s call to action to the whole criminal justice sector, including public and private sector agencies, to recognise, celebrate and invest in people with lived experience. Whilst also encouraging all my peers to continue to welcome challenge positively, to believe in the value of and to harness their lived experiences, and always, always to aim high!





Sometimes success is not where you are now

Author: | 11 Mar 2021

Every so often we receive an email which makes us stop and really think about what we do and how to measure success. Recently Hallam, an ex-scholar from 2012, got in touch out of the blue. As far as we were concerned, he’d dropped out of university and then dropped out of view. As far as the statistics go, not a success.

But maybe we should re-think how and when to measure success. Hallam explains in his own words for Longford Blog:

I was about 13-years-old when I started offending.

At 15 I was arrested as part of a police gangs operation and by 17 I was sat in a young offenders’ institute facing significant time.

I celebrated my 18th birthday in jail; I began my ‘adult life’ on 23-hour bang up on D wing of HMYOI Brinsford in Wolverhampton, eating Jamaican ginger cake as my birthday cake.

After I was released, my family moved abroad and, because of my convictions, I wasn’t allowed to move with them.

I was 19-years-old, no family, no job and no prospects for the future other than crime.

I felt like a failure.

About a year later, I decided I wanted to do something with my life and felt joining the Royal Marines was my way out. I will never forget the moment the armed forces career officer looked at my criminal record, and laughed in my face. ‘You will never, ever join the Royal Marines, it’s not for people like you, get out of my office.’

I felt ashamed, embarrassed and angry. I felt a failure.

A path to education….

However, I stuck with my determination to do ‘something’ with my life; I would return to education.

Looking back at education, my school life was a mess. Although I actually managed to leave with 5 GCSEs (don’t ask me how, because I didn’t do any work!), I was constantly in trouble inside and outside of school, always truanting and was suspended a number of times. I didn’t value education at that time.

Despite my past experience, I enrolled at college and on a night course as well. It was a tough year. I passed both courses and was offered a place at the University of Westminster in London. It was an expensive place to live and I didn’t know if I could afford to go. That’s how I came across the Longford Trust.

Feeling safe in a different world…..

I’ll never forget that first meeting. Discussing my scholarship application in a fancy coffee shop with the scholarship manager, I remember thinking, for the first time in a very long time, that I felt safe, I didn’t have to worry about seeing someone I had issues with and it ending in violence.

It was so far removed from my daily life, but I enjoyed it. It was a seed being planted.

University life in London was a different world to me.

I remember the looks on the faces of the students I lived with when I told them about my life, like the time I was shot at and felt a bullet fly past my head. They looked horrified, I had always laughed about it before.

University was the first place I had a social circle who thought it crazy to be shot at or stabbed, and not a normal part of life.

Whilst at university I applied, and was accepted into, the Royal Marines Reserves (in spite of my past interaction at the armed forces office). I trained hard and studied, my life was on a positive path. Unfortunately, during a training exercise I suffered a significant knee injury which ended my military career before it had properly started.

My dreams were crushed, I felt deflated. I finished my first year of University but never returned.

I dropped out. Again, I felt a failure.

On paper I would have been a failed statistic for the Longford Trust. I hadn’t completed the degree I started.

But how do we measure success?

There are the obvious ways; did I pass, did I drop out, did I achieve 100%? But what about the other, less obvious successes? Like gaining experience of life outside of my area, associating with people doing legal jobs with legit ambitions, broadening my view of what was possible.

Maybe a better way to measure success is to ask if a scholar was afforded the opportunity to avoid the criminal or gang life for long enough to walk away from it? The answer for me was yes.

Fast forward to today, 10 years later: At 31-years-old, I now run a successful organisation working with young people to prevent criminal exploitation. I also work in schools using my own experiences to help safeguard children. I have travelled around the world, have a house, a stable relationship and a son. I am a better person.

On top of all of that, I am back studying at university, going into my third year of a Psychology degree through the Open University.

So why the email out of the blue to the Longford Trust? For me, starting that degree in 2012 as a scholar was the catalyst for change in my life.

The experience of attending university outside of my home city, meeting people with different life experiences and seeing a future without crime were what I needed to spark a change.

I would not be where I am today without that first chance as a student.

The degree did not change my life. The opportunity to access a new life and a new area did.

If success is only measured within small timescales, what happens to those that require a longer time to grow but eventually reach great heights?

No matter where you are today, don’t measure your success against where you are now. Learn to look at life as a series of opportunities in which seeds are planted. Some will take longer to flower than others, but no seed planted is ever wasted. You never know which one will grow to be giant.

Take the opportunity, it is so much more than a degree.

Thank you to the Longford Trust for supporting me and believing in me. Even though I failed first time round, it led me to much greater heights of success.


My Life in my Words

Author: | 30 Nov 2020

In recent years it has become increasingly common for people with personal experience of complex social issues including crime, prisons and the justice system to tell their stories publicly.

Michaela Booth, a Longford scholar with a first class honours degree is calling for a rethink….

A few years ago I was at a local radio station giving an interview about a research project I had been a participant in. After the interview I was asked by another radio producer, who said he followed me on social media, to record a separate interview with him. I agreed.

The interview wasn’t going to be aired live, so I figured (incorrectly as it turned out) that I would have a chance to re-record or edit any parts I wasn’t happy with. I remember the producer being very positive about my life, saying how fantastic he thought it was that I’d obtained a university place as a former prisoner.

I was confident the interview would shine a light on successes in the face of adversity.

I am not my past

During the interview when asked about my offence, I was clear I wasn’t there to discuss that. I didn’t think specific stories of offences were helpful when talking about progression and moving on. I did, however, speak of my experiences of discrimination post-release and the impact a criminal conviction has on people’s ability to live within society. I left the studio happy with how the interview had gone.

A few days later I was driving home from university with the local radio station playing in the car. Cue…..

Michaela Booth was the child of heroin addicts, who grew up on a council estate and was sent to prison for serious violence, she is now studying for a degree at the University of Worcester.

Panic struck. What would my family think if they heard it? Had I actually said these things? I wondered. My distrust of the media was immediately reignited. Once again, my personal, painful experiences, had been manipulated by someone with power, to feed society’s thirst for trauma.

The term ‘lived experience’ is a term often used as shorthand for people with personal experience of complex social issues including crime, prisons and the justice system.  It’s thought that their powerful accounts to media, at conferences and events can bring about change, that they can shape policy and shift attitudes where hundreds of pages of briefing notes won’t.

Here on my car radio it struck me how a well-meaning practice can go wrong.

Impact on family

At the time, my daughter was in primary school and my concern about the impact on her from this interview grew strong. I had been careful at every stage of the interview to make sure harmful stigmatisation was absent. I was at pains to tell my story in the context of the societal and systemic issues I had experienced; as opposed to a portrayal of a stereotypical narrative of a damaged girl who had achieved success against the odds.

After hearing the interview I contacted the producer to ask for the interview to be removed from the internet, explaining it was very damaging to my family and my daughter. Broadcast locally, I was aware social media accounts were already discussing my parents’ history. I had not shared any of these details in the interview and didn’t want to share. Nonetheless, the producer refused to remove the interview, arguing the narrative in the broadcast introduction was already in the public domain.

So, let’s just pause a moment. Because I had written about my personal experiences in my blog, the producer felt that they were entitled to use this information on the radio without my knowledge or consent. Let me explain why this feels so wrong.  Writing my blog is my way of dealing with my own traumatic past. At no time had I consented to traumatic and potentially damaging information being taken out of context, but somehow the argument seemed to be because I had put the information was out there, anyone could use and misuse the details.

My life, my words.

Days of anxiety and worry about my daughter went by. My attempts to persuade the production team were failing. Then it dawned on me. Around this time at university I was studying the principles of safeguarding in professional practice. The penny dropped. I requested the broadcaster’s safeguarding policy. Their reluctance to remove the interview seemed to me a breach of their duties to safeguard children.

Unsurprisingly, I was never sent a copy of their safeguarding policy, I simply received a reply saying that they had taken down the interview. After a week.

Trauma Tourism

This experience really highlighted to me the misuse of personal stories. A misuse which comes from places of coercion, a lack of sensitivity about the impact of disclosure on other people. I have begun to call this ‘trauma tourism’, whereby disturbing personal stories are commodified to meet a ghoulish demand.

Don’t get me wrong, story-telling can be powerful. In-fact, evidence shows that when criminalised people articulate non-offender narratives and grow identities away from their past, they are much more likely to live a crime-free life.

In my career and in a personal capacity I had always advocated using people’s firsthand experiences to shape policy and practice. My radio experience led me to question a common belief that it’s a good thing for people’s often traumatic personal stories to be heard.

To explain a bit. When audiences hear and see these personal stories being re-told they respond as pitying spectators. Instead of helping to find a solution personal stories can backfire and provoke a crisis. The listener may be appeased but too often the re-telling doesn’t stimulate an end to systemic oppression, exclusion and marginalisation.

And let’s be clear, often the trauma is anything but ‘past’. For the narrator, they are often still very real and very current, likewise for their family and community.

So, if we really are committed to learning from people’s experiences of prison, the justice system and beyond we must do more than ‘give voice’, we must do more than listen.

The here and now: Cycling for success

So here I am, a First Class honours degree holder, a masters student, with a leadership role promoting health in justice. There have been numerous people who heard and acted to improve lives.

I believe education is vital in improving the life chances of individuals, communities and ultimately, organisations within the criminal justice sector. The Longford Trust invested in me after reading a 500 word personal statement. 3 years later, I hope I am a testament to the value and dedication of an organisation who does more than listen.

Can you help change lives?

This year, throughout December, despite the pandemic, I have committed to ‘cycling for success’ (mostly indoors on a static bike!) with a target of 100 miles a week, to raise money for future Longford Trust scholars (See link below).

There is no set target but a summary of typical costs:

  • £1500 – £3500 per year helps cover a scholar’s living & study costs
  • £500 helps a scholar buy a laptop
  • £25 can purchase a specialist text book

My life changed through the dedication of an organisation who support financially and through mentoring throughout a three year scholarship. But whose support never really leaves. This is more than bearing witness to traumatic life experiences, Longford Trust takes action to provide second chances through education. It redresses imbalances affecting many people within the criminal justice system

I hope you’ll support me, so together we can reduce the cycle of harm by ‘cycling for success.’


If you would like to donate for Longford scholarships click on the link here






Facial Recognition Unmasked

Author: | 10 Nov 2020

Face coverings are a fact of life in the pandemic. It is mandatory to wear them in shops, schools and on university campuses. Slowly they’re becoming part of prison life too.

Recently masks have sparked a fresh debate about police surveillance.

Elliot Tyler, a Longford scholar who is a cyber security and forensics student at Portsmouth University has been delving into the controversial policing technology…

For a long time, I have been wary of facial recognition technology – software capable of matching a human face, either from from a digital image or a video frame, against a database of ‘wanted’ faces – used without people’s consent. I moved away from my London birthplace three years ago but returned to the city every so often to meet and have a drink with school friends. It always concerned me that my evening could be brought to a halt at any point by police officers scanning my face and determining I was somebody ‘wanted’, which I most certainly was not, having paid any debt to society that I’d previously owed.

Despite being very familiar with the ways of the police through my work as a police cadet, I did not trust them to exercise their duties impartially, responsibly and fairly. Little did I know that before long a global pandemic would see people hiding their faces, potentially disrupting the captured images.

Broken Images 

In the summer, a document leaked to an American publication outlined the worries of US agencies that face masks, now commonplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic, could ‘break’ facial recognition. The document, released as part of what became known as the ‘BlueLeaks’ hack, emphasised the possibility of ‘violent adversaries’ using protective masks to evade biometric identification algorithms – in other words, donning a mask to cheat identification.

Now that coronavirus has changed the world, and face coverings routinely cover the mouth and nose – key distinguishing features for anyone – the debate has taken on a new dimension. Commentators from both sides of the debate have raised concerns about how the wearing of masks could affect the accuracy of the technology.

To this day, it remains unclear, due to the regular emergence of new, conflicting survey results, whether the general public supports this new policing initiative. Opponents of the technology suggest there is a risk to citizens’ privacy. In a free world, individuals are supposedly allowed a choice when it comes to matters of consent.  However sceptics observe that permission can be simply non-existent when it comes to facial recognition. And anyway, importantly, those accused of crimes still have rights. Supporters claim if you go about your daily life in a law-abiding way, you have nothing to fear and everything to gain from effective identification to keep our streets safer.

What the experts say

I took it upon myself to consult three facial recognition experts with different perspectives on this hotly debated policing technique. First up, Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, the President of the Superintendents’ Association.

The public needs to be kept safe,’ Griffiths said to me firmly. ‘And that is achieved using CCTV, ANPR (number plate recognition), speed cameras, and other surveillance technologies.’

Our conversation continued with me citing US academics, who claim that effective facial recognition technology can prevent false arrests by quickly and accurately identifying faces.

It certainly isn’t the only method we rely on.’ He was keen not to be too gung-ho. ‘Data involves responsibility,’ I was told. ‘We need to be satisfied that the use of any data can support the police in their goals.’

The list of benefits from effective use of facial recognition, according to Griffiths, are early detection of ‘wanted’ individuals, allowing the efficient scrambling of police resources so officers can secure themselves and the public, possibly saving lives. Police officers can, therefore, spend their time maintaining order on the streets instead of searching aimlessly for suspects. It was explained to me that developments in technology should be embraced by police forces, but only where its use is necessary and proportionate. Police will operate with scrutiny, accountability and oversight when using personal data, Griffiths emphasised.

Lord Blair, Longford Lecture 2019

As a brief side note, in November 2019, at the annual Longford Lecture, I paid close attention to a delivery by Lord Ian Blair, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 2005 to 2008. Lord Blair explored the topic of ‘Where Next for Policing and Criminal Justice’. Concerned about a ‘tattered’ justice system, he promoted the wider roll-out of body worn cameras for future effective and consensual policing. Yet, surprisingly, he neglected to mention the ever-emerging matter of authorities’ use of facial recognition technology. The omission still intrigues me – but that’s one for another time.

Back to my second expert in this fraught field. Richard Lewis, recently retired Deputy Chief Constable of South Wales Police held a similar view to Griffiths. ‘Facial recognition can be a powerful technology for crime detection and prevention,’ he told me, adding, ‘when used appropriately.’

South Wales Police were this summer subject to legal action, brought by a father of two, Ed Bridges, who objected to his image being captured on a lunch break in Cardiff City Centre and again at a peaceful protest. With the support of the campaign group Liberty, the Court of Appeal found that the specific uses of facial recognition were unlawful.

But the Court also found its use was a ‘proportionate’ interference with human rights, as the benefits outweighed the impact on Bridges.

After the ruling, South Wales Police, who have used this type of identification method at big sporting fixtures, concerts, and other large events since 2017, said they could work with the ruling. A ‘factsheet’ produced by South Wales Police, which was sent to me before the Court decision, shows that in 2019, facial recognition technology resulted in twenty-two arrests and disposals at Welsh music and sporting events. It also rebuts common concerns about gender or racial bias within the technology. Typically, black men are thought to be disproportionately picked out.

The future of the surveillance business

Whatever the effect of face masks on the camera technology, I expect civil liberty campaigners will continue to voice their concerns about the premise of this policing technology. London’s Metropolitan Police is said to be the largest police force outside of China to use facial recognition, dubbed an ‘authoritarian mass surveillance tool’ by Big Brother Watch. Their spokesperson told me that public spaces are being turned into biometric surveillance zones, without any clear legal basis or authority, and contrary to the police rationale. They emphasised concerns about biased targeting of people of a certain ethnicity or demographic.

Be under no illusion, surveillance is big business. At the start of the year it was estimated that by 2024, the global facial recognition market would generate £5.5 billion of revenue. Of course, in the new post-COVID world, that may no longer be the case.

So where does this contentious technology head in the policing of tomorrow? In England and Wales, the police’s technology is still in a developmental stage, with three universities currently working with the Home Office to improve recognition accuracy.

This is by no means the end of the debate; in fact, I would say it’s merely the beginning.


Introducing new Longford Trust Chair

Author: | 14 Oct 2020

Meet Tom Pakenham, our new Chair of trustees. 

Here Tom writes for Longford Blog about his hopes and ambition for the trust and all those we support and work with. 

Not all difficult things are important, but all important things are difficult.

This saying applies as much to prison reform as it does the area I have worked in for all of my career, climate change. Both subjects are difficult because they are highly complex. People want quick solutions, but changes are required across our whole society.

The criminal justice system is held to account for offending and re-offending rates, but the fact is that crime is driven by a myriad of factors well beyond the control of the courts, the prisons and the probation service. Until it is widely understood that criminality has its root causes in health (especially mental health), education, addiction, housing, family life, economic opportunity and much more, society will continue to be disappointed by the inability of prison to prevent crime.

So where do I fit into the Longford Trust?

After 15 years as a trustee, I have become the new Chair after the death of our founding chairman, my father, Kevin Pakenham. His loss is a huge personal blow, and it is also a challenge for the Trust at a time when the conditions within which we operate are more precarious than ever before. Nevertheless, though humbled by my appointment, I am absolutely committed to ensuring the Longford Trust continues to punch above its weight by supporting second chances and advocating for prison reform and a more effective, evidence-based response to the complexities of crime, prisons and the people who live or have lived in them.

The trust’s pragmatic and humane approach is compelling to me. On the one hand, we run the annual lecture (outside of a pandemic) which stimulates fresh thinking about prison reform; a chance for people to share ideas and discuss at a high level what needs to change. And at the other end of the spectrum, on a practical level, the trust’s scholarship programme, provides a route for individuals to turn their lives around and reach their potential. Our work is symbiotic, each part supporting and informing the other.

From the word go, we have been guided by what makes a real difference.

When we launched the Longford Scholarships in 2004, we made just two awards with no certainty that we would make any more. Sixteen years later, though, we make around 40 awards each year. We have supported more than 350 former and serving prisoners in pursuing higher education, steering many away from a return to crime.  Currently there are 73 scholarship award-holders at different stages of their degrees at universities up and down the country, across a whole range of degrees from engineering, maths and IT to criminology, law, sports and equine studies.  Most remarkably, our return-to-prison rates remain less than 4%, compared to a national average of 40% within 12 months and 75% within 9 years of release.

And this last stat is what the Longford Trust is all about, doing our bit to reduce crime and its impact on society. It’s true that the trustees, the executive team and our supporters believe in forgiveness and redemption, I do too. But we are much more than this. We are a pragmatic, practical bunch who see the damage done by the failings of our criminal justice system and the deep pain that these failings cause to so many in our society, usually to the people who are already the most disadvantaged by systemic inequality.

We see, too, that prison is not a glamorous subject.

And, that it attracts too many salacious headlines and bouts of outrage at a crime of an extreme nature.

We see that it is far easier to condemn those involved in crime to a punishment-heavy response, despite the fact that this approach does not make a victim’s pain go away, nor indeed does it reduce the likelihood of other victims suffering similarly in future. We baulk at the extraordinary cost of imprisoning one person, more than a year’s fees to Eton (which, by the way, is £42,500). At the Longford Trust we are inspired by the idea that there must be a better way to balance punishment, public protection and rehabilitation.

Our work goes beyond the scholarship programme and the lecture.

Our scholars are supported by mentors, a crucial human bridge between time inside and the world outside. Mentoring is a surprisingly powerful way pre-emptively to address the sort of problems that lead to re-offending, whether housing challenges, a return to substance abuse, loneliness or difficulty in finding work. And, through the Longford Prize, we also recognise those people who dedicate their lives to working with people who have committed crime and the victims of crime. It may not be a huge amount of money, but when you spend your time working out of sight and generally without the social recognition that such endeavours deserve, the prize is a meaningful appreciation of your crucially important and often highly creative contribution to society.

My father would be urging us on to double down on the work to which his father, Frank Longford, before him had dedicated his life. He would urge us to keep waving the flag for prison reform, to stay true to our ultimate aim of improving the lives of all those touched by the criminal justice system. And so we shall, however difficult it may be.





A writer & Longford scholar compare notes on how to make prisons places of reform

Author: | 28 Jul 2020

Going to prison wasn’t part of the plan. Neither for writer and filmmaker Chris Atkins nor for classics student and Longford scholar Nahshon.

Here they meet to discuss what they have learnt from their time inside

Chris Atkins is a BAFTA nominated film maker who was sent to prison for tax fraud in 2016. I have also been to prison and had my studies interrupted. I was keen to meet Chris about his recent book A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner where he talks about his experiences living at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.  Due to the COVID-19 outbreak the interview took place on Zoom, something I was apprehensive about at first; it can be daunting enough building a rapport face-to-face, let alone in the virtual world. I shouldn’t have worried. A calm, probably brought on by our shared experiences, quickly set the tone.

Chris Atkins went into prison, as many others undoubtedly have, frightened, broken and despondent. Despite sharing those feelings with most newly sentenced prisoners, Chris Atkins was, for want of a better term, no ‘ordinary’ prisoner.

A public school, white, Oxford University educated film maker, Chris, like me, kept a diary to  process the flush of emotions that besieged him in the early stages of his sentence. A record he continued to keep in Wandsworth, his first prison.

 I, a young black student studying at a Russell Group University, also decided a diary would help me to make sense of my time behind bars. My diary was purely personal. I wrote about daily feelings and challenges. Chris, however, went further. With his background as a filmmaker he had a unique skill to bring good to an ostensibly glum state of affairs- the skill of storytelling.

It was not initially Chris’ intention to produce a dissection of the inadequacies of the UK prison system. However, early on in his sentence he began to understand just how broken the prison system was and how unconducive it is to rehabilitation.

The impact of relationships: inside and out

The focal point of the early part of our discussion was the relationships you form and maintain inside, and what effect this might have on rehabilitation.

In A Bit of a Stretch, I am struck by the times Chris received letters and his cellmate got none. I too experienced this. In fact, Chris and I both got lots of letters, which felt like symbols of true love from those we were separated from. A simple handwritten letter brings a loved one close. That said, it is quite normal for people in prison not to receive a letter in a week, even a month. A quick side note here, phone calls are extortionately priced, so some people experience long periods of silence from loved ones.

I recall one cellmate of mine expecting letters which never came. Chris and I both noted the sense of guilt we felt in these situations. At times, I would hide my letters for fear of inflicting jealousy on my fellow inmates. I need to be honest here though, staying in touch properly was by no means plain sailing for either of us. Visits were ridiculously hard to organise. For the first month or so of his sentence Chris couldn’t see his young son, despite providing all the required information.

It is often argued, and rightly so, that maintaining the relationships between friends and family on the outside is the key to rehabilitation. It is not in the government’s power to force prisoners’ families to write them letters. However, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask them not to place obstacles in the way of prisoners and their loved ones. I can tell you from what I saw, if people don’t have contact with their family and friends on the outside, there is a distinct risk they replace that need for contact with others on the inside who may not be a positive influence.  You see this with younger prisoners who can be vulnerable to older, more ‘seasoned’ prisoners.

As Chris discovered, the relationships you form in prison is a game changer. Take one cellmate, Martyn, who was one of the only reasons he was able to get through the first few months of his sentence, ‘the thin line between sanity and madness’ he called it. For those who stumble across to the latter side of the line there is scant support.

The art of listening in a ‘warehouse for the mentally ill’

Chris spent much of his sentence working as a Listener: these people were tasked with talking to seriously troubled prisoners who didn’t want to deal with officers. It often involved talking people out of suicide. Wandsworth prison, where Chris spent the first half of his sentence, was in his words: ‘a warehouse for the mentally ill’. Most of these troubled minds were ignored which could and has resulted in fatal consequences.

Take the tragic case of teenager Osvaldas Pagirys, for example. He was an 18-year-old who was arrested for stealing sweets. Despite being found with a noose on five separate occasions in prison he was largely ignored and killed himself.

Prisoners should not be babied but how can this be justice?

Time to be bold: rethinking education, work and beyond

For myself and writer Chris this is where education can offer a lifeline – not just in terms of personal happiness and safety but also as a means of staying on a generally positive track. Chris Atkins has a bold proposal,

If prisoners are literate, they are less likely to reoffend […] give them a month off their sentence if they pass GCSE English.’

An outlandish proposal perhaps but illustrates a potent point. It is no secret that offenders have had disproportionately vulnerable childhoods, often excluded from school. Many in prison are there because of a failure of the British education and social care systems. No crime is excusable, mine or anyone’s. However, it is to my mind not unreasonable to ask that people who were failed by the system are adequately supported by the system. Perhaps it would be excessively generous to give prisoners time off their sentence as an incentive to educate themselves, perhaps not.

There needs to be a serious rethink of how to encourage prisoners into work and away from crime.

Too often prisons are universities of crime. They don’t have to be and they shouldn’t be.

Chris and I are living proof of this. I have successfully resumed my studies; Chris has written a book and is raising public awareness of the failings of the criminal justice system. We have been able to do this with educational tools and supportive families at our disposal.

Hope drove my rehabilitation. Hope that one day I have a realistic chance of success; a stable job, a roof over my head, a family and the means to provide for them. For Chris and I there was always light at the end of the tunnel, just as there should be for every prisoner inside.