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Youth or Adult: can you tell?

This week’s blog begins with a game: youth or adult, secure estate in England and Wales. Below are some statements, and you simply need to guess (educated guesses please), whether the statement is about the youth, or adult secure estate. So, are the statements about children in custody (those under the age of 18 years old) or adults in custody (18+). When you’re ready…

  • 70% decrease in custody in comparison to 10 years ago
  • Segregation, A.K.A Solitary Confinement, used as a way of managing the most difficult individuals and those who pose a risk to themselves or others
  • Racial disproportionality in relation to experiencing custody and being remanded to custody
  • Self-harm is alarmingly high
  • 1/3 have a known mental health disability
  • Homelessness after release is a reality for a high proportion of individuals
  • Over half of individuals released from custody reoffend, this number increases when looking at those sentenced to 6months of less

How many did you answer youth secure estate, and how many adult secure estate? Tally up! Did you find a 50/50 split? Did you find it difficult to answer? Should it be difficult to spot the differences between how children and adults are treated/experience custody?

All of the above relate specifically to children in custody. The House of Commons Committee (2021) have argued that the secure estate for children in England and Wales is STILL a violent, dangerous set of environments which do little to address the needs of children sentenced to custody or on remand. Across the academic literature, there is agreement that the youth estate houses some of the most vulnerable children within our society, yet very little is done to address these vulnerabilities. Ultimately we are failing children in custody! The Government said they would create Secure Schools as a custody option, where education and support would be the focus for the children sent here. These were supposed to be ready for 2020, and in all fairness, we have had a global pandemic to contend with, so the date was pushed to 2022: and yet where are they? Where is the press coverage on the positive impact a Secure School will make to the Youth estate? Does anyone really care? A number of Secure Training Centres (STCs) have closed down across the past 10 years, with an alarmingly high number of the institutions which house children in custody failing Ofsted inspections and HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2021) found violence and safety within these institutions STILL a major concern. Children experience bullying from staff, could not shower daily, experience physical restraint, 66% of children in custody experienced segregation which was an increase from the year prior (HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 2021). These experiences are not new, they are re-occurring, year-on-year, inspection after inspection: when will we learn?

The sad, angry, disgusting truth is you could have answered ‘adult secure estate’ to most of the statements above and still have been accurate. And this rings further alarm bells. In England and Wales, we are supposed to treat children as ‘children first, offenders second’. Yet if we look to the similarities between the youth and adult secure estate, what evidence is there that children are treated as children first? We treat all offenders the same, and we treat them appallingly. This is not a new argument, many have raised the same points and concerns for years, but we appear to be doing very little about it.

We are kidding ourselves if we think we have a separate system for dealing with children who commit crime, especially in relation to custody! It pains me to continue seeing, year on year, report after report, the same failings within the secure estate, and the same points made in relation to children being seen as children first in England and Wales: I just can’t see it in relation to custody- feel free to show me otherwise!

References:

House of Commons Committees (2021) Does the secure estate meet the needs of young people in custody? High levels of violence, use of force and self-harm suggest the youth secure estate is not fit for purpose [Online]. Available at: https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/justice-youth-secure-estate/index.html. [Last accessed 4th April 2022].

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2021) Children in Custody 2019-2020: An analysis of 12-18-year-old’s perceptions of their experiences in secure training centres and young offender institutions. London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons.

Meet the Team: Helen Trinder, Associate Lecturer in Criminology

My Academic Journey

Two weeks ago, I attended a university reunion. My cohort are now in our late 40s or early 50s but it is remarkable how little we had all changed. Being back in the place where we all studied together put me in reflective mood and that (combined with some timely prompting from Paula) inspired me to share my academic journey.

I was one of those annoying kids who did well at school and knew exactly what they wanted to do. As a small child, I wanted to be a nurse but I later developed an aversion to bodily fluids which made that career choice untenable. I briefly flirted with the idea of being an English teacher, but both of my parents were in education and strenuously tried to dissuade me. So, at the age of about 14, I decided that I wanted to be a prison psychologist. I was in a careers lesson at school, and we had a big green plastic box filled with cards on which were written descriptions of different jobs. I announced that I wanted to be a psychiatrist (I think I was just being provocative) but I couldn’t find “psychiatrist” in the box, so I picked the closest one that I could find: “psychologist”. I read the card and it sounded really interesting, so I decided to find out more about psychology. The more I read, the more interesting I found it, and when I looked into the sorts of settings where I could work as a psychologist, prisons called out to me.

I was very lucky to secure a place to read Experimental Psychology at University College, Oxford in 1990. People have an image of ancient universities as being elitist, but what struck me was the huge diversity of people who were there. They were all clever and had studied hard to achieve their places, but beyond that they came from an enormous range of backgrounds – a far greater variety than I had encountered in my Shropshire comprehensive school. Our tutors worked us extremely hard. We had weekly tutorials, either in pairs or one-to-one, in two modules every term and we had to prepare an essay for each tutorial (two essays a week). In tutorials, we read out, discussed and analysed our essays and the reading on which they were based. There were lectures and practical classes on top of that and we had exams at the beginning of each term to make sure that we hadn’t forgotten anything over the vacations! That’s why I’m sometimes not very sympathetic to students who struggle to read one paper in preparation for a seminar!

At the end of my undergraduate studies, I still wanted to work in prisons but I knew very little about them. My degree had given me an excellent grounding in psychology but I knew little about the study of crime. So I applied to do an M.Phil. at the Institute of Criminology in Cambridge. This gave me an extra year as a full-time student and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I was privileged to be taught by such eminent criminologists as Loraine Gelsthorpe, Alison Liebling and David Farrington. I particularly enjoyed the penology seminars with Nigel West, which I attended just out of interest – I wasn’t taking the assessment in that module! The assessments were all coursework (extended essays and a dissertation) and had to be submitted at the start of each term, so I studied hard in the vacations, and I attended my seminars in term time, but there was also plenty of time for sport and socialising and making the most of my last year as a student!

At that time, HM Prison Service recruited new psychologists once a year through a national assessment centre. I applied in 1994, just after I had submitted my M.Phil. dissertation but I was unsuccessful. I got a job instead at the University of Wales, Swansea, as a research assistant in the Department of Social Policy and Applied Social Studies. I was involved in an evaluation of drug and alcohol treatment centres, funded by the Welsh Office, which employed both quantitative measures and participant observation. When that contract ended, I obtained another contract with Swansea City Council to compile a community profile of a “problem” estate. This required knocking on doors to interview residents, and participant observation in community settings such as the youth club, old people’s bingo sessions and the local pub. It was considered a rather intimidating environment to drop a well-educated 24-year-old English girl into, but I found the residents to be remarkably warm and welcoming and it was a highly rewarding piece of work.

By the time I finished the community profile, I had re-applied to the Prison Service and passed the assessment centre – the interpersonal skills I had developed through my action research had served me well. I had, however, joined the Prison Service at an unfortunate time. There was a recruitment ban in force which meant that although I had passed the psychologist assessment centre, I couldn’t actually secure a job. I was eventually given a temporary contract to collect data at HMP Littlehey for a large-scale research project analysing effective prison regimes.  After 10 months of doing this, the recruitment ban was lifted and I was taken on as a prison psychologist, sharing my time between HMP Littlehey and HMP Wellingborough. The Prison Service used to fund a part-time M.Sc. at Birkbeck University, which all newly recruited psychologists undertook. Obtaining a suitably accredited M.Sc., along with completing a satisfactory period of supervised practice, is an essential requirement of becoming a fully qualified “Chartered” psychologist. In another piece of unfortunate timing, the Birkbeck M.Sc. ceased to run just as I joined the service. At first, there was nothing to take its place. However, other universities soon noticed the gap in the market. I, and others in my prison psychology cohort, were relieved when the University of Leicester set up an M.Sc. in Forensic and Legal Psychology by Distance Learning. The Prison Service agreed to pay my fees and my manager allowed a small amount of study leave when assignments were due. Completing a post-graduate degree while working full-time in a demanding job was hard work and I vowed I would never do it again!

I moved to HMP Woodhill in 1998, completed my M.Sc. in 1999 and became a Chartered Psychologist in 2001. At some point after that, I remember receiving a phone call at work from someone called “@manosdaskalou” at, what was then, University College Northampton! I don’t know where he got my number from, but he wanted someone to talk to his third year Forensic Psychology students about the work that psychologists do in prisons. My parents had not completely succeeded in knocking a desire to teach out of me (in fact I probably inherited my urge to educate from them), and my Dad had taught at Northampton when it was Nene College, so I was keen to fulfil the request. The talk became a regular fixture and, after a few years (by which time I was Head of Psychology at HMP Woodhill), we extended it from a single guest lecture to a series of four, to allow me to cover topics such as risk assessment and offending behaviour interventions in more detail.

My son was born in 2008 and I took 12 months maternity leave from the Prison Service. At the end of that time, I didn’t feel ready to go back, so I negotiated a further 12 months career break. I wasn’t ready to return to the full intensity of managing a team in a high security prison, but I did want to keep my brain active. I asked Manos if there were any opportunities to expand my teaching commitments. The University was in the process of setting up a foundation degree in Offender Management, which was aimed primarily at custodial officers at HMP Rye Hill but was also delivered to a small cohort of full-time students. They were short of lecturers to deliver the modules and my offer to help out was eagerly accepted. The terms of my career break meant that I couldn’t earn money from another employer, but a couple of hours a week teaching suited me very well, so I gave my services for free and taught a module on Professional Practice alongside a lecturer with a background in probation, from another university, called Keith Davies.

After a year of this arrangement, HMP Woodhill were unwilling to have me back part-time, so I resigned from the Prison Service and joined the Parole Board as a part-time psychologist member. This allowed me to work much more flexibly and, with a toddler in the family, it suited me well. It also meant that I could have a proper contract with the University of Northampton and I became an associate lecturer in September 2010. Keith had moved to a different job but I continued to teach Professional Practice on the Offender Management degree. There was also a module in Offender Management on “The Psychology of Crime and Criminal Behaviour”. The person who taught this left after a couple of years and I took it over. Returning to basic psychology and teaching it every week was daunting at first, but I really enjoyed going back to what I had learned as an undergraduate and re-discovering how relevant it was to real-life criminal justice.

The arrangement with HMP Rye Hill had never really taken off and the Offender Management degree only ever attracted small numbers of full-time students, so in 2014 the course closed. Manos was keen, however, to incorporate more psychology into the B.A. Criminology course, so we adapted “The Psychology of Crime and Criminal Behaviour” into a first-year criminology module and I’ve been teaching it ever since! I’ve also taught a module on violence and I’ve covered maternity leave and sickness absence in other modules too. My students will have heard me banging on about forensic psychologists being “scientist-practitioners” and I feel that teaching at the University of Northampton has allowed me to fulfil this role. As a practitioner, I have lots of interesting real-life examples to use to illustrate points to my students, but teaching also keeps me up-to-date with research and theory which I can use to inform my practice.

My academic journey continues to take me to new places. My position on the Parole Board was a public appointment with a fixed tenure that came to an end in September 2020. I decided at that point to start a part-time Ph.D. with the University of Birmingham. I had not wanted to go into research straight from my M.Phil. because I felt that, in order to understand people who committed offences, I really needed some direct experience of working with them, but after 24 years as a practitioner, the time seemed right. I am now 18 months into a 6-year part-time degree. I am exploring the role of empathy deficits in violent and sexual offending. Trying to undertake research (which ideally requires access to prisoners) has not been easy during a pandemic and I have faced a number of obstacles but nothing insurmountable yet.

I am still keen to maintain a scientist-practitioner balance, and I need to pay my university fees and make a contribution to the family income, so in February of last year I started working as a Forensic Psychologist at St Andrew’s hospital. I am primarily based on a medium-secure ward for men with learning disabilities. Forensic mental health is a new area of practice for me and, although I have plenty of transferable skills from my previous roles, I have had to adapt to a different approach to the people we work with and a completely new set of jargon.

Reflecting on my academic journey, it is the people that stand out. I think that the most profound learning has taken place when I have been able to engage with experts who have shared their enthusiasm. In this respect, my undergraduate tutorials and M.Phil. seminars contrast with my distance learning M.Sc., which was a means of obtaining a qualification rather than an immersive learning experience. I hope that, as a practitioner who also teaches, I have been able to share some of my enthusiasm for forensic psychology with my own students. In order to benefit from this, however, students need to take up the opportunity to engage fully with teaching and not just see their university experience as a means to a qualification. Of course, COVID has not helped this, and the university’s penchant for remote learning placed it in a good position to maintain teaching when the pandemic struck. But it is very difficult to engage students when they are just names on a screen. I hope that, as we return to more face-to-face teaching, I can once again inspire my students, not just to pass their exams but to develop a life-long fascination for understanding criminal behaviour and the people that perpetrate it.

Helen Trinder, M.A., M.Phil., M.Sc., C.Psychol.

Forensic Psychologist and Associate Lecturer

Merry Christmas

“Merry Christmas”, a seasonal greeting dating back in 1534 when Bishop John Fisher was the first on record to write it.  Since then across the English-speaking world, Merry Christmas became the festive greeting to mark the winter festive season.  Although it marks a single day, the greeting relates to an entire season from Christmas Eve to the 12th night (eve of the epiphany).  The season simulates the process of leading to the birth, circumcision and the baptism of Jesus.  Like all births, there is an essential joy in the process, which is why in the middle of it there is the calendar change of the year, to mark more clearly the need for renewal.  At the darkest time of the year, for the Northern hemisphere the anticipation of life and lights to come soon.  Baby Jesus becomes an image of piety immortalised in numerous mangers in cities around the world.        

The meaning is primarily religious dating back to when faith was the main compass of moral judgment.  In fact, the celebrations were the last remnants of the old religion before the Romans established Christianity as the main faith.  The new religion brought some changes, but it retained the role of moral authority.  What is right and wrong, fair and unfair, true and false, all these questions were identified by men of faith who guided people across life’s dilemmas.  There is some simplicity in life that very difficult decisions can be referred to a superior authority, especially when people question their way of living and the social injustice they experience.  A good, faithful person need not to worry about these things, as the greater the suffering in this life, the greater the happiness in the afterlife.  Marx in his introduction to Hegel’s philosophy regarding religion said, “Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes”, or religion is the opium of the people.  His statement was taken out of context and massively misquoted when the main thrust of his point was how religion could absorb social discontent and provide some contentment. 

Faith has a level of sternness and glumness as the requirement to maintain a righteous life is difficult.  Life is limited by its own existence, and religion, in recognition of the sacrifices required, offers occasional moments for people to indulge and embrace a little bit of happiness.  When religious doctrine forgot happiness, people became demoralised and rebellious.  A lesson learned by those dour looking puritans who banned dancing and singing at their own peril!  Ironically the need to maintain a virtuous life was reserved primarily for those who were oppressed, the enslaved, the poor, the women, many others deemed to have no hope in this life.  The ones who lived a privileged life had to respond to a different set of lesser moral rules.       

People, of course, know that they live in an unjust society regardless of the time; whether it is an absolute monarchy or a representative republic.  Regardless of the regime, religion was there to offer people solace in despair and destitution with the hope of a better afterlife. Even in prisons the charitable wealthy will offer a few ounces of meat and grain for the prisoners to have at least a festive meal on Christmas Day.  Traditionally, employers will offer a festive bonus so that employees can get a goose for the festive meal, leaving those who didn’t to be visited by the ghosts of their own greed, as Dickens tells us in a Christmas carol.  At that point, Dickens concerned with dire working conditions and the oppression of the working classes subverts the message to a social one. 

By the time we move to the age of discovery, we witness the way knowledge conflicts with faith and starts to question the existence of afterlife…but still we say Merry Christmas!  There is a recognition that the message now is more humanist, social and even family focused rather than a reaffirmation of faith.  So, the greeting may have remained the same, but it could symbolise something quite different.  If that is the case, then our greeting today should mean, the need to embrace humanity to accept those around us unconditionally, work and live in the world fighting injustices around.  “Merry Christmas” and Speak up to injustices.  Rulers and managers come and go; their oppression, madness and tyranny are temporary but people’s convictions, collectivity and fortitude remain resolute.     

Christmas is meant to be a happy time full of joy, wonder and gifts.  Lights in the streets, cheerful music in the shops, a lot of good food and plenty of gifts.  This is at least the “official” view; which has grown to become such an oppressive event for those who do not share this experience.  There are people who this festive season live alone, and their social isolation will become even greater.  There are those who live in abusive relationships.  There are children who instead of gifts will receive abuse.  There are people locked up feeling despair; traditionally in prisons suicide rates go rocket high at the festive season.  There are those who live in such conditions that even a meal is a luxury that they cannot afford every day.  There are who live without a shelter in cold and inhuman conditions.  These are people to whom festivities come as a slap in the face, in some cases even literal, to underline the continuous unfairness of their situation.   

 Most of us may have read “the little match girl” as kids.  A story that let us know of the complete desperation of those people living in poverty.  A child, like the more than a million children every year that die hoping until the very end.  The irony is that for many millions of people around the world conditions have not changed since the original publication of the story back in mid-19th century.  During this Christmas, there will be a child in a hospital bed, a child with a family of refugees crossing at sea, or a child working in the most inhuman conditions.  Millions of children whose only wish is not a gift but life.  The unfairness of these conditions makes it clear that “Merry Christmas” is not enough of a greeting.  So, either we need to rebrand the wish or change its meaning!         

The Criminology Team would like to wish “Social Justice” for all; our colleagues who fight for the future, our students who hope for a better life, our community that wishes for a better tomorrow, our world who deals with the challenges of the environment and the pandemic.  Diogenes the Cynic used to carry a lantern around in search of humans; we hope that this winter you have the opportunity (unlike Diogenes) to find another person and spend some pleasant moments together.           

Poetry on prisons

Recently in CRI3001 Crime and Punishment we’ve been exploring prison poetry drawn from the volumes published by the fantastic Koestler Arts (some examples and inspiration can be found here). Students were inspired by this to write their own poems on prison and you will find some excellent examples below.

Moonlight

I sing to all of the spiders on the wall
They comfort me from my fear of the unknown
All the sounds outside as I lay here petrified
Of the consequences that lay ahead

Time is far behind my state of mind
Deprived myself of the will to fight
For peaceful nights

Noran

Moving on

Longing for the past,

Wanting to go back,

To change our future.

Living with regret,

Feeling sorry for hurting you,

Living in isolation,

Needing to hear from you.

Wondering if you’re doing well,

Do you remember me?

Are you moving on?

Do you like it?

Living on the outside?

Outside of these four walls.

These grey walls entrap me,

Every day I feel smaller.

Unimportant. I’m suffocating.

I hope the world hasn’t changed.

I hope everything stays the same.

So that one day, maybe

I could come back to you

Danique

Trapped,

Between four walls for life.

Non-existent,

I am but a shadow of my past self.

Detached,

No amount of WIFI can ever reconnect what was lost.

A

Prisoner’s Perspective

Prison is an escape, prison is a relief, prison is warm, prison is secure. Prison is easier than the cold, sleepless, torrid nights. Prison is not a punishment. Prison is a consolation.

Prison is lonely, prison is isolated. Prison does not help; it does not rehabilitate. Prison stops the time. Prison fails us.

Prison is opportunistic, prison allows me to be a leader, prison allows people to live in fear of me. Something I never was in the outside world.

Prison isn’t a one fits all, prison is individualised offender to offender. Does prison work? Is Prison effective? Is prison the way forward?

Saiya

I Created This

Pulled up and stopped

Big iron gates spiked with fear and dread

he shouts “Clear” and gates open

with rumbling vibration

Why does this feel like the beginning of the end

Queueing quietly waiting turn for changing clothing

Wishing the view was slightly different

This is my home, the world is now distant

Showers cold and beds so hard

Waiting for the order from the guards

“Dinner served” I hear them shout

Hoping it’s not just bland

Thinking about roast dinners

This is my life, I created this

Given the chance, time and again,

But now this is my life, I created this

SKM

Poetry and other forms of literature offer the opportunity to explore criminological issues in a different medium. They allow for ideas to develop in a more natural way than academic conventions usually allow. As you can see from the poems above, our students rose to the challenge and embraced the opportunity to think differently about Criminology.

Meet the Team: Tré Ventour, Associate Lecturer in Criminology

Photo Credit: Kelly Cooper Photography

Hello everyone. My name is Tré and I will be one of the student success mentors [SSMs] starting from December 2021. Some of the now third-year criminology students reading this may remember me from when I attended some sessions within my role as a student union sabbatical officer (2019-2020) in their first year. However, as an SSM, I have previously been in some of the same situations many students have as I was also a student at the university (2016-2019).

The BTEC / A-Level-to-University pipeline can be challenging, but not impossible to navigate while the transition from school to university, is a social and cultural change that takes getting used to. Particularly the codes of acting and being so ingrained in university learning and working cultures.

I did my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Northampton. But I did my postgraduate degree in a completely different area of study — reading Race, Education, and Decolonial Thought within Leeds Beckett’s Centre for Race, Education, and Decoloniality. My academic interests are in race and social inequalities (but I previously used creative writing to discuss it), with my undergraduate dissertation being Permission to Speak: On Race, Identity, and Belonging. Furthermore, lots of my experience comes from the many talks I have done on Black history and race (including whiteness), further to the social investments I have in the local Northampton community where I grew up. Most recently, I am co-leading a Windrush project with a charity called NorFAMtoN built off an earlier largely Black community-led response to inequalities exasperated from issue relating to the COVID-19 pandemic (a project that is ongoing).

In 2018, I started using my knowledge on race to help organisations and that started with a theatre company called Now and Then Theatre where I was consultant on their play about Walter Tull. This took place in Buckingham and Northants. I became a student union sabbatical officer for Global Majority students in June 2019 where more questions about race occured. Leaving that role in July 2020, the overlap with the murder of George Floyd also saw more questions. And though I had done this sort of work prior to that summer, this time saw me and many of my colleagues being asked to do things where I have been freelancing as a race and Black history educator more consistently since September 2020.

Yet, I fell into criminology (as a sabbatical officer) when criminology programme leads @manosdaskalou and @paulaabowles contacted me to discuss my SU role, possibly in the July or August 2019. Unknown to me then, lots of the work I had done in the community including the types of poetry events I did (could be considered criminological). Over my year in the student union, I did think a lot about what my life would have been like had I done a creative writing-criminology joint honours degree rather than single honours creative writing. Anyhow, enough of whatifs. My life with the team since meeting Paula and Manos has not been the same, as they and Stephanie (@svr2727) convinced to go for my MA.

One of the poetry events I hosted during the lockdowns, exploring whiteness / white supremacy

I didn’t study criminology in a formal capacity, but in terms of understanding crime — race and thus whiteness certainly have roles (which is my area). Criminology via many conversations with the team, pertinently interacting with Paula’s module on violence (and engaging with these students when I was sabb), showed me a context for my institutional experiences at university and elsewhere. Criminology simply added more layers to my understandings of the world. As an artist, I find criminology to be multidisciplinary informing some of my poetry as what happened when I went to Onley Prison in February 2020 showing criminology’s relevance in life beyond theory (as valuable as theory is).

As an artist, I try to approach as much as possible with an open-mind. Yet, as an academic as well, I also try my best to think how the issues we teach also have a human cost. For example, we must not only talk about violence as a purely academic matter. The decisions we make can have consequences. So, here then in your study time, I encourage you to think about the human cost of research (as there is both good and bad). Remember, there is no such thing as ‘being objective’ (there’s always a perspective or an agenda … see what I did there?). Debate with your lecturers, but more importantly debate with each other.

As an SSM, my role is about helping all students. Those that are just starting and also students that have been here for a while. I am here to help students that study at Northampton, including those who came straight from school all the way to those that came to university after a working career before going back to study. However, as an associate lecturer, I’m here specifically for criminology students.

My name is Tré and will be back at the university on a part-time basis starting from December 2021, and I look forward to meeting you all very soon! 😀


More on me here – https://linktr.ee/treventoured

Prison education: why it matters?

Five year ago, Dame Sally Coates released an independent report on prison education. Recently the Chief Inspector for Ofsted, Amanda Spielman and The HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, made a joint statement reflecting on that report.  Their reflections are critical on the lack of implementation of the original report, but also of the difficulties of managing education in prison especially at a time of a global pandemic.  The lack of developing meaningful educational provision and delivering remote teaching led to many prisoners without sufficient opportunity to engage with learning.   

In a situation of crisis such as the global pandemic one must wonder if this is an issue that can be left to one side for now, to be reviewed at a later stage.  At the University of Northampton, as an educational institution we are passionate about learning opportunities for all including those incarcerated.  We have already developed an educational partnership with a local prison, and we are committed to offer Higher Education to prisoners.  Apart from the educational, I would add that there is a profound criminological approach to this issue.  Firstly, I would like to separate what Dame Coates refers to as education, which is focused on the basic skills and training as opposed to a university’s mandate for education designed to explore more advanced ideas. 

The main point to both however is the necessity for education for those incarcerated and why it should be offered or not.  In everyday conversations, people accept that “bad” people go to prison.  They have done something so horrible that it has crossed the custody threshold and therefore, society sends them to jail.  This is not a simple game of Monopoly, but an entire criminal justice process that explores evidence and decides to take away their freedom.  This is the highest punishment our society can bestow on a person found guilty of serious crimes.  For many people this is appropriate and the punishment a fitting end to criminality.  In criminology however we recognise that criminality is socially constructed and those who end up in prisons may be only but a specific section of those deemed “deviant” in our society.  The combination of wrongdoing and socioeconomic situations dictate if a person is more or less likely to go to prison.  This indicates that prison is not a punishment for all bad people, but some.  Dame Coates for example recognises the overrepresentation of particular ethnic minorities in the prison system. 

This raises the first criminological issue regarding education, and it relates to fairness and access to education.  We sometimes tend to forget that education is not a privilege but a fundamental human right.  Sometimes people forget that we live in a society that requires a level of educational sophistication that people with below basic levels of literacy and numeracy will struggle.  From online applications to job hunting or even banking, the internet has become an environment that has no place for the illiterate.  Consider those who have been in prison since the late 1990s and were released in the late 2010s.  People who entered the prison before the advancement of e-commerce and smart phones suddenly released to a world that feels like it is out of a sci-fi movie. 

The second criminological issue is to give all people, regardless of their crimes, the opportunity to change.  The opportunity of people to change, is always incumbent on their ability to change which in turn is dependent on their circumstances.  Education, among other things, requires the commitment of the learner to engage with the learning process.  For those in prison, education can offer an opportunity to gain some insight that their environment or personal circumstances have denied them.      

The final criminological issue is the prison itself.  What do we want people to do in them?  If prison is to become a human storage facility, then it will do nothing more than to pause a person’s life until they are to be released.  When they come out the process of decarceration is long and difficult.  People struggle to cope and the return to prison becomes a process known as “revolving doors”.  This prison system helps no one and does nothing to resolve criminality.  A prison that attempts to help the prisoners by offering them the tools to learn, helps with the process of deinstitutionalisation.  The prisoner is informed and aware of the society they are to re-join and prepares accordingly.  This is something that should work in theory, but we are nowhere there yet.  If anything, it is far from it, as read in Spielman and Taylor’s recent commentary.  Their observations identify poor quality education that is delivered in unacceptable conditions.  This is the crux of the matter, the institution is not really delivering what it claims that is does.  The side-effect of such as approach is the missed opportunity to use the institution as a place of reform and change. 

Of course, in criminological discourse the focus is on an abolitionist agenda that sees beyond the institution to a society less punitive that offers opportunities to all its citizens without discrimination or prejudice.  This is perhaps a different topic of conversation.  At this stage, one thing is for sure; education may not rehabilitate but it can allow people to self-improve and that is a process that needs to be embraced.  

 

References

Coates, S. (2016), Unlocking Potential: A review of education in prisons, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison

Spielman, A. and Taylor, C. (2021), Launching our Prison Education Reviewhttps://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/launching-our-prison-education-review

Originally published here

Thinking Criminologically: Engaging with darkness

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DPn5dvawbDqU&psig=AOvVaw0yd1_IN4i6nvRNKI_g5i7z&ust=1624102316299000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAoQjRxqFwoTCLCyseeKofECFQAAAAAdAAAAABAf

Often when you mention the word criminology to lay people outside of the academy, the initial response is “ooh that’s interesting” or “that sounds exciting”. The next step in the conversation usually reverts to the most extreme forms of interpersonal violence, murderers, serial killers and so on. For many, criminology appears to be the home of “whodunnits”. People talk of Ted Bundy, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Fred and Rose West and want to know why they did what they did. For decades, the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper has been pored over by authors, television makers and the general public. For those who choose to engage, we have seen the female victims of this unknown man, eviscerated, degraded and ultimately slain, again and again for the reader/viewers’ delectation. This is not criminology.

Criminology recognises there are no winners in crime, only people left shattered, those devastated by their actions or those impacted by criminality. People are left bloody, bowed and bereaved through victimisation by individuals, institutions and the State. Yet just look on a bookshops ‘Crime’ shelves or flick through the programme schedules and you will find no sign of this. As a society we revel in this darkness and package it as entertainment. This is not criminology.

On the news we see discussions around crime and criminals. What should we do? Shall we give the police yet more powers? Shall we give those oh so lenient judges less leeway for discretion? Should we lock the offenders up and throw away the key? Should we bring back National Service? What about a boot camp? Should we consider bringing back the death penalty? How can we teach these people a lesson they won’t forget? Notice that all of these suggestions are designed to be more and more punitive, no discussions are focused around purely rehabilitative programmes, defunding the police or penal abolition. This is not criminology.

The problem with all of the ideas contained within the preceding paragraphs, is they are entirely negative. Criminology despite its focus on crime, criminality and criminalisation, has a positive focus, motivated by empathy and non-violence, if not pacifism. It is about trying to understand complexity and nuance in human and institutional behaviour. It is not interested in simplistic, quick fire, off the cuff answers for crime. It is forward looking, unconcerned with the status quo and more focused on what ought or might be. It intrinsically has social justice at its heart, an overwhelming desire for fairness for everyone, not just some. This is criminology.

This month is Gypsy, Romany, Traveller History Month, this week is also Refugee Week. Both are groups rarely treated fairly, they are criminalised and subjected to victimisation by individuals, institutions and the State. Their narratives have profound importance to our society. These experiences are far more central to Criminology than who Jack the Ripper might have been. This is criminology.

Also the beginning of this week marked the fourth anniversary of the disaster at Grenfell Tower. The graffiti above (I know, @5teveh and @jesjames50!) seems to capture the feelings of many when we consider this horrific tragedy. I taught for the first time on Grenfell in 2020/2021 and again this year. Both times I have been wracked with huge concerns around whether it was appropriate (many of our students are intimately connected), whether it was too soon and whether I could teach around the disaster with sensitivity. Running counter to this was a strong belief that criminology had a duty to acknowledge the disaster and enable our students to also make sense of such horror. In classes we have utilised poetry, music, graffiti and testimony in sessions to give us all space to consider how we can respond as a society. The biggest question of all, is what would justice look like for the bereaved, the survivors, friends, families and neighbours, the first responders? Some of that discussion is focused on the Grenfell Inquiry but far more is on how we can support those involved, what kind of advocacy can we engage with and how we can all raise our voices. As a society we cannot bring the dead back to life, but we can insist that the survivors and their families get meaningful answers. We can also insist that we make room for these individuals and families to have their voices heard. We can demand that fundamental changes are made so that disasters like these do not happen again. That we learn valuable lessons. This is criminology.

Unfortunately, experience tells us that previous victims of similarly horrible disasters do not receive anything that approximates justice, consider the events at Hillsborough in 1989. Likewise, as a society we do not seem able to learn lessons from inquiries, think about the deaths of Victoria Climbié and Peter Connelly. Nevertheless, as humans we have huge capacity for change, we do not need to keep repeating the same behaviours ad nauseum. As scholars of criminology we are well placed to argue for this change, to understand holistically, the complexities of crime and deviance, to empathise and to make space for marginalised voices to be heard. In addition we must be prepared to challenge and advocate for change. Some of us may be pacifist in orientation, but we must never be passive! This is Criminology.

The Chauvin verdict may not be the victory we think it is

Photo by Tito Texidor III on Unsplash

At times like this I often hate to be the person to take what little hope people may have had away from them, however, I do not believe the Chauvin verdict is the victory many people think it is. I say people, but I really mean White people, who since the Murder of George Floyd are quite new to this. Seeing the outcry on social media from many of my White colleagues that want to be useful and be supportive, sometimes the best thing to do in times like these is to give us time to process. Black communities across the world are still collectively mourning. Now is the time, I would tell these institutions and people to give Black educators, employees and practitioners their time, in our collective grief and mourning. After the Murder of George Floyd last year, many of us Black educators and practitioners took that oppurtunity to start conversations about (anti)racism and even Whiteness. However, for those of us that do not want to be involved because of the trauma, Black people recieving messages from their White friends on this, even well-meaning messages, dredges up that trauma. That though Derek Chauvin recieved a guilty verdict, this is not about individuals and he is still to recieve his sentence, albeit being the first White police officer in the city of Minneapolis to be convicted of killing a Black person.

Under the rallying cry “I can’t breathe” following the 2020 Murder of George Floyd, many of us went to march in unison with our American colleagues. Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council [NREC] organised a successful protest last summer where nearly a thousand people turned up. And similar demonstrations took place across the world, going on to be the largest anti-racist demonstration in history. However, nearly a year later, institutional commitments to anti-racism have withered in the wind, showing us how performative institutions are when it comes to pledges to social justice issues, very much so in the context race. I worry that the outcome of the Chauvin verdict might become a “contradiction-closing case”, reiterating a Facebook post by my NREC colleague Paul Crofts.

Vague statement, and seemingly have done nothing since last June #performativeallyship

For me, a sentence that results in anything less than life behind bars is a failure of the United States’ criminal justice system. This might be the biggest American trial since OJ and “while landmark cases may appear to advance the cause of justice, opponents re-double their efforts and overall little or nothing changes; except … that the landmark case becomes a rhetorical weapon to be used against further claims in the future” (Gillborn, 2008). Here, critical race theorist David Gillborn is discussing “the idea of the contradiction-closing case” originally iterated by American critical race theorist Derrick Bell. When we see success enacted in landmark cases or even movements, it allows the state to show an image of a system that is fair and just, one that allows ‘business as usual’ to continue. Less than thirty minutes before the verdict, a sixteen-year-old Black girl called Makiyah Bryant was shot dead by police in Columbus, Ohio. She primarily called the police for help as she was reportedly being abused. In her murder, it pushes me to constantly revisit the violence against Black women and girls at the hands of police, as Kimberlé Crenshaw states:

“They have been killed in their living rooms, in their bedrooms, in their cars, they’ve been killed on the street, they’ve been killed in front of their parents and they’ve been killed in front of their children. They have been shot to death. They have been stomped to death. They have been suffocated to death. They have been manhandled to death. They have been tasered to death. They have been killed when they have called for help. They have been killed while they have been alone and they have been killed while they have been with others. They have been killed shopping while Black, driving while Black, having a mental disability while Black, having a domestic disturbance while Black. They have even been killed whilst being homeless while Black. They have been killed talking on the cellphone, laughing with friends, and making a U-Turn in front of the White House with an infant in the back seat of the car.”  

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw (TED, 2018)

Whilst Chauvin was found guilty, a vulnerable Black girl was murdered by the very people she called for help in a nearby state. Richard Delgado (1998) argues “contradiction-closing cases … allow business as usual to go on even more smoothly than before, because now we can point to the exceptional case and say, ‘See, our system is really fair and just. See what we just did for minorities or the poor’.” The Civil Rights Movement in its quest for Black liberation sits juxtaposed to what followed with the War on Drugs from the 1970s onwards. And whilst the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was seemingly one of the high points of British race relations followed with the 2001 Race Relations Act, it is a constant fallback position in a Britain where racial inequalities have exasperated since. That despite Macpherson’s landmark report, nothing really has changed in British policing, where up until recently London Metropolitan Police Service had a chief that said it wasn’t helpful to label police as institutionally racist.

Photo by Jack Prommel on Unsplash

Scrolling the interweb after the ruling, it was telling to see the difference of opinion between my White friends and colleagues in comparison to my Black friends and colleagues. White people wrote and tweeted with more optimism, claiming to hope that this may be the beginning of something upward and forward-thinking. Black people on the other hand were more critical and did not believe for a second that this guilty verdict meant justice. Simply, this ruling meant accountability. Since the Murder of George Floyd, there have been numbers of conversations and discourses opened up on racism, but less so on White supremacy as a sociopolitical system (Mills, 2004). My White colleagues still thinking about individuals rather than systems/institutions simply shows where many of us still are, where this trial became about a “bad apple”, without any forethought to look at the system that continues enable others like him.

Even if Derek Chauvin gets life, I am struggling to be positive since it took the biggest anti-racist demonstration in the history of the human story to get a dead Black man the opportunity at police accountability. Call me cynical but forgive me for my inability to see the light in this story, where Derek Chauvin is the sacrificial lamb for White supremacy to continue unabted. Just as many claimed America was post-racial in 2008 with the inaugaration of Barack Obama into the highest office in the United States, the looming incarceration (I hope) of Derek Chauvin does not mean policing suddenly has become equal. Seeing the strew of posts on Facebook from White colleagues and friends on the trial, continues to show how White people are still centering their own emotions and really is indicative of the institutional Whitenesses in our institutions (White Spaces), where the centreing of White emotions in workspaces is still violence.

Derek Chauvin is one person amongst many that used their power to mercilessly execute a Black a person. In our critiques of institutional racism, we must go further and build our knowledge on institutional Whiteness, looking at White supremacy in all our structures as a sociopolitical system – from policing and prisons, to education and the third sector. If Derek Chauvin is “one bad apple”, why are we not looking at the poisoned tree that bore him?


Referencing

Delgado, Richard. (1998). Rodrigo’s Committee assignment: A sceptical look at judicial independence. Southern California Law Review, 72, 425-454.

Gillborn, David. (2008). Racism and education: Coincidence or conspiracy? London: Routledge.

Mills, Charles (2004) Racial Exploitation and the Wages of Whiteness. In: Yancy, George (ed). What White Looks Like: African American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question. London: Routledge.  

TED (2018). The urgency of intersectionality | Kimberlé Crenshaw. YouTube [online]. Available.

White Spaces. Institutional Witnesses. White Spaces. Available.

Criminology is everywhere!

When I think back to thinking about choosing a degree, way back when, I remember thinking Criminology would be a good choice because it is specific in terms of a field: mainly the Criminal Justice System (CJS). I remember, naively, thinking once I achieved my degree I could go into the Police (a view I quickly abandoned after my first year of studies), then I thought I could be involved in the Youth Justice System in some capacity (again a position abandoned but this time after year 2). And in third year I remember talking to my partner about the possibility of working in prisons: Crime and Punishment, and Violence: from domestic to institutional (both year 3 modules) kicked that idea to the curb! I remember originally thinking Criminology was quite narrow and specific in terms of its focus and range: and oh my was I wrong!

Whilst the skills acquired through any degree transcend to a number of career paths, what I find most satisfying about Criminology, is how it infiltrates everything! A recent example to prove my point which on the outside may have nothing to do with Criminology, when in actual fact it could be argued it has criminological concepts and ideas at its heart is the 2015 film: Jurassic World. It is no secret that I am a huge lover of Crichton novels but also dinosaurs. But what I hope to illustrate is how this film is excellent, not just in relation to dinosaur content: but also in relation to one of my interests in Criminology.

Jurassic World, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of viewing, focuses on the re-creation of a Jurassic Park, sporting new attractions, rides and dinosaurs in line with the 21st century. The Indominus Rex is a genetically modified hybrid which is ‘cooked-up’ in the lab, and is the focus of this film. Long story short, she escapes, hunts dinosaurs and people for sport, and is finally killed by a joint effort from the Tyrannosaurus, Blue the Velociraptor and the Mosasaurus: YAY! But what is particularly Criminological, in my humble opinion, is the focus and issues associated with the Indominus Rex being raised in isolation with no companionship in a steeled cage. Realistically, she lives her whole life in solitary confinement, and the rangers, scientists and management are then shocked that she has 0 social skills, and goes on a hunting spree. She is portrayed in the film as a villain of sorts, but is she really?

Recently in Violence: from domestic to institutional, we looked at the dangers and harms of placing individuals in solitary confinement or segregation. Jurassic World demonstrates this: albeit with a hybrid dinosaur which is fictitious. The dangers, and behaviours associated with the Indominus Rex are symbolic to the harms caused when we place individuals in prison. The space is too small, there is no interaction, empathy or relationships formed with the dinosaur apart from with the machine that feeds it. The same issues exist when we look at the prison system and it raises questions around why society is shocked when individuals re-offend. The Indominus Rex is a product of her surroundings and lack of relationships: there are some problematic genes thrown in there too but we shall leave that to one side for now.

There are a number of criminological issues evident in Jurassic World, (have a watch and see) and all of the Jurassic Park movies. Criminology is everywhere: in obvious forms and not so obvious forms. The issues with the prison system, segregation specifically, transcend to schools and hospitals, society in general and to dinosaurs in a fictional movie. Criminology, and with it critical thinking, is everywhere: even in the Lego Movie where everything is awesome! Conformity and deviance wrapped up in colourful bricks and catchy tunes: have a watch and see…

Yorkshire Ripper: Not an Obituary

Photo by Dhivakaran S on Pexels.com

Wilma McCann, 28

Emily Jackson, 42

Irene Richardson, 28

Patricia Atkinson, 32

Jayne MacDonald, 16

Jean Jordan, 21

Yvonne Pearson, 22

Helen Rytka, 18

Vera Millward, 40

Josephine Whitaker, 19

Barbara Leach, 20

Marguerite Walls, 47

Jacqueline Hill, 20

As the team northerner I took it upon myself to write about Peter Sutcliffe after hearing of his death. Sutcliffe was a serial killer who operated in West Yorkshire and the North West of England. He was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to kill 7 more in the 1970s, and was serving 20 life sentences for his crimes.

Ironically, the ripper was killed by covid-19, the deadliest killer of 2020 (incidentally I asked students to imagine covid-19 being a serial killer in a lecture yesterday). Reports suggest that he was in ill health prior to contracting the coronavirus, was obese and had diabetes. He died 2 days after his diagnosis after refusing treatment.

When I started writing about the Yorkshire Ripper, I couldn’t help but think about his victims. Those he killed (named above – remember them), those he harmed and who survived, the relatives of both and the women in the areas in which he would prey on his victims, who feared leaving their homes every day for half a decade. These are the people I am thinking about, those who are in my thoughts. How do they feel about the news of his death? How have they felt every time they have heard his name for the last few decades? How, 40+ years later, are the living victims coping?

I didn’t know a lot about Peter Sutcliffe. It was before my time so when I read about the secondary victimisation as a result of police and the prosecution blaming the victims it made me angry. Peter Sutcliffe would prey on women, often prostitutes. The police at the time differentiated between the victims who were sex workers and the victims who weren’t and referred to those that weren’t as ‘innocent victims’, insinuating that the sex workers were not entirely blameless and may have precipitated their fate. Thankfully, West Yorkshire Police have issued a statement to apologise for the language and tone used at the time but the damage has already done.

I’d like to say society has learned from its mistakes, but sadly I don’t think we have. There is still evidence of victim blaming, particularly in cases of femicide and rape. Think of the Grace Millane murder and the protests in Ireland after a barrister suggest the jury consider the victim’s underwear, questioning consent. I hope one day we, as a society, learn. I hope the victims of Peter Sutcliffe get some sort of relief from both his passing and the apology from West Yorkshire Police.

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