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Caroline O’Keefe from the Hallam Centre for Community Justice carried out some recent research with Lesley Dixon at Action for Prisoners’ and Offenders’ Families for Barrow Cadbury Trust on ‘Childbearing Women and their Babies in Prison’. In a follow up to that research, which was presented at an International Women’s Day conference at Sheffield Hallam, she argues that we need a new gender, equality, and social justice lens for criminal justice rhetoric if it is to truly address the issues which lead to women’s offending.

Improving the lives of women and girls in the criminal justice system will involve more than new rehabilitation techniques and smarter ways of managing prisoners” as was suggested by David Cameron in his recent prison reform speech.

Listening, understanding, validating, valuing and holding hope for women when they can’t hold it for themselves may be more compelling ways of making a difference, according to debates among practitioners and academics at a conference at Sheffield Hallam last week. Undoubtedly, for the most serious and dangerous female offenders, imprisonment may be an appropriate and necessary response. However, this is a minority group within the current prison population and we need to be mindful that experiences of trauma (often as a result of relationships) feature strongly in many women’s pathways into crime.

The experiences of mothers in prison

The experience of imprisonment can ‘re-traumatise’ women by separating them from their children and requiring them to ‘fit in’ with a system which has been designed for men. At the conference, a former prisoner described how the allotted time for phone calls home was between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, precisely the time when children would be walking back from school so not at home to take the call.  She also described how she was rushed into making a decision about whether to apply to keep her baby with her in a Mother and Baby Unit during her prison sentence and how prison staff ‘advised’ that her baby may be better off being cared for in the community.

We heard about one woman who had been returned to prison after giving birth to her baby and put in a cell without being given sanitary towels, another who was placed in segregation, just a few weeks after giving birth. Given the dehumanising nature of these experiences, it’s clear that a crucial element of support for women in conflict with the law should be for this harm to be repaired by creating new, nurturing relationships which offer hope for a different way of relating, as women attempt to build a better future for themselves and their children.

 What’s needed and what’s missing? 

For example, key workers in women’s community centres and staff in prison Mother and Baby Units can provide positive templates for healthy relationships. Interventions which foster connection and communication between imprisoned mothers and their children are also essential.  But it’s not just these interpersonal relationships which matter but also the relationship which society has with women in conflict with the law.  What we ‘do with’ women lawbreakers needs to be considered in the context of how women’s lives (and inter alia their experiences of prison) are different from men’s.

David Cameron’s proposal for increasing the use of community sentences for women offenders (especially those with young children) is welcome. However, what’s missing is an explicit recognition that women who commit crime are often already traumatised by their experiences as victims of crime, particularly domestic and sexual assault at the hands of men.  For some women, prison is the best home they’ve ever had and, in a shocking indictment of the systems which are meant to protect women, the safest place they’ve ever known. Thus a commitment to addressing the violence and abuse of women and girls, including preventative measures as well as responsive ones, is a serious omission in his proposals.

Creating a positive future

As the primary care-givers of children women are disadvantaged in the workplace which means that women in conflict with the law have limited opportunities for creating more positive futures for themselves. And policy drive in criminal justice has a strong male bias.  So I wonder if, as the Government considers its ideas for “full-on prison reform”, is it not about time that wider issues of inequality and social injustice (and the gendered nature of these) become a key part of criminal justice rhetoric?



 Lorraine Atkinson, senior policy officer at the Howard League for Penal Reform, reflects on the work of the Commission on Sex in Prison.


The Commission on Sex in Prison was established by the Howard League for Penal Reform to conduct the first ever inquiry into sex in prisons in England and Wales. It was funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Esmee Fairbairn and the Bromley Trust, and has spent the past two years investigating consensual and coercive sex in prison and the healthy sexual development of children in prison.


As the work of the Commission draws to a close with a national conference in London on 17 March, it is fitting to reflect on the findings of the Commission and its achievements in raising awareness of this difficult and at times controversial issue.


When the Commission began its work in 2013 it found that there had been very few studies on consensual or coercive sex in prisons. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman was one of the first people to give evidence to the Commission and described it as a ‘hidden issue in a hidden world’. The Commission has helped to raise awareness of sex in prison and prompted people to reflect on prison policies and practices.


It highlighted the public health implications of preventing prisoners from obtaining condoms in confidence. Prisoners are a high risk group for sexually transmitted infections and the public health agenda must be the paramount consideration in prison policies relating to consensual sex. Punishing prisoners for having sex may deter them from obtaining condoms or sexual health advice.


It looked at the different experiences of women in prison, who are particularly vulnerable and sometimes form relationships with other prisoners to help them cope with the detrimental effects of imprisonment. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons referred to the issues raised by the Commission in its recently published inspection criteria for women’s prisons, including the need for staff to support women when relationships end and to monitor relationships which might become abusive.


The Commission looked at coercive sex in prison and found it was hidden and under-reported. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman published a learning lessons bulletin on sexual abuse in prisons expanding on the evidence it had given to the Commission in 2013. The report called for allegations of sexual abuse in prisons to be investigated thoroughly and for staff to identify and challenge abusive relationships in prison. In January 2015, the Ministry of Justice announced it would be publishing an analysis of reported sexual assaults in prison due to ‘public interest in the area’.


The Commission raised concerns about the detrimental impact of prisons on children’s healthy sexual development, at a time when the government is planning to build a huge new prison in Leicestershire for children.


There is still more to be done. The UK government could learn much from the US which passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Anonymous surveys of prisoners are now conducted annually. The data on sexual assaults have galvanised US prisons to do more to prevent abuse.


Research is still needed to determine the nature and scale of unreported abuse in prisons in England and Wales. Prisoners must be entitled to the same support and protection from abuse as people outside of prison. Keeping prisoners safe will keep all of us safe.



Ministry of Justice announcement on sexual assaults analysis


Commission on Sex in Prison website



Laura Janes, acting legal director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote this blog about judicial review and the prison book ban campaign for

The high court did not need to do anything fancy to find that restricting books for prisoners is unlawful.


Nine months of campaigning by the Howard League, together with English PEN and numerous authors, culminated in a fine legal judgment last Friday.  The case was brought by fearless public law lawyer, Sam Genen, with barristers Annabel Lee, Victoria Butler-Cole and Jenny Richards.


Mr Justice Collins was asked to rule on whether the restriction on books to prisoners was lawful.  He was provided with a web of complex legal arguments based on human rights and the Equality Act 2010.  In the end, he decided the restriction was unlawful quite simply because the policy’s effect was contrary to what the justice secretary said he intended.


Our law, built up case by case over time, says that a policy will be unlawful if its effect is contrary to the expressed intention and objectives that it was supposed to promote.


In the case of books for prisoners, the secretary of state and the deputy prime minister had said that there was no book ban.  The deputy prime minister went so far as to say: “If there was a ban on sending books to prisoners, I would be the first to demonstrate outside the local prison. It would be ridiculous. It’s outrageous…..Education and training, reading and learning are a critical part of [rehabilitation].”


Yet a forensic examination by the high court found that the policy clearly resulted in a restriction in books, that access through the library services was not sufficient to make up for not having your own books, whether for reference, such as Brewer’s Dictionary or a compendium of a particular author’s works, to be dipped into frequently. The court adopted the desert island philosophy in finding that “possession…can matter as much as access”.


He therefore found the privileges policy unlawful to the extent that it banned books.  This simple judgment is unimpeachable.  It is not based on human rights or equality but on old-fashioned common sense.  The government refused to reflect on the obvious truth that books are not a privilege and learning is central to its own ‘transforming rehabilitation’ agenda. It refused to accept the simple truth that the policy had the effect of banning books.  It refused to change the policy of its own accord.


Instead, it took a fully contested judicial review at taxpayers’ expense, with the prisoner’s lawyers acting pro-bono, to enable a high court judge to unravel the spin from the reality of prisoners’ experiences and determine the justice secretary’s policy unlawful on the basis that it was quite simply the opposite of what he said he wanted.


No wonder then that the justice secretary is so keen to restrict the ability of individuals and public interest groups to speak truth to power through the courts.  In the House of Commons last Monday, he revealed an astounding lack of knowledge of the way the law works, compounding his disregard for it in the case of books for prisoners.  He accepted he was “baffled” by attempts by peers to preserve judicial discretion and sought to reverse them.


Peers have a final chance this Tuesday to defeat the government’s current attempts to restrict judicial review cases. Let’s hope they take it.


Laura Janes is acting legal director at the Howard League for Penal Reform.  This blog was reproduced with kind permission of Howard League for Penal Reform. 

Hannah Ward, Communications and Information Manager at Inquest, blogs about why the Harris Review into self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18-24 year olds is an opportunity for change


In February 2014, in response to ongoing pressure from INQUEST and other pressure groups, the Government announced it would hold an independent review into the deaths in prison of young people aged 18-24. This was a significant milestone for INQUEST, who first called for an inquiry into the deaths of children in November 2003, following the prison death of 16 year old Joseph Scholes.


Inquest’s and Prison Reform Trust’s report Fatally Flawed: Has the state learned lessons from the deaths of children and young people in prison?’   found that a large number of young people who had died in custody had been diagnosed with ADHD, had special educational needs, personality, conduct and attachment disorders, as well as other vulnerabilities – some of which have been linked to self-harm and suicide. Staff training was frequently inadequate and they were ill-equipped to deal with these vulnerabilities.


The most crucial recommendation in the report was that the Government should hold an independent review into the deaths of children and young people aged 24 and under in prison, examining not just criminal justice issues but social and public health issues around the journey into custody. The current mechanisms in place to examine these deaths – the investigation and inquest systems – do not have the remit to tackle these crucial, broader, contextual questions.


The Government at first resisted this call, arguing that current systems were adequate.  However, in March 2013 the parliamentary Justice Committee endorsed INQUEST’s concerns. The combination of parliamentary lobbying and legal challenge resulted in the government reconsidering its decision and in February 2014 the review was announced, with a deadline of midnight 18 July for submissions.


INQUEST was disappointed that children were excluded from the review and we will be ensuring their experiences are reflected in the analysis as much as possible.  We are putting in a detailed submission based on our in depth casework and work with bereaved families as well as our policy and research work funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust. We are asking everyone who works with young people in conflict with the law to do so too.  All contributions from organisations working with young people in and out of custody, can have an impact.


The shocking death toll of children and young people (140 self-inflicted deaths in the last ten years) means we need some fundamental rethinking to prevent the deaths of children and young people in prison but also to divert them out of the prison system altogether.


Find out more and submit your evidence before midnight 18 July.

Lorraine Atkinson, Senior Policy Officer at the Howard League for Penal Reform blogs about a recent visit by the Commission on Sex in Prison to Norway’s Halden Prison to learn about the Norwegian prison system’s approach to family visits.


In Norway, the family is regarded as an important resource in preventing re-offending.  Family visits are encouraged and prisoners are able to spend time alone with their partners and their children. The best interests of the child are considered, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and fathers in prison are encouraged to maintain relationships with their children whilst serving their sentence.


The majority of sentenced men in Halden prison, Norway’s newest and second largest prison, are entitled to a private visit from a partner or friend for two hours, twice a week.  In contrast to Norway, prisoners in England and Wales are normally allowed a two-hour social visit once a fortnight, although prisoners on the basic regime entitlement have fewer visits.  Social visits are closely monitored and are never private.


In Halden, private visits take place in small, individual visiting rooms which contain a sofa, a sink and a cupboard containing clean sheets, towels and condoms. A larger, brightly decorated room is available for prisoners with families. This room has toys and baby changing facilities.  Prisoners, partners and children can spend time together in private without being constantly observed by prison staff.  Commissioners asked whether children are searched for drugs before entering the prison but were told this never happens.  However, prisoners are searched after visits and could lose their right to a private visit if found in possession of illegal drugs.


A small number of people, such as prisoners who have a high risk of violence or visitors who have committed a drugs offence within the last five years, are restricted to closed visits. There are two rooms for closed visits with a one way glass observational panel so visits can be observed by prison staff.


Halden prison has a family visits house, one of two such facilities in the Norwegian prison estate where prisoners and their families can spend 24 hours together. The house, built within the perimeter fence, is well-equipped and homely.  It has a small kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a large living room with a dining table, a sofa and a television.  There is an outside play area with toys for children.  The patio doors look out onto the garden but it is impossible to avoid the imposing prison walls in the background.


The house is a short walk from the main prison wings and prisoners staying there receive regular visits from prison staff during the 24 hour period. Use of the house is based on trust and prisoners know that if they abuse that trust they could lose the chance to spend such a long period of time alone with their children again.


The visits house is not available to all.  Foreign national prisoners with family in other countries are unable to use the family house.  To be eligible for extended family visits, prisoners have to complete a child development education programme which is only available in the Norwegian language. Fifty per cent of the prisoners at Halden prison are foreign nationals, mainly from Eastern Europe.  Most do not speak Norwegian although some have picked up the language whilst inside. One prisoner on remand spoke of his sadness at not being able to see his children in the Netherlands or even speak to them by phone. Prisoners on remand often face the most severe restrictions on family contact, imposed on them by the courts and enforced by the prison.


For the children of Norwegian prisoners, the family visits house gives them the opportunity to spend some quality time with their dad even if they are constantly reminded that their father is in prison by the ever present view of the prison walls surrounding them.


For more information on the Commission on Sex in Prison visit



Inquest is urging the Government to set up an independent review into the deaths of children and young people in prison, ahead of an expected decision by the government this week.


Leading charities and NGOs, including Barrow Cadbury Trust, have joined the call in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper today. The Government has been considering whether to hold an independent review since Inquest and the Prison Reform Trust published Fatally Flawed: has the state learned lessons from the deaths of children and young people in prison, which examined the experiences of children and young people who died in prison between 2003 and 2010.


Following an earlier refusal in May 2013, Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright agreed to reconsider and is due to make the decision public this week. Inquest has published a comprehensive briefing on why a review is so urgently needed.



An innovative three-year T2A national programme to deliver interventions to young adults involved with the criminal justice system was launched today in six locations.


The ‘T2A Pathway’ will be delivered by partnerships between the voluntary and statutory sectors, as part of the work of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A). The projects will work with 16-25 year olds at different stages of the criminal justice system.  Young adults are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system. While 18-24 year olds account for around 10% of the general population, they represent around a third of the probation service’s caseload, and a third of those sent to prison each year.


Alongside the delivery of the T2A Pathway, Barrow Cadbury Trust has commissioned an independent four-year formative, summative and economic evaluation, which began in late 2013. The evaluations will measure the social and economic impact and effectiveness of each project. The evaluation team, led by Professor Paul Senior and Kevin Wong at the Hallam Centre for Community Justice within Sheffield Hallam University, will also support delivery organisations with establishing baseline data, data collection systems, and data analysis.


The T2A Pathway projects include provision of mental health support, restorative justice, drug and alcohol treatment, family engagement and help with finding employment.  The new T2A Pathway projects include partnerships with the police in London and Rotherham, with courts and probation in Liverpool and Sheffield, and with five prisons in the West Midlands. The projects are all co-funded by Barrow Cadbury Trust, along with a range of statutory partners, from Police and Crime Commissioners to prisons and local authorities.


The projects will develop further the work of three T2A (Transition to Adulthood) pilots, which worked with more than 2,000 young adults between 2009 and 2013 in London, Birmingham and Worcestershire.  The pilots showed that treating young adults as a distinct group reduced offending and increased employment.  The projects will be the centrepiece of the delivery work of the T2A Alliance, a coalition of 13 leading charities, which works to evidence the importance of a distinct approach for young adults either at risk of entering the criminal justice system or already involved in it.


Announcing the new T2A Pathway, Joyce Moseley OBE, Chair of the T2A Alliance said:


“Young people on the cusp of adulthood often have a range of challenges to overcome, and those in trouble with the law have often lost contact with family, education or employment, which are vital for turning away from a life of crime. We’ve known for some time that young adults in the criminal justice system benefit hugely from a distinct approach that takes account of their variable maturity and addresses their particular needs.


T2A’s research has shown how services can work effectively with young adults throughout the criminal justice process and link them back to a crime-free life, benefitting them and their communities.  The T2A Pathway will provide young adults across the country with the opportunity to make amends and address their offending, and guide them into a stable and productive adulthood.”



The T2A Alliance


i)             The T2A Alliance is funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and was established in 2008. In 2012 T2A published the ‘Pathways from Crime’, which created the concept of the ‘T2A Pathway’, a 10-stage framework that describes how services can work effectively with young adults throughout the criminal justice process, from point of arrest to release from prison.


ii)          Over a half of young adults in custody go on to reoffend within one year of release and up to two-thirds reoffend within two years.


iii)            The T2A Alliance’s members are:  Addaction, Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), Catch22, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS), Clinks, the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA), the Howard League for Penal Reform, Nacro, the Prince’s Trust, the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), Revolving Doors Agency, the Young Foundation, and Young Minds.


Find out more about the six T2A Pathway programmes on the T2A Pathway page:































The provision of mental health services for young people at risk of or engaged with offending behaviour is inadequate, according to a report released today.


A partnership between the Transition to Adulthood Alliance and Young Minds, Same Old… is a cross-sectional qualitative research project carried out by City University London in three T2A projects in London, West Mercia and Birmingham. Interviews were carried out with young people as well as T2A, CAMHS and AMHS staff and commissioners.


The report reveals that little has changed over the last 20 years; young people within the criminal justice system still receive highly inadequate mental health care. Both young people and the professionals working with them highlighted distinct problems with mental health provisions which included waiting lists being too long, which results in many young people self medicating, are gaps in service provision between young people’s and adult mental health services and support centred around medication.


Same Old… outlines eight recommendations to ensure that young people offender with mental health needs get the support and intervention they require. Amongst these suggestions is targeted commissioning for at risk 16-19 year old, east access to services and information, and training for all professional working with children and young people at risk of offending.


Read the full report here.

A new independent initiative, backed by the Ministry of Justice, has been set up to review the outcomes and over-representation of young BAME men throughout the criminal justice process. The review, ‘Improving outcomes for Muslim and African/Caribbean young male offenders – An Independent Review led by Baroness Young of Hornsey’, will report initially in December 2013 and again in autumn 2014.
In March 2013, the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), in partnership with Clinks and chaired by Baroness Young of Hornsey, held a roundtable meeting in Westminster to discuss how we can better address the challenge of improving outcomes for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic offenders, through the commissioning process particularly within the context of the huge changes happening across the offender management system.
The roundtable was attended by a diverse group of leaders from relevant fields:

  • Senior officials from the Ministry of Justice
  • Representatives from the Prison and Probation Services
  • Senior staff from charitable foundations
  • Former service users
  • Leaders from BAME led community organisations
  • Chief Officers from large national charities
  • Directors from private sector providers
  • Academics and researchers

The full report from the roundtable is available at the link below:
Following the roundtable Jeremy Crook, Director of BTEG, Clive Martin Director of Clinks and Baroness Young met with Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling MP, to seek his support for the roundtable’s principle recommendation: To establish a time-limited Task Group to investigate further how particularly the Transforming Rehabilitation process can deliver improved outcomes for BAME offenders.
Mr Grayling gave his support for the Task Group to look specifically at delivering improved outcomes for Muslim and African/Caribbean young adult male offenders (18-24 year olds.) The Task Group is being supported by Clinks and BTEG and chaired by Baroness Young. It held its first meeting on 21 October and will produce an interim paper with recommendations for the Secretary of State before the end of 2013, followed by a final report in autumn 2014.
The Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A), convened by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, will share the breadth of experience from its collective membership into the review. If you have any examples of best practice or relevant research that the review may find useful please forward them to Clare Hayes at Clinks [email protected]

Today, the Transition to Adulthood Alliance publishes a new report examining how prisons currently meet, or rather fail to meet, the needs of young adults. In a post which first appeared on his Unlocking Potential blog, Rob Allen explores how we might improve custodial arrangements for young people in the transition to adulthood.


It’s not often that Russia provides lessons on prison reform but earlier this year the Federal Penitentiary Service proposed that the age at which teenage offenders must be transferred to adult penal colonies should be deferred from 19 to 25 years old. Depending on maturity and behaviour, young adults will be able to stay in juvenile correctional facilities where they will be protected from the worst risks of the adult system and can benefit from the educational regime on offer.


Contrast this with the direction of travel in England and Wales where increasingly young adults are being held alongside older inmates in establishments that combine the functions of a specialist Young Offender Institution (YOI) and adult prison. It is sometimes claimed that adults can have a positive influence on the behaviour of younger prisoners. It is certainly true that many establishments which exclusively house young offenders struggle to keep violence under control and to deliver the educational approach they are supposed to. The Prison Inspectorate’s scathing report on Feltham B earlier this year questioned the viability of it being set aside for just young adult prisoners.



But does the answer really lie in integrated establishments? Earlier this week the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Portland in Dorset reported serious concerns about mixing young offenders and adult prisoners. They reported a dramatic increase in drug finds and a rise in substance trading, debt, bullying and pressure on susceptible prisoners which made the facility much less safe. The IMB suggested that a clear physical separation of young people and adults on the site would be an improvement.


A new report I’ve written for the Transition to Adulthood Alliance looks at how best to deal with this challenging age group in a prison setting. Focussing on the arrangements in England and Wales where the government is considering the future of the young adult custodial estate, the report draws on lessons from Europe.


In Germany , in each of the lander , separate youth prisons accommodate all of those from 14-21 sentenced by the courts. Under 18’s and young women live in separate house blocks but take full part in the active daily programme of education , training and employment. Unlike many British prisons, almost no young people are found on the wings during the day with evenings and weekends filled with a wide range of recreation activities. The campus at Neustrelitz north of Berlin feels more like a further education college than a prison. Staff eat their lunch in a canteen alongside the trainees. In the UK meals are almost always taken in cells , with disruptive prisoners subject to the what is sometimes disturbingly called “controlled feeding”.


The Prison Service in England and Wales acknowledges that even in a dedicated YOI, life for a young offender is not that different to prison life for adult prisoners. Staff in a YOI they admit “will not be able to give you much individual support, as there will generally be one member of staff for every ten young people.” This is a starling admission and the nub of the problem. Wherever they are held , young adults require regimes and levels of care and intervention which respond to their distinctive and developing needs.
This will be particularly true in the re-designated regional resettlement prisons which will prepare prisoners for release. As with the Transforming Rehabilitation Proposals as a whole, without a specific focus on the young adult age group, they will continue to be a neglected group.


Rob Allen is co-founder of the Justice and Prisons and a former Chair of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance. You can read his report in full online here.