Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. Century. Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Wilmslow. Sunday 18th. October, 2009

Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. Century. A regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Wilmslow. Saturday 17th. October, 2009

Dear Pauline,

Tomorrow supporters of United Family and Friends will be gathering in London although no demonstration is planned this year. (Ken Fero, co-director of the film INJUSTICE, invites anyone who would like to attend to meet with him at the usual location. For more details – click here). Friends will uphold a banner for your daughter Sarah. You will be missed, Pauline. I cannot be there so I’m writing this letter.

My press card makes claims to ‘objectivity’ (if such a thing exists at all). But these  words reflect my own ‘prejudices’ – a belief in the work you were doing. There is still a strong movement for positive and radical change in our criminal justice system. At the same time I see the great, gaping hole your death left behind. 

On Saturday 17th. October Joan Meredith and I travelled to Wilmslow to attend a meeting – a Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, open to Quakers and attenders of Quaker Meetings called ‘Quakers and the Criminal Justice System in the 21st. century’. I believe  similar meetings have been taking place in other parts of the country.

 We mentioned your name several times at the meeting.  At least three people I spoke to didn’t know who you were. You. ‘The suffragette of penal reform” (as David Wilson called you in the book ‘Death at the hands of the state’). Are criminal justice movements so fragmented now and so separate that they don’t connect with each other’s history? It’s only just  over a year since you died.

The Meeting in Wilmslow was well attended and significant – around one hundred Friends and Attenders. To use an un-quakerly metaphor – quakers are well known to ‘punch above their weight’ as far as influencing government policy is concerned. See: Quaker international involvement at the U.N .

This is not a report as such – there should be one of those appearing in the international Quaker Journal ‘The Friend’ soon. You were never officially a Quaker I know – for most of my life neither was I. Be open to ‘new light’ is what quakers say.

The meeting opened with a description of Elizabeth Fry – a favourite role model and heroine of yours. Here is the (well-thumbed) agenda – if you were still alive  I would have shown it to you in the Fire Station cafe. You would have scrutinised it, no doubt. You’ll notice a few of my own scribbles on the paper – Angie Zelter’s name came up as one of the Quaker prison chaplains mentioned having had contact with her whilst she was in prison.

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Ten years. Perhaps you might have asked me why representatives of Inquest, the Howard League , United Family and Friends, No More Prisons , or Campaign for Justice for Jean Charles de Menezes were not speaking on such an important day. This question came to me too. Does it help at all to know –  historically speaking there have always been conservative and ‘radical’ elements in Quakerism? There is no single ‘quaker’ perspective.

 Is it possible, (or important) to categorise the organisations I have named here as ‘radical’ or ‘conservative’? I’m not sure – I would have liked to hear your views on this. If you were still alive, (and as a Trustee of the Howard League) perhaps you would have been leading the day yourself?

As is often the case with such meetings – there was far too much information to digest – I couldn’t speak to everybody and had to make a choice between workshops. I chose two: the first (and the overview) was led by Graham Robb – who amongst other issues spoke about risk factors and prevention. The second was led by Michael Hennessey (Youth Justice Panel member) speaking about referral orders.  

Of course all this meant I missed workshops two(see this link: Quaker support in prison), three (Women/Rehabilitation)  and four(Suicides and Mental Health in Prison). All of these would have been important to you, as we know.

I’ve never specialised in criminal justice. I miss you in that respect too  – your expertise.  I know how many facts you had at your fingertips and how well you worked together with journalists to facilitate the truth. After attending this meeting I still have questions about what the truth of the criminal justice system in the 21st. century really is.

The meeting confirmed my belief that Quakers are working extremely hard to maintain preventative strategies in all sorts of ways. Working at the coal face (if you like) to stop young people quite literally losing their lives in the mill of the machinery of the state (as your daughter Sarah did). Anyone who hears Michael Hennessy describe his work with young people and referral orders – will not doubt this. In plenary discussions Friends said quaker-inspired projects such as ‘Circles of Support and Accountability’ are ‘not popular with (what was termed) ‘the media’ – especially not the Daily Mail’. Of course I’ve got my own take on this one.

Nevertheless – Friends (Quakers) are clearly engaging with elected representatives, civil servants and decision makers. Graham Robb (former Chair of the Youth Justice Board) approached me after giving his initial overview and has responded to my emails and requests for information. The first question I asked after he had given his overview would have been important to you.

The question was “How many deaths have there been in custody in recent years?” I was initially confused by Graham’s answer  – perhaps my question could have been more precise. I believe you would have understood the implications of his answer much better than I could, Pauline. Graham said there had been nine deaths since 2000. Of course his answer referred only to the up to 18 year old age group.We know that even one death is one too many.

 Seeking to put this in context I approached the Howard League’s Lost Daughters Campaign (set up in your memory) and learned:

“1,668 women and girls have died in custody (prison, immigration, approved premises and detention under the Mental Health Act) between 1999 and 2008.

This figure includes 72 women officially recorded as ‘self-inflicted deaths’ in prison.  Another three women have died in prison and been categorised as self-inflicted deaths this year, with one woman dying categorised as natural causes. The deaths of women in prison are still a national scandal”. 

The Howard League also told me:

“As far as (we) know there isn’t a published list of deaths in custody- the Ministry of Justice send us notification as and when a death in custody occurs…in 2009…

  •  Alison Colk, 36, died on her first night of a 28 day sentence for theft in Styal prison. She was found suspended by ligature.
  •  Samantha Dainty, 32, died in her cell in Forston Hall prison. She was in prison for life and was found hanging.
  •  Julie Hooper, 45, died in her cell in Send prison. She was found in the night with lacerations to her arms and legs.
  •  Michelle Pearce was a terminally ill cancer patient. She was detained in Send prison, although she died in hospital having had her life support machine turned off”.

We  miss you, Pauline and bless you.

Frances.

See also: http://rememberpauline.wordpress.com/

and resources compiled by the Quaker United Nations Office: http://www.quno.org/humanrights/women-in-prison/womenPrisonLinks.htm   

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It’s still the number one news story. Is there anything useful to add to the acres of newsprint produced already?  Many of us don’t  think twice about what happens to our mail after it disappears into   that red box. We should. The Guardian’s  undercover reporter  Steven Morris had a pretty good go at describing contemporary postal realities at the Royal Mail coal face this week.

But doing the job on a temporary basis (when you know you have another source of income to draw on) is very different from relying on it to survive. 

I worked at the Royal Mail for at least five years, both as an agency staff member and a Royal Mail employee. I was also a member of the Communication Worker’s Union Women’s Committee for a year. So readers – I’m going to try to ‘decode’ selected aspects of the jargon-filled negotiations for you… 

The word ‘modernisation’ crops up a lot  in press releases – giving the impression that postpeople are some sort of Luddites – opposed to the introduction of technology at every turn. I asked a passing delivery person what he thought of the ‘new machines’ which are being discussed. He said:

‘The idea of them is great – but management have had the money for them for two  years and they can’t get them to work – they seem to work fine in Germany though…’

Interesting , I thought. So postpeople on the ground are opposed to ‘modernisation’ are they?

Next up: ‘family-friendly policies’. What does that mean exactly? Of course – part-time work contracts can be very useful. To my knowledge though, there are still a large number of what I call ‘part-time-full-timers’ at the Royal Mail.  These are people who have been given part-time contracts but quite regularly (consistently or permanently) work full-time hours without the security, the breaks, the working conditions or the holiday entitlement offered by a full-time contract. I believe former colleagues of mine are still making up their hours with what is known as ‘overtime’.  

What does this system mean for a post person on a week-to-week basis? If it is the same as it was six years ago – a postal worker requests ‘overtime hours’ each week  like clockwork – with no guarantee that they will get the extra work.  This system appears to suit the employer very well – such ‘family-friendly’ contracts afford a great deal of flexibility for a business.

 What happens though, when the employer stops offering ‘overtime’? Why is the Royal Mail apparently so keen to introduce more of these contracts? Do these practices conform to the well-established European Directive on Part-time work?   Questions to bear in mind when listening to mainstream news…

Riazat Butt, the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, and Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote analyse what happened in yesterday’s BBC Question Time. The Guardian asks: “Did the panel and the audience expose the weaknesses of his argument and the hatred behind (Nick Griffin’s) ideology?”

Follow this link to access the Guardian podcast.

Read these ‘Swine Flu Facts’ produced by the National Vaccine Information Centre (U.S). To access Jane Buergermeister’s worldwide forum on forced, mass vaccination click here.

With vaccination programmes being rolled out across the U.K – parents face tough choices about their children’s health. Barbara Loe Fisher President of the U.S. non-profit making National Vaccination Information Centre avoids sensationalism and offers some much-needed clear thinking. Yes. It will be U.K. schools as well. Watch this vid to learn more:

A new website has been launched which lays bare unethical employment practices in Britain’s prisons. Prisoners are being paid as little as 30p an hour. The work undertaken includes sorting book returns and printing holiday brochures for well known brands.

In 2006 freelance journalists Richard Cookson and Phil Chamberlain placed a Freedom of Information Act query requesting information on contracts between 10 and 8 named prisons, Young Offender Institutions and Immigration Removal Centres in England and Wales and the names of the companies using prison labour in the prison workshops; namely the nature of the work and how much the contracts were worth.

The Ministry of Justice initially refused to give out the information arguing there were ‘commercial’ interests involved. The journalists appealed. Two years later the Information Commissioner found in their favour and the ‘Investigating Prison Labour’ website was created see: www.prisonlabour.org.uk .

The Miscarriages of Justice News Service (MOJUK) said this week:

“This has been a significant victory for the Campaign Against Prison Slavery as it now opens up Contract Services to scrutiny and Prison Service outsiders will finally be able to examine more fully whether the quality of training provided in Contract Services workshops is as poor as prisoners are constantly telling us it is.

This is doubly important as the Conservative Party plan to double the number of Contract Service workshops placed in England and Wales if elected next year”.