A letter to the late Pauline Campbell – “Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. Century”

October 30, 2009

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.


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.


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   

One Response to “A letter to the late Pauline Campbell – “Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. Century””

  1. […] Letter to the late Pauline Campbell – Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. century […]

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