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Behind bars

I was truly moved this morning at a conference I attended in Buckden  Methodist Church near St Neots’.  It was so organised that 6 excellent speakers connected with the criminal justice system were given 15 minutes to tell us about their involvement in the system – and some were particularly focused on Little Hey Prison at Perry not far from Buckden.

We heard from the Church of England Chaplain, a Magistrate, a member of the HM Inspectorate, a member of the Independent Monitoring Board, a Prison Visitor at Little Hey and finally someone who helps run the Visitors Caentre at Little Hey.  The talks were frank, made me think  seriously about why men( in the case of Little Hey all the prisoners are men) end up in custody in the first place ( often through appalling early childhood experiences) and realised how disadvantaged many of them are when it comes to educational ability and mental health problems.

littlehey

There is a shortage of  volunteer prison visitors and the Visitors’ Centre which aims to help  visitors when they come, often from a long way, to visit an inmate is also in need of more volunteers.

I made lots of notes and here are just a few  random facts and reflections which the speakers made;

*Prisoners at LH have no access to computers and e-mail, so letter writing is still alive and well in prisons. For those who cant write, there is a scheme in which prisoners who can will help those who cant.

*The prison can take up to 726 prisoners who are Category “C” prisoners – with a high % of sex offenders.  A new unit is being opened in January 2010  for 450-480   18-21 year old men.  The Mothers Union will be going into the new unit to deliver a course in relationship training for the young men, many of whom will have had bad experiences of parenting.

*155 out of every 100,000 people in the UK are in custody. In Germany, 88 out of every 100,000 are in custody and 96 out of every 100,000 in France. One speaker said that our crime rate isnt that higher than than of France and Germany and that prison is damaging a lot of young people.

*Restorative justice is a scheme that has worked well at LH – whereby after careful preparation the victim of a crime meets the person who committed the crime against them. this in some cases is very beneficial for both parties.

* 10% of prisoners at LH are over 60 years of age – some are disabled and find it hard to access stairs etc

* 90% of prisoners have learning difficulties, some in prison ( relatively few at LH)  self-harm.

* The problem with a lot  of  sex offenders is that they do not admit that they have committed a crime and hence starting them on a Sex Offenders Rehabilitation progamme, such as that offered at LH, is problematic.

* Churchill once said ” The level of civilisation in a society can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners”  – many poeple still feel that a criminal should be locked up and the key thrown away.

* Independant monitors play a vital role in monitoring the treatment of prisoners in all aspects of their lives.

* Men are locked up for long periods of the day with very few facilities and basic human comforts. Some cells are shared by two men.

* Around 70-80 prisoners at LH are on a life sentence. ” Life-a-Day” days are put on by the Visitor’s Centre where families can spend all day with their relative who  are  ” in for life” .

* Prison viitors cana made a big difference to a prisoner’s quality of life. It is not a ” romantic” thing to be a prison visitor, but it can give you a new perspective on life.

* It can take 3/4 hour to actaully get into the prison and see the inmate you are working with sue to security needs. There is a shortage of visitors and recruitment is being looked at.

* One person at the conference asked for more thought and care to be given  to victims – both prisoners families and the victims themselves – whose lives can be changed for ever by the acts of theft, personal attack  and violence.

I have been in LH a couple of times on visits and I found being shut in and the number of locked doors and flights of stairs to be very intimidating. What it must be like for prisoners to be shut into this complex 24/7 I cant imagine.

Of course the public need to be protected from dangerous criminals and the element of punishment maybe  acts as a deterent to would be criminals and future offending , but all the speakers felt that rehabilitation should be a clear aim of custodial  sentences.

Not all volunteer visitors of course are Christian – and  provision is made for inmate sof other faiths as well as the Church of England Chaplain. But I think the ministry of a visitor must be one of the most worth while expressions  of Christian caring there is. cell

Finally, more than one speaker said ” There but for the Grace of God go I…..”

I am far less likely to judge people in prison after what I heard today…

July 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Sounds a good session, although noen of what you report surprises me.

    P

    Comment by Peter Hagger | July 10, 2009 | Reply


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