Stop children from suffering when their parents go to jail

Writing about the impact on children of having a parent in prison, you always hit the same brick wall: no one knows how many children have a parent in prison, including the Ministry of Justice. The MoJ estimates that ‘approximately 200,000 children’ have a parent in or heading to prison. Ministers have commissioned a review which is due to provide an updated figure on 13 June. The charity Prison Advice and Care Trust, pulling together various strands of MoJ statistics, suggested something in the ballpark of 100,000, though they only counted male prisoners. Meanwhile, Crest Advisory, a criminal justice consultancy, puts the figure much higher, at 312,000. If this lack of reliable data makes it difficult

The power of restorative justice

In a week when the Chief Inspector of Prisons published an Urgent Notification detailing the horrors of HMP Wandsworth, I found myself revisiting memories of being jailed there for the crime of fraud. Clanging doors, rattling chains, men screaming at night in anguish or despair or because their cellmate was assaulting them. No help coming. Emergencies unattended for far too long, and people dead as a result. No purpose, no hope, not even the possibility of redemption. Wandsworth is a miserable prison, one which does as much as possible to brutalise, punish and hurt those it jails, and nothing to heal or change them for the better. The process does

Britain’s prisons shame us all

Many years ago, for my Great Lives BBC radio programme, we recorded Jeremy Paxman’s championing of the life of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. It was an excellent choice and Mr Paxman persuasively laid out that great campaigner’s achievements in the reform of child-labour legislation and the lunacy laws. ‘As we look back baffled,’ I asked him, ‘by how civilised Victorians could even contemplate chaining the mentally ill to walls, or sending small boys up chimneys, what do you think future ages will lay, with comparable perplexity and horror, to our own age’s account?’ Paxman said he’d need notice of the question. I don’t. With no shadow of

What was banned this week?

For the love of dog XL Bully dogs were banned in England from this week, although there is an exemption for animals which are neutered, registered, insured and kept on leads and muzzled in public. Some other things that have been banned this week: – Parking on the pavement in Edinburgh. – Importing disposable vapes in Australia. – Selling new homes with gas boilers in the Australian state of Victoria. – Displaying toys in Californian shops under male and female sections. A gender neutral section must now be included. – English councils trying to charge for disposing of waste from DIY projects. – Withdrawals in dollars from banks in Iraq.

Riveting and heart-wrenching: BBC1’s Time reviewed

‘Only with women’ is a phrase used by more cynical TV types for a show that takes something that’s been done before with men, but by changing the gender of the characters can pose as ground-breaking. It sprang to mind this week when both of BBC1’s big new dramas unblushingly took the only-with-women approach; the problem for the cynics being that the programmes themselves are rather good. Or, in the case of Time, overwhelmingly so. Jimmy McGovern’s original 2021 series – a heart-wrenchingly effective portrait of life in a male prison – deservedly won a Bafta. Now he’s back to give us a heart-wrenchingly effective portrait of life in a

When did ‘best before’ dates begin?

An idea past its sell-by date Waitrose has announced the removal of ‘best before’ dates from many food products. – The idea of printing dates began with Marks & Spencer in the 1950s, but only for use in the stockroom. They first appeared in the company’s shops in 1970 and were named ‘sell-by’ dates from 1973, launched with an advertising campaign saying: ‘The sell-by date means that St Michael foods are fresh.’ There was also a TV advert which featured Twiggy. – The concept was quickly adopted by other supermarkets after evidence that shoppers liked the reassurance of a date. It was expanded in the 1980s, with ‘best before’ dates

Man of mystery: Not Everybody Lives the Same Way, by Jean-Paul Dubois, reviewed

For Jean-Paul Dubois, as for Emily Dickinson, ‘March is the month of expectation’. A prolific writer, he limits his literary endeavours to that one month each year. Whatever his reasoning, it has produced results. His 2004 novel A French Life won the prestigious Prix Femina and, in 2019, Not Everybody Lives the Same Way was awarded France’s top literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. The premise of the novel is simple. Paul Hansen, a middle-aged building super-intendent, is confined to a Montreal jail for a crime which is not revealed until the end. Life is reduced to its bare essentials when he is forced to ‘share a toilet seat’ with a

Where in the world will you find the cheapest petrol?

Whole-life sentences How many prisoners are serving whole-life sentences? — There are currently 74 prisoners in prison with whole-life tariffs; 11 had the tariff imposed by a home secretary and 63 had it imposed by a judge. There are only two women, including Rosemary West. — A further 29 people have at some point been given whole-life tariffs but have had them reduced on appeal, or been released under the Good Friday Agreement. — 22 prisoners have died while serving whole-life sentences. — The prisoner who has served the longest sentence is Robert Maudsley, who was jailed for one murder in 1977 and was given a whole-life sentence after committing

Colin Pitchfork should die in jail

Colin Pitchfork, the child rapist and murderer who was sentenced to life in prison in 1988, will soon be a free man.  On 31 November 1983, Lynda Mann was raped and strangled by Pitchfork in Leicestershire; on 31 July 1986, Dawn Ashworth was raped and strangled by him in a neighbouring village. Both girls were just 15.  The pathologist who examined Dawn’s body, which had been hidden under branches in a field, said it showed signs of a ‘brutal sexual assault’.  Pitchfork, who left his baby son in his car asleep when he raped and murdered Lynda Manns, showed no sign of remorse when caught.  I don’t trust the police and

Seldom less than gripping: Banged Up podcast reviewed

Prison-based podcast Banged Up, now in its second series, is far more uplifting — and less soapy — than its name suggests. It begins with the tacit assumption that, if you haven’t personally been incarcerated, you probably have at least a dozen questions you’d want to ask someone who had. Is the food really awful? How likely are you to be beaten up? Is there a lending library? (I’d start with the last.) Banged Up has the answers to plenty more besides. The podcast is hosted by a prison lawyer named Claire Salama and two ex-inmates, a former footballer, Mike Boateng, known as ‘Boats’, and university-educated Rob Morrison, who describes

No, jail staff shouldn’t call prisoners ‘residents’

What do you call someone in prison? An inmate? Prisoner? How about a ‘resident’? That’s how those locked up in Britain’s jails are now described by the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service. Apart from the cringing absurdity of labelling people whom the state has detained as if they had voluntarily checked into the care home from hell, what does this tell us about the culture of the Prison Service? And why does it matter? The Ministry of Justice has form for assaults on the English language. Recent guidance on offenders, still under a prison sentence but being supervised in the community, has cancelled this apparently dangerously oppressive label

Scottish Tories are wrong to oppose voting for prisoners

The Scottish Tories don’t mean to be the way they are. Sometimes they just can’t help it. They are being that way again over plans to let some prisoners vote in the forthcoming Scottish parliament elections. I am not convinced those elections should be going ahead at all in the middle of a pandemic but, if they are to, there are good reasons for prisoners to be enfranchised. The Tories intend to force a vote at Holyrood on Wednesday against allowing those serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months to participate in the May 6 election. MSPs voted last February to extend the franchise in order to comply with

Critics of the 10-year Covid jail sentence are right, but out of touch

Not for the first time, metropolitan-based commentators and MPs have proved themselves to be out of kilter with the wider population. But there is an especially interesting disparity over the government’s proposals for ten-year jail sentences for travellers who try to conceal they have travelled from one of 33 ‘red list’ countries in order to avoid hotel quarantine. The proposal caused outrage among Conservative MPs as well as legal commentators such as Jonathan Sumption. Sir Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee, accused the government of going ‘full North Korea’. To wide astonishment, however, a YouGov poll has suggested that more than half of all adults think that a ten-year

Lloyd Evans

Perfect to fall asleep to: Good Grief reviewed

Good Grief is a new drama starring Sian Clifford who shot to fame as the older sister in Fleabag. The script by Lorien Haynes is described by the producers as ‘sharp, funny, brutal, irreverent and quintessentially British’. The action begins after a funeral where a handsome young Asian guy named Adam, chats to a fellow mourner, Cat, who looks about ten years older than him. Cat has set up Adam with a blind date that he didn’t enjoy. ‘I was peeling her off me,’ he says, ungallantly. But Adam’s sexuality is rather a puzzle. His wife, Liv, has died and he boasts to Cat about Liv’s endless romantic conquests. At

The madness of Hancock’s quarantine prison threat

Nobody has done much travelling this winter apart from Instagram influencers travelling to Dubai to pose with baby tigers. But the United Arab Emirates is now on the government’s red list. Should the influencers wish to return home they face a dilemma: spend £1,750 to be locked up for ten days in a Slough Premier Inn, or (and I fear this may come more naturally to some influencers) lie. Lying about where you have come from, though, is to be made exceedingly risky, with a maximum ten year prison sentence about to be introduced. For the same number of years — should you be so inclined — you could be

The grim reality of being locked up during lockdown

What’s it like being locked up during lockdown? The latest statistics on prison safety paint a grim picture of life behind bars, which has been made worse by the pandemic. Even the good news must be caveated. Assaults on staff have reduced quite dramatically, which in any circumstances must be a good thing given a backdrop of record-breaking rates of violence until the virus struck. However, they have reduced mainly as a consequence of an unprecedented lockdown introduced to prevent the spread of Covid-19. This has dramatically reduced the time inmates spend outside their cells; as a consequence, it has rather limited the available opportunities for prisoners to knock seven bells out of

We need to stamp out extremism in our prisons

Jonathan Hall QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has launched an inquiry into how our prison service is managing the threat posed by terrorism. The backdrop to his review is the rapidly accumulating evidence that, across our penal system, violent extremism has increased its grip resulting in outrageous attacks on either side of the prison walls. In an interview with the Times, Hall said he found it ‘astonishing’ that convicted terrorists, far from being at risk from other vengeful inmates, achieve iconic status. This is not astonishing for those of us who have been writing and arguing for some years about the need for a transformed response to

We must stop treating juvenile offenders as lost causes

At the end of October, just before I started as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, the inspectorate and Ofsted visited Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby. Rainsbrook was built by the Blair government to house the increasing numbers of children imprisoned as a result of policing targets and tough-on-crime policies and it was one of four centres contracted out to private providers. The great hope was that these better-funded centres would provide a more humane alternative to Young Offender Institutions. Rainsbrook holds children aged mostly 15 to 18, but on our inspection we discovered that for their first two weeks, new arrivals were being locked in their cells for 23½

Are we any closer to stopping the next Usman Khan?

This weekend is the first anniversary of the London Bridge attack. Usman Khan murdered two young people at an event he was invited to, run by the ‘Learning Together’ scheme, which is part of the University of Cambridge. The conference was designed to celebrate the achievements of people like Khan who had joined the course while serving in high-security HMP Whitemoor. Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were stabbed to death by the dedicated Islamist, supposedly on community supervision nearly a year after being released from prison for terrorism crimes. Twelve months later, are we any closer to understanding that fatal convergence of perpetrator and victims? My organisation, the Counter Extremism Project, in

Consigned to a living tomb: Aziz BineBine endures 18 years in a subterranean prison

Imagine being on indefinite lockdown, imprisoned in a dark, underground, 6’ x 12’ cell, freezing in winter, boiling in summer and infested with cockroaches and scorpions. The bed is a narrow concrete ledge, where you can only sleep on your side. The toilet has no U-bend, and your cell, No. 13, at the end of a run of cells, receives all the waste and floodwater from the others. There are no windows. Aziz BineBine spent his young adult life there, 18 years from 1973 to 1991. His crime was to have participated unwittingly as a young cadet officer in an abortive 1971 coup against Hassan II of Morocco. He escaped,