Please note not all views expressed in the film and on the blog necessarily reflect the views of coalition members.
The self-fulfilling prophesy that's doubled our prison population,
demonised our young and costs us billions...
Welcome to the Fear Factory

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Dismantling the Fear Factory

Ken Clarke’s critique of the longstanding 'prison works' orthodoxy has received considerable media coverage. The Justice Secretary’s reform agenda has been divisive but it was widely welcomed by many working in the criminal justice sector – including the organisations in the Fear Factory coalition.

This growing third sector coalition is calling for cross-party commitment to creating and implementing an effective, long term Criminal Justice strategy based on evidence. It was formed as a result of a documentary film by the same name.

The film explored the crisis in our criminal justice system that has led to a record prison population. It uncovered how disproportionate fear of crime, and notably a fear of young people, has been stoked by the media and politicians in a “law and order arms race”.

It was that very arms race that Jack Straw attempted to rekindle in the aftermath of Ken Clarke’s announcements as Justice Secretary. The title of Jack Straw’s article in the Daily Mail was ‘Mr Clarke and the Lib Dems are wrong. Prison DOES work - and I helped prove it.’ A backlash for which he was castigated by a former head of the prison service, Martin Narey, at a Labour Party Conference fringe event.

With this backdrop, Ed Miliband’s election as the new leader of the Labour party could represent a positive result for penal reform. This is a view that has been expressed by
Andrew Neilson of the Howard League for Penal Reform among others. The temptation for Ed Miliband would be to outflank the government on the right by returning to New Labour tough on crime rhetoric. However, Ed Miliband’s position seems to differ strongly from that of Jack Straw:

"I don't think we should try to out-right the right on crime" ...."A lot of what [Clarke] is doing is motivated by budget cuts; but he is opening up an opportunity for us to redefine part of the debate about criminal justice.”

An article by Ed Miliband in the Sunday Telegraph suggested that Ken Clarke’s proposals on criminal justice reform are one of the areas of public policy where he will be largely supportive. This is an opportunity to create an amnesty on the arms race. My hope is that Ken Clarke will hold his nerve and that Ed Miliband will help to build a new political consensus on penal policy.

Robert Patrick

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Former prisons chief attacks Jack Straw over penal reform stance

Martin Narey confronts shadow justice secretary over his criticism of Ken Clarke's views on cutting the prison population

Martin Narey, former head of the Prison and Probation service

Martin Narey, former head of the Prison and Probation service, who last night attacked Jack Straw's stance on penal reform. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

The former prison service director-general Martin Narey last night angrily confronted Jack Straw over his "Daily Mail assassination" of Ken Clarke's landmark prisons speech that could have paved the way for a new cross-party consensus on penal reform.

Narey told Straw that he was "terribly disappointed by your assassination of Ken Clarke in the Daily Mail the next day".

He said Straw as a former justice secretary should have "given Ken Clarke a break when he says that the prison population should go down".

Narey said that home secretaries and justice secretaries could "talk the prison population up or talk it down", and the courts responded. He said Douglas Hurd had "talked down'' the prison population by 4,000 when he was home secretary in the late 1980s: "You can set the scene," Narey told Straw.

The impassioned clash took place at a Fabian Society/Prison Reform Trust Labour conference fringe meeting. Straw did not take the criticism lightly, claiming that Clarke had been widely regarded as a failure as home secretary: "Let me tell you, Martin, we were the first party to get crime down since the war."

For good measure Straw also denounced the record of Hurd, who is currently president of the Prison Reform Trust, saying that although he "greatly respected him, the truth was that when he was home secretary crime rocketed up and the Tories lost the plot on crime".

The exchange had been prompted by Straw seeking to justify his record as home secretary and justice secretary during which the prison population rose from 62,000 to 85,000.

He said he had not wanted to see the prison population go up on his watch. Indeed his policy had been to try to stabilise prison numbers. But he said the size of the prison population was not an objective of his law and order policy but the consequence of Labour's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" approach.

"I am not suggesting that I was some kind of hard bastard ... but you have to take the public with you," he said. He added that when Narey had been his director-general of prisons a lot of work had been done on trying to establish the relationship between prison sentence lengths and reoffending rates to establish what worked.

He insisted, however, that 75% of those in prison were persistent violent offenders who were a danger to the community who, he said, deserved a measure of respite care, which was afforded by sending them to jail for a few weeks.

Straw also defended Labour's record on prison conditions saying the jails were completely different places now to what they were in 1997 including the provision of in-cell televisions which he had pushed ahead with in the face of Downing Street opposition.

Others at the fringe meeting however saw an opportunity for a new political consensus on penal policy in the wake of Ken Clarke's speech with the new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, on record saying he thinks may provide the basis for a cross-party policy on prisons.

The Guardian
28 September 2010

Friday, 27 August 2010

Khulisa UK is proud to be the 60th member of the Fear Factory Coalition!

If you haven’t heard of us yet, Khulisa is a Zulu word loosely meaning ‘to nurture’, and we are an independent arm of Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative South Africa, which has a 13 year track record of being at the forefront of restorative justice, violence-reduction and youth diversion projects across the country’s 9 provinces.

Drawing on this heritage Khulisa UK is in the process of tailoring its programmes to UK audiences, and piloting them with groups of young people and adults in communities, prisons and YOIs. Our flagship programme Silence the Violence is a behaviour change programme using therapeutic techniques to help people realise the extent of their violence and its origins, as well as ways to manage their violent triggers.

To find out more about our work visit our new website and if you’d like to get in touch with us we’d love to hear from you!

Helen Streeter, Programme Manager
020 7938 8705 /

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Fear Factory - Cinepolitics

Gracia McGrath, CEO of Chance UK and Mike McCahill, The Sunday Telegraph's Film Critic appeared on the Cinepolitics Show on Press TV on Saturday, 7th August to review The Fear Factory documentary.

You can watch the whole show here...

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Youth justice group calls for custody threshold to be raised

Youth justice group Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) is calling for a new law to dramatically increase the custody threshold for young offenders.
The group, whose members include the Howard League for Penal Reform, says that legislation is necessary to ensure prison is only used as a last resort for young people.

It wants to see custody only considered for young offenders if the offence is punishable with life imprisonment and where there is a risk to the public if they remain in the community.

Courts should also be forced to obtain a clinical assessment of young offenders and consider their background as mitigation.

The move would cut the youth custody population in half, says the SCYJ. It would also save around £93m a year, which takes into account developing alternative community sentences.

In 2009/10 £305m was spent on youth custody, an increase of three per cent on the previous year. The number of children handed a custodial sentence tripled between 1991 and 2006 in England and Wales. The number of children in custody on remand has increased by 41 per cent since 2000, the SCYJ adds.

By Joe Lepper
Children & Young People Now
3 August 2010

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Fear Factory: The Charterhouse Group joins the Fear Factory Coalition

Press Release: 23 July 2010

The Fear Factory Coalition is delighted to welcome The Charterhouse Group for Therapeutic Services as it’s newest member. The Charterhouse Group is a charity established 20 years ago to promote, develop and support specialist therapeutic work with vulnerable children and young people. Started by a gathering of expert practitioners working in pioneering residential settings, it predominantly works with those young people with the most profound and complex emotional and behavioural issues – those young people with the greatest psychological need, often after many multiple foster and other placement breakdowns.

Today, Charterhouse is made up of almost 20 therapeutic residential providers across the UK. The members employ well over 400 specialist staff and provide in excess of 100 placements, in a wide variety of residential settings, often with education and clinical support.

Charterhouse is at the forefront of care and service provision to those most vulnerable children and young people who have been failed by society. Kevin Gallagher, CEO of Charterhouse stated: “Charterhouse members are delighted to lend our support to raising awareness about this important issue. Working with people and their relationships, with themselves, their families and their communities will prevent the need for increasing numbers of young people to be locked up. This is better for society and more cost effective in the longer term”

The Fear Factory Coalition is calling for:

A cross-party commitment to creating and implementing an effective, long term Criminal Justice strategy based on evidence.

An "Amnesty" on the "arms race" - ending policies driven by short-term political gain, media sensationalism and "tough-talk".


• For further comment or interviews please contact Kevin Gallagher, the Charterhouse Group at 01952 504715 /; or Rachel Bird, The Fear Factory Coalition at / 020 7569 3039
• The Fear Factory Coalition has 59 members and 2 affiliates; for further information and a list of those involved contact Rachel Bird or visit We have a comprehensive list of high profile speakers who would be willing to provide an interview or comment.
• The Fear Factory Coalition was inspired by the Fear Factory documentary; excerpts and trailers can be found online, or we can provide a full copy on request.
• The Fear Factory film and Coalition have been generously funded by The Nationwide Foundation:

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Novel approach: reading courses as an alternative to prison

In Texas, offenders are being sent on reading courses instead of prison. Could it work in the UK?


Mitchell Rouse who faced a 60-year prison sentence for drug offences was instead put on probation and sentenced to read. Photograph: Michael Stravato/Polaris

With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the death penalty, the US state of Texas seems the last place to embrace a liberal-minded alternative to prison. But when Mitchell Rouse was convicted of two drug offences in Houston, the former x-ray technician who faced a 60-year prison sentence – reduced to 30 years if he pleaded guilty – was instead put on probation and sentenced to read.

"I was doing it because it was a condition of my probation and it would reduce my community hours," Rouse recalls.

The 42-year-old had turned to drugs as a way of coping with the stress of his job at a hospital where he frequently worked an 80-hour week. But cooking up to a gram of crystal meth a day to feed his habit gradually took its toll on his life at home, which he shared with his wife and three young children. Finally, fearing for his life, Mitchell's wife turned him into the authorities. "If she hadn't, I would be dead or destitute by now," he says.

Five years on, he is free from drugs, holding down a job as a building contractor, and reunited with his family. He describes being sentenced to a reading group as "a miracle" and says the six-week reading course "changed the way I look at life".

"It made me believe in my own potential. In the group you're not wrong, you're not necessarily right either, but your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's," he says.

Rouse is one of thousands of offenders across the US who, as an alternative to prison, are placed on a rehabilitation programme called Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL). Repeat offenders of serious crimes such as armed robbery, assault or drug dealing are made to attend a reading group where they discuss literary classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bell Jar and Of Mice and Men.

Rouse's group was run by part-time lecturer in liberal studies at Rice University in Houston, Larry Jablecki, who uses the texts of Plato, Mill and Socrates to explore themes of fate, love, anger, liberty, tolerance and empathy. "I particularly liked some of the ideas in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty," says Mitchell, who now wants to do a PhD in philosophy.

Groups are single sex and the books chosen resonate with some of the issues the offenders may be facing. A male group, for example, may read books with a theme of male identity. A judge, a probation officer and an academic join a session of 30 offenders to talk about issues as equals.

Of the 597 who have completed the course in Brazoria County, Texas, between 1997 and 2008, only 36 (6%) had their probations revoked and were sent to jail.

A year-long study of the first cohort that went through the programme, which was founded in Massachusetts in 1991, found that only 19% had reoffended compared with 42% in a control group. And those from the programme who did reoffend committed less serious crimes.

CLTL is the brainchild of Robert Waxler, a professor of English at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. As an experiment, he convinced his friend, Judge Kane, to take eight criminals who repeatedly came before him and place them on a reading programme that Waxler had devised instead of sending them to prison. It now runs in eight states including Texas, Arizona and New York.

In the UK, nearly half of prisoners reoffend within a year of being released from jail. Could programmes like CLTL work on this side of the Atlantic where Ken Clarke, in his first major speech as justice secretary, indicated that more offenders could be given community sentences by putting a greater emphasis on what he terms "intelligent sentencing"?

Lady Stern, senior research fellow at the international centre for prison studies at King's College London, is not convinced. "Research does show that the public are largely pro-rehabilitation, but when you take an idea that involves offenders attending a university campus to be part of a reading group, instead of being sentenced to prison, it asks a lot of even the most thoughtful and socially conscious public," she says.

The initiative was initially met with an inevitable flurry of criticism in the US. Waxler and his supporters were described as "bleeding-heart liberals".

"They were shocked at the idea of offenders going on to university campuses to read books for free while the students were paying their way through education," says Waxler. "Some even thought the offenders would steal from them. It only takes one person to prove them right, but it's never happened."

In Texas, the public have been largely won over by the success rates and how cheap the programme is to run. Instead of spending a lifetime in prison at a cost of more than $30,000 (£19,520) a year, Rouse's "rehabilitation" cost the taxpayer just $500 (£325).

But it is the experiences of offenders, some of whom have never read a book before, that Waxler points to.

"In one group we read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway," he recalls. "The story focuses on Santiago, an old fisherman in Cuba, and opens with some heartache: Santiago is not able to catch fish. We talk about him and the endurance he seems to represent, the very fact that he gets up every morning despite the battering he takes.

"The following time the group meet, one of the offenders wants to share something. He'd been walking down Main Street and he said he could hear, metaphorically speaking, the voices of his neighbourhood. He'd been thinking about returning to his old life, to drugs, but as he listened to those voices, he also heard the voice of Santiago. If Santiago could continue to get up each day and make the right choice then he could do too."

Santiago, a character in a novel, had become the offender's role model. For many offenders, some of whom have spent half their lives in jail, it is the first time they've had a worthy model, says Waxler.

Literacy is a problem. Offenders are unlikely to be sentenced to the programme if they cannot read. However, those with poor reading are not excluded. The groups may read short stories, or excerpts from a novel may be read aloud so that low-level readers can participate.

In the UK, a version of the programme called Stories Connect is running in a handful of prisons with some success, and in Exeter it has recently moved out into the community for people with drug and alcohol problems. But it does not yet have the support of the criminal justice system, so cannot be an alternative sentencing option for the courts.

Retired probation officer Louise Ross voluntarily runs the small group in Exeter. Participants are referred from the Exeter and North Devon Addiction Service, and were, until three-year funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation ran out in April, made to attend as part of a community service order. Now all attendance is voluntary, but stories of how the programme changes lives are no less impressive.

After years of opiate abuse, Steve Rowe, 50, who joined the first Exeter group three years ago, says: "Stories Connect didn't just change my life, it saved it." He explains: "We looked at a section of Oliver Twist, the relationship between Bill Sikes and Nancy. One of us pretended we were Bill while everyone else asked questions. The idea was you responded as much as you could from that character's point of view. It makes you think about what others think and feel, and really helps you to reflect on yourself."

Mary Stephenson, a writer, who runs Stories Connect, says more funding is needed. To date, in Exeter, 96 people have been through the programme, but of these only 29 completed the course. This, she says, is largely due to the chaotic lives of the participants, many of whom are battling with drug problems, and the fact that the groups are not an alternative to prison, which removes the main incentive.

There are plans, again subject to funding, for the University of Exeter to run a research project into the effectiveness of the programme in the UK, both inside prisons and out. But until then, there are no quantitative results that prove the programme reduces reoffending.

Next week, Stephenson is attending a roundtable meeting with prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt, at which she will make the point that the programme could be achieving so much more.

"In terms of tackling reoffending, we need both more funding and the political support to explore it," says Stephenson. "There's no doubt among the people I've worked with that the success in America could be repeated here."

Waxler agrees: "I think that one of the great testaments of this programme is that it demonstrates clearly that literature can make a difference to people's lives," he says. "I already believed that, but I knew it could also be used to rehabilitate offenders."

Rouse says it is hard to judge how much the reading group should take credit for turning his life around as he'd already made the decision to change.

"I didn't want to lose my family," he says. "But the group did give me the guidance and direction I needed in my life, and without it I'd have spent the rest of my life in jail. It gave me a second chance."