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."

Manual that tells warders how to hurt teenage inmates branded 'state authorised child abuse'

By James Slack
Last updated at 8:02 PM on 18th July 2010

A manual instructing prison staff how to inflict pain on teenage inmates has been described as 'state authorised child abuse'.

The Ministry of Justice was forced to release details of its approved 'restraint and self-defence techniques' for unruly children in secure training centres after a lengthy freedom of information battle.

The document, Physical Control in Care, authorises staff to 'use an inverted knuckle into the trainee's sternum and drive inward and upward.' It adds: 'Continue to carry alternate elbow strikes to the young person's ribs until a release is achieved.'

Feltham Prison

Brutal book: Officers at youth prisons, such as HMP Young Offenders' Institution in Feltham, were given guidelines on how to restrain children as young as 12

Written in 2005 and classified as secret, it also tells staff to 'drive straight fingers into the young person's face, and then quickly drive the straightened fingers of the same hand downwards into the young person's groin area.'

Staff are warned that the techniques risk causing suffocation, skull fracture and 'temporary or permanent blindness caused by rupture to eyeball or detached retina'.

Carolyne Willow, national coordinator of the Children's Rights Alliance for England, said: 'The manual is deeply disturbing and stands as state authorisation of institutionalised child abuse. What made former ministers believe that children as young as 12 could get so out of control so often that staff should be taught how to ram their knuckles into their rib cages?

'Would we allow paediatricians, teachers or children's home staff to be trained in how to deliberately hurt and humiliate children?'

The campaign for publication of the manual began following the deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood in 2004.

Gareth, 15, died while being held down by three staff at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Warwickshire. He choked on his own vomit.

Adam, 14, from Burnley, hanged himself at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham.

Jail restraint techniques

Restraint techniques: In a passage on applying a head hold, the manual warns that the offender's breathing may be 'compromised' (picture posed by models)

Phillip Noyes, director of strategy and development at the NSPCC, said: 'These shocking revelations graphically illustrate the cruel and degrading violence inflicted at times on children in custody.

'These restraint techniques have resulted in children suffering broken arms, noses, wrists and fingers.

'Painful restraint is a clear breach of children's human rights against some of the most vulnerable youngsters in society and does not have a place in decent society.'

A ministry of Justice spokesman said the techniques were used 'very infrequently'.

She added: 'For young people under 18, the use of restraint is a last resort. But where young people's behaviour puts themselves or others at serious risk, staff need to be able to intervene effectively to protect the safety of all involved.'

18 July 2010
The Daily Mail

Friday 16 July 2010

The Fear Factory: New report highlights damage caused by the law and order ‘arms race’

Press Release: 15 July 2010

The Fear Factory Coalition enthusiastically welcomes the launch of the report, Time for a fresh start, by one of our members, the Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour. The report echoes the Fear Factory Coalition’s concerns over the damage done to children and young people and public safety by the law and order ‘arms race’.

The report was prompted by concern over consistent failings in the responses to crime and antisocial behaviour by children and young people. The commission notes: “concern over poor results is matched by dismay over the quality of past political debates about youth crime:

· For many years politicians appear to have been caught in a war of words on the basis that public opinion would favour whichever party sounded ‘tougher’.

· The facts were a notable casualty, to the point where three out of four people still believe that crime is going up, despite sound evidence that it has been falling for the past 16 years.*

· The consequences of this punitive ‘arms race’ have been expensive for taxpayers; but have not improved public confidence.”

The report also notes: “Given people’s retributive ‘top of the head’ response to youth crime when polled, it would be surprising if politicians did not, to some extent, take advantage of the public mood. Even so, the policy ‘arms race’ that has developed in the past 20 years has been exceptionally fierce. Commentators have drawn particular attention to the synergy between media-fuelled offenders and the rhetoric from political leaders of both left and right.”

The time has come for a fresh start and the report is a fantastic place to start in creating and implementing an effective, long term youth justice policy; a policy that is based on evidence rather than driven by short-term political gain, media sensationalism and ‘tough-talk’.


* Walker, A., Flatley, J., Kershaw, C. and Moon, D. (2009) Crime in England and Wales 2008/09. London: Home Office.
· The report can be downloaded in full from:
· The Fear Factory Coalition has 59 members and 2 affiliates; for further information and a list of those involved contact Rachel Bird at / 020 7569 3039; or visit
· 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.
· We have a comprehensive list of high profile speakers who would be willing to provide and interview or comment.
· The Fear Factory film and Coalition have been generously funded by The Nationwide Foundation:

Wednesday 30 June 2010

The Fear Factory: Jack Straw playing the law and order ‘arms race’

Press Release: 30 June 2010

The Fear Factory Coalition welcomes Ken Clarke’s proposals today made in a speech to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, echoing the views of The Fear Factory documentary which exposed ‘the tough talk fallacy that has led to the current crisis in the criminal justice system’ and revealed how crime and the fear of crime have been used by politicians contrary to the public interest for the last 30 years.

However, we are appalled by Jack Straw’s subsequent backlash in The Daily Mail which flies in the face of evidence. With a prison population of over 84,000 and a reoffending rate of 60% - rising to almost 95% for young males, his arguments that prison does work are nothing but fear mongering and an attempt to ratchet up the law and order ‘arms race’ for his own political ends.

The Fear Factory documentary includes contributions from Erwin James (ex-offender and Guardian columnist), Joyce Moseley (Director, Catch 22), Juliet Lyon (Director, Prison Reform Trust), David Howarth (ex Shadow Sec of State for Justice, Lib Dems), Dominic Grieve (ex Shadow Sec of State for Justice, Conservatives and now Attorney General), Maria Eagle (ex Minister for Justice, Labour), Chris Roycroft Davis (Ex Deputy Editor of the Sun), Paul Cavadino (ex Director of NACRO), Barry and Margaret Mizzen, Professor Rod Morgan (ex Head of the YJB) and Martin Narey (ex DG of the Prison Service and Director of Barnardo’s). The Fear Factory Coalition, inspired by the film has 57 member organisations. The consensus is clear: tough measures are not the same as effective measures, a point that Jack Straw deliberately seems to be missing.


• For further information and a list of coalition members contact Rachel Bird at / 020 7569 3039; or visit
• Excerpts and trailers can be found online, or we can provide a full copy on request.
• We have a comprehensive list of high profile speakers who would be willing to provide and interview or comment.
• Attached is a key list of quotes on the film, quotes from the film can be found online: Please feel free to use them but we politely ask you credit the film and where appropriate, link to this site.
• The Fear Factory film and Coalition have been generously funded by The Nationwide Foundation:

Monday 21 June 2010

AOPM Annual Conference - Plenary

Now entering the fourth year of operations, AOPM has become the driving force supporting volunteer Panel Members to achieve a sense of national identity and shared purpose.

We represent the community practitioners of a reintegrative approach to youth offending, on the basis that it is more likely to promote mutual respect, produce a meaningful dialogue and give young people a voice.

We continue to advocate restorative approaches to children in trouble with the law through panel meetings delivering support services and community sentences where, through willing participation, victims effectively become the jury and ensure that amends are made.

As representatives of civil society in the criminal justice system, we are keen to see greater integration of resources between the voluntary, third and statutory sectors towards a different direction for children caught up in criminality, but who are the most deprived and marginalised in our communities.

In Scotland’s Children’s Hearings system community volunteers meet with young people involved in crime - without the benefit of a prior criminal record – in order to nip offending behaviour in the bud. A criminal conviction is the major drawback of Referral Orders which, although spent on completion, is revealed through CRB checks to the detriment of future employment. (In the year to September 2009 over 125,000 CRB checks were made on under 18’s).

Moreover, a discretionary ‘Custody Threshold’ has meant that many young people, who pleaded guilty to a first time offence, were sent to jail instead of receiving a Referral Order. Although statistics of such sentences are not available from the YJB, a recent Barnardo’s report revealed that 95% of children incarcerated in 2006/07 had not committed a grave or serious offence, and 82% had not committed a violent offence against another person.

We therefore welcome the new measures from the Sentencing Guidelines Council that Referral Orders up to 12 months are mandatory for first time entrants pleading guilty to low level crimes, and that a court must state reasons why a community sanction is inappropriate when a custodial sentence is imposed. We also share the newly stated aim of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) to reduce criminalisation of young people, and continue to advocate that when issued alongside the Referral Order, Compensation Orders become spent on completion instead of after 30 months.

The Scottish tribunal model was adopted in Guernsey in 2009 and victims’ high involvement and satisfaction with the Northern Ireland system is in marked contrast with the present lack of involvement of victims in referral panels.

Despite the statutory basis of Panel Members’ role as practitioners of restorative justice, many of us long to see the day when the victims of young people’s crime routinely attend panel meetings, albeit inwardly apprehensive as to our ability to mediate effectively. Doubts arise from lack of RJ training and resources for volunteers, which AOPM has strived to redress since inception.

Following consultation on revised National Occupation Standards in RJ, Skills for Justice, the RJC and NPIA jointly launched the framework for a new qualification on 1st April 2010, open equally to employees and volunteers.
This represents immense progress and is a welcome commitment from government to the volunteer and third sector workforce (amounting to some 6million individuals), who service our most vulnerable young people. In addition, the YJB’s online college at the Open University is now accessible to volunteers, with easy access to learning materials for improving standards and consistency in youth offending panels.

In recent years, the increasing move away from local youth courts to a much more centralised system has meant that trial and sentencing of young people in courts can be outside their town, borough or county, whilst their schools, homes or care homes are no longer places of safety. At the same time the media-driven solution to youth crime is to remove young offenders out of sight and out of mind, leaving unaddressed their atrophied lives and collateral damage to victims and communities.

In marked contrast Panels lie at the heart of communities, enabling greater local accountability for those who commit crime in their youth, but statistically more often than not, will go on to live decent, law-abiding lives.

Neither a court of law nor a local authority committee, Panels provide local and accountable youth justice services to drive the changes so desperately needed by volatile young people, often struggling with literacy and communications deficits at a defining stage of their lives.

We look forward to a wider and increasingly effective role for Panel Members.

Sandra Beeton
June 2010

Monday 14 June 2010

Ken Clarke signals 'more sensible' prison sentencing policy

Prison reformers welcome justice secretary's claim that short prison sentences are ineffective in cutting reoffending rates
Ken Clarke arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 8 June 2010

Ken Clarke questions why prison population is nearly double what it was when he was home secretary in the early 1990s. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Prison reformers today welcomed what appeared to be a major shift in the approach to penal policy outlined by the new justice secretary, Ken Clarke, over the weekend.

The lord chancellor questioned why the prison population – at 85,000 – was nearly double what it was when he was home secretary in the early 1990s.

Clarke confirmed that he is looking for cuts in the £2.2bn prison budget and seemed to indicate that he did not regard short prison sentences as effective in cutting reoffending rates.

He acknowledged that members of the public were still "very, very worried about lawlessness" but said that their "fear of crime" is probably out of proportion to what they actually face.

"It's not to be soft on sentencing, it's to be sensible on sentencing, and bear in mind everybody who is sent to prison costs more than it costs to send a boy to Eton. So, all right, I'm all in favour of spending it when it's effective and justified, and that we will do. And we're looking at sentencing, not starting just from let's have more people in prison, let's have fewer people in prison … but what actually works, because the public are still very, very worried about lawlessness," the justice secretary said in a Sky News interview yesterday.

"What I'm looking at is, in this case, sentencing. Our first duty is to protect the public – there are some very dangerous and nasty people that need to be in prison," said Clarke.

"But why is the prison population twice what it was when I was the home secretary not so very long ago?"

The Conservatives went into the election pledging to match Labour's plans to build sufficient prisons to house 96,000 by 2014. The Liberal Democrats had a pledge to halt the prison building programme and urge the courts to use community punishments instead of short prison sentences. The coalition agreement split the difference by agreeing to take a fundamental look at sentencing policy, which the justice secretary outlined yesterday.

Clarke confirmed that he had to look for cuts in the justice ministry budget but he was to keen to take a more fundamental look than simply "salami slicing" budgets and saving a "bit of money here, and a bit of money there".

The move was welcomed by prison reformers. Jon Collins of the Criminal Justice Alliance said his comments were a welcome step forward: "At long last a politician is facing up to the unsustainable cost of our prison system. We simply cannot afford to keep building endless new prisons as more and more people are sent to prison at huge cost to the taxpayer," said Collins.

"Since Ken Clarke was last in charge of the justice system, the prison population has nearly doubled, warehousing thousands of people who could be dealt with more cheaply and more effectively in the community. Ken Clarke is right, keeping more of these people out of custody would save money and free up space and resources in the prison system to better rehabilitate those people who do need to be there."

But Conservative rightwingers disagreed: "It's very sad that somebody of Ken Clarke's calibre is talking such drivel. This is a ridiculous false economy – it saves money to have the most persistent criminals in prison," said Conservative MP Philip Davies.

"If short sentences do not work, the argument should be for longer sentences, not putting them out on the streets to terrorise communities."

The prison population stood at fewer than 45,000 when Clarke was home secretary in 1992-3.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Former head of prisons: short sentences don't stop reoffending

By Mark Hughes, Crime Correspondent

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Prison has no effect in stopping thousands of criminals reoffending and politicians should look again at whether it is a suitable punishment for minor crimes, the outgoing head of the prison service has said.

Phil Wheatley, who until yesterday ran all 140 prisons in the UK, said that offenders who serve sentences of six months or fewer are not being rehabilitated and on usually go on to commit further offences.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Wheatley also warned that, with the prison population continually rising against a backdrop of unprecedented public spending cuts, the Government will soon have to decide whether to build extra prisons or start releasing more prisoners early.

There are currently about 8,500 prisoners serving sentences of fewer than six months. Under current legislation they are eligible for release after half of their sentence and, because their sentence is less than a year, they are not given a probation officer.

Mr Wheatley, who leaves his post as director general of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), explained: "If you are using imprisonment to try to change the way someone thinks then you have got to allow time to allow someone to change.

"People who get short-term sentences – and many of them are doing relatively low-level crime like theft and shoplifting to fund a drug habit – often do not have much motivation to give it up. The real question is: are we making them better? Although we are doing our bit, we are not really making a significant difference to the way they reoffend.

"In real terms, if you get a short sentence you would serve half of it in prison. What can I do in, for example, two weeks with a person who is not very well-motivated to change?"

His argument is backed up by figures which show that prisoners released after less than 12 months go on to commit an average of three crimes each in their first year of freedom.

Instead, Mr Wheatley says that there is evidence to show that criminals given restorative justice penalties such as community service have lower reoffending rates than those given short-term jail sentences.

He added: "Anyone who says that short-term imprisonment does not work is perfectly accurate in saying that it does not have a therapeutic effect. Those who do community sentences do better than predicted. Short- term prisoners do worse than predicted. If you are looking for a therapeutic effect, there is not one for short-term imprisonment.

"My consolation is that we have achieved a therapeutic effect in longer-term prisoners and that is a major achievement."

Asked if the Government should scrap short-term sentences in favour of restorative justice penalties, he added: "In certain cases I can see what the thinking is behind it [short-term sentencing]. You could do away with it, but you would have to work out what was the right approach."

Mr Wheatley also warned that the current trend for judges to hand down indeterminate sentences – tariffs which in theory may never end – is stretching resources. He added: "It makes things more complicated because they will obviously only be released if we manage to reduce the risk of reoffending. If they do not prove that they are not a reoffending risk then their chances of getting out are zilch.

"It means that, of the resources we have available to reduce the reoffending risk, quite a lot of it goes on this group, a disproportionate amount. That's because, if we do not spend money on them, they will stay in prison forever – that is not humane to the individual and it is expensive to the taxpayer."

It does however mean that there is less money to spend on the rehabilitation of prisoners serving shorter sentences. Mr Wheatley said this was an unfortunate by-product: "We need to target the money to where it will make a difference. The danger is trying to spread it too thinly. If four people have an illness and 12 tablets will make one person better there is no point giving all four three each; that makes no one better."

Mr Wheatley joined the prison service in 1969, first as a prison officer, then a governor, and became director general of the service in 2003. His departure comes two years after the Prison Service merged with the National Probation Service and he became the first head of Noms.

He says that his decision to leave is due to the fact that, because in 2008 the job was put out to tender after two years, he was effectively being asked to re-apply for his own job, something he was not prepared to do at 62. He is replaced by Michael Spurr, previously the chief executive officer at Noms.

In Mr Wheatley's 41 years he has seen prison population rise from about 35,000 to 85,000 today. The increase, he says, is not down to crime rates, which are falling, but rather the tendency of judges to use prison sentences more frequently and hand down longer sentences.

He said: "At some point someone might decide they want to do something about that.

"It is not a problem for me, the jailer, because it gives me more customers and, just like the manager of Tesco, I do not mind having more customers. But we will need more prisons. If you do not do that you end up having to let people out early.

"The politicians have a choice: do they choose to build or do they choose to find a way of letting some prisoners out early? That is the political choice."

Case Study: 'Offenders don't need punishment: they need support'

Mark Johnson

"I remember the day I was released from my first prison sentence. I was 17 and had just served six months in Portland prison for assault. I was taken off the island on a minibus and put on the train back to Birmingham. I'd reoffended before I even got off the train.

"The first thing I did was buy four cans of Special Brew, take some amphetamine and smoke a spliff. While still on the train I robbed a young lad, took his money off him. The same night I went back to my mum's house and had stolen stuff from her house before I left the next morning.

"Within two months I was back inside after being caught selling cannabis. I did another four months and got out. A few weeks later I was in prison again for stealing a motorbike.

"I was a heroin and crack addict, but the prison service did nothing to rehabilitate me. It was a case of 'lock him up and he'll be gone in a few months'.

"But, in my opinion, I should have never gone to prison in the first place. All of my crimes were committed when I was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"I was a young lad in need of help, but I didn't realise it. The courts should have taken one look at me and proscribed some sort of alcohol or drug rehabilitation course. Instead they sent me to prison and somehow expected me to be a law-abiding citizen when I was released.

"The short spells in prison just taught me that I had to take from people or they would take from me. I continued that on the streets and my offending continued and my behaviour spiralled out of control.

"It wasn't until I enrolled myself on an intensive drug rehabilitation programme and realised that punishment was not what I needed – I needed help and support – before I finally realised what I was doing was wrong. But I had to do that myself. No one in the prison service appeared to recognise that."

The author is the founder of Uservoice, a charity involved in offender rehabilitation

Friday 21 May 2010

Prison numbers in England and Wales hits record high

Wormwood Scrubs prison
There are currently 85,076 inmates in England and

The prison population in England and Wales has reached a record high of 85,201, it has emerged.

Ministry of Justice figures show this figure was 192 more than last Friday.

Campaigners have called for Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to freeze the building of new prisons and stop the number of inmates rising further.

In February Jack Straw, the then justice secretary, announced the end of an early release scheme which saw more than 80,000 offenders let out.

No prisoners were eligible for the End of Custody Licence (ECL) scheme after 12 March and the last remaining ECL prisoners were out on 9 April.

Coalition can break from failed justice policy

Abandoning the obsessive concentration on increasing prison capacity will allow the government to restructure justice system

What strikes you most about the new justice policy outlined in the coalition programme for government is the absence of rhetoric. The new watchwords are moderation, common sense and effectiveness. As an example: everyone knows that drugs and drink fuel crime and antisocial behaviour – so let's deal with addictions and binge-drinking in a way that reduces harm and cuts costs. The coalition government appears to be taking the opportunity to break with the failed legacy of vacuous prison-building and instead concentrate on what works in justice policy.

When the new justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, was last in charge of prisons and penal policy, as home secretary, the average prison population in England and Wales (1992–1993) was 44,628. That figure now stands at over 85,000 – a number Clarke described after his appointment as "extraordinarily high". The political arms race over the criminal justice policy indulged in by successive Conservative and Labour administrations over the past two decades has seen the UK prison population grow from average to the highest in western Europe. As outlined in the Prison Reform Trust briefing launched this week, the social and economic costs of our addiction to custody have been immense.

In the current climate it would be a form of economic madness to allow the prison population to continue to spiral out of control. Each new prison place costs £170,000 to build and maintain, and the cost per prisoner per year is £45,000. Total prison expenditure increased from £2.843bn in 1995 to £4.325bn in 2006. Despite its exorbitant cost, prison has a poor record for reducing reoffending – 49% of adults are reconvicted within one year of being released, and for those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 61%. The National Audit Office estimates that reoffending by all recent ex-prisoners costs the taxpayer between £9.5bn and £13bn a year.

The coalition can draw on lessons from abroad where justice reinvestment and prisoner re-entry programmes, driven by economic necessity in many states in America, have had considerable success at reducing crime and rates of reoffending. Closer to home, restorative justice with young people in Northern Ireland has delivered a reduction in youth crime, a drop in child custody and a 90% victim satisfaction rate. Integrated offender management schemes piloted in parts of England and Wales have achieved impressive results and are waiting to be rolled out nationally.

A breathing space from obsessive concentration on increasing prison capacity at all costs would give the government time to restructure the system so that local authorities, voluntary organisations, and police and probation services work more closely together to develop community solutions to crime that inspire public and judicial confidence.

A moratorium – a proposal welcomed by the Ministry of Justice as "timely and interesting" – would also allow time for the coalition partners to capitalise on the considerable areas of agreement between them on justice policy and, where there are differences, resolve them in a rational manner. In the Liberal Democrat and Conservative election manifestos there was broad consensus on investing in getting children out of trouble and nipping youth crime in the bud, diverting addicts and people who are mentally ill into effective treatment and, at the other end of the spectrum, informing and supporting victims, transforming prisoner rehabilitation and cutting reoffending on release.

The new justice policy fuses these plans and, although moderate in tone, could deliver the prize of increasing public safety while at the same time reducing the cost burden imposed by excessive use of custody.

A review of sentencing could be useful. The glut of legislation, raft of new offences and mandatory penalties and overall growth in the punishment industry all need unpicking. New ministers will need to examine the explosion in indeterminate sentencing – which has increased from 3,000 indeterminate sentences in 1992 to 12,822 in March 2010. The freedom bill will be an opportunity to review the civil-liberty crushing IPP sentence, which has led to thousands of people being held in jail long after their tariff has expired. It will be important, too, to look at the high number of recalls for breach of license and any unnecessary use of custodial remand.

As Alan Travis highlights in the Guardian, in the past the new justice secretary has been highly critical of the unchecked expansion of the prison population. In a debate on prison policy in the House of Commons in June 2007, Clarke called for "a change of culture in which the platitudes about community sentences and making prison only for those who need it are turned into reality by returning proper discretion to the courts and ensuring that prisons are used only for violent, dangerous and recidivist criminals in conditions in which there is some hope that some of them will be rehabilitated". As a moderate prescription for reforming our overcrowded and underperforming prison system the new coalition government could do a lot worse.

Juliet Lyons, Prison Reform Trust

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Penal reform a key policy flashpoint for Lib-Con coalition

Mounting pressure from campaigners to halt the billion-pound prison-building programme promises to test new government
Justice secretary Ken Clarke

Justice secretary Ken Clarke has been critical of the rise in prison numbers in recent years. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Penal reformers are stepping up pressure on the Lib-Con coalition to halt the billion-pound prison-building programme, pointing out that in recent years the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, has repeatedly criticised the rise in prison numbers as unsustainable.

The future of the programme is a key policy flashpoint between the two coalition partners, and one of the main issues to be thrashed out before the detailed policy agreement between them is published in the next few weeks.

A Prison Reform Trust briefing published today says that when Clarke was last in charge of jails, as home secretary in 1993, the prison population stood at 44,628; it has now topped 85,000. Clarke told the Commons in June 2007 that over the previous 10 years four home secretaries had responded to media pressure on crime by "taking away discretion on sentencing from the courts" and almost doubling the prison population "without paying the slightest heed to the inevitable moment when they would hit the buffers and there was no accommodation". He said a change of culture was needed to ensure that discretion was given back to the courts to ensure that prison was used only for "violent, dangerous and recidivist criminals in conditions in which there was some hope that some of them will be rehabilitated".

The PRT also cites a Commons debate in March 2007 in which the now justice secretaryClarke warned that the '"fantastic rate" in the rise in the prison population was unsustainable and would lead to a "tremendous squeeze on spending in every other part of the criminal justice system". He also observed that the rapid rise in prison numbers was partly a result ofhome secretaries trying "desperately to get the right headlines in all the most popular rightwing newspapers".

The new coalition justice team, which includes Conservatives Nick Herbert and Crispin Blunt, is the ministerial team responsible for prisons and probation and inherits a prison-building programme that will increase the number of jail places from 85,000 now to 96,000 by 2014. The PRT says that this will give England and Wales an incarceration rate of 178 per 100,000 .

The penal reformers say there is broad agreement between the Lib Dem and Conservative manifestos in schemes to get children out of trouble, tackle youth crime early, divert addicts and mentally ill people away from the jail system and improve rehabilitation.

But there is a fundamental clash over sentencing and the prison building programme. David Cameron has called for longer sentences and wants to introduce automatic prison sentences for carrying a knife and to give magistrates the power to jail offenders for 12 instead of the current six months.

The Lib Dems, however, had promised to introduce a "presumption against short-term sentences of less than six months" and cancel the government's billion-pound prison building programme.

Juliet Lyon, the PRT's director, said: "As the new justice secretary has previously acknowledged, the current growth in prison numbers is unsustainable. A moratorium on prison building would be a first step in reversing the disastrous legacy of the past two decades which has seen the prison population almost double, while rates of reoffending have rocketed."

Monday 17 May 2010

The Fear Factory: Law and Order – When will the cracks start to show?

Press Release: 12 May 2010
The Fear Factory: Law and Order – When will the cracks start to show?

As the dust begins to settle on a strange new political landscape, the release of the initial coalition agreement between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives makes no mention of the clear differences in law and order policy between the two parties. The former were clear in their manifesto:
· a presumption against short sentences of less than six months;
· the cancellation of the prison building programme;
· a more effective justice policy.

Two out of three of these policies run totally counter to the Conservatives policy and the Fear Factory Coalition calls on the government to clearly outline their plans for law and order. As Kenneth Clarke assumes the mantel of Minister for Justice we ask that he works with the Liberal Democrats for an effective long-term criminal justice policy. We also call on the Liberal Democrats to have the courage of their convictions and to stand fast to their election promises.

In the election debate Nick Clegg echoed his response to The Fear Factory film which inspired the Coalition:
“I hope the Fear Factory exposes the tough talk fallacy that has led to the current crisis in the criminal justice system. Dragging young people through the criminal justice system for minor offences is a foolproof way of helping them to graduate to a more serious life of crime.”

Chris Huhne, then Home Affairs Spokesperson, was categorical in his agreement with The Fear Factory which he said: “Exposes our criminal justice crises with precision.” He promised that: “The Liberal Democrats will not peddle the politics of fear ... We will put criminal justice on an evidence-based footing by establishing a National Crime Reduction Agency to test properly what cuts crime.”

Dominic Grieve speaking in the film as Shadow Justice Secretary was equally clear in the lead up to the election that:
“What I do want to do is to try and do some hard thinking about what works. To put in place systems which I hope will reduce crime in both short, medium and long term and implement them along the lines of what we've been discussing and I want to do that whilst at the time saying to the public that there are no quick fixes and any politician that goes out there and promises a quick fix is in fact deceiving people.”

Despite the embarrassing wrangling over the crime stats which led to a warning from Sir Michael Scholar, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, that the Conservatives were ‘likely to mislead the public’, for once this was an election where there wasn’t too much ‘out toughing’ on crime.

With the media already putting pressure on the coalition government to make crime an issue it remains unclear as to whether ‘the fear factory’ will continue to rumble on unabated or finally be deemed ineffective, but whatever the outcome the growing Fear Factory Coalition - currently 55 members strong - will continue to campaign for an effective long-term criminal justice policy.


Wednesday 12 May 2010

Film exposes horrors of 'fear factory'

Film exposes horrors of 'fear factory'

The Fear Factory has been screened at the MOJ, home office, DCSF, the Welsh assembly, and has been praised by politicians who have seen it. speaks to the film-makers, Richard Symons and Joanna Natasegara.

For people who have never seen The Fear Factory, can you briefly explain the idea behind it?


Essentially, the film explains why our criminal justice system is in crisis and attempts to correct the numerous misconceptions held by politicians, media and public. There has been a raft of reports and recommendations over the last few years, but no-one's ever taken a holistic view of the issues – in particular, the media's influence on policy-making – and perhaps the very heart of the matter, what do we actually want from our criminal justice system? It is interesting to see that the most recent report from the justice select committee came to exactly the same conclusion as the film on the key indicator of performance – re-offending rates. And at the moment, we are performing pretty badly.

Spirit Level makes a wide variety of films, why did you decide to investigate the nature of the criminal justice system?


The problem with criminal justice issues is they are either very dry (and often contested) statistical data, or highly emotive individual cases. Neither of these are particularly useful for delivering compelling arguments to influence policy or educate people.

We were approached by a group of stakeholders who had seen our previous political documentary, The Ministry of Truth, and felt we had brought a very dry constitutional issue (Parliament's self-regulation) to life by trying to get MPs and ministers to support a bill making them legally accountable for deliberately misleading the public. It ended up being the BBC's highest-rated political documentary of that year. The stakeholders could certainly have gone a more traditional route and commissioned a report, but felt a film would give them a more usable tool – one they could show to policymakers as well as other stakeholders and perhaps most importantly, the public.

Ultimately I think we were drawn to the idea because it deals with issues as fundamental (and emotionally charged) as redemption and retribution. Do we want offenders to be rehabilitated and redeemed, or would we prefer to pay the price for their continued re-offending and incarceration? The focus on youth justice made the subject even more compelling – if you are an innocent at birth, where is the cut-off point? When can society say we no longer have a responsibility to set you on the straight and narrow? 16, 18, 35? Can you ever turn your back? That is as much of a moral as an economic question, and makes powerful viewing.


There is often a lot of hypocrisy in the media when dealing with children as victims and offenders – the two are not mutually exclusive groups; more often than not they are actually closely linked. A child who has had a rough ride in some way and is a victim is more likely to be the offender of the future, yet the media loves to talk in absolutes – angels or demons.

You must have experienced mixed reactions to the film, but are most people surprised to hear that crime has actually fallen since 1997?


Absolutely. I do not think we have ever made a film where the public had such strong but misinformed opinions. Having said that, we also found the main problem with public opinion was that no-one had ever talked the issues through. Start a conversation with, "What should the sentence be for murder?" and inevitably the response is, "Life. And 'life' should mean exactly that." It is only once you get a little further into it – the costs, rehabilitation etc. that people start to think it through and put the initial, emotional response to one side. We deliberately provoked an emotional response (and engagement) to begin with by introducing the viewer to some violent offenders, where your initial reaction is to hope they are not on the streets. Then we unpack the arguments and history. By the end of it you have met all the relevant players (victims, media, politicians, government, judges, NGOs), fully considered the issue and – hopefully – changed your mind.


The public response on crime is quite like the public response to politicians – they can think their local area and local MP is okay, but that the rest of the country has gone to the dogs. It is an odd psychological paradox.

The shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Grieve, appeared in the film claiming that crime has definitely increased since 1997, which was proven to be factually wrong. Has he tried to retract this statement at any point?


I am afraid not. Perhaps worse than that, we held the launch screening at the Empire, Leicester Square, with a Q&A session afterwards. The Conservatives pulled Dominic from the panel and were not able to offer a replacement – it looked pretty bad in front of 500 or so press, stakeholders, civil servants and government officials.


The Conservatives have been consistent in their repetition of this fact, despite warnings from Michael Scholar [chairman of the UK Statistics Authority]. Their persistence with it indicates they have a particular agenda they are trying to put across to the public, and that to me is fear-mongering; using people's imaginations to frighten them into voting a certain way. It is not very helpful and it is a shame, because lots of the work done by Dominic Grieve and Iain Duncan Smith on youth justice has been quite positive.

In the film, Cherie Blair, chair of the English Commission on Prisons, says that prisons have a success rate of around 30 per cent (or a re-offending rate of 70 per cent). When setting out to make the film, did you think that it was this low?


Frankly, before we made the film I had never even thought about re-offending rates, but very early on in the research, it became clear this was the key. I do not think I was surprised by how bad it was, I was more surprised that no-one had got a handle on this earlier. Here the media are as much to blame as politicians – had the press been attacking policy failures on re-offending rates, there is no question in my mind the parties and politicians would have responded. Instead we are stuck with a slanging match between 'soft' or 'tough' on crime – the word 'effective' is not in the vocabulary.


I was surprised at the highest rate of reoffending for young men (90 per cent), because I could not understand why such a clear failure of purpose was not a national outrage, and why, if we know the system is so ineffective, we're committing millions of pounds to expanding it. The simple truth is we cannot afford to build more prisons or have more people become offenders or re-offenders. It costs a lot of money to fail this badly! But the papers clearly did not feel reoffending rates was a story, nor would many of them tolerate, be sympathetic, to spending money on more effective alternatives to custody.

Chris Roycroft-Davis, former executive editor of The Sun newspaper, says in the film he does not think newspapers have a duty to "educate, or inform". Were you at all shocked by this?


Not at all – though this was almost certainly the biggest bone of contention at Spirit Level. There was a natural instinct to crucify Chris, but I was impressed by his honesty, and thought we would be kidding ourselves if we believed such a duty existed. Honesty will become a 'duty' only if the public stops buying a newspaper when it lies.

All credit to Chris though – he was prepared to defend himself at the Q&A session and was quite frank about the film changing his mind. Does that redeem a man who has been responsible for 20 years of headlines read by 10 million people a day? Things get harder to justify when you look at the principles/ethics of journalism laid out by the NUJ code for its members. I suspect if they ever tried to enforce them, there would be a significantly reduced membership.


Initially I was both shocked and angered by Chris' statement – I had always believed (perhaps naively) that papers did profess to educate and lead. I felt, and to some extent still do think, that the newspapers' consumers are not thinking about the shareholders' bottom line when they read the stories. Nor do I think this statement fits well with a paper that is actively trying to have an effect on policy, and often succeeding. I actually think The Sun's campaigns on the Bulger case led the Labour Party, and was partially responsible for the rise in young people in custody since 1998. However, like Richard, I did enjoy Chris' honesty and openness. He has subsequently been a great asset and supporter of the project overall.

Did you find when making the film that politicians privately believe there is another option other than imprisoning the young, but publicly, crime-fighting rhetoric is what scores the most political points?


In terms of youth justice, you are absolutely right. But rhetoric is one thing, and delivery another. Talk is cheap, legislation a little more expensive – but not that much more. The real deal is implementation, and that is where I suspect the differences kick in. Whether it is through a lack of interest, ability or funding, we will probably never know, but this government has been better at delivering its promises on building prisons than it has at delivering effective alternative options. In the film, even John Fassenfelt – deputy chair of the Magistrates' Association – was pretty damning of what has been delivered. When you ask the NGOs and offenders their opinion, the criticism was at another level altogether.


We have always thought the public prefer politicians to tell more of the straight truth and explain the complicated bits. Very few other countries have such a problem with explaining sensible youth justice policies to the electorate, so I am convinced this is not an intractable problem. However, we could solve it much faster if the parties agreed not to point-score off each other on crime, not to use fear as an election tool or bandwagon on essentially anomalous, high-profile cases which are not indicative of a general pattern.

Do you think the backlash from the media is the only thing stopping politicians from a different approach to criminal justice, and youth justice in particular?


As we point out in the film, the media are not elected to run the country. I think the real hindrance to reform is the politician's inability to lead on the issue. That has lost them the respect of a great many stakeholders they need to work with. Off the back of the film, a coalition of unprecedented expertise and experience was formed (some 47 NGOs) to lobby politicians for effective, as opposed to 'media-friendly' policies. If a dyed–in-the-wool newspaper man like Chris Roycroft-Davis had his opinion changed by the film, it seems beyond credibility that our elected representatives and government could not do the same thing over the last decade. I see that as a failing on their part and in particular, a failing in their capacity as representatives of the peoples' interests.


I think politicians have got themselves stuck between each other and the media. Even if the press did not respond to an effective policy statement with a 'soft' headline, the opposing party might well do. This 'arms race' has got to stop before sensible, productive debate and outcomes can happen – though I note the Liberal Democrat manifesto promises on law and order are very similar to the conclusions of the film. Maybe it has been easier for them to be sensible on policy because they were not being so closely watched?

The film has already had an incredible impact, but do you think the best way of instigating change is for it to be aired on television?


Not necessarily. We have had a tremendous amount of both 'official' and 'unofficial' screenings for government, the Home Office, MOJ, DCSF, NGOs and, earlier this week, the Welsh Assembly. That is a lot of policymakers. As a film-maker you always want your film to be seen by as large an audience as possible, but this was made with a very specific purpose in mind – to influence policy-change. As such, it was essential to make a balanced but compelling argument on a difficult, emotive subject with a counter-intuitive conclusion. If this film had been through the broadcast commissioning process, it would have become something very different. Broadcasters do not have the same stranglehold on reaching the public as they used to – the internet has changed the ground rules. That said, I have no doubt at some point we will make an edit for a broadcaster.

A coalition has been formed on the back of the film; what stage is this at and what are you hoping to achieve from it?


The Nationwide Foundation went 'above and beyond' in supporting the resultant coalition, and we are delighted they have decided to continue funding its work for this year. There is a co-ordinator in place who will continue to work with coalition members on the goals they have set out.


One of the ideas is to pool the coalition's expertise and use it to rebuff misleading media, statistics and politicians, by reproducing an article or policy statement online and having a group of experts post comments on it. You will effectively have an evidence-based response from credible individuals that can be used as a resource by media, politicians, stakeholders etc. to put forward an expert opinion.

Monday 19 April 2010

Labour's 'votes for paedophiles' leaflet sparks row

A Labour candidate is embroiled in a row with the Liberal Democrats after suggesting they would give convicted murderers and paedophiles the vote.

Roger Godsiff, who is standing in Birmingham Hall Green, issued leaflets showing nursery worker Vanessa George, who was jailed for abusing children.

He defended the move, saying his opponents were evading scrutiny, but Labour have now scrapped the leaflet.

The Lib Dems said they would not give those currently in prison the vote.

However, they stressed the issue needed to be looked at following a 2005 ruling by the European Court of Rights that found the UK's ban on extending the vote to convicted prisoners was unlawful

Ministers have been consulting on how to respond to the ruling since then with critics accusing them of kicking the issue into the long grass.

High-profile cases

Leaflets distributed under Mr Godsiff's name asked: "Do you want convicted murderers, rapists and paedophiles to be given the vote? The Lib Dems do".

The leaflets contained pictures of a number of high-profile criminals including Vanessa George and Steven Wright, convicted in 2008 for the murder of five women in the Ipswich area.

As soon as it came to my attention I immediately ensured that no more of these would be distributed
Ray Collins, general secretary of the Labour Party

Mr Godsiff defended the campaign tactic, saying the Lib Dems' policy on the issue was "black and white" but they were not making that clear to voters.

"I agree that the imagery is strong but I do not accept that it is any stronger than anything that has been put out by my opponents," Mr Godsiff told the BBC.

"The leaflet has been distributed in certain areas but it does not contain anything that is factually incorrect. I have put out some negative campaigning when my opponents do not tell the electorate what their position is.

"It is right and proper to ask whether they support or do not support whether people convicted of serious crimes can vote. I have invited other candidates to make their position clear....I have made my position clear."

'Legal minefield'

Asked whether he had personally sanctioned the leaflets, he said he would not discuss the "mechanics" of his campaign but accused the Lib Dems of lying about his policies and voting record.

However, Labour have acted to defuse the row, saying the leaflet was not approved at a national level.

"This was a locally produced leaflet," Ray Collins, the party's general secretary, said. "As soon as it came to my attention I immediately ensured that no more of these would be distributed."

The Lib Dems said they were "unhappy" with the claims and did not favour any attempt to give already convicted prisoners the vote, describing such a step as a "legal minefield".

But, in future, they said judges should be given discretion to decide, upon sentencing, whether to strip someone of the vote, depending on the length of sentence and the nature of the crime.

Once a new system was in place, they said existing prisoners should be given the right to launch an appeal to try and secure the vote.

However, they insisted that those guilty of the most serious crime should never be able to do this.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/04/19

Wednesday 14 April 2010


Agencies dealing with children and young people in breach of bail conditions, criminal justice orders (CJOs) and anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) need to strike a balance between enforcement and support to improve outcomes for young offenders and reduce re-offending, according to a new NCB report ‘Children and young people in ‘breach’: A scoping report on policy and practice in the enforcement of criminal justice and anti-social behaviour orders’.

The report contains the initial findings from a project to increase understanding of policy and practice in breach proceedings, particularly focusing on children and young people who are in custody as a result of breach. Recent years have seen an increasing number of young people incarcerated for breach, including cases whereby no criminal offence was committed in the first instance.

It questions whether intervention by anti-social behaviour units is too adult focused so that the conditions attached to ASBOs are unachievable for many young people. In contrast, recent youth justice appears to be trying to move towards a more flexible and child centred approach. The report suggests that communication may be weak between different agencies, young people and their legal representatives, with young people not always understanding the conditions of their order or the consequences of non-compliance.

Di Hart, author of the report and Principal Officer of Youth Justice and Welfare at NCB says, ‘We must remember that young offenders are children first and offenders second. This is not to suggest that young offenders shouldn’t be held to account for their actions, but that the practitioners that work with them should accept responsibility for ensuring their conditions are reasonable and that they understand them in full. Communication, intensive intervention and tailored support are key ingredients in assisting children and young people who are often from difficult and chaotic homes to complete their orders rather than relying on a punitive approach alone.’

Monday 12 April 2010

The Fear Factory – the work continues

All may have gone quiet on the blog but we’ve been very busy behind the scenes. On the strength of the film, almost 50 national organisations joining the coalition, fantastic press and unprecedented support from key stakeholders, the Nationwide Foundation have very kindly agreed to fund the future work of The Fear Factory as we campaign 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".

Britain has one of the highest incarceration rates in Western Europe and though supposedly only used as a last resort and to house those most dangerous offenders, the UK incarcerates more children than most other western countries – currently over 2,500 children are in jail.

As the media decries the youth of today and the spectre of ‘broken Britain’ raises it’s ugly head, politicians knee-jerk to each story of violent youth, conveniently ignoring that at the heart of the issue are some of the most vulnerable children and young people who have been failed by social services and failed by us.

Conditions in custody are regularly criticised by independent inspectors, including the over-use of physical force and deliberate infliction of pain, strip-searching and segregation. The majority of young people are criminalised for minor and petty offences, but set on the trajectory to crime by the system itself. Growing up under these conditions it is no surprise that the re-offending rate is well over 75%. The system isn’t working, and at £170,000 for each new prison place it is a very expensive way of ensuring our young people become more damaged thereby opening society up to a very real risk of crime.

30% of children in custody have been in care, three quarters of the prison population suffer from at least two diagnosable mental health disorders and learning disabilities and difficulties are rife. In 1910 the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill said that the civilisation of a society can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners. When those prisoners are our children and prison takes the place of a failing social services, it is imperative that society takes a serious look at the legacy we are building before it’s too late and Britain ‘grows’ the largest adult prison population in Europe.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, the DVD is available for purchase at:

We also have a public screening at The Frontline Club on 22nd April at the Frontline Club:

Two screenings as part of the London Independent Film festival on the 18th and 19th April, tickets available here:

I’ll bring you more news soon but in the meantime, check out the New Statesman for news on The Tories’ shocking new crime leaflet - evidence of business as usual for the Fear Factory:

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Solving the prisoner’s dilemma

With the glimmering colourful lights and the smell of popcorn, the Empire at Leicester square seems an unlikely place for serious discussion on public policy. Yet it may be the starting point for an important movement to change public perceptions and the politics of youth justice.

Yesterday about 400 people were gathered at the Empire for the first screening of the documentary The Fear Factory. The film powerfully described how the fear of crime is maintained by sensationalist media coverage and the cynical tactics of political parties. This has lead to harsher and more punitive responses to youth crime, which in many cases do little more than entrench the criminal behaviour. The documentary, produced by Spirit Level Films, is connected with a campaign for a criminal justice policy that is more humane and long-term in its perspective – and ultimately better at delivering safety for our neighbourhoods. nef’s latest report Punishing Costs was launched in connection with the screening.

With interviews from key experts and practitioners, the documentary shows how the public’s beliefs about the risk of becoming a victim and the general trends in the amount of crime were far from reality and all evidence. Britain has become a safer place in the past two decades – yet the fear of crime remains stubbornly high.

Unfortunately, it is perceptions that drive politics. One of the safest political strategies in the recent past has been to promise to crack down misbehaving youth and to hit them where it hurts. The Fear Factory documents how any deviation from this pattern is quickly struck down, as happened to Cameron when he suggested understanding the social causes of crime. The film also points an accusing finger at the media that gives disproportionate attention to violent cases and misrepresents sentencing as more lenient than it is in truth.

This reaction may actually create the monster that it so much fears. In the climate of alarm about youth crime, the imprisonment of children and young people has remained on very high levels. Prison as an intervention is incapable of dealing with the real causes of crime, and does little more than temporarily isolates an individual from contact with society. About three in four young people released from prison return to crime within a single year.

At the same time custody uses up massive amounts of resources that could have truly improved the safety on our streets. Our report Punishing Costs shows how the full cost of a year-long sentence in prison is £140,000. It is worth pausing to think about what could be achieved if these resources would be put to a positive use.

The screening was followed by an excellent panel that included some prominent criminologists and politicians – and an ex-editor of a tabloid who astonishingly displayed no sense of regret for his past role. Most of the panellist agreed that current policy was too much determined by knee-jerk reactions to high-visibility criminal cases in the media and an arms race between the parties to appear to be the true guardians of law and order.

One of the solutions they proposed by the speakers was to create a cross-party committee for a longer-term vision of developing criminal justice policy that all parties would sign up to. This would curtail the harmful competition between parties, which has led to the current punitive arrangements that hardly anyone believes to be productive or humane. Such a committee, together with a better debate and engagement with the public, is part of the recommendations of Punishing Costs.

Documentaries are powerful tools in transmitting knowledge and awareness of issues. At a time when the media is transmitting a largely false picture and political parties are failing to take the leadership to change perceptions, a film may be exactly the tool that is needed. I hope the Fear Factory, and the coalition forming to campaign around it, receive the attention they deserve.

Aleksi Knuutila
Researcher in the Valuing What Matters programme at nef
Original article: