NACRO speech by 062i2NQ


									Speech by Baroness Vivien Stern to Nacro conference 22 November 2006

It is a great honour to be here. I feel it is a great privilege that you have asked me to
speak on Nacro’s fortieth anniversary.

Forty years is a long time. Even Paul [Cavadino] has not been at Nacro for 40 years -
not quite, though nearly.

I will start with a word about Paul. I can think of few people in the field of criminal
justice reform across the whole world who have been so steadfast and have achieved
as much as Paul Cavadino has achieved. No-one has his tremendous aptitude for
seeing how the right policy can be made implementable through passing the right
laws. And since the time when he became occupied with other things- that is with
running a huge and vibrant organisation - we have passed many bad laws. How often
we have said in the House of Lords ‘we need a Paul Cavadino and we haven’t got

Paul has been steadfast, unswayed by fashion, uncorrupted by the pressures that come
(pressures put particularly on voluntary organisations) from the new received wisdom.
The new received wisdom says ‘prison isn’t actually such a bad idea, in fact its rather
a good idea. Prison is good place for a lot of people to be. A prison population of
100,000 would be just fine. We just have to make prison a bit more effective by
joining it to things, and making it seamless with things. So instead of arguing,’ the
received wisdom says to voluntary organisations, ‘why don’t you just come and help
us with it’.

It is quite difficult for some organisations to resist. Paul has not been corrupted by that
or by many other delusions that form the basis of our current criminal justice
discourse. His contribution has been and continues to be enormous.

There are a number of others who have been at Nacro nearly as long as Paul – I won’t
mention them by name but I met some of them earlier. Once again I was forcibly
reminded of how special, how truly special, Nacro people are.

Indeed it is true that Nacro is 40 this year. Nacro was set up in 1966 as a successor to
the National Association of Discharged Prisoners Aid Societies. So in a sense it is
much older than 40 years.

The Discharged Prisoners Aid Societies go back to the 19th century. They are where
Nacro came from and they stand for a set of values that I have always thought of as
Nacro values - a belief in the value of all individual human beings and their right to be
treated with respect whatever they have done; their right to measures of social
reintegration; the importance of the effort society must make to remove the stigmas
and open the doors again to let the convicted person back in.

On that basis Nacro was created and on those foundations Nacro built up an
organisation and an ethos that internalised those values and expressed them in its
work. It took them further. It related those values not just to the need to help the
convicted person, the need to engage with society so as to ensure re-integration of that

human being. It moved beyond that to a view of how society should respond to crime,
to problematic behaviour and to the social problems that engendered such behaviour.

The presentations we have heard this afternoon show these values and this ethos in
action. I am glad - indeed I rejoice - that Nacro is so strong, so creative, so flexible
and so totally dedicated, so alert to discrimination of all kinds and strong in fighting
it. Nacro staff know more about how people live and what they need than many of
those running the country and Nacro has stayed with its view of the world based on a
deep knowledge of people and of communities.

This Nacro view is a view of the world that says “Criminal Justice doesn’t cure crime.
We punish mainly those who have already been punished by a life spent in terrible
circumstances. We are wrong to think we shall be able to deter with punishment those
whom a dismal life has made undeterrable. There are huge reserves of strength in
local communities that are rarely tapped or built upon to make things better. Many of
the people in trouble actually want very little. They are very undemanding. They want
a small place to live, family life, work, and something to be respected for.”

And it would be quite easy to give it to them. But we spend the money on something
else, and that something else is often a complete waste of that money - our money.

So it is a relief, and something to celebrate and be grateful for, that those ideas are
alive and put into action by Nacro people every day.

It is indeed something to be grateful for. Never in those 40 years have our policies to
deal with crime been more misguided, divorced from evidence about what is
effective, ill-informed, based on fantasy and prejudice, wrong and often very cruel.
Gratuitously cruel against the poor and the vulnerable.

I am very glad Nacro has played such a large part in the campaign to secure a public
enquiry into the death of Joseph Scholes. In that case the state machine acted in a way
that led inexorably to a child’s death. And at every stage it was predictable and
predicted. Warnings were given. Yet the machine ground on and on his ninth day in
Stoke Heath prison Joseph, aged 16 years and one month, hanged himself with a sheet
from the bars of his cell.

In April this year I was in Texas. As part of my trip I visited the women’s prison in
Gatesville. The visit was arranged by some human rights people, very nice people
from the University of Texas. Gatesville is a little Texas town with not much there
apart from a big prison complex. We visited death row, we talked to the 5 women
there, we visited a dormitory - a room holding 102 women each living in a space
which was the width of a narrow bed and about 12 inches by the side of it framed by a
wooden cubicle on three sides about 3 foot high. In Texas that is quite normal.

Finally we went to a unit called ad seg. Ad seg stands for administrative segregation.
This held 78 women each in a cell with a heavy door with a panel in it about 6 inches
by about 2 feet covered with netting. It was very dark and architecturally the whole
block was like a huge cage with little light, no colour, just wire and rolls of razor wire
inside between each of the three floors.

Before we went in we were told we had to wear what they called a stab vest- a very
heavy padded jacket. In the party was Anne Owers our magnificent – saved- chief
inspector. Silvia Casale who is the President of the European Committee for the
Prevention of Torture was there, and another woman - the Swedish prisons
Ombudsman. All of us had been in prisons the world over, in high security prisons in
Brazil, Russia, Chechnya, Jamaica and mingled with prisoners of all sorts. Not one of
us had ever before been asked to put on a stab vest.

We went in and talked to some of the women in the semi-darkness through these little
slits in their doors. I talked to a woman called Joanna who said she had been in prison
for 15 years and in ad seg for 3 years. The staff showed us the exercise cage - just a
cell with wire walls about 6 foot by 10 foot. They told us how sometimes women in
these cages refused to go back to their cells. They climb the walls of the exercise cell.
Then out come the gas masks. They spray the woman with the gas and when she falls
off the wall of the exercise cell they strip her and take her back to her cell. They use
gas ‘nearly every day’ they said. On the day we visited all the staff on duty were men.

We were all shattered by this experience. Our Texan friends were surprised. It wasn’t
a good place obviously but was it that bad? For them it was normal. And I sometimes
wonder are we doing much better than my Texan friends? Are we as aghast and
ashamed as we ought to be at for example our treatment of desperate, damaged and
damaging children?

Let me read you a short extract from the Times newspaper of Manila, and I quote:

‘what a shock it is then to read the findings of physical and verbal abuses and cruelty
suffered by the children in the young offenders institutions, secure training centers
and local authority homes in England and Wales. …All this is revealed in the report
by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC to the Howard League for Penal Reform. The staff had
permission to actually hurt the children, what the whole world regards as child abuse.
The investigation found children with bloodied and broken noses and they were hurt
in many ways. So it is not only in the Philippines that abuses in prison is rampant but
it seems no detention center is safe for kids. That has to end and we can never rest
until it does.’

This is what the people of Manila in the Philippines were reading in their newspapers
on the morning of 13 March this year. It is bad enough reading in the London Times
about Lord Carlile’s report, a catalogue of ill-treatment that would, he said, in other
circumstances ‘trigger a child protection investigation and could even result in
criminal charges’. Reading about it in the Manila Times is shaming.

It was also shaming to see the acutely depressing television programme in March this
year on the BBC about the sick, depressed women sent to Styal prison. It showed
prison staff as the under trained, under-resourced, unsung heroes and heroines. They
were cutting down women who were trying to hang themselves, several each night.
That was the film some of you may remember that opened with a young woman
cleaning up the blood of her latest cutting incident. The basin was filled with blood;
the toilet bowl was filled with blood. That happens there several times every day too.

These very disturbed, terribly needy and terribly tragic women only go to prison

because they are sent there by other human beings, by judges and magistrates.

It was an American judge, a Supreme Court justice, Mr Justice Kennedy, who said last
year ‘The political phrase “tough on crime” should not lead us into moral blindness.’
I fear that some moral blindness is at work here.

We seem to think that it is normal for mentally ill people to be in prison, for addicted
people to be punished rather than treated, for poverty to be such an indicator of likely
imprisonment. Where else are we going wrong? I can add little to the superbly clear
critique given by Professor Leys this afternoon when he explained how far it was not
in our interests for our public services to be sold.

I will just take the opportunity to remind you what was said by that great economist J
K Galbraith, who died last year. In a little book, ‘the Economics of Innocent Fraud’,
he said. ‘As the corporate interest moves to power in what was the public sector, it
serves, predictably, the corporate interest. That is its purpose.’

That is its purpose.

Where else are we going wrong? There is the slow destruction of the probation
service, a service that used to be a model for the world. It will not be long before we
deeply regret its destruction and wish we could recreate it.

I know a street in London, one of three very quiet, very neighbourly streets. There are
no through roads. There are small terraced houses. There is a low crime rate, people
who say hello to each other and keep an eye out for each other. These streets have
signs that say “Drive carefully – play street”

Last year something very nasty happened in these streets. Other notices appeared on
the lampposts saying that these three streets had a red line round them and had
become a dispersal area. The two basic rights of freedom of movement and freedom
of assembly were to be denied to a group of residents defined not by what they have
done but by what they are, i.e. being of a certain age, under 16, and where they
happen to live.

It lasted six months and it was hard work to get rid of it. We used to think ‘they need
somewhere to play, let’s have play streets and warn drivers to be careful.’ Now we
think ‘we hate them and fear them so much they must be rounded up and in their
homes by 9 pm.’ The West Midlands chief constable Paul Scott-Lee said last year
‘Young people simply existing is now a major source of concern for people’

That’s not normal either - to hate and fear the next generation so much that we
disperse them, put their photographs around so that everyone can vilify them,
imprison them if they break unenforceable conditions like not walking through the
housing estate where their grandmother lives, although the boy in question had been
his grandmother’s registered carer since he was about 12 years old.

We hound and stigmatise, not just the young, but also the poor and the sick. How
abnormal is it to offer to a woman, who is in such pain that she keeps trying to
commit suicide, not help but an order that if she goes near the sea and tries to drown

herself she can be sent to prison. That happened to poor Amy Dallamura from

We are punishing more and more of our social casualties, people for whom the help
was not there, the services were not there, but when the time comes, the punishment is

Of course none of this does any good. It bring no long-term solutions. It weakens
rather than strengthens communities. It does not make people feel safer. It increases
the size of the excluded population for whom punishment holds no terrors and
deterrence does not deter.

There is, of course, another way. It is the way that Nacro has pioneered in every field
that we are talking about:

1. Diversion of mentally ill people from the police station or the courtroom to a place
of safety and proper care. Nacro has known how to do that for at least the last twenty

2. Local arrangements that respond to children in trouble with multi-agency effective
solutions - Thanks goodness we at least have youth offending teams - an idea
pioneered by Nacro and called then ‘community alternatives for young offenders’.

3. Nacro has the answer to the dispersal order - arts projects and football projects, the
Revolution project in Telford.

4. Nacro has the answer to the many thousands of young people aged 16-18 who
disappear off the official radar. A programme called Youth Choices pioneered by
Nacro 14 years ago.

5. Nacro has the answer to the revolving door of the petty persistent offenders in and
out of prison who are rated as high risk by some expensive computer programme not
because they are violent and dangerous but because they have nowhere to live and no
one to bother with them and so they go on committing crime. Nacro has homes,
hostels, supported lodgings for these people.

6. Nacro knows what can be done to cut the gross reconviction rate of eight out of ten
for young people leaving prison - the marvellous mentoring project called Milestones
in Portland prison.

7. Nacro has the answer to the gross overuse of imprisonment. The answer lies in
local measures to increase public confidence in the system and in the decisions taken
by the courts

The importance of the last 40 years has been this. There are some basic truths.
Fashions come and go. Criminal justice bills come and go. Home Secretaries come
and go - very quickly lately, often repudiating the decisions of their predecessors - but
it is still true that prison doesn’t work as a solution to social and community problems,
and prisons work best when they concentrate on protecting the public from seriously
violent people. Crime is not solved by more punishment. A smaller criminal justice

system lays the basis for a safer society. Money spent on prevention gives a much
better return. If every local authority had in its area one of every service that Nacro
has initiated and run so professionally over the past 40 years then we would be a
happier and a much more just society.

I have no doubt that quite soon the light will dawn on some of our leaders and the
wisdom of following the Nacro path will become to them as clear as day. I hope so

Thank you for what you do. Thank you for doing it for so many years with such
dedication. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you.


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