A Forensic view of Prison


prison barsThe case of Anders Breivick certainly raises questions, as have cases here in the U.K., be that Steve Wright or Ian Huntley. The consideration of sanity is a relevant question and whether or not Breivick’s plea of self-defence is the product of a delusional mind is no doubt being debated in court. The age old control versus rehabilitation roles of prison continue to be debated but currently the consensus falls on rehabilitation. Daily Mail type headlines of BBQs in the sunshine or playing on PlayStations do little to support the good work of Her Majesty’ Prison Service staff. Unfortunately the by-line does not explain that prisoners have to earn the right to privileges.

In considering the arguments in a humanistic way; imagine an offender is released from prison and moves in next door to you and your family. Who would you prefer this person to be? The person who comes out of prison with no further understanding of what they have done and the impact it has caused, nor the skills to become a law-abiding citizen. Or the person who has achieved numeracy and literacy level two, can legally work as a forklift truck driver and understands the ripple effect their crime has created. The answer appears fairly straight forward. Others would say that we should keep offenders of certain types of crime in prison, but at the average cost of £38,000 a year, I wonder who will be footing this bill. I am sure others would fight for capital punishment but that is probably a debate that is better left for another page.

We live in a country where most people that are sent to prison will be released, one day. The question we therefore have to ask ourselves is what would we like them to be doing with their time whilst inside. Currently, being sent to prison is the punishment, what they do whilst they are there is not. Primarily prison is there to protect the public. So how do we protect the public – lock them up and kick them out when their time is up or do something productive with them? Imagine being in prison for five years, being away from friends and family. Think about the last five years of your life and what you would have missed had you not been there; the birth of grandchildren, children getting married, the rise of Facebook and the rising prices of living. You may say that this is their punishment for committing a crime but surely the point is to reduce the risk of them doing it again. You only have to think of the transitions we have made in our own lives; moving house, going away to university, divorcing or going travelling. If we kick people out of prison without rehabilitating them, what chance do they have? They may well walk out of the gates similar to the person they were when they came in. If we are to stand any chance of reducing re-conviction we need to rehabilitate offenders, giving them the tools to live offence-free lifestyles.

The idea of rehabilitation is not a complicated phenomenon. Often prisoners have come from backgrounds where they have been raised in domestically abusive homes, have learnt to use violence to gain respect, come from economically deficient areas and have not been taught the basic life skills of communicating effectively. By treating prisoners as human beings, as people, and by modelling pro-social behaviour they can learn transferable skills for when they are released. Offenders do have skills and are often just using them in illegal ways. By encouraging pro-social application of those skills we may keep to reduce reoffending.

You can run offending behaviour programmes with prisoners and generally there seems to be around a 15% reduction in recidivism. They will not and cannot work without a culture of rehabilitation around them though. By this, I mean that all staff members should be supportive of rehabilitating offenders and back the seven pathways to reducing re-offending; accommodation and support; education, training and employment; health; drugs and alcohol; finance, benefits and debt; children and families; attitudes, thinking & behaviour. Some may think that having ‘family days’ in prison where family can visit for the day, have faces painted and play games is too lenient but when family support is one of the biggest protective factors against re offending, why would we not do more to support family ties?

Community sentences are now becoming more favourable than short sentences, which may go some way to reducing the cost to the tax payer, although probation funding is having to increase. Figures appear to show that for each violent crime, it costs an average of £19,000. It is easy to focus on the monetary aspects of crime but we have to remember that there is a person behind that offence and a person on the receiving end. We need to consider the social and emotional costs of crime as well. What I would encourage people to reflect on is what sort of people do we want coming out of those prison gates. We therefore need to do that we can to increase the chance that it is those people walking through the prison gates.


Prison Forensic Psychologist

May 2012



prion Robben islandThis week Norway is very much in the news with the trial of Anders Breivick having begun. To most of us anybody that can kill 77 people, most of them young and from all walks of life, and appear to have no remorse is clearly insane. However, of course, that is not the way it works. Breivik has been examined by various people and there seems to be some disagreement as to whether or not he is actually insane. He pleads not guilty by way of self defence and will fight any diagnosis that he is insane. He wishes to portray the view that his violent and horrific protest against multi-culturism in Norway was the act of a sane and rational man protecting the Norwegian people. 

It remains to be seen which way the court views these possibilities but the outcome of that aspect will determine whether Breivik is incarcerated in a special hospital for the criminally insanr, probably for the rest of his life or whether, if found guilt but sane is given the maximum sentence under Norwegian law of 21 years in prison. If the latter then at some stage he is likely to find himself in Halden Fengsel a new high security prison notable for its high standard of accommodation. It has beautifully landscaped gardens where the prisoners can have BBQs often with prison guards. The aim is to ensure that life inside mirrors life outside so that the transition from prison life to civilian life is much easier and sustainable. This approach is designed to reduce recidivism and indeed Norway's 20% compares with Britain and USA's 50-60%

Convicted murders spend a lot of time out of their cells in a pleasant environment full of the artwork and furniture they produce. They are able to study and learn new skills which are designed to make them more employable when they leave. The prison has a house in the gardens where prisoners can stay with their families for a weekend at a time. Half of Halden's guards are women, a fact that the authorities believe helps to reduce the overall level of violence. 

By way of contrast the prison in which Hamza will probably end up in in the USA when he is extradited will be the high security ADX Florence in Colorado. It is the latter day Alcatraz where prisoners spend 23 in their cells and their only window is angled so that the only thing they see outside is sky. Our understanding of these tough high security prisons in the UK and US is largely governed by what we read and see in dramas in the cinema or on TV. Unless you've had first hand experience of course. My impression would be of competitive groups of prisoners with hard won loyalties, protecting their turf and preying on the weaker members of the community. A Place where drugs are in free circulation and the consequences that brings with them clearly in evidence. We seem to have a strong incentive in designing our prison regime to achieve punishment and in many cases social revenge. Rehabilitation is suppose to be part of the process but it can't be assisted by an overly harsh regime.

There is no doubt the the prisons system has to dish out punishment but when you compare the differences between prison in Norway and ours, together with their re-offending rates, you wonder who has it right. It seems the Norwegian people have little time for revenge and the way that those young people that survived the massacre have spoken about Breivik and their experiences is very impressive. They seemed to be calm and measured , certainly with a hope that true justice is done and that he is punished but hate and revenge has not been part of their vocabulary.



Education Education Education


freeimage-887475April 2012

Well, time moves on and the whole debate on education shifts and changes direction. I was interested to note the comments arising out of the recent report on the London riots which contained recommendations on the building of character. It is widely accepted that many children grow up without a good adult role model in their lives. At the time of the riots many young people chose not to get involved, despite the fact they were in the proximity. The interpretation of this by the Panel was that such youngsters had the strength of character not to get involved even though many of the came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The report said;

"In asking what it was that made young people make the right choice in the heat of the moment, the Panel heard of the importance of character. A number of attributes together form character, including self discipline, application, the ability to defer gratification and resilience in recovering from setbacks. Young people who develop character will be best placed to make the most of their lives."

The report recognised that parents are best placed to instill positive attitudes and behaviour in children but where they do not then schools and youth services may fill the breach. I have no doubt about the skills of teachers or youth workers and how much influence they could bring to bear if given the responsibility and resources to do so. However, during the last 10 years of my career I witnessed the constant disinvestment in youth services to the point that many clubs had to close and the paid staff diminished. I cannot imagine that has been reversed in these austere times but not to do so is a false economy.

Very recently the Government floated the notion that they wished to end the pay bargaining in the public sector, claiming that to maintain the so called " high " pay rates of the public sector across the country reduced the attractiveness of working in the private sector. It was argued that the pay of teachers in poorer, more deprived, areas should be lower than areas of greater socio-economic robustness. This was a point, in the context of the report on the London riots that I just do not understand. Areas of deprivation have the biggest challenges of all for teachers. They are areas where we need to deploy some of our most talented professionals and yet we intend to pay them less. That is not an incentive to dedicate your career to the difficult end of your profession in what ever public sector you work.

If we really believe that the teaching profession has a significant role to play in helping to build character amongst school children then creating a divisive pay structure will just not deliver the goods. 

There has been much debate about public and private sectors in recent times. Every employment sector has its own requirements and demands and it is not productive to attempt to draw too many comparisons. The fact is that they are inter-dependant. Some people are focused on services to others and dedicate their careers to public service and some are filled with the entrepreneurial  spirit best fitted to the commercial environment. Each sector should be fully valued by all. However, one thing is certain, schools and teachers are well placed to make a huge contribution the formation of the kind of society we will want to live in and that helps to build a well trained and motivated workforce on which our economic recovery depends. It is time for the profession to stand up and be counted and for parents and the Government to give them the support and resources to get the job done.



Feb 2012

Sir Michael Wilshaw has started his job as the head of Ofsted following a lot of publicity which created an expectation that things were going to be notably different. It is a challenge of mammoth proportions and a job performed under close scrutiny and analysis. Education is something we have all experienced, we have children or young relatives whose progress through the system is of primary concern and many of us have grandchildren meaning that we re-live all the hopes and expectations of the past. The educational progress of the young is one of the most important drivers of our society for the future. It has to be the best and no child should be failed by the system no matter what their background or circumstances.

More than 5000 head teachers are failing to do their jobs properly and poor leadership is blighting about a quarter of England's primary and secondary schools. The excuses for this failure seem to centre on ethnicity, poverty or background. Those are the words of Sir Michael this week. He states that he will not accept an "excuses culture" and intends to clearly identify schools that need to improve and will be giving set timescales in which he expects to see it happen. The teaching unions are not happy.

As a former teacher I declare a strong influence in this topic. I well remember the days when our education was the envy of the world. It was heavily biased towards the central subjects of literacy and numeracy delivered by teachers whose personal standing in school and the community was of the highest. I know there are a lot of additional topics that schools have to include in their curriculum that we did not; ITC and Personal Health and Social Education being two of the most prominent but that alone does not explain the apparent drop in standards. The curriculum has become over loaded and we have lost sight of what schools are there to do, not to fill in the gaps that parents and society in general should pick up but to teach children to be fit for purpose in the workplace. It seems all too easy to keep expecting schools to do more and more. Parents must bring children to school at 5 ready for learning. As a retired teacher in my experience it was the norm to expect children to be off the reading scheme and an independent reader by the time they were nine years old. The demise of one to one reading with an adult every day in the early years has played a part in the poor reading skills shown in pupils when they leave primary school. The demise of foreign languages, for example, puts at risk the future employment of students in those industries focused on world markets and perhaps even the longevity of such industries.

Lack of money and resources cannot be trotted out again as a reason for poor results and performances. Over the last 20 years so much money has been poured into the education budget much of it wasted on new initiatives whenever a new government came to power. The private sector much prized by those who can pay has been spared much of this change clinging to tried and tested traditional methods. The results tell their own story.

Perhaps a lengthening of the school day is in order. I am often amazed to see secondary children coming out of school at 3:15. If there is so much more to teach with the expanded curriculum then it stands to reason that more time must be allocated. I seem to remember the school day finishing at about 4pm.

Ofsted release their consultation document containing proposals this week and it will be interesting to see how hard hitting they are. All too often the reality of what is done does not measure up to the pre-publicity and intent.

The professionalism displayed by teachers at all levels and subjects is of critical importance if the improvement of standards is going to be delivered with any conviction. Sir Michael has already gone on record as saying that he will ensure Ofsted reports comment on the professionalism of staff and that they should look the part. Whilst not being prescriptive, which is just as well, he clearly expects teachers to shape up and fast. 

Sir Michael joins Ofstead straight from the post of Head of Mossbourne Community Academy in East London where he insisted on stricter standards and a smarter dress code. I gather Mossbourne was located in an area of London with all the issues that are currently used as excuses for failure. He was successful, no doubt because he exercised strong charismatic leadership on both his staff and students. The big question is - can he deliver school heads capable of exercising such leadership across the board? I certainly hope he can and I wish him well in his considerable endeavours.


picture: © Ajv123ajv | <a href="">Stock


Abuse online

mgyrk5YIt has been an interesting few weeks with the very controversial issues of the reduction in pensioners allowances, petrol, pasties 50p tax reduction for the rich, George Galloway winning Bradford with a huge swing. Whilst I will find a place on the site to comment on some of these things I want to explain how concerned I am getting at the constant degradation of the social norms which govern the way we behave. I was staggered and horrified to read of those people who filmed and photographed the decapitated body of a woman that was hit by a 40 ton lorry last week. These extremely sick people posted the photos on Twitter. These so called Twitter Trolls are getting beyond. People like Little Britain star Matt Lucas, the English footballer Micah Richards and of course Fabrice Muamba have all been abused online through their Twitter accounts. Having said that I am not sure that the sentence of 56 days passed on Liam Stacey for the abuse of Muamba was justified although clearly significant punishment was in order.

Silverlinksnetwork has a Twitter account which I am hoping to use as one of the means of promoting the site. I find truly amazing the shear variety of Tweets that come your way. I did take note of one this week that did say that most Tweets are quite serious and that it is no fun any more. Being a recent starter I am not sure about that but will soon make my mind up. It is however, the shear abuse that goes on that is the real worry.


Public Sector Pensions - reality check

stockvault-man-putting-money-in-a-bank127721 1_copyIn all the thousands of column inches and the hours of media coverage that were produced last week can anyone remember any of the commentators or politicians really giving an in depth analysis of the public sector pension issues. We were assailed by all the usual political sound bites and lazy journalistic clichés like ‘all in this together’; ‘public sector have to take some of the pain to reduce the inherited deficit’; ‘we just can’t afford it’, ‘these gilt edged public sector pensions’; ‘lucky to have pensions that the private sector can only dream of’; ‘tax payers are fed up with funding these pensions’; ‘private sector propping up the public sector’; ‘militant trade unionists itching for a fight’ or ‘holding the country to ransom’ and so it went on. Any judgments about the issue should be made in the full knowledge of what is a very complex situation and how come in this age of wall to wall news coverage I certainly didn’t come across anything giving sufficient detail to make any rational conclusions.

Take the statement about taxpayers being fed up with funding these pensions. In fact for every £1 the taxpayers pay to public sector pensions they pays £2.50 to private sector pensions. And by the way all public sector workers are taxpayers too. Of course this artificial division of public v private in the pension debate is a cheap political trick to garner public opinion to support the raid on public sector pensions. All sections of the working community should be entitled to decent occupational pensions to augment that provided by the state.

It’s a pity that only 40% of the private sector workforce benefit from pensions of any kind. Perhaps if the bloated directors, chief executives and shareholders didn’t cream off so much of the profits in excessive salaries and bonuses there might be more available for the rank and file to enjoy a reasonable pension.

Oh and what about the statement of these ‘gilt edged’ or ‘gold plated’ public sector pensions. Five million people working in the public sector qualify for pensions including those in local government, civil service, NHS, teaching, police force, fire service and armed services. The average is some £7,000 a year but the vast majority are less than £5000. The average in local government is £4,000 and just £2,000 for women.

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