Quakers in Criminal Justice

Quakers in Criminal Justice Conference 2020
Challenges and Helping Hands

The 2020 conference was held from the 28th of February to the 1st of March at Woodbrooke.

People with Learning Difficulties are over-represented in the Criminal Justice System. The challenges they face was the primary focus of the 2020 conference. A wider perspective was provided by the opening presentation on the role of the Magistrate. Workshops included the proven benefits of yoga and meditation in prison settings and help for those entrapped in a hidden form of imprisonment – modern slavery – and how we might be alert to it. An uplifting workshop showed what a prison Quaker chaplain can achieve despite the limitations of a maximum security prison.

The highlight of the weekend was the newly commissioned performance of “Lock Down” by Journeymen Theatre. The play portrays the story of a prisoner in his 70s who has spent most of his life in prison and his interactions with the prison chaplain.
PLEASE NOTE the Journeymen duo are prepared to bring their plays wherever there is demand (once movement is allowed again). Contact them via their website.

Speaker 1 – Tricia Bradbury

Tricia provided an overview of the work of a magistrate. She explained that all criminal prosecutions pass though the magistrate courts and they are able to deal with 95% of them. We learned how Justices of the Peace are selected and the changes that the court system is having to grapple with, in particular, the effects of court closures. This presentation enabled us to gain a better understanding of this vital part of the CJS.

Speaker 2 – Neisha Betts

Neisha Betts divides her working life between the NHS and the charity KeyRing. Her expertise is in people with learning disabilities, i.e. impaired intellectual and social skills, within the CJS. Her presentation explained the challenges they face and the range of services available within the justice system, although these are not always called upon. Her talk was illustrated by short film clips – such as Danny who had been in and out of prison for years often committing a minor offence just to be readmitted. Once his needs and problems had been understood he was given a flat with appropriate support.

Both Neisha and the following speaker referred to the Equality Act which calls for “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate individual needs. They shared their document, submitted to the Ministry of Justice, which distinguishes between Learning Disabilities and (Specific) Learning Difficulties.

Speaker 3 – Melanie Jameson

Melanie specialises in a completely different population – people with “specific” difficulties, namely Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder, Dyscalculia and Asperger Syndrome. She introduced us to the terms SpLD (specific learning difficulties or differences) and NeuroDiversity but stressed how the prison service conflates these conditions with learning disabilities (as LD/LD), giving rise to confusion.

Melanie's presentation helped us appreciate some of the problems that individuals experience. Identification and support of these prisoners has been built into the new prison contracts which came into force in April 2019 but GDPR concerns have held up this process. She has up-to-date resources on her website.

Workshop 1 – The Prison Phoenix Trust

Sam Settle, the director of PPT, described his approach and took us through some simple breathing exercises. Research has established how yoga and mediation calms people experiencing the stresses of custody, helps with drug and alcohol recovery and provides a sense of “agency” which is often undermined by imprisonment.

Workshop 2 – Modern Slavery: Medaille Trust

Marc Pearson of Medaille, a Catholic-founded charity, spoke of modern slavery and the charity's attempts to combat this and support those who had been trafficked. He showed us how to be alert to businesses using enslaved people and what we should do about it, in a compelling presentation.

Workshop 3 – Quaker Prison Chaplaincy in the Secure Estate

Judy Roles told us of her work in the multi-faith chaplaincy team at a high security prison, explaining that prisoners have a legal right to one hour's worship per week and an additional one hour's faith study. “Silence Inside” established five years ago, is advertised as a multi-faith meeting and all faiths are included in the dozen or so who attend each week. There is now an equal mix of men from the Mains wings and Vulnerable Prisoners (VPs) from separate wings. Ministry often takes the form of original poetry. Together the men have designed and created their own panel for the Quaker Tapestry to show what they value about their meeting behind bars – “a form of meditation” which has brought a sense of camaraderie and achievement.

Reflections on Conference Themes

The closing session included an update of the progress of the Minute on the Legal regulation of (illegal) drugs from the previous year's conference. The Minute has been shared with the Recording Clerk and forwarded to appropriate staff. However this matter cannot be taken up in mainstream Quaker work or by QAAD.

Marian Liebmann invited us to consider Challenges and Helping Hands, in terms of what we have learned and what we can give. A ministry in the MfW came in the form of a prayer that we should know what Love requires of us and have the strength to do it. We were also reminded that losses which are not grieved for and accepted, can manifest as anger and hatred, even leading to war.