Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Prison Governor Interview

There was an interview with the governor of HMP Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only women’s prison, on the radio last Sunday, which you can listen to here

The most obvious thing to come through the interview is this individual’s clear feeling that she is more of a social worker than a prison governor, indeed, a career in social work was her first choice when she left university (she said she decided against social work after being advised that she would need to maintain professional detachment!)

I was recently having a conversation with someone who has contact with prison governors across Scotland and we agreed that many of them are quiet (or not so quiet) penal reformers, trying to do what they can in their own prison within the confines of pressures of overcrowding, the churn of short term sentences, and the very wide range of problems that prisoners present with. I wonder whether these governors arrive in their post with these feelings or whether they emerge as an inevitable consequence of their experiences in their job. I also wonder whether prison officers have similar motivations in their job, and if they don’t, why this might be.

Incidentally, in the interview, she was also very honest about the macho culture of the prison service, saying she had nearly resigned at an earlier stage of her career because of it. This was an honest answer, given that many women who reach senior positions deny there is sexism or a macho culture within their organisation, because to do so would make them appear in some way ‘weak’. I read an interview with the newly appointed first female Scottish Chief Constable recently (which I can’t seem to find online any more, sorry), who said that, while she knew from others that sexism existed in the police force, she had personally never been aware of it, which I felt very strongly was motivated by her need to be respected by her (male dominated) force at the beginning of her tenure.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The battle for Attica Square

A short video on the issue of illegal migration in Greece and the ongoing deteriorating living conditions in Athens. This is probably the hottest issue right now in Greece due to the local and peripheral elections in less than two weeks.

The producer (Journeyman pictures), although not impartial generally (if the total of the videos were taken into consideration), gives an honest depiction of the contemporary reality in Athens. On the one side the sad stories of 2-3 million people that try to avoid brutality in their homelands and on the other side the huge financial and bureaucratic burden on the Greek State and the anxieties of the locals that move towards racist views.

Nevertheless, few information are missing to complete the image. The last one year immigrants do not stay in detention centres more than 3 days. They are signing a declaration in which they acknowledge that they trespassed the borders and that they will leave the country in no more than one month. They are then allowed to evacuate the centre with the hope that they will spread across Greece and avoid concentrating in a specific area and by that creating a ghetto. Nevertheless, the vast majority of them do actually come in Attica sq. and generally the centre of Athens something which creates the explosive mixture you can witness in the video.

What is also missing is the views of dispassionate locals and not the graphic figures of the video. They are not enraptured in racist views, they are faced though with the increasing criminality of the area which is attributed to the migrants. The phenomenon ranges from petty thefts and drug transactions to robberies and arson. If the first would be tolerated and to a degree avoided with proper protection, they cannot do the same for the others. Therefore, they are looking for scapegoats.

Another very important information is that really close to Attica sq. is the Exarhia neighborhood were the treatment of immigrants is exactly the opposite. Traditionally this is supposed to be the "anarchist quarter" of the city were extreme right and racist views are not tolerated (something which sometimes leads to similar fascist views...but this is another story). Anarchist groups often take over the protection of immigrants in very brutal fights with skinheads in Attica sq.

It seems to me that the issue is falsely put as a contradiction over the "Greekness" or the Greek identity. This is rather a strong opposition between the political left and right over the issues of migration and petty-criminality. As a matter of fact few days ago people from Attica sq. attacked communist candidates campaigning for the local elections.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Online crime maps - a Murder Map of London

As a maker of crime maps myself, I have a strong interest in online and publicly available crime maps. I am always keen to look at new examples of how people are using publicly available data on crime in map form.

At their best online crime maps can provide an innovative and interesting way of representing crime data; at their worst they have the potential to be misleading, confusing, may come close to breaching individual privacy and have potential to cause distress to victims. The BBC ran interesting article discussing this, back in 2008, when official online crime maps were proposed for England and Wales.

One of the earliest examples of online crime maps was the Chicago crime map project which took data publicly reported by the Chicago police and made it available in map form. This has subsequently been developed into the everyblock website.

In recent years there has been a growth of online crime mapping, as more people have become proficient in using google maps to represent data, with some interesting recent examples.

In the UK pressure / encouragement from both the Mayor of London, and subsequently the UK Home Office, the Metropolitan Police to produce an online crime mapping service in September 2008:-

Online crime maps for all England and Wales police forces have been available since January 2009 and can be accessed through here:-

Now the BBC have highlighted a recent new site showing location of murders in London, the sites founders are using court reports and believe they are providing a useful service, but the BBC also note Victim Support have said the site is "grossly insensitive" to victims families.

The site is:

I'd encourage you to take a look and consider what you think.

Monday, 11 October 2010

How fair is Britain - new EHRC report - imprisonment of ethnic minorities

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has just released a report called How Fair is Britain. It is a wide ranging and detailed report covering a range of themes :- Life, Legal and Physical Security, Health, Education, Employment and Standard of Living. It is the first of what will be a series an ongoing 3 yearly review reports (Triennial Reviews) assessing levels of inequality in Britain. Where possible it presents statistics for both England and Wales and Scotland.

The reports includes some interesting statistics directly relating to crime, criminal justice and imprisonment. These are mainly in Chapter 7 - Legal Security and Chapter 8 - Physical Security.

Whilst we are perhaps used to reading about disproportionately high levels of imprisonment of people from ethnic minorities in the US it's not so often highlighted for Britain.

However, from this report The Guardian has highlighted that:
- there are 'more black people jailed in England and Wales proportionally than in US',
- that the ethnic minority populaiton in prison has doubled in last decade (the EHRC report states numbers increased from '11,332 in 1998 to 22,421 in 2008' (EHRC, 2010, 172) although the rate of increase slowed from 2005).
- that the ethnic minority groups make up 25% of the England and Wales prison population (the report highlights these groups make up 11% of the general population).

For the Guardian article see here:-

The full report can be accessed here:-

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Stigma and Drug Users

A report published yesterday said that calling problem drug users 'junkies' or 'addicts' provides a major obstacle to their rehabilitation, because of the terms' labelling affects. The report by the UK Drugs Policy Commission said that the Government's current moves toward an abstinence based approach will not work unless underlying prejudice towards drug users is tackled. See the story in the press.

Made me think about labelling theory generally and other attempts to put it into policy. The Children's Hearing System is one obvious example, can anyone else think of any others?

For evidence of stigma towards drug users in action and the many ways in which attitudes are disseminated, see today's daily mash. Sometimes it gets it really right, sometimes really wrong.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Summer Reading Project: 24th August 2010

Just a quick reminder that this Tuesday 24th August, Ellie will be presenting chapter 7 of 'Governing Through Crime'. We will be meeting in room 406 again, at 3pm as usual.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Summer Reading Project: 10th August 2010

Our reading group meets next Tuesday at 3pm when Ioannis will give an overview of Chapter 8: 'Penalty Box: Crime, Victimization, and Punishment in the Deregulated Workplace'. Please note the change in venue to Room 406 in Old College.