Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
21 APRIL 2009
Q187 Chairman: Welcome to our second
group of witnesses. We are very pleased to have the opportunity
of hearing not only of your experience of the prison system but
also life after the prison system. Indeed, you are living proof
that there can be life after the prison system. Danny Afzal, Bobby
Cummines, Charlie Ryder and Jason Grant, welcome to you all. What
do you think makes a good prison officer and what would your ideal
prison officer be like?
Bobby Cummines: I actually had
the ideal prison officer, two actually, one was a probation officer
and one was an education officer. I served 13 years out of 20
in prison and I was a very disruptive prisoner, but I met two
people in there who were humane and decent people and they steered
me towards education. Education was my liberation from crime because
they steered me towards Open University and that sort of thing.
What made a good prison officer? My mother was dying of leukaemia
and someone showed me compassion. The world I came from before
that was one of brutality and there was no humanity. By that person
showing me compassion, that person caring about me, I started
caring about other people and a rapport built up between me and
the prison officer and the education officer and the way I thought
of prison officers changed. I did not see them as the enemy any
more, I saw them as someone who was able to support me and lead
me on to something very worthwhile, which is what I do today.
I have been a specialist adviser to the Home Affairs Select Committee
in the House of Commons, in the House of Lords, even to the Home
Secretary and the Prime Minister. People can change but you have
got to give them the opportunity to change and also have officers
who are not like the old ones who came out of military service
which was the "bang `em up and bash `em up" brigade,
lucky enough they have gone, and not give prison officers tick
boxes as they call them, KPIskey performance indicatorsKPTskey
performance targets, designed by some KP nut up in the Home Office.
It is really about managing the people, profiling the person you
are dealing with and wanting to do it, making prison officers
proud of being prison officers rather than them feeling they are
excluded from society as well because they have got this job dealing
with the terrible things in society that society does not want
to deal with itself. When I was in South Africa, if I may tell
you that, I visited the jails in South Africa as my job as Chief
Exec of UNLOCK and the prison officers there were all of degree
level so they felt competent, they had the training. They had
the degrees before they went there and the life experience.
Charlie Ryder: In Inside Time,
which is the national newspaper for prisoners, ex-prisoner Paul
Sullivan suggests: "I would have an officer warder who would
act as a personal officer to up to 20 inmates. This would be at
least 50% of his or her allotted time and inviolate time as every
job would be audited and have a job description (not fitted in
as and when). It would be the officer warder's job and responsibility.
Too often failures by warders are blamed on inmates. The personal
officer would be the only uniformed staff to write reports on
his or her inmates. To cover other areas (workshop, education)
he or she would liaise and then write a balanced report. At present
most writing is based on ignorance and prejudice, but by professionalising
the system, by ensuring more self-reflection and accountability,
and updating skills with relevant qualifications, say equal to
those of teachers and nurses, we begin to professionalise the
system. I believe it is essential to encourage the use of creative
interventions for prisoners. So the role of a prison officer should
include art therapy, counselling and sport".
Danny Afzal: My personal experience
from being a young prisoner and an adult prisoner was that in
the beginning in the YOI there was no encouragement for me to
do any kind of education. I was quite illiterate at that point
with no previous schooling. There was no emphasis on me doing
any kind of education because I was at quite a low level. I was
encouraged to do jobs working in prison, such as digging holes,
building walls and stuff, doing basic level skills, and when I
came out of prison as a young prisoner I had to start from the
beginning because my skills were gained whilst in prison but they
did not carry on once I got out of prison. It was only a matter
of a year before I was back into crime, criminal behaviour, because
I could not get a job, I did not have the basic skill levels of
reading and writing.
Q188 Chairman: Was that because it
was not available in the prison or because you did not meet a
prison officer at that stage who encouraged you to take advantage
of what was there?
Danny Afzal: A bit of both really.
The numbers were very limited anyway on the education courses
and because I was deemed as not needing it I could not get on
to an education course even though I asked for it. The difference
when I became an adult prisoner was it was more available because
it was recognised that I had reading and writing problems. I met
one prison officer who was actually an English teacher who encouraged
me to start writing letters and stuff like that, corresponding
with people, which got my writing up to a level where it was quite
good. Then when I came out of prison it became a vicious circle.
I ended up back in prison a year later. I had gone over 21 at
that point and it was made available to me because on reception
they said, "Can you read and write?" and I said "No",
so they put me down. Instead of putting me in an industry doing
piecework or just packing plastic bags in boxes for charities
and stuff like that, which is quite honourable as well but never
really gave me the skills I needed, the jobs I was encouraged
to do were Level 2 City and Guilds or basic Level 2 which was
not what I wanted really.
Q189 Chairman: Can a prison officer
be a role model or is a prison officer the enemy?
Jason Grant: Just from my personal
experience, the last prison I was in was Ford, which is a D Cat
open prison, and as soon as you get to Ford they talk to you and
say, "Hello, Jason". They called me by my first name
and said, "What do you want here? Do you want to do education?
What work do you want to do?" They treated you like a human
being. For me, prison taught me a lot of discipline. I also spent
time in Portland, which was a young offenders' institution, which
was heavily run by the military, they had us running up and down
and we had to make our things into bedpacks, scrub the floors,
proper drill basically. That was in 1996 and taught me discipline.
What was missing was compassion and treating me like a human as
well. The ideal prison officer to me would be someone who shows
you discipline but also in a compassionate way.
Q190 Chairman: There is a role for
Jason Grant: Yes.
Q191 Mrs James: Is consistency important
as well, that people are consistent?
Jason Grant: The consistency is
a bit vague really. No-one in life is one person, we have different
times when we have good days or bad days. For me, prison officers
need to understand their role is to help people like me to rehabilitate
and come back out into life. If that is their main focus then
people will stop going to prison.
Q192 Mrs James: So many young people
tell you about people letting them down throughout their lives,
everybody has let them down, and that continuity that you talked
about that was not there when you left prison, it is really important
we do provide continuous support.
Charlie Ryder: It is important
to see the person and not the crime.
Bobby Cummines: It is 100% what
you brought up. We are trying to define what the role of a prison
officer is, but it does not matter how well that prison officer
does his job, when you go outside if that is not there you will
fail and go back to jail and it will be seen on the stats that
prison officer failed. In the Mubarek inquiryI was a specialist
adviser into the death of Zahid Mubarek at Felthamthey
had personal officers there, that was their role, and when Justice
Keith investigated that it was in name only, it was not really
happening in the prison, but they were ticking the boxes that
it was. Inspection of prisons is right. We talk about prison officers
as though they are something different from us, but they are human
beings. They come into work with problems. They might have a family
crisis, but we are expecting them to behave in this certain way
every day. What they need in there is the flow of information
between prison officers and the medical, because it would seem
from the Mubarek inquiry information was not passed to each other
so when it came to risk assessment of dangerousness and stuff
like that no-one could do it because the information going from
one prison to another prison was delayed and Robert Stewart, who
killed Mubarek, who was a racist psychopath, was put in a cell
with an Asian kid. It is about training and recognising that we
are human beings, the officers are human beings, and we all have
human failings and we must have a specialist involved in prisons
if someone gets cut down. We were always on about how these prison
officers neglected this young man because he got killed in a cell,
but there were prison officers there who had probably cut down
20 people and who had sat in a cell overnight and talked someone
out of suicide. What we need to do is recognise the good and promote
the officers in some way who are doing good practice. It is called
jail craft. Prison officers call it jail craft. You have got to
highlight the ones who are doing it well and punish the ones who
are doing it badly, even if it is some form of recognition in
the way of money or they are given extra training. If we invested
in rehabilitation and recognised the officers in a special way,
whether it was a special award for good works that they have done
in helping rehabilitate prisoners, I think more staff would go
down that route than be despondent. I went in Wormwood Scrubs
after officers were done for beating up prisoners. You were talking
about a handful of officers there, not all of the prison officers
were like that, but they all got tarred with the same brush. They
were totally demoralised in that jail. We have to highlight the
good that is being done and encourage that good practice.
Q193 Mr Heath: Could I just follow
on from the continuity bit? I want to ask Danny Afzal because
I read carefully what you had to say about your story and from
what you say it seemed to me the guy at Strangeways made a big
difference to your life and went beyond what was his basic duty
in keeping in contact when you were posted to other prisons, but
that all stopped the moment you left prison, is that right?
Danny Afzal: Yes. The problem
was you could not really have a relationship with somebody who
worked in a prison after you had just been released from prison
because there were security issues there. Throughout my sentence
he kept in contact with me and encouraged me to write and gave
me subjects to do in different prisons, which he did not have
Q194 Mr Heath: Was that encouraged
by the other prisons you were at as well? Were they happy with
that? Were you continuing to have correspondence with this other
Danny Afzal: Yes, he was just
a teacher, he was not actually a prison officer, so there was
not that much of a security risk and the prison was quite happy
for him to correspond with me. Through him I managed to get access
to other parts of education and information he gave me. It was
just by doing that gradually on another sentence that I took his
advice and started doing basic English courses on my own and getting
help from other inmates. It was easier for me to have a job in
the prison and earn more money than it was to go to education
and earn less money and educate myself basically. I did it that
way. When I got released, because there was not the structure
there when I got released either, I went back into crime. The
only way I escaped that was four years ago when I did basic English
and maths in Brixton for six weeks and from there I went to Goldsmiths
College, University of London, for one day and I met somebody
there at a project called Open Book, Joe Baden, who is a lovely
guy, and he said to me, "Have you ever thought about going
to university?" and I said, "No-one's ever asked me
that before, ever. How can I go to university?" He said,
"Have you ever thought of doing a degree" and I said,
"How can I do a degree, my level of English and maths is
quite basic?" For six months he actually showed me how to
do essays, research, how to do stuff in an academic way, footnotes,
bibliographies, reviews, and within six months they said, "We
think you're ready to do a degree". I am now in the third
year. Next month I am finishing my Bachelor's Degree in history.
That is the first qualification I have ever got.
Q195 Mr Heath: That is great.
Danny Afzal: We have set up our
own access course for prisoners and it is our idea that this access
course is basically a six week course which is psychology, criminology,
sociology and history and we think we can deliver this course
in prisons, not just for prisoners but for prison officers as
well. It is a rolling course so that once an inmate starts the
course and is released he can continue it at any college in his
area. What it needs is Government support. We have got the course
set up and it is an accredited course, so it is an academic accredited
course, and that is the thing that stopped me. I have not been
arrested in three years and not had any problems with the police
in three years since I started doing this degree. This has enabled
me to be the person I always should have been to start with. It
has shown me that I am capable of doing something at this level
and actually giving something back to society. It is the first
time in 20 years that I have stayed out of the prison system.
I am not saying that after I finish this degree everything is
going to be hunky-dory, I have still got mental issues and other
issues going on and I deal with them on a daily basis, but this
is what has helped me do that.
Q196 Chairman: Is time an issue,
the amount of time that prison officers have got? Do you notice
a difference either in different prisons or different regimes
as to whether officers have got time to engage?
Bobby Cummines: If you are doing
a short sentence there are no educational programmes, there is
nothing they can really do with you. You have got to be doing
four years really to get into education or any of the rehabilitation
programmes. When you get to places like Pentonville Prison, where
they have got the turnover and the guy is going in for 14 days
and that sort of thing, there is not a lot the prison staff can
do other than warehouse those human beings. When you are looking
at longer sentences then you can do sentence plans, start profiling
the people and steering them in the right direction. When you
go into dispersal, it sounds terrible but I was lucky I was doing
such a long sentence because then they could plan where I wanted
to go, the Open University, do my degree. It is about officer
movement as well because they are so short-staffed basically.
You might have an officer who might be really caring about that
prisoner and all of a sudden you are in a course, halfway through
the course, and then you have got movement and they take that
prison officer out of that room, out of that course, because they
need him on the yard because there is prisoner movement. He has
really got his work cut out to be able to focus on his prisoners
and be able to say, "We are going to get this" because
he does not know where he is going to be on the next shift. That
is very disruptive to the life of the prisoner because you build
up confidence with that prison officer and all of a sudden he
is on duty over the other side or he is on escort and all that
and when you need him he is not there and that reinforces all
the people you needed before who were not there. That trust can
be broken so easily, it is very fragile, but with a long sentence
you can build up that trust.
Q197 Chairman: In practice, to what
extent do you see the same officers on the wing or landing continuously
over a period or is there too much movement even for that?
Bobby Cummines: You do see the
prison officers, you have your own wing staff. First off, it takes
years to build up that mutual understanding. Basically, there
is not a lot of difference between prison officers and prisoners,
we are all in the same boat and it only works if we work together.
I was involved in riots and all that sort of thing and I found
out it was not in my interest to do that because it would have
got me into segregation units. The perfect role of a prison officer
would be to understand multiculturalism because one of the things
that came up in the Mubarek inquiry was Muslim prisoners felt
that their religious artefacts were not being treated respectfully
in a cell search. It would be about a wider understanding of education.
The public all want retribution, so the ethos that goes into a
jail is revenge when we should be looking at rehabilitation because
that stops the next victim of crime happening and education is
the way to that for the staff and the prisoner. If you have got
a prison officer doing the same education course as a prisoner,
so if they were both doing Open University and the same course,
they have got something they can talk about, they are not alone,
because distance learning and learning in prison is very hard.
What Danny said is right. When I went on education, instead of
being rewarded with proper pay for my education and encouraged
in that way I was actually penalised for going to do a university
degree by lower wages. It was education that turned me round.
Q198 Mrs James: Do you want to clarify
what "wages" means because it is not a great deal of
money, is it?
Bobby Cummines: You are talking
about basic money, it is a fiver. In an industrial prison you
can earn 30 quid. If they said, for instance, "We'll put
you on half that", I would sacrifice half the wages to go
on education because when you get that education buzz, and Danny
knows what I am talking about, they all know what I am talking
about here, it is addictive and you become a better person because
you start understanding about yourself, where you went wrong in
society. Now all I want to do is good, that is why I am chief
executive of a charity, in fact I started the charity with a couple
of other people. It is about putting it back now. I feel empowered
and totally honoured at the positions I have been asked to sit
on and go in. I feel like a whole person. I would not have done
that without education. If we could give that to prison officers
as well you would get quality. I can never forget the South African
experience because I went to where Nelson Mandela was released
from prison, I went to Robben Island and I also went to the main
prison where he was released from and sat on his bed and it was
a highlight for me. Those prison officers were so highly trained.
You could see they were helping the prisoners because they were
teaching them reading and writing, they were not just bringing
in outside sources, someone who is making a few quid. What we
have got to watch in prison is that there are organisations that
make a lot of money out of what they do in prison and they go
home at the end of the day but you have got prison officers who
are there all the time who can continue that education and that
is why education is so heavy for prison officers, I think.
Charlie Ryder: Can I just talk
about arts projects as well because I work for the Anne Peaker
Centre which promotes and supports the use of arts in prisons.
Arts projects allow prisoners to explore other aspects of themselves,
to be more than an offender/prisoner, but to develop and experiment
with other roles, behaviours, ways of being. This can be a massively
eye-opening experience for prison officers seeing prisoners as
people, not just prisoners. Equally, this can work the other way.
In the use of arts, prison officers might gain more knowledge
about individual prisoners who are working with visiting artists
and be able to provide support and advice on working with particular
Q199 Chairman: You have given us
some copies of the A Word.
Charlie Ryder: The A Word
is an arts magazine that I edit for prisoners and ex-prisoners
and the first theme that was done was on forgiveness and it has
got really moving stories from the Forgiveness Project. For example,
from Marion Partington whose sister, Lucy, was murdered by Fred
and Rosemary West. She has forgiven them for what happened. She
went and shared her story at a prison in Bristol and someone who
had been a burglar was so moved by what she said he then went
to the police and said, "This is where the stuff that I have
stolen is" and then started to write poetry. There is also
a person in there called Sunny Jacobs who spent 16 years in America
for a crime she did not commit. Her husband was executed on Death
Row. She speaks about forgiveness and she has written a really
beautiful piece on the art of forgiveness. I feel we can learn
a lot from people who have forgiven.