Holloway Prison

Off to jail – Holloway Prison!

I hadn’t been to a prison before – so slightly wondering what it will be like. My views were probably coloured by the Green Mile and Jailhouse Rock! Holloway was much more akin to an old National Health Hospital. It’s not built in that galleried style that you see so often in films – with cells with bars onto long galleried corridors.

I spent an hour or so with the Governor – who well impressed me. I think he has embraced the sort of attitude that I have towards crime and punishment and showed a real understanding of the issues around rehabilitation, deprivation, and punishment.

A senior officer took me around the various areas for a couple of hours thereafter. They had just opened a first-night reception centre. When women first arrive – there is not only the shock to deal with – but also the worry of what is happening at home, who is looking after the children etc. This centre is set up so that within 24 hours your caseworker deals with all the people or departments you need around housing, childcare, etc. And then you are taken into the main prison. I also went to the mother and baby unit, the lifers section, the segregation section, the resettlement section and I also met with the ‘listeners’. These are about 6 women prisoners who have been trained by the Samaritans to ‘listen’ to their peers who come to them. Suicide is not rare – and these women know what it is like. They don’t offer advice but are there literally to listen.

Talking to them, they were all training or studying so that when their sentences are spent they can get jobs or continue in university or whatever. I was much taken with what can be done to help people change their lives.

At party conference the other week, Mark Oaten (Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary) was floating the idea of all 16 year olds having to do a gap month of community service. This isn’t the misbehaving ones – this is all of them. The idea is to give youngsters a sense of service and a sense of doing something good for the benefit of someone else. Not a bad idea I thought. In an argument with Nick Ferrari (LBC) about this area he was saying he didn’t see why his sons should have to go and “paint old lady’s fences”. But as I said to him, even his wonderful sons might learn a thing or two. Lots of people (who can afford to) send their kids to summer camps and that does the same thing to a degree – but not everyone can afford to or chooses to. We’ll see where Mark gets to with that one.

Then dash to Tottenham football ground to give out Community Chest cheques to the HARCEN annual Conference Community Chest Awards. They had been there all day having their conference. Not a bad job. These are awards as part of a Government funded initiative to empower communities and a bit of dosh always helps.

In fact lots of great groups there doing good, small works in the community. However, there were loads and loads of awards. I had thought there would be about three or something – but the administrator came in with a pile of folders and cheques and I must have given out about 30 cheques and folders to the various recipients – and smiled for a photo with each one. I was really surprised when I asked how much the awards were – as I thought they would be about 50 each given how many there were – but she said they were between one and two thousand pounds! Fun it was.