Learning from a Crisis

May 21, 2020
Peter Dawson
DirectorPrison Reform Trust

On 11th June, I will be hosting a 'virtual coffee' session as part of InsightsOnline.

There’s so much to talk about! But as a starter, here a few things that have been on my mind where I’d be interested in what you have to say.

What have people started doing that they should carry on doing when this is all over? I know it’s a question everyone is asking but so they should.

“Never waste a crisis” is an old cliché, and we ought to be thinking now about how the crisis becomes a turning point. For me, a big part of that is what now constitutes “normal” in the community and which ought to be normal in prisons. For example, after Strangeways and Woolf, it was as basic as not having to pee into a potty, and having a television “at home”. Now I think it should be about having access to the internet, which for most people has been essential to getting through this.

And on a completely separate tack, how do organisations behave in a crisis? Having spent years inside the system, I really notice what it’s like to be outside it. That experience can be frustrating in normal times, but it’s even more marked when people and departments are under intense pressure. HMPPS Insights is a bit of an exception to the rule , and hugely positive for being so. What should we be learning about what transparency and collaboration really mean, including the risks? How should government reach out and involve, but also how do external organisations balance helping with holding to account? Should I be angry or sympathetic?

Of course, a huge focus for PRT is how prisoners get a say in the future of the system that governs their lives. So how are we going to make space for that to happen in this crucial period? It’s already obvious that a main reason prisons have coped as well as they have so far is that prisoners have consented to the restrictions placed upon them. If we want that to continue and to inform much longer term issues about how prisons operate, what are the implications for how policy is made and how prisons are run? And that’s just as important for how probation works – are prisons maybe having to rely more on consent at the very moment that probation moves towards coercion?

Looking forward to the conversation…

Peter

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