7 September, 2016 | Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge
In Summer 2015, the Butler Trust held a Research into Practice Conference to mark our 30-year anniversary. Our Royal Patron HRH The Princess Royal delivered a keynote address at the event, which was co-hosted in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge by the Prisons Research Centre. It was extremely well attended by senior managers from across the sector.
In September 2016 we held another ‘Research into Practice’ conference. The keynote address was delivered by Sam Gyimah MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, making his first public speech since his appointment a few weeks earlier.
Once again, the event was very well attended and the audience were treated to a number of presentations by globally recognised academics. Full proceedings of the event, and links to copies of the speaker’s presentations, can be found below. To go straight to a particular speaker’s write-up, click on the relevant link:
This year, many attendees had a psychology background due to substantial interest in a rare British appearance by the pioneering first speaker, Professor Tony Ward of the School of Psychology at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
Tony, in a warm and engaging presentation, traced out the development and practice of The Good Lives Model (GLM), his highly influential contribution to the field. The GLM has helped redefine the prism through which offenders are considered towards one that includes an ethical framework involving human dignity for all. This approach is an improvement on purely risk-focused models for, as Tony argued, attaining a meaningful life and reducing risk “go hand in hand.”
In a richly detailed presentation, Tony urged the audience to consider the model as “a framework, not a treatment model… it’s a perspective, a way of looking , of working with people.” Ultimately “ideas matter”, he said, and “we need a mosaic view – culture, biology, neuroscience… we need everything [not least because] disciplines get stuck.”
It was a stirring start and as Emma Yeadon, Assistant Psychologist at NHS Hertfordshire Forensic Services, said: “the whole day caters perfectly for those of us working on the personality disorder pathway.”
Next came Professor Alison Liebling, Director of the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology’s Prisons Research Centre, ably assisted by Dr Katherine Auty, a Research Associate at the Prisons Research Centre. Alison’s work is also world-renowned, and, as Ian Mulholland of NOMS noted when announcing her distinguished Perrie Lecture Award, “her contribution has been enduring and significant.” Quoting Phil Wheatley, former Director General of NOMS, Ian added “it is hard to think of anyone in academic life who has had such an influence on not just prison policy but any area of policy.”
Alison and Katherine shared some of their latest findings and analysis of reoffending from their Measuring the Quality of Prison Life (MQPL) project. Attendees were privileged to enjoy a preview of a paper covering “the best, largest, and most careful analysis of data available.” As Alison has said elsewhere, one reason the MQPL data is so powerful, is that it is grounded in prisoners’ views of what matters to them. As so often, Alison generously shared powerful quotations and insights from her wide reading of others’ work, and this remark by Christopher Taylor in his 1992 paper ‘Milk, Honey, and Money: Changing Concepts in Rwandan Healing,’ reflects the deep human values informing her work: “Due recognition is not a courtesy we owe people, it is a vital human need.”
The next speaker was Dr Ben Crewe, speaking about the interesting work his team has been doing on different prison regimes, which he had also kindly shared at the previous conference and the Summer School for prison officers. He noted that “professionalism is an under-recognised aspect of prison work – and also the public sector,” while exploring “the relative legitimacy of different forms of power,” before joining the panel answering audience questions.
Another star turn came from Fergus McNeill, Professor of Criminology and Social Work at the University of Glasgow. He shared with the audience his thoughts on his current research question of interest: “what we want offenders to move towards.” Noting that “these men’s lives speak to all of us about collective social responsibility,” he asked what we should do “to create a climate of re-entry.” Fergus noted that “the way that we think about rehabilitation needs to change”.
Simon Shepherd, Director of the Butler Trust, then shared the extremely powerful findings generated by the prison officers who had attended the first ever Prison Officer Summer School. With over eleven hundred years of experience between them, their ‘messages for management’, in particular, were a potent reminder of the depth of skill, commitment, and passion for the work among those working on the front line. Joined by Ian Blakeman, Executive Governor of HMPs Holme House & Kirklevington Grange, and Pia Sinha, who had recently taken up post as Govenor at HMP Risley, Simon then led a session on ‘Listening to Staff.’ As Ian said, “Our people deserve great leaders… effective leaders who are inspiring.”
Pia noted that “the collective worth and self-esteem of [officers] gets built by events like the Summer School,” with Simon adding that “it’s about valuing them and listening to them and empowering them.”
The extraordinary energy and powerful insights unleashed by the Summer School are still playing out – and leading to significant developments. (Progress will be reported on in due course here).
Sam Gyimah’s keynote was a remarkably strong conclusion to the day, hitting a striking series of notes that chimed with the current desire for real progress and reform in the sector. He declared that “prison reform and safety is non-negotiable,” adding that “if you want to make society work for everyone you have to fix prisons.”
“Prison officers are among the bravest of those working in public service,” he said, adding poignantly that: “prison should be a place where we pick up the pieces of social failure.”