Saturday, September 18, 2010

Interview: Sarah Cope on prisons

In the second of my twitter interview experiments I spoke to Sarah Cope of Haringey greens on women, prisons and her future criminal career.

Me: Hi Sarah, I was hoping to chat to you about why you wanted to take on the Green Party's prison policy.
Me: I was surprised to see that we didn't already argue that prisoners should have the vote

Sarah: I was sure that would be there already too, but no. It is now, though! Better late than never.
Sarah: We had the bare bones of a prison policy already in the PSS, but a few of us felt it needed more details - particularly re: women prisoners.

Me: So what were the key changes you put forward at conference?

Sarah: They retain vote; only women convicted of serious & violent crime sent to prison; more support for pregnant prisoners & those with babies.
Sarah: Plus promotion of 'buddy schemes' to stop self-harming and addressing homelessness on release - a big reason why people re-offend.

Me: There was some controversy over the prisons' vote wasn't there?

Sarah: We were going to have it that a judge could deny a prisoner the vote but that was dropped. I wasn't keen on that idea anyway - so hurrah!!

Me: I was impressed by the speaker from Birth Companions who works around pregnant prisoners.

Sarah: Denise Marshall. They do great work in Holloway. There are 13 other womens' prisons - that sort of vital work should have govt support.

Me: I was shocked at the tales she had to tell on how women can end up losing contact with their kids having them taken into care

Sarah: Women are often 'phoning from prison, trying to find out where their kids are. Only 5% of kids stay in their own homes when mum is jailed.

Me: this was quite a lot higher for Dads wasn't it?

Sarah: Don't have statistic for that, though do know that a third of mothers are lone parents before imprisonment.

Me: Do you think there's a case for focusing on trying to keep people from falling into crime rather than refusing to jail them when they do?

Sarah: Obviously, yes. Our focus on creating more equal society, plus decriminalising drugs and sex work would go a long way to doing just that!

Me: Good point. There was a good fringe on sex work too. I was impressed by the way we had sex workers and ex-prisoners themselves speak

Sarah: Nothing beats the power of personal testimony - certainly not m/c academic types... though there's a place for them too! (she adds hastily).

Me: It's amazing how many discussions take place without the subject of those discussions ever being allowed to speak

Sarah: Well I generally distrust statistics, but personal testimony is a different matter. I want to get inside Holloway to see it for myself now.

Me: Any particular crime your contemplating?

Sarah: So many to choose from, hmm...No, I've volunteered to help - it's just down the road from me, I have no job...if I can help, I will.

Me: I have a criticism of your motion! It mentions renaming prisons "multi-functional custodial centres" - what's the difference?

Sarah: It's about more than punishment I think - rehab, literacy etc. The problem is, make it too good and we send people to jail access services!

Me: This was a very strong part of the message. How offenders, through losing their housing benefit etc, become destitute on leaving prison

Sarah: We'd encourage schemes like in Liverpool - prisoners were taught construction skills, & given a run-down council house to do up on release.

Me: All good work - what's next on the agenda? Where would you like to go from here?

Sarah: A green govt to implement it all would be rather nice! In the short term, better mental health provision is key - works better than jail...

Me: Well, let's work on the short and the long term! Thanks for your time :)

Sarah: Thanks for the Twinterview - hope my twanswers sufficed.


People might be interested in the UK's only blogging prisoner: Prison Ben
Also mentioned in this interview: Birth Companions.


bob said...

Off topic, Jim (although you did blog about this a week or so back), but I've tagged you for something here:

Georgeous said...

What about men who are convicted of non-serious, non-violent crime - why should they go to prison?

Jim Jepps said...

Hi Bob, i saw this at the time - but i must get much better at commenting on interesting posts!

I also thought the term 'influential' could hide a number of sins. Hitler was quite influential at certain points of the last century - I'm not going to be voting for him in any polls though!

What i didn't notice at the time is you turned the post into a meme (apologies!) I'll have a go later.

Georgeous: personally I think a lot (although not everything) of the the criticisms of women's prisons also apply to men's.

Natalie Bennett said...

Green Party policy already calls for a significant reducation in custodial sentences for all offenders, and a focus on community penalties.

But given women make up only 6% of prisoners, so are in a system designed for men, make up demographically and criminally a very different group, and the fact that only 5% of the 18,000 children whose mothers are jailed each year get to stay in their existing homes, there are powerful arguments for the wellbeing of society to treat them differently.


PC Dick Williams said...

"But given women make up only 6% of prisoners, so are in a system designed for men.."

WHAT? The system is designed for CRIMINALS - period. Sex is not a material factor.

So Miss Bennett wants equality but also wants to be treated differently.

The words CAKE, IT and EAT spring to mind.

Anonymous said...


If drugs had been decriminalized in my youth, the majority of my mates and I would be in pine boxes now.

just a thought... given the mentally high number of men in prison, maybe more should be done to address their problems first...?