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.