Institute of Criminal Justice Studies
Criminal Justice Visits Programme
Students on programmes hosted by the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies can take part in a number of local criminal justice visits. Although the programme is subject to change it tends to include visits to the local Crown Court, a prison and the Haslar Immigration Removal Centre. Click the links below for impressions.‘As punishment not for punishment’
‘Life in Limbo’
'When is a hate crime not a hate crime?'
'A handbag full of frozen meat'
A trip to Wandsworth Prison Two groups of students visited Wandsworth Prison on two separate occasions, both on a cold November morning. “I felt a bit apprehensive in reception” said one student. “I never realised that it could be so busy with so many inmates going in and going out every day.” “They are people like you and me” said retired prison officer Mick matter-of-factly. “They’ve done something wrong and got caught. Treat them with dignity and respect and most of the time, that’s what you get back.” He showed us round with aplomb. On the ‘first night’ wing we saw a cell from the inside and were even locked in. “Not a nice feeling, is it?” said Mick. I was impressed with the eagerness with which inmates were happy to ‘lend their cell’ and allowed us to have a look around. Mick explained the system of earned privileges, visits, work and education. The issue of drugs in prison was discussed at length as was the debate as to whether prisons are sufficiently deterrent and whether offender programmes such as Enhanced Thinking Skills and training actually work. Perhaps most importantly, we experienced the sound and smell of prison, the slamming doors, landings and the safety nets. You’ve got to feel, smell and hear a prison setting in order to appreciate what it is to work in it, or be kept inside. “I thought it was going to be really oppressive; but it was actually better than I thought,” said one student. Another student, after she was told that the inmate we just spoke to was on a life sentence said: “an affable lifer: before coming here I had no idea that that could be possible!”
IRC Haslar Immigration Removal Centre Haslar looks out on the Solent offering marvellous views of the Isle of Wight across the water. However, it is through barbed wire. A group of students were shown round the Centre that is run by the HM Prison Service. Most detainees await deportation or are involved in legal proceedings. It is a truly multi-cultural environment with detainees from dozens of countries including China, Nigeria, and various countries in Middle and South America. Most detainees spend a few weeks to a few months in Haslar. Some are there well over a year. “It’s life in limbo. They don’t know if they are going to be deported. That insecurity really gets to you.” That said, there is plenty on offer. We show a well equipped gym, computer rooms and there is plenty of arts and crafts going on. The students were well impressed with some of the work on show. In addition, community engagement is a priority. “We’re here to detain. Those who want to better themselves while they are here have plenty of opportunity.”
Speaking with ex-prisoners A dozen students took the train to Aldershot to attend a True Life Conference called Behind Bars. Former prisoners, convicted for murder, armed robbery, burglary, fraud or drugs offences shared their experiences. Their frankness was disarming. One prolific burglar honestly admitted that it was in fact age that made him give up a life of crime: “I couldn’t run fast enough anymore or climb through windows; that’s how I know I had to pack it in”. An armed robber said that at the time, no he didn’t think about the trauma that he caused: “I was never gonna see them again was I?” But prison can make you think differently about the past. A female ex offender with serious drugs issues explained a long list of physical injuries. She gave a disturbing account of life inside a women’s prison. “I’ve seen women doing horrible things to other women. In prison, you don’t want enemies. So you look the other way and shut up.” We did discuss whether this outing is suitable for Master’s students. However, it soon became clear that the frank admissions and straight talk does inject some reality to add to the theoretical discussions in lectures. It does provide a picture that you cannot replicate in a lecture room. Worth getting up for? “Definitely!”
When is a hate crime not a hate crime? During a visit to Portsmouth Crown Court we witnessed part of a trial in which that was a key issue. A young female had uttered quite foul language in an exchange with another person as well as damaging property. But the question was whether that actually constitutes a racially aggravated offence. It turned out that the jury could not decide. That leaves the Crown Prosecution to decide whether to seek a re-trial.
Prior to the sitting, we were given the opportunity to speak to the judge as well as to security staff at Court. Is the judge ever surprised by a jury verdict? ‘Yes, occasionally. To be fair, is there simply is insufficient evidence for a conviction I will direct an acquittal. But surprises do happen. Most of the time that takes the form of an acquittal. Juries perhaps err on the side of the defendant and that is good. To convict an innocent individual is terrible. However, when you become a judge you’re soon explained that it is best not to get too involved with the question of guilt. That is not your role in Court. The jury, despite the fact that there is an unpredictable element to their decision making, is a cornerstone of our legal system. We must leave them to it.’
The British adversarial courtroom sometimes is the stuff of drama. But often, trials are frustrated. Attending Crown Court tends to involve a lot of waiting. That said, as the symbolic locus of robust and adversarial justice, first-hand experience of adversarial justice in action is a must for any student in our field.
In April students in MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice and MSc Criminology and Criminal Psychology were hosted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Within the CPS much occurs beyond prosecution such as liaison with the police, witnesses and specific activities such as for instance hate crime scrutiny panels. The CPS clearly is not just a workplace for lawyers.
Part of our visit included a visit to the Magistrates’ Court next door. The speediness and immediacy of the dispensation of justice there is in contrast with what we had witnessed at the Crown Court. Several offenders were dealt with promptly. Some offenders concerned had broken a condition of their Community Order. Others were quickly sentenced further to a guilty plea. Several of these were cases of shoplifting. It often concerned cloths from high street shops, or meat from local supermarkets. Shoplifting is one way of gaining money to feed a drug habit and the nexus between acquisitive crime and drugs was obvious, after having seen three female shop lifters with drugs issues in a row appear in the dock. Justice was quick and community orders the preferred sentencing option. As a CPS lawyer explained: if someone steals goods to the value of fifteen pounds, do we really want to spend public money in the order of 15,000 pounds to lock them up for a few months? Is that going to make the difference in that person’s life? Probably not for the better!