Grenfell Tower: a TRC

According to Anne Perkins the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster is not a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), and she implies that it shouldn’t be (The Grenfell inquiry has to put cold facts before emotions, 7 July). Surely that is exactly what it should be. The desirable outcome is that the survivors should feel better, for which they require three main things: to be heard, to be rehoused and have their losses made good as far as possible, and to know that action will be taken to prevent similar tragedies elsewhere. A tribunal is inevitably seen as allocating blame for wrongdoing, which puts those responsible on the defensive and gives them an incentive to conceal or minimise their actions; a TRC (in this context, unlike those in South Africa and elsewhere) implies that the harm was caused by mistakes, with an incentive to learn from them, put them right, and apologise. It should be led by a professional facilitator, whose focus would be humane, not legalistic, assisted by assessors to deal with technical recommendations about action to be taken.
Martin Wright

Physical restraints or restorative practices

Yet more reports of use of physical restraints in YOIs and prisons, from The Guardian website.  You have probably seen them.  These are just 3 of them.
Has the RJC impressed on NOMS the fact that in many cases physical restraint need not be used at all, if staff were trained in restorative practices or non-violent communication?  It makes me think of John Howard’s comment, as true now as in 1792. that there is ‘a way of managing some of the most desperate, with ease to yourself, and advantage to them’.  He might have added ‘and it’s called restorative practice’ !
There was another article, which I now can’t find, about how in Spain they have educators rather than prison officers in young offender institutions, and don’t need physical restraints.

Modern slavery

The way people and their land and water are treated in many countries is comparable to slavery in its disregard for human beings, and made worse by its degradation of their environment. Companies should be invited to sign and display a pledge: ‘This company undertakes to conduct its operations, and to dispose of any waste products, in a way that does not impact unfavourably on the life, health or livelihood of people living in the locality’. How could any well-run company refuse to sign?


You’re overweight.

You decide that you need to lose about 20% of your current body weight to be healthy.

On one hand, you could examine your caloric intake and energy expenditures and develop a long-term plan to decrease the former and increase the latter.

On the other hand, you could decide that this would take too long and wouldn’t be flashy enough. How about just chopping a leg off? I mean, the healing process might be a bitch and it’ll be a pain in the ass to get around, but at least your weight will look better, right?

From Quora, 28.1.2017

Another parable:  An economically minded peasant conducted an experiemnt to see how little straw he needed to give his donkey.  But unfortunately he couldn’t finish the experiment, because when he got down to one handful of straw per day, the donkey dies.

Transforming rehabilitation: ‘Through the Gate’ report

The inspectors of Prisons and Probation report to-day  (4.10.2016) that:

‘Newly formed Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are responsible for Through the Gate provision, but are not sufficiently incentivised under their contract arrangements to give priority to this work. Payment is triggered by task completion rather than anything more meaningful. Additional financial rewards are far off and dependent on reoffending rates that are not altogether within the CRC’s gift.’
An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services
for Short-Term Prisoners, Oct 2016.
So  money isn’t a very good incentiviser, especially when the contractor wants to make as much profit as possible and the client wants to minimise the cost.  Perhaps it would be more effective to rely on traditional motivators like professionalism, idealism, humanity and job satisfaction.  It might even be less expensive,


I was at the European Forum on RJ conference in Leiden when the referendum result came out (I had already voted by post!), and everyone I spoke to was shocked.  Now that I’m back, it is deeply saddening to read about  xenophobic incidents in the wake of the vote.
First thoughts go to prevention, but it’s difficult;  all I can think of is that the footballing world has had some success in making racism and homophobia unacceptable, and maybe that could point the way? Some perpetrators are probably young enough to be still at school, which is another place where we could make contact.
As regards the reaction after it has happened, I am a bit worried about talk of ‘fighting’ it, ‘stamping it out’, and so on – even ‘zero tolerance’, because most people seem to link that with getting ‘tough’.  This is a clear opportunity for RJ – but as always with careful preparation of both parties, to make sure that it only goes ahead if there is the smallest possible prospect of an encounter that makes things worse in any way.  Can we think of how the RJ movement could respond, perhaps by persuading magistrates to use sentences that enable a restorative process to take place?  What advice should be given to police?  And what can be done in areas where RJ is not available?  Where there is a mediation service, should facilitators get some special training?
Could anything be worse than sending the offenders to prison, so that they can blame the **** foreigners for landing them inside,  and mix with a lot of like-minded people (young men, probably), with little to do all day except reinforce each other’s prejudices?  (The same applies to alleged ‘radicalised’  ‘terrorists’, of course.)  If for any reason prison (or youth custody) is considered unavoidable, it is vital that every minute is filled with some form of what the prison department calls ‘purposeful activity.’
Could this be raised in Parliament (if it isn’t too preoccupied with its internal affairs!)?  How else can RJ be mobilised?

Hillsborough response

The coroner’s jury on the Hillsborough tragedy has condemned the police and some others for their handling of the football crowd at Hillsborough 27 years ago, and especially for the prolonged and expensive cover-up.  Now there are demands for truth and justice, which is generally interpreted as meaning prosecution and punishment.  In some cases, where the accusation is that a crime has been committed, this will be inevitable, for example perverting the course of justice by falsifying records.  This would require prosecution and conviction, with the delay and adversarial procedure involved, but a restorative process afterwards would still be a possibility.

In other cases, however, would families of Hillsborough victims be better served by some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission than by prosecutions?   It appears that what families want more than anything is acknowledgement of responsibility, answers to questions, and action to make a repetition less likely.  Is prosecution the best way to achieve this?  Let us consider the possible outcomes and the processes by which they could be reached.  If the accused pleaded Guilty, there would be no opportunity for dialogue and asking questions; if Not Guilty, the process would be even more protracted.  In either case, a punitive sentence on the accused would give no real benefit to the families.  Deferment of sentence would be a possibility, but that would require prosecution and conviction first.  The prospect of a TRC might well make the accused more willing to accept responsibility.  But perhaps it is too soon to suggest it?

It would have to be handled carefully, of course, with no suggestion that the relatives ‘ought’ to take part;  it would be primarily for them, rather than for the police officers, because it might be a way for them to get answers that they would not get through a criminal prosecution.  And the police and others involved would have to accept responsibility – the prospect of a TRC might encourage them to do so.  As always, it would have to be made clear that a TRC is not a ‘let-off’ but can be tougher than a conventional punishment.  It is likely that the families who wanted it would get more from it than from punishment;  imprisoning some police officers would not benefit the families or the officers.  Maybe some form of community service, a la Profumo, could be appropriate?
It is also fair to police officers who wish to accept responsibility and apologise to give them the opportunity to do so, in a setting where they can show their sincerity rather than appear to be merely trying to minimise punishment.   Deferment of sentences to allow for RJ would be a possibility, but that would be preceded by adversarial court proceedings, and would probably also take a long time.  What would happen if some accepted the idea and others didn’t?
But perhaps this should be considered at a later date, when feelings are not so raw?



RJ Action Plan to 2018, MoJ

The E & W MoJ Action Plan notes that about £30 million has been made available for the 3 years up to March 2016, (so only £10 million each year) but no information about what comes next.  In one local Neighbourhood Justice Panel (Lambeth, in south London) we still don’t know if we have funding for the financial year beginning in 6 weeks’ time.
There are several paragraphs beginning ‘Advise, support and provide …’, ‘Map and review current learning/research …’ and so on – it’s noticeable that they are all sentences with no subject!  In other words, we don’t know whose job it will be to do these things.  There’s nothing about setting up a unit within the MoJ for the purpose.  The suspicion is, that with current staffing cuts everywhere it will be the job of some civil servant with about ten other tasks in his or her portfolio.  That’s what happened to the city of Bristol’s attempt to become a restorative city.
It also says ‘’The MoJ will need to work with PCCs [41 of them], the National Offender Management Service, Community Rehabilitation Companies [21 of them], the National Probation Service [what’s left of it], prisons [about 130] and the youth custodial estate, the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, youth offending teams [about 50], the police and voluntary, community and social enterprise sector organisations working with victims and offenders.’  As the American humorist Milt Gross said, ‘Is diss a system?’

Sentencing, community orders, prisons

 The questions to be asked by sentencers should include:
  • Is a custodial sentence the most likely to reduce the likelihood that this person will commit further offences? 

  • Would a custodial sentence make it impossible for the person to pay compensation or make reparation in other ways?
  • Is a place available in a prison which runs a programme which is relevant to enabling the person to live a law-abiding life and which is not available in the community?
In view of the serious overcrowding in prisons, when no place is available in a prison that is not overcrowded, within a reasonable distance of the offender’s home, all sentences of two years or less should be suspended (with any appropriate requirements).