Friday, October 15, 2010


7. What are Ben's views on prison charities or other organisations supposed to represent those in custody? Which ones does he think have their interests at heart and which are just a cash cow for the employees? In other words, who is worth donating to from a prisoners perspective? (Anon)

A: Oh, come on, that question is just an invitation to upset a lot of organisations!! That I have reservations about the aims and operations of many prison reform groups is something I have written about for many years. Each has their strengths and weaknesses.

Almost universally, though, they have no impact at all on the lives of prisoners. As originators of researcher or as policy campaigners they may have some influence on a political-policy level, but their connections with prisoners and our interests are pretty tangential.

That said... The Howard League is a well oiled campaign machine, even if it can come to an issue later than others. The Prison Reform Trust originates thoughtful research under the purview of the excellent Kimmet Edgar. NACRO now bills itself as a "crime reduction charity", so I argue it falls outside of being a prison reform group at all... That's my take on the Big Three groups.

I am much more impressed by smaller, less well funded groups, who have direct links to prisoners and our needs. These include Unlock, the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), the Forgiveness Project, Women In Prison and Miscarriages of Justice UK.

There are dozens of these small groups and I have not mentioned most of them - this is a blog, not a book! So I would urge interested readers to scout around the electronic firmament to find them directly. They do amazing work outside of the headlines and on a shoestring budget.

And I can't resist a pitch for the Association of Prisoners at this point. A benevolent millionaire benefactor would be welcome to drop me a line as its General Secretary!

The Association of Prisoners is this generation’s effort to form the only genuine prisoner-led group, directly addressing the concerns and issues that affect prisoners. Prisoners are the only people who can represent prisoners without being tainted by some organisational or wider political agenda. We are the future, and
all support will be very gratefully received.

8. Same as above, but with reference to think tanks? (Laura)

A: I have an unfair advantage, in that unlike most prisoners I actually know of these think tanks. Most prisoners don't, largely because they are an irrelevance to life on the landings.

And so, short of mentioning the research conducted under Kimmet Edgar in the back offices of the Prison Reform Trust, I have no view on any of them. Except to warn readers of the potential misuse of statistics and political motivations of think tanks. I have a particular dislike of Civitas.


  1. The most rewarding thing about working for a small prison charity is receiving heartfelt letters of gratitude from some individual prisoners who we have helped and encouraged, which in turn inspires us to up our game. It's a two-way thing. It should be all about relating to individuals, wherever possible.

  2. As an ex-con, i've not had any dealing with any of the mentioned charities, but the Vegan Prisoner Support group need a gold star, all run by volenteers, on a shoestring bugdet. Granted, they are only helping about 400 prisoners in a population of 87,000or so, but their work has moved mountains.

  3. Like the Vegan group above the Bents Bars Collective works with a small niche group - in this case Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-gendered people in prison. Check if you are interested in involvement.

  4. Civitas doesn't 'think' at all - it just tanks on every level. It's 'research' is typical of the right-wing polemicists idea of research - start with the conclusion (i.e. your opinion) and find the 'facts' to back it up.

  5. I asked this question and I can assure you it was not about having a pop at any organisations in particular.

    It is big business out here Ben with many organisations sprouting up. Some undoubtedly do a great job, others seem to do very little, if anything.

    I think the AoP is a brilliant idea, you should let us know more about how they are getting on. Where do they have representatives so far?