Friday, 2 September 2011

Why the Failure of the Rehabilitation Revolution Fails us All, from Inside Time

A prison psychology assistant wonders why all the government’s good ideas about rehabilitation have been shelved.

A strain of vindictive stupidity stalks the land. At a time when our public services are being restructured, reduced or cut completely we have been offered a way to make savings that would have had a positive impact on one of the most difficult areas of public policy and possibly even changed the country’s approach to penal justice.
A recent U-turn on sentencing policy is a huge upset to the justice minister Ken Clarke, who had planned to end the rise in prison numbers and begin a “rehabilitation revolution” to reduce this country’s re-offending rate. It seemed like an idea whose time had come, with drastic changes needed to save money and a Tory party in power who wished to disavow their “nasty party” image. Clarke’s proposals were distinctly un-Tory, but they were also clearly welcomed by the party leadership, who would have known exactly what they were getting when they appointed him.
That the Coalition was forced to change its mind on the policy at a time when the argument for economic austerity had been all but won is a sign that public anger towards offenders is the only force sufficiently dangerous to change the mind of a government hell bent on its drive to reduce the size of the state.
Pictures of “Baby P” galvanised the nation’s conscience three years ago and forced the Labour government to address the chronic under-support of child protection services. Since then, this campaign has been more or less forgotten as social services are forced to make job cuts in the wake of massive budget cuts to local government.
In the current climate when the government remains immune to the lobbying of disability rights groups, healthcare professionals and public sector unions, there is much to learn about our priorities. We live in a country where to be “too lenient” is a political problem but to be negligent of the needs of the extremely vulnerable is not. News of cuts to disability benefit, to mental health and social services have created nothing like the furore raised to the suggestion that we reduce the amount of time offenders spend in prison from two thirds of their sentence to a half.
This change would have saved the Ministry of Justice £130m, but now that saving will have to come from other aspects of its work. One of the prime candidates is the probation service, which monitors the behaviour of offenders upon release. It will be a supreme irony that the same vituperative public who demanded a reversal of sentencing policy in the name of their safety will very likely be out at further risk by the u-turn.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

PAS Conclusion to the Machete Incident

Rikki Garg
Prisoners’ Advice Service
c/o Scott-Moncrieff & Associates LLP
19 Greenwood Place

3rd July 2011

Dear Ms Damji


Further to your email to Ms Down on the 5th May 2011 we understand you do not accept the findings and recommendations following the investigation of your complaint. We note you have requested that your complaint be reviewed by the Full Management Committee.

We confirm that your complaint has now been reviewed by the Management Committee. For the sake of clarity, I should make it clear that the only members of the committee that have reviewed your complaint are the members that have not been involved in any part of investigation of your original complaint or have been part of any proceedings that may have emanated from the recommendations.

 For the sake of completeness we have reviewed the following:

1.      Response to complaint by Ms Down dated 5th May 2011 (including all relevant enclosures)
2.      Your reply to the response of the same date.
3.      Your subsequent e-mail to Ms Down dated the 25th May 2011
4.      The report of the investigation dated 4th May 2011 (including all reports, the initial complaint and the chain of e-mails resulting in the complaint)

We have considered all the documents and agree with the investigation that there are 3 substantive complaints and noted by Ms Down in her report of the 25th May 2011, namely:

                    i.            The correspondence from Matt Evans was dismissive and rude and reverted to abusive and racist stereotyping demonstrating subtle racism which showed a level of ignorance which made him unsuitable for his position.  Ms Damji pointed out that she has never carried a machete nor has been charged or convicted of any crimes to do with carrying weapons or violence.  She considered that Matt’s remarks were based on the fact she was born in Africa and wanted to know the basis on which the comments were made; 

                  ii.            Matt was evasive in his response to her request for the details of those people who PAS approached to be panel members and the  debate panel was picked on “star quality” but did not meet diversity criteria.   Ms Damji therefore asked for clarification of who was approached and their reasons for not attending backed up by evidence of correspondence with the potential participants such as e-mails and records of telephone conversations; and

                iii.            PAS has history of issues with equality and diversity and has no black or ethnic minority trustees. She asked for evidence of discussions at Management Committee level about the composition of the debate panel including copies of the minutes of the meeting and information about how potential BME candidates were contacted and their responses particularly the reasons why PAS was unable to produce any black or ethnic minority panellists for its debate.

We also consider that we should consider the further comments you have raised in your e-mail of the 25th May 2011, namely:

“As stated elsewhere, I do not accept responsibility for any comments made about machetes on the internet, there are five different Twitter accounts proporting to be me and several FaceBook accounts. I have however written to MPAC and I believe they have taken this down. This still doesn't excuse Matt Evans overtly racist, patronizing and demeaning comments and I want this matter investigated fully and for someone else to be given his position as he is quite clearly not qualified or sensitive enough to fulfill the sensitive role in which he finds himself.”[sic.]

Having fully reviewed the matter we taken the following view:

Complaint i.

We agree with report’s conclusion that Mr Evans comments were initially abrupt and dismissive and latterly inappropriate, unprofessional and rude.

We agree with the recommendation that we should consider invoking Disciplinary proceedings against Mr Evans in relation to his conduct.

We hope that you accept that the remit of this appeal is to consider your complaint in light of the report. Therefore, we do not consider it appropriate for you to be notified of what actions have been taken as a result of this recommendation. However, we do wish to assure you that we do take any matter concerning the conduct or failing of, all our staff’s professional duties very seriously and we will always act to investigate any failings.

We consider that this part of the complaint has been upheld with an appropriate recommendation.

We, as an organisation, accept the comments made by Mr Evans were inappropriate and unprofessional and wish to convey our sincere apologies for any distress this may have caused you.  

Complaint ii.

We take the view it is inappropriate to reveal details of who was approached to be on the panel and what their reasons were for declining.

To provide such information would, in our view, be a breach of confidentiality that external stakeholders could reasonably expect from us in such a context.

We agree with the report that it was reasonable to seek to secure a 'star panel' to attract an audience, in order to make the event a success. We should expect to have made reasonable efforts to obtain a diverse panel of 'star' speakers. We are satisfied that we had approached a number of potential BME panellists.

At the event, we did manage to secure two BME speakers with a high profile for the event. We believe the mix of our panel members and the issues that were raised contributed in many the event successful for the organisation.  

Having carefully balanced your complaint, the report’s findings and the ultimate objective of the event we do not agree with your complaint that we did not field a diverse panel or that we had made reasonable efforts to achieve this goal.

However, we do share the reports findings that it was unreasonable not to communicate with you and the comments made were dismissive. We echo the report’s findings and proffer an apology to you for this failure.

Complaint iii.

There is no substance to the complaint that we have no BME members on the Management Committee. There is no substance to the complaint that the Management Committee did not discuss the composition of the panel as you note for the excerpts the minutes that were sent forward to you on the 5th May 2011.

Further complaint from 25th May 2011

We have reconsidered the investigation report and take the view that we have never asserted that you are the author of the comments that you had made threats involving “machetes” and these comments were taken by Mr Evans from the internet. We fully accept these comments were ill advised and inappropriate.  We do not accept or stand by this part of the e-mail exchange.

We wish to make this clear we accept your assertion that you do not or have ever made any threats of violence.    

We have fully reviewed the investigation in this case and you have noted our observations above. We are grateful to you for this bringing this to our attention. We do take every complaint seriously concerning any failure for any of PAS’ staff to act in a professional manner.

We can only reiterate our sincere apologies for falling short of this expectation in your exchange with Mr Evans.

We having now been providing a very good service for prisoners and their families for over 20 years without any substantive complaint against our staff or the quality of service we provide. We are committed to ensuring that all our staff act in a professional and respectful manner to our client base and everyone who has cause to contact our organisation.

Yours truly,

Rikki Garg
Prisoners’ Advice Service

So, a line drawn under it, HRC called off, we all move on. Hopefully Matt Evans will think before he repeats stuff he finds on the internet.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Update , The PAS' racist managing solicitor, Matt Evans

Barely coherent but OK...
Dear Ms Amer Salahuddin / Ms Farah Damji

Thank you for you e-mail dated 23rd March 2011 has been passed to me as Chairman of the trustee's of PAS.

I note that you wish to make a complaint with regard to Mr Matthew Evans and secondly, in relation to the constitution of our panel members for our forthcoming debate.

We do take every complaint very seriously and do have a system in place to investigate every allegation made.

Before I commence an investigation may I request that you provide me with any other information you wish for us to consider in relation to:

1. The conduct and the substance of your complaint against Mr Matthew Evans.

2. Any further detail in your complaint in relation to the panel. I do understand your concerns raised. However, I should state, for the purposes of this e-mail that we, the trustees, and the key staff members have been discussing and considering this event for some time and considered a wide variety of people to approach for this debate.

3. Any further information you wish to bring to our attention at this stage.

If you could provide with any further information by the 6th April 2011, I will forward all this information to a member of the trustees to investigate the allegations made.

Should you wish to discuss this matter with me direct then please do not hesitate to contact me on my e-mail or alternatively on 020 7485 5588.

Yours sincerely

Rikki Garg
My response, on attende....

Farah Damji
London NW5 XXX
Rikki Garg Esq

Dear Mr Garg

I write in response to your recent e mail. First of all let me clarify that it is only I, in my personal capacity who is bringing this complaint, not Mr Amer Salahudin, who happens to be a man and a co-director of Kazuri Homes to Matthew Evans. In the interest of clarity perhaps it’s better to use my personal e mail which is henceforth.
I am glad to hear that you investigate all complaints thoroughly and look forward to a satisfactory outcome and resolution of this complaint. According to your own statement filed at the Charities Commission one of your stated missions is
“To relieve and rehabilitate persons held in penal establishments in the United Kingdom.”
I fail to see how that can be accomplished in any way when the people at the helm of your management structure make racist and insulting comments when they have been caught in lies that they cannot substantiate.   
I don’t understand what you mean about the “conduct of my complaint”, I assume you mean the conduct of Mr Evans. I wrote to him initially as a member of Women Moving Forward which is the campaigning arm of Women in Prison, you can see more about us here
The PAS has a history of issues with equality and diversity. There are no black or ethnic minority trustees and you seem unable to produce black or ethnic minority panellists in spite of the UK prison population comprising over 50% black and ethnic minorities.  How does this make you an effective charity  championing the challenges  of ethnic minority prisoners, your captive market, when most of the work that you undertake is on behalf of BME prisoners?
The complaint relates to two issues, you have a full copy of all the correspondence between us.
This was never about me, I am not in London on the date of your event,  May 4th 2011 I have to be away for  work but I wanted there to be a panellist who could represent  the real experience of prison, not some female academic’s arm’s length anodyne and at best second-hand and narrative version of this massively important issue, prisoners’ votes.  I wanted someone from Women Moving Forward to represent what real women who had experienced the sharp end of the criminal justice system felt about this issue. We are the ones who count, but yet again you collude and silence and further engender abuse of women prisoners through exclusion and institutionalised racism? By not including women and BMEs in your panels, you collude in the continued punishment and silencing of the most vulnerable and least listened to sectors of society.
I would like to see the governing documents of your charity and also what your race discrimination policy is. I would specifically like further clarification on what harm to beneficiaries and, in particular, vulnerable beneficiaries the attitudes held by your most senior solicitor might have and what can be done to ensure that he never makes a comment like that again.  
1)      Whilst my initial correspondence  resulted in a response that was  polite, though patronising, from Matthew Evans,  ( I don’t think inviting me to come in for a chat was a particularly wise thing to do, I was asking particular questions and would not be placated by tea and a chat) it soon descended into dismissive and rude  dialogue. A person in his position, who has the responsibility for the casework and legal outcomes and representations of thousands of black and ethnic minority people, should not revert to abusive and racist stereotyping. I have never carried a machete, I have never been charged or convicted of any crimes to do with carrying weapons or violence. Because I was born in Africa, he thinks he can make such mercenary and ill-advised comments.  Clearly he realised it was the wrong thing to do, as soon as he sent it, he tried to retract it, but I had already sent it to friends who work in race and diversity. Please ask him exactly what he meant by that comment.

2)      I ask specifically  how you came about choosing the panel that you did, was it, as it appears picked on the “star” quality of the panellists, a couple of whom I know and like, but nevertheless do not meet any diversity criteria.  Evans claimed he had asked members of the BME community to attend, but none were available. When pressed for those names   he tried to evade this very simple issue, attempting to terminate the e mail conversation. So please clarify for me who was considered and asked, what responses they gave and the reason they would not participate. Naturally this should all be backed up by actual evidence such as e mails or telephone records as quite frankly I do not believe anything Matt Evans says or does is in good faith.

3)      You state that you the trustees have been discussing this event for some time so this should also be minuted from meetings and I would like to see the minutes of those meetings, in the public interest, to see which candidates from ethnic minorities were mooted and how they were contacted and their responses as to why they would not be able to participate.

Your “charity” has serious credibility problems. You do not have a single black or ethnic minority woman working as a trustee or in a senior position. I understand from others this has been an ongoing problem  for the PAS, and in 21st Century England, there is no room for exclusion, discrimination or institutionalised, subtle  racism such as that displayed by Matthew Evans in this encounter with me. This is not the first time that the Prisoners’ Advisory Service has been called into question as to its Race  Discrimination and Equality Policy.  I do not accept such behaviour, from anyone and neither should any woman who ha the unfortunate experience of coming into contact with him.  He has displayed an astounding level of ignorance which should preclude him from having such an important position.  Therefore I request the information requested without delay.
Part of your commitment as a charity is to have a clear complaints process, accessible to the public. This is not the case. Please advise when this will be investigated, how long the process will take and what the appeals process is as I smell the putrid whiff of a cover-up  lingering over your response which was unnecessarily defensive and muddies the waters  in the interests of clarity. Obfuscation is not going to get you anywhere. I want to know why Matthew Evans thought he could address me like that, on what that comment was based if not my ethnicity and / birthplace and documented evidence of the alleged BME representatives you invited to be on your panel.
This should not be a difficult investigation to undertake, if I do not have an outcome within ten days of this letter I will take it further to the Charities Commission which have already  been put on notice  about my allegations of racism , sexism and  your exclusion policy regarding BMEs and specifically women,  and to the HRC.
I look forward to hearing from you shortly
Farah Damji

CC:  Imran Khan, solicitor;  Chantal Beede, Legal Services Commission; Councillor Duwayne Brooks Deputy Chair LGA and councillor, Lewisham;  Mushtaq Lasharie;  Joel Bennathan, QC,  Tooks Chambers;  Colin Moses, Chairman Prisoner Officers' Association; Jonathan Aitken;  Eric Allison, The Guardian; Rabinder Singh, Barrister, Matrix Chambers; 

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Matthew Evans, racist solicitor at the top of the Prisoners' Advisory Service.

Machete v pointy pencil

by Farah Damji on Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 5:31am, Imran Khan, solicitor;  Chantal Beede, Legal Services Commission; Councillor Duwayne Brooks Deputy Chair LGA and councillor, Lewisham;  Mushtaq Lasharie;  Joel Bennathan, QC,  Tooks Chambers;  Colin Moses, Chairman Prisoner Officers' Association; Jonathan Aitken;  Eric Allison, The Guardian; Rabinder Singh, Barrister, Matrix Chambers; Erwin James, the Guardian; Victor Olliver;  Nik Masters;  Private Eye.

Maria McNicholl, St Giles Trust and Trustee Prisoners' Advice;
Sara Down, Bar Council and Trustee Prisoners' Advice; 
Enver Solomon, Crime and Justice, Trustee, Prisoners Advice;
Helen James, Trustee Prisoners' Advice;   

 Fri, 25 Mar 2011 22:30:27 +0000
 RE: Re: Your panel re prisoners' votes
Dear Trustees of the Prisoners Advice Service, Helen Jones, Envers Solomon, Maria McNicholl 

I write to make a formal complaint about your Matt Evans. 
Further to our conversation, in which I questioned the validity of an all-white panel, consisting of four "safe bets"  such as Jonathan Aitken , Eric Allison  etc etc  and a white female academic whose experience of prisoners' voting can be, at best academic, I wrote to Matt Evans to ask him to consider a member of Women Moving Forward, a campaigning arm of Women in Prison, as an additional member.  Let me be clear, this is not about me, I am in Cuba from April 29th - May 10th, the flights have been booked for three months and I had no intention of changing them but I wanted to see and to understand what the consultation process had been in order to reach an all-white panel. Someone else from Women Moving Forward could have come but his e mail was so patronising and such an obvious cover-up, it started to rile.

 That initial e mail is here

Dear Matt Evans
I write to request that you confirm a position for me on the debate panel concerning prisoners' votes.  This is a situation I have  personally experienced  and feel very strongly about  as someone who has   experienced the sharp end of the criminal justice system

Women prisoners rights are ignored and need to be addressed, we have different experiences and needs and it is important to address  this as part of the wider debate. In a recent survey conducted by Women in Prison Magazine, every single one of 500 responses from incarcerated women stated they wanted to be able to vote.  Men are more apathetic, perhaps women feel their rights and responsibilities being denied them more acutely because we are just used to it from birth. 

I feel this stinks of racism, maybe I am a little sensitive because I have just interviewed Colin Moses for the Tribune who speaks of  the denial of racism as the great British White lie. Why DON'T you have a BME person speaking on your panel, when more than 50% of prisoners are BME? Why don't you have a women on your panel who is not a white female academic who has an arm's length experience at best, like most academics,  and cares personally about these issues? Who did you ask from a BME background to participate? It isn't enough that some of the best legal minds are Asian criminal solicitors or barristers, we need a voice on every level of this complicated maze.   My work and my views speak volumes  please see the link below

 To be totally honest I feel I can contribute much more to this panel than most as an active member of Women Moving Forward, the campaigning arm of the charity Women in Prison. .  Also, I attach an invitation for an event at Kensington Town Hall next week to introduce a housing scheme for female ex-prisoners. I do hope you will be able to attend or send a representative. 

I look forward to hearing from you in the affirmative,

Your Sincerely 

Farah Damji

He responded

From: Matt Evans
Date: Thu, 24 Mar 2011 14:33:47 +0000
To:; Imran Khan; Laurel Townhead
Subject: RE: Your panel re prisoners' votes

Dear Farah

Thank you for your e-mail and I note your concerns about the diversity of the panel which I think are concerns we to a degree share. However to be fair we had asked a number of BME persons about the event and they either did not respond or were unavailable.

I am pleased that you feel strongly about these issues and I appreciate your personal experience in this area. If you wanted to meet me and our women’s caseworker Deborah Russo (who you are probably aware writes for Women in Prison and does outreach in the women’s estate) to discuss matters then I am sure this could be arranged. However panelists are chosen for all sorts of reasons including in this case attracting a large audience and individuals who might contribute financially to PAS and ensure we survive another 20 years. This is the reason why we approached some of the names we did. PAS is also a legal charity and this is the reason why we wanted a legal academic (in this case Professor Player who has written widely on the different issues facing women in prison) to set out a legal framework in which a more general discussion about voting and other issues could take place.

We have tried in the panel to get a mix in terms of people with different positions (former regulator, probation, academic, campaigner, former minister and miscarriage of justice) and perspectives of the Criminal Justice system but I appreciate that you are upset that someone with a BME background is not included. However I hope you will take my word that this has nothing to do with racism or an ignorance/lack of concern about the particular issues surrounding women in prison.

Finally the other issue for us is that there has to be a finite number of panelists as otherwise it becomes very unwieldy and the panel is now set. Therefore although I would consider inviting you to speak at some other PAS event I cannot on this occasion confirm a place for you on the panel.  


 he was lying to me and no one had been asked from a BME background. My e mail is below this because I I 

Sent: 24 March 2011 17:57
To: Matt Evans;
Subject: Re: Your panel re prisoners' votes

And who did you approach from the BME community? Names please.
He responded

I think this e-mail communication is at an end.

There should have been absolutely no problem with confirming nakes of people he claimed to have invited. I told him I wanted those names or I would send this thread of communication to Private Eye the magazine which is very good at highlighting crass behaviour. He then responded

Good luck with that
By now I was getting very frustrated at this not so subtle racism and lying, and sent him the following e mail, asking him to desist in any further contact and I wrote

Do not write to me anymore. Am lodging a formal complaint and asking for an investigation into your consultation process, with regards to HOW you selected your all white "celebrity" panel with the Charities Commission. All 400 invitees to the event will be notified of the progress of this complaint into you and your racist "charity". Private Eye love the correspondence, which I am free to publish.
Now go away you vile little racist.
He responded, completely inappropriately and with a racist slur on my ethnicity, I was born in Africa and of course we are all savages

No machete at the throat threats?

Which he quickly tried to recall, but which I had forwarded to friends already who work in diversity and equality.
This kind of attitude which is aggressive, lying and frankly patronising verging on bullying is completely unacceptable from someone in his position. He displays everything that is just plain WRONG about British society and the issue of racism which is alive and kicking in vile dinosaurs like him. I intend to pursue this complaint  with the HRC as well.  I will also be lodging a formal complain with the LSC and will ask that they suspend all funding, as clearly racists cannot work for a majority BME prison population with any sense of commitment or justice and are just doing it to milk private donors and trustees.  I would like to see the constitution and charter of this charity and I will be bringing a formal complaint to the Charities Commission under separate cover.  Machetes don't fit in my Chanel handbags, but if they did, small men like Matt Evans would have a lot to worry about.  I am not going to let racist liars like him go unchecked and I  will notify every BME councillor, MP and worker in the prison service and Ministry of Justice if I have to,   of this stinking, olde worlde plantation attitude if this complaint is not properly investigated. I am more than a little bit angry and he picked on the wrong small brown woman, without a machete, but with a lot of friends and a  very sharp pencil.  

Please let me know as a matter of urgency that this matter is being investigated and when I can expect the outcome of an internal investigation.

Many thanks for your assistance in this matter

Farah Damji