The Good Immigrant: a timely and significant book

The long read: Justice Studio’s Shirley Ahura in conversation with Chimene Suleyman

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Reading The Good Immigrant leaves you at several interesting points of departure, both in terms of the different talking points that are raised, and the many migrations
that are made within it. The book itself has an interesting creation story. It is published by Unbound, a crowdfunder publisher that goes against the grain to provide a platform for voices that ‘fall between the cracks because they don’t fit the mould’. It is incisive, captivating and above all unapologetic in documenting experiences of 21 writers, exploring what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) in Britain today.

The Good Immigrant could not have arrived at a more opportune moment. In the current climate of Brexit Britain, Fortress Europe, Donald Trump’s “Mexican Wall” and beyond, the figure of the ‘immigrant’ has never been a more recognisable one. Much of what characterises his or her burden, as posited in the book, is this tendency to split them into two camps: ‘good’ and ‘bad’; a tendency that is seemingly exclusive to the formerly (and presently) imperialist countries of the Global North. In Britain, you are an unequivocally ‘bad’ immigrant (read: “job stealer”, “benefit scrounger”, “undeserving refugee”) until you ‘cross over’ into the consciousness of the nation by winning gold medals and baking great cakes to become a ‘good’ one, all in the name of Queen and Country.

Crossing over from ‘Other’ to the proverbial ‘one of us’ is another point of departure defining this book. Here you have 21 writers, over half of whom are first generation children of immigrants, defiantly hanging up the ‘BAME’ coat at the door and crossing the threshold into the mainstream, telling some of the most enthralling stories along the way: stories of which are, importantly, populated by black and brown faces, bodies and voices. Nikesh Shukla, the book’s editor, once spoke out against the UK publishing scene for being “so posh and white”. Having a minority status emblazoned on your back seems to further vindicate this reality. What is commonly accepted without question, is not only that the stories of black and brown people are simply untold, unheard, underrepresented, and underserved, but that these same people have so few stories that can be universalised and undertaken by a British readership.

Which, paradoxically, makes the book’s victories all the more triumphant. These same minorit(ised) voices, having been propelled into popular culture, are now navigating their very own points of departure from invisibility to hyper-visibility, with high profilers such as J.K. Rowling championing the book.

Chimene Suleyman is a writer, self-confessed dog lover and author of the third entry in The Good Immigrant. I spoke with her to find out more about the book that has got every Tom, Dreya and Harinder talking.

How did the whole process of writing an entry for The Good Immigrant come about?

Nikesh and Musa Okwonga were having a conversation in one of our group chats with Inua Ellams, and we were basically talking about this lack of diversity in publishing. Musa suggested that, you know, if you wanna read the book that doesn’t exist, write the book you wanna read basically. So that’s where that started from.

Delving further into the pitfalls of the publishing industry in Britain, Chimene notes:

I think it was really important that it started off as a real grassroots project, because it was a little bit of a ‘fuck you’ to the industry as well. You know we spend a lot of the time complaining about the fact that there’s a real lack of representation of voices of colour, and writers of colour, unless they want us to tell like a very specific story that suits their narrative of what blackness and brownness looks like. I think that’s also why we didn’t pitch it to anyone… there’s constantly this battle between your voice and a white industry, whereas it wasn’t like that at Unbound at all, it was so respectful. We were trusted to be in control of our own narrative and our own voices.

Do you think the ‘invisibility’/ hyper-visibility’ dynamic mentioned earlier is something that the writers of The Good Immigrant are navigating, or that the book itself is experiencing?

Yeah, I don’t really think we saw it being as popular as it was…and I’ve said this before but it’s very bittersweet to me that it’s done as well as it has. Of course it’s amazing, of course it’s fantastic, not just in terms of our careers, but like how many people we’ve managed to reach with that. But what’s sad about it for me was how many people we needed to reach, you know? Like, I wish we didn’t need this book, and I’m glad that we have this book but I wanna get to the point where we don’t need a book like this anymore. It’s a weird dynamic… we’re in an incredible position, and it’s not lucky, we’ve worked hard for it. It’s needed, but at the same time, I don’t think any of us expected quite this response to this, and I don’t know if any of us were prepared to be this visible.

There’s still something quite perverse about [writing for a particular audience]. You know, like white people are paying people of colour to talk about being people of colour. It’s like a spectator sport, you know? It’s like, I have other interests, I wanna talk about dogs, and UK Garage and you know, like boys or shoes or whatever. But I’m constantly like wheeled out as this brown Muslim woman who just talks about brown Muslim women shit, and that’s great, and it’s vital, and it’s important, but there is a moment where like you realise that white people are just asking you questions…about your race. And it’s a bit weird. Like, I certainly never write with a white audience in mind, I’ve never written for white people, I don’t write to educate white people…I hope that it happens along the way but they’re never my audience. Brown and black people…that’s who I’m writing for so I don’t really worry all that much that I’m offending people or upsetting people or explaining things too clearly, because I’m genuinely writing for an audience that innately understands what I’m talking about anyway.

Your chapter in the book is called ‘My Name is My Name’. In it, you discuss the power of language; in particular the violence of (re)naming that is imposed by the colonizer onto the colonized, who in turn have, in your words, “learned to pronounce every violence put upon us as though it is sacred”. By the same token however, you note, “the rotation of names are as much the rotation of souls”.

In your opinion, does the act of naming bring about more harm than it does healing?

It depends on who’s doing it. Cyprus, where we’re from, was colonized by the British, and all of the ‘big’ things got named ‘English’. So, the larger ant got known as ‘The English’ ant, and the bigger tomatoes, were ‘English’ tomatoes. Anything deemed superior suddenly had the word English in front of it, and that was in Turkish. It so insidiously just kind of leaked into their language that they didn’t even realise they were doing it until much later.

I guess that’s the thing with language in general, like we all have a responsibility to language and that responsibility changes depending on what our dynamic within this world is. There are universal words but there isn’t a universal relationship with language, I don’t think. For that reason, if you’re in a position of power and you’re naming stuff, that’s largely going to be problematic and painful and cause a lot more trauma than needed. But when you’re reclaiming, or you’re in charge of your own language, your own narrative, your own sense of understanding, then I think that’s when it becomes a healing process, that’s when it becomes a remedy.

How big a part does the legacy of imperialism have to play on the discourse around immigration?

It does… if you just look at the NHS, the 1960’s NHS, the NHS that my parents worked for… I remember I always used to go hang out in hospitals with them and it was all, you know, Irish, Caribbean, Turkish Cypriot, Greek Cypriot… basically people from the colonies. You know, you can’t ruin people’s countries and then expect them to not go somewhere else.

That narrative around immigration actually still hasn’t shifted. People think that it’s, you know, that you just wanna come over and steal everything, you know, you wanna steal jobs, and women, and money and all the rest of it. I don’t know why people think moving is so easy. I moved to New York through more or less my own choice. I didn’t move under any acts of violence, I moved for a better life, you know, it was my own decision, and it was still, and still is 2 years in, one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever made. I don’t stop missing my parents or missing my friends, I don’t stop missing certain pubs or certain smells or certain streets… that never goes, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people like my parents, who didn’t want to leave. Who didn’t have a fucking choice because their country was literally torn apart because of the British. And that was something that I always struggled with, growing up in a country that, you know, ruined my motherland.

Do you believe that this kind of trauma can be passed down from generation to generation?

I know I have it. When my dad’s dad was killed, my dad was 13. His hair turned grey, like immediately, and I’ve had grey hair since I was eight. Since the age of about fifteen I’ve been almost entirely grey. That is a direct result of the stress that my dad’s incurred when his father was murdered in the war, like I’ve literally worn that on my head. There’s no escaping this in a lot of ways. Not just emotionally, but physically as well.

Is this experience of trauma a wholly negative thing?

I probably have more in common with a child of an immigrant than I do with like, my grandmother. I don’t have the same experience as her, growing up, but I do with someone else who has that same innate sense of loss and struggle and recreating home wherever you go. Learning how to carry that, and re-set up, and re-establish… I think there is a positive thing that comes from that. We create our own communities and I think we relearn how to kind of see each other.  Because we’ve spent our lives having to navigate our own pain, and our parents’ pain I guess, I think we’re a little bit more finely in tune with what goes on around us.

The current climate looks bleak. How do you think the ‘immigrant’, ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, will fare in 10 years time?

I think in 10 years time it will be the same as it was 10 years ago and the same as it was 100 years ago, we’ll just keep going, I think we always do. We create our own communities, we look after ourselves, we create shields for each other… occasionally we have neighbours who are good to us from the host nation, who will also create shields for us, and if they don’t then we do. No one else is gonna look after us, history has proven this, time and time again. Historically, the immigrant has been kicked out, battered, put in concentration camps, killed, spat at. And that hasn’t changed for centuries, and yet we still keep fucking going, you know? In 10 years time we’ll be the strength we’ve always been. And I think, we’ll always understand our reasons for moving…and that they either come from a place of safety or a place of love for our children. Wanting a better life, for the people that you love should not be something that is shamed out of anybody, and I think so long as we know that as immigrants, we’re okay.

The future of The Good Immigrant remains unbounded. With the news that the hugely successful book has been picked up by American publisher Little Brown for its very own US spin-off, The Good Immigrant seems to be destined, now more than ever, for several more points of departure.





11 things you need to ensure your feminist campaign is successful



Drawing from Justice Studio’s experience and our recently conducted study of feminist activists in the UK, here are 11 tips for your successful feminist campaign.

  1. Aim big

What makes a feminist movement is the ultimate goal to alter unequal power structures based on sex. As Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaigner Nimco Ali explains, ‘I’ve come from a feminist project not a harm project – it’s a structural thing – challenging the roles of women in society – it’s symbolic of how women are seen in society’. Before you begin your campaign, ensure that you understand the ways in which inequality underpins the lived experiences of the groups you want to assist, and keep your eye on that prize.

  1. Have a clear strategy and plan

Your strategy is your main concept – it is the way you are going to achieve your objective. A strategy should be simple and memorable: boil it down to two or three words. Within your strategy, develop appropriate tactics and plan ahead. Work out two things: a) how should it begin? and b) what cumulative steps can you take to be able to reach your overall goal?

Once your strategy is conceptualised, however, remain flexible. You will need to create and search for opportunities whilst being ready to quickly adapt and react to, situations that might arise unexpectedly. As Carys Afoko of Level Up says, it’s about ‘being able to jump on an opportunity really quickly’. If you have a clear strategy then it will guide you in the most effective way to respond to both positive and negative surprises. 

  1. Attack the weak spots

Rather than try to fight an institution or ideology where it is strongest, identify its weaknesses and legitimacy, and work from there. There is always a weak spot. Kat Banyard from UK Feminista identified in her book Pimp State that the biggest threat to the commercial sex industry were the establishments – such as banks, credit card companies and governments – that were keeping their profits flowing.  Making these establishments uncomfortable will stop the lifeblood of the industry. As UK Feminista and Object found with their #losetheladsmags campaign, it was the publishing house that ran the mags that led them to close because it no longer wanted the negative attention. Keep a keen eye on where the most effective spot to target is, and capitalise on any mistakes in judgement, policy and action.

  1. Carve out some time

Campaigning takes time, and places sudden, ad hoc, demands on your life. Many feminist activists work for free and fit their campaigning around their work. Be aware that you will need to carve out a significant amount of time for your campaigning in order to be successful. As Kat Banyard from UK Feminista says ‘once you start a campaign, you don’t get to choose when things happen and when you can respond’. Be realistic about what time the campaign needs and what time you can give from the beginning.

  1. Get a Network

The networks that you create are crucial for a) getting your message out and b)  providing a safety net of support. As Nimco Ali says ‘you have to be well networked’ because ‘it can also help you to become your support.’ The other campaigners that you meet will likely support your cause and be a source of encouragement. It’s that old-fashioned word solidarity. We are stronger together. Successful feminist movements and campaigns work together across generations, across ethnicities, across class and across countries. The more connected and supportive individual campaigners are, the stronger the movement will be.

  1. Store up resilience and determination

Not all, but a great majority, of feminist campaigners, suffer from trolling, harassment, abuse, and even rape/death threats from those who do not want to see the campaign succeed and society change. It is unlikely that this will get better any time soon, and indeed proves just how important and relevant feminist campaigning is today. Be aware of this, protect yourselves as much as possible, and build up some steely resilience.

As Liv Letty from gal-dem told us, the recipe for success is ‘a lot of determination’. Whether it’s being confronted with trolls and naysayers, or exhausted from working a full-time job, or tending to others in need, it will simply be your determination that spurs you on. Keep your eye on the end goal, repeat your strategy, and commit to forging ahead, knowing that it is always darkest before the dawn.

  1. Practice self-care

Make sure you are looking after yourself. Eat right, exercise, take time to rest, do things away from the cause. Campaigning is emotionally and physically draining. As Tracey Wise, founder of Safe Gigs for Women, says ‘you need a lot of stamina.’ Practising self-care will mean you have more stamina. Also, learn to say no, ‘there is nothing wrong with being selfish for a change’ says Nimco Ali. Ensuring you have an emotional support network at home, as well as within your campaigning network, will help you to stay positive, motivated and give you the energy you need to keep going even when it gets tough.

  1. Have a way to pay your rent

At present, there are more feminist activist groups on the ground than there are grantmakers willing to fund them.  However, there are a few. If you feel that you will need more money and resources for your campaign, check out this handbook and this database,  both of which provide information for funding movements across the world. Level Up used to good effect, whilst Laura Coryton used who provided in-kind support to her #EndTamponTax campaign.


The key is to be resourceful – use the tools that are readily available to you when money isn’t. As Laura Coryton reflects on starting her campaign ‘It’s really surprising how little you need. Now we have social media and these online platforms to really help us, its so much easier to galvinise all that energy and focus it into making something a success.’

  1. Channel your passion

You’re in this because you’re passionate about it. Indeed, even angry about it. Many feminist activists fight because of difficult personal situations that they have faced as a result of patriarchy. Channel this passion. Indeed, as Faeeza Vaid from the Muslim Women’s Network says, you need ‘passion, commitment’ and a ‘willingness to keep going even when the money isn’t there’. What’s more, Nimco Ali says, ‘it’s challenging to be an activist to care so much, but at the same time it’s quite rewarding. Being true to yourself and your cause means being in the fight and giving it your heart and mind. Do not shy away from the strength of your feelings or your anger, use it as fuel to push forward towards your goal.’

  1. Put the cause before the campaign

Success is when the world doesn’t need your organisation/campaign/movement anymore. When your vision or goal has been achieved, then you can take a rest, or join another campaign. But make sure that you acknowledge when it is finished or when you may need to seriously re-visit your strategy and tactics. Ensure you are learning, and remaining reflective as you go along. Don’t forget to put not only the ultimate goal, but also the integrity of the campaign before any personal needs for fame, subsistence or approval. Liv Letty of gal-dem magazine noted ‘We say no to brands all the time because were not here to be tokenistic parts of diversity.’ Once there is a change and the campaign no longer needs to exist, call it a day. Then, take a well-deserved rest or move on to the next thing. Until then, keeping fighting your corner!

  1. Just do it

Once you have your goal, strategy and tactics in place, then just jump in. It is scary, but requires a certain amount of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. As Kat Banyard says, ‘you just need to do it and learn on the job’ and Level Up’s Carys Afoko agrees: ‘it’s always better to just do things and get them out there’. Go on, do it!




Blockchain Technology and Child Protection: an Urgent Challenge

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Guest blog by Priya Dutta of Adiona Education

In August we were delighted to address a meeting of child protection experts from high-profile organisations. Our task? To explore the capabilities of blockchain technology when unharnessed from the cryptocurrencies that they were originally designed to power.

Blockchain technology is, in my opinion, the next most exciting tech innovation since the internet. As a distributed, peer-to-peer system, it works as a virtually tamper-proof ledger of transactions, updated in real time, with information propagated simultaneously to all its users. It eliminates the need for third-party intermediaries to authenticate data. It utilises the combined computing power of all its nodes, making system failure a thing of the past.

For NGOs, blockchains offer efficient and transparent accounting mechanisms. They work across national boundaries and work to increase trust in previously trust-less situations. The UN is already providing blockchain solutions to humanitarian problems such as distribution of funds from the World Food Program to those desperately in need. Identity verification can be simplified by placing cryptographically-encrypted IDs on blockchains so that displaced people, who often have no official documentation in their destination country, may gain access to basic services.  It’s powerful stuff.

However, the fact remains that there are some major philosophical questions thrown up by the technology. There is a war raging between those seeking a censorship-free and open internet with anonymous users, and those seeking to protect the most vulnerable in society – children – from exploitation and abuse. How can protection be possible when the perpetrators have access to such powerful technology to anonymise their digital life, for example by buying child abuse images with untraceable bitcoins and masking their IP address through the TOR network? Furthermore, there is a risk that illegal data and images can be written permanently into a blockchain. The challenge is vast. Those seeking to protect children online must acquaint themselves with the technology used by abusers. We need to come up with solutions before they do.

Solutions can be approached from numerous angles:

  1. Using cryptocurrencies for virtually frictionless transfer of funds across national borders. This eliminates much of the waste involved in currency exchange.
  2. Using blockchains to empower children by putting them in control of their own digital identities.
  3. Using blockchains as transparent accounting mechanisms to eliminate fraud and corruption.
  4. Utilising the multi-signatory capability of blockchains to enable multi-agency co-operation.

There needs to be much more dialogue and collaboration to come up with technological innovations. I am so glad that Justice Studio has taken the lead to start this dialogue. We need to act, and fast. If you would like any more information about the technical aspects of blockchain technology mentioned above, Justice Studio can arrange training for your staff so that they better understand the challenges we face.

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Priya Dutta

Has the ‘international development’ industry had its final curtain call?


Goodbye international development. The right of one set of countries to dictate to another set of countries is being increasingly undermined by global economic, technological and social shifts. It is high time for western powers to start taking more responsibility for their own actions in the world before they try to change others. It is less and less likely that such countries will be allowed to speak for, dictate policy to, and ‘develop’ other states and their people. Indeed, these states must be getting tired of being on the receiving end of condescending global aid development relationships.

Those working in international development are increasingly conscious of this. International Civil Society Organisations (ICSOs) are being challenged from all sides. They are having to deal with less money, more stringent controls, and a need to work with a multiplicity of different actors, especially the private sector. They are also aware that the changing world order questions the framing of their missions and the very premise of ‘international development’. In our work with them Justice Studio is helping them to adjust in order to ensure their work remains relevant and effective.

There is a lot to adjust to. The decline in United States’ and Europe’s economic influence is altering the structures established by post colonial aid and challenges the validity of the ‘development’ dynamic. The demise of western global influence can be seen in dwindling economic terms partly as a result of the 2007 financial crisis, and also the rise in the economy of new powers. Indeed the western powers, who have patronisingly referred to themselves as “first world” or “developed” and to others as “third world” or “developing” can no longer do so because ‘the GDP of developing countries is now at least equal to the developed world’.

Indeed, countries hitherto seen as “developing” or “the Global South” are rising in economic strength. The countries known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are challenging the global structural inequalities. Their combined share of world GDP is expected to match that of the original G7 countries by 2030. Other countries, such as Turkey, Poland, Indonesia and Iran are also becoming more and more powerful on the global stage. The next eleven (N11) grouping that includes Turkey, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Egypt, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh are set to rise in influence in their own regions but also in multilateral forums meaning that categorisations between groups of countries are increasingly irrelevant.

Countries who were previously the recipients of aid are now giving it themselves, changing the dynamics of the aid industry. Aid is provided through the Gulf States, South Korea and South Africa, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Thailand and Turkey. In 2012 the BRICS collectively invested over US$6 billion in Africa, against US$3.7 billion invested by the United States. China is now the largest non traditional donor to Africa.  The BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB) as well as the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) and the Chinese led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) offer a new economic assistance. One that is demand driven, horizontal and gives more choice to recipients. As such, it’s more likely to be sought.

New technology is also changing how aid works. It is becoming more direct. Internet based campaigning organisations such as Avaaz , and are challenging the global ICSOs. New mobile phone technology and social networks are enabling people to collaborate more and incite social movements and activism. As Stephen Hopgood argues in The End Times of Human Rights, Egyptian protesters in 2011 made far more progress than decades of protest by Human Rights advocates.

New technology is also better enabling people to empower themselves. We know that technology is reaching people faster than toilets. Collectively African countries are home to twice as many mobile phones as the United States. Africa is the most advanced continent worldwide when it comes to “mobile money”. When we worked in Somaliland on their first Child Rights Act we observed young women directly challenging the arranged marriage system by using mobile phones and Facebook to get to know each other. Young women were choosing their own marriage partners.

Perhaps more importantly, countries that are growing in wealth and power will not want aid from the former Western powers anymore because they will no longer want to be told what to do. Decades of colonialism, followed by decades of aid, have left the relationships around the globe unequal and patronising.

Indeed perhaps it is time for the former Western powers to take a much more critical look at themselves. Burkhard Gnärig from the International Civil Society Centre with whom Justice Studio is currently working, argues that the original development mission cannot be achieved unless affluent countries change themselves, for example by preventing sex tourism and their waste of the world’s finite resources. Rather than certain countries trying to ‘develop’ or change other countries socially or economically they must look at how they are damaging the world and how this can change.

Justice Studio doesn’t like the term ‘international development’. We work with all the countries of the world, from the UK to Somaliland, respecting where they are. No one country has got it right yet. There is much developing that we all need to do in order to ensure a fairer global society. We must be constantly thinking about how we can make our own countries better before we judge others.






Improving outcomes for young Black and Muslim Offenders: in conversation with Mark Blake

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Justice Studio’s Shirley Ahura reflects on our first Food + Thought Studio Session

Last Wednesday Justice Studio held its inaugural Food + Thought Studio Session. In conversation with us on the day were Mark Blake of the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) and Anton Shelupanov of Justice Studio, broaching the subject of ethnicity and procedural justice in tandem with the disproportionate treatment of young Black and Muslim offenders by the criminal justice system. An excellent and lively discussion ensued following their talks.

Mark Blake began by asking what does the context of post-Brexit Britain and the consequent discourse surrounding national identity mean for our understanding of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) disproportionality?

Is it a matter solely for identity politics? Mark disagrees. He cites the review carried out by Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey on improving the outcomes for young Black and Muslim offenders on which he worked, and another by David Lammy MP on the treatment of these individuals in the criminal justice system (CJS). Both found substantial evidence of the systematic over representation of young BAME men in different parts of the CJS, to which Mark informatively refers throughout the session, further legitimising the need to revisit and revise the discussion.

Mark observed that we are operating within a fundamentally unjust justice system. A major part of this stems from a system that, whether unwittingly or not, continues to practice racialising processes that target, disadvantage and ultimately criminalise, those members of society from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds. What is equally significant however, is the culture of policing in the UK, where the belief is that justice should be adversarial. Britain as a nation has an almost overwhelming propensity for, and impulse towards, punishment, enforcement and reprimand. The process of rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders back into society is highly flawed compared to some other European countries and jurisdictions. “A short prison sentence can start to feel like a lifetime sentence once an offender is released into society, especially in respect to things like criminal checks for employment” Mark comments.

Anton Shelupanov responded to Mark within the context of procedural justice, an important concept initially identified by American psychology professor Tom Tyler. Procedural Justice means that people engaging with a system feel they understand what’s going on and feel that they are being treated fairly. In the context of the discussion, given that the conversation was taking place in Tottenham, one example of procedural injustice was as a contributing factor to the 2011 riots in Tottenham which followed the shooting of Mark Duggan. For the communities and families of young people in contact with the criminal justice system, as well as for the young people themselves, assurance of their voice, agency and respect is paramount when interacting with the state. Good practice suggests the system inviting active participation by defendants and victims in its processes, which ultimately lends the system itself legitimacy.

So what are the solutions to BAME over representation in the justice system and procedural injustice? Is the former ‘just a case of a racist justice system’ as one participant put it, or is the issue more nuanced? How can we prevent young people coming into contact with the police from becoming a criminogenic factor in itself?

Mark Blake suggested that zero interaction should be had between the police and young people in schools and that their role may be better performed by social workers and education professionals. This sparked a debate on police and community engagement. “I respectfully disagree” one academic said. “I argue not for less separation, but more interaction. Young people need to be made aware of the protective role of the police force, which itself was originally created as a preventative measure”. From this, it would seem that an increase of locally deployed police in schools would be the answer. The problem with this perspective however, lies in the implicit assumption that inherent racial stereotyping is a mere product of perception. What happens if the young person in question, who experiences generally positive interactions with uniformed officers locally deployed in his/her school, should err outside of these very safe spaces “only to be stopped by the TSG outside? [Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group unit] What then?” Experiencing this form of police engagement is doubly noxious: not only has the young person undergone a negative interaction with police, but they do so after having been lulled into a false sense of security with them. Not to mention the perspective expressed is premised on the idea that racialising processes are a result of a few ‘poorly trained’ individuals.

The most salient forms of discrimination are not necessarily those enacted by individuals, but those that are more systemic. “There are children as young as 10 getting stopped and searched” Mark added. “To me, that’s not right. I was at a focus group with young care leavers, and the vitriol against the police, was just astonishing…with social workers very closely in line after”. What this demonstrates are some very serious underlying problems with the institution that upholds authority, and vice versa. “The whole police force must be redeemed [in their eyes] before any of that can happen. There must be a shift in culture on that side, the side that focuses on changing the nature of the police, before community engagement can even be on the cards” said a Tottenham faith leader.

This rings true on many accounts. As a friend of someone who had his dreams of playing professional football cruelly snatched away from him as the body weight of a police officer bore down on his knee during a particularly heavy handed Stop and Search, it is clear that the current system is not succeeding. Conversation is, however, always the first step. This is why we look forward to more discussions to come at Justice Studio’s next Food + Thought Studio Session, and we hope to see our colleagues and friends there!



Stop experimenting and start caring: Children and prison in England & Wales



It seems that the UK government still has no idea what to do about children they want to put in prison. A few days ago, on 24th February 2017, the Youth Custody Improvement Board (YCIB) made some recommendations as to how the youth secure estate can be improved stating that there has been no national vision for the youth secure estate.  The government, on the same day,  announced the creation of a new body, the Youth Custody Service, a department which will be subsumed within the new HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). Responsibility for youth custody will pass from the Youth Justice Board (YJB) to this new unit, slicing off another portion of the YJB and meaning that decisions regarding youth custody are put to the bottom of the pile and where the specific needs of children will be overlooked.

In their report the YCIB state, rightly, that there has been no national vision for the youth secure estate. The trouble is, there never has been. Since the very first penal institution for young people, Parkhurst, was set up in 1838, the youth secure estate has comprised a series of haphazard experiments, with parallel unconnected and unsuccessful provision for the children and young people it is meant to be keeping safe and rehabilitating. We currently have three types of youth custody in the UK: Secure Children’s Homes, Secure Training Centres and Young Offender Institutions. They all have different motivations, provision and regimes which come more from how they have emerged historically rather than a clear strategy or vision.

Our modern youth justice estate was formed in the Victorian era and has always been an uneasy meeting in the middle of child protection campaigners trying to help children born with the worst start in life, and a pro prison lobby that see such children as inherently incorrigible and needing punishment. In 1854 Reformatory Schools (and in 1857 Industrial Schools) were provided as the first institutional alternative to prison for young people. Their name suggests their aim: to reform and provide industry to children who might otherwise be ‘vagrant, destitute, and disorderly’. These schools were merged in 1933 to become Approved Schools where children could stay until their 19th birthday. In the 1950s, absconding from these schools led to the creation of closed secure units within them. By 1969 Approved Schools were renamed ‘Community Homes’ with education, and those with secure units are what we call Secure Children’s Homes today.

The other strand of youth custody grew in a parallel series of experiments. Until 1893 children sent to a Reformatory School had to do a stint in prison as part of their sentence (indeed, being sent to adult prison was only stopped for children under the age of 14 in 1908 and for those under the age of 17 in 1948). Then, in 1902 a new experiment in Borstal in Kent, started the institutions that would take its name when they were rolled out across the country in 1908. They were to separate young people between the age of 16 (reduced to age 15 in 1961) and 21 from adults. Borstals stayed operational until the 1982 Criminal Justice Act renamed them Youth Custody Centres.

The next 40 year experiment was Detention Centres. Set up by the 1948 Act and becoming operational in 1952, they used military style drills and were intended as a ‘short, sharp shock’ for those aged between 14 and 21 but without a clear definition of purpose except to stave off criticism that youth detention was too soft. By 1982 these two main experiments – the Youth Custody Centres and Detention Centres existed side by side. Then in 1988 they were combined and renamed Young Offender Institutions under the Criminal Justice Act which is what they remain today.

The final, and most recent, strand was another reactionary experiment. Secure Training Centres for 12 to 14 year olds were proposed in 1993, opened in 1998, and were run by private for profit providers some of whom have recently been admonished for abuses. Since then, the government has proposed, and glossed over, a proposal for ‘Secure Colleges’, which sounded dubiously exactly like Young Offender Institutions by any other name, and has now approved Charlie Taylor’s recommendation to build two new Secure Schools. Mr Taylor’s (who is now to be the Chair of the YJB) thoughtful recommendation that these schools should replace Young Offenders Institutions and Secure Training Centres and be instead be just like schools, run as a collaboration between Department for Education (DfE) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), may now well be impossible to carry out given that youth custody will sit exclusively underneath the direction of the adult estate, tucked inside the MoJ, very far away from the DfE, and indeed from his new look YJB.

The situation of young people in prison has always been a deep concern for Justice Studio. Before setting up Justice Studio I led three evaluations of the youth secure estate. We have also undertaken a review of the Secure Children’s Homes. Politicians’ continuing failure to strategise and learn from a rich history of past mistakes is something that saddens us greatly. In the end the failure to properly conceive and run a youth secure estate damages the young people within it and ultimately makes our communities less safe.

Justice Studio urges the government to stop flitting backwards and forwards in a series of misguided and uninformed experiments as it has done for over a hundred years. Instead it must make a considered and strategic approach to youth custody, based on plentiful evidence of good practice and sensible policy approaches. Young people in the criminal justice need to be helped not experimented on.





Goodbye NOMS, hello HMPPS


Last week in England & Wales the Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced the abolition of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). It shall be replaced with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, which ministers say will have more clarity of purpose.

The reforms include a stronger focus on frontline prison staff: a pay rise for many, along with more investment in training and professional development. This is a significant recognition of the importance of staff in any organisation: here it seems that the lessons of some of the more progressive enterprises are slowly being learned. Well trained employees with decent pay and conditions and better morale surely mean that their work with prisoners can improve too. Proposed reforms also include a stronger focus on women in the justice system. Campaigners have welcomed this but what it will mean in reality is yet to be seen.

Probation, in the meantime, remains in a Transforming Rehabilitation limbo. Privatised Community Rehabilitation Companies continue to face all sorts of challenges. Meanwhile  what was the NOMS administered National Probation Service shall remain attached to the prison arm of the administration, meaning that the kind of triangular structure which came into being with NOMS will continue.

Some historical background: NOMS was originally established in the early 2000s to provide “end to end offender management”, with the idea that it would employ staff who would follow a person’s progress from trial to custody, to release, through the prison gates and into society. The hope was that having an “offender manager” would ensure that in the event a person did go to prison, there would be a single point of contact who would ensure that all the necessary steps were taken in preparation for release. Once someone came out of prison, this link person would ensure that all the relevant agencies talked to each other and that the individual had accommodation, access to the right kind of support and so on. In reality this never actually happened and NOMS quickly became a bureaucracy which, sort of but not quite, absorbed the prison service and the central elements of probation.

Meanwhile, the Blair administration’s obsession with user choice meant that various aspects of services in prisons (interventions, education and even catering) were put out to tender and in many cases privatised. NOMS then took on the administration of those contracts, and eventually expanded to developing operational policy, monitoring, evaluation and research. Sometimes policy sat at odds with the more political direction set by changing ministers at the Ministry of Justice. What NOMS never managed to achieve was what it was initially created for: end to end offender management. In the meantime the prison population continued to rise, and with it all the symptoms of an unhealthy system addicted to hyperincarceration: violence, poor health, deaths and low levels of staff morale.

The new structure is apparently not going to do any of the things that NOMS eventually took on. It will manage prisons and the few central aspects of probation which are still in the public sector. Policy, monitoring and commissioning will move to the Ministry of Justice. But what will this mean in practice?

It’s hard to know, against the backdrop of the prison crisis, rampant hyperincarceration and the highest level of deaths in prison on record whether the new arrangement will be a genuine improvement, or whether it’s a case of rearranging the deckchairs on the prison ship version of the Titanic.

What we can say for certain is that if the Justice Secretary wants genuine change, she ought to address the current crisis which has much to do with overcrowding and the overuse of prison. This isn’t just about sentencing, it’s about there being genuinely effective non custodial measures, strong resettlement work and a recognition that a social safety net for those at risk of offending is a key aspect of improving public safety. Through our work at Justice Studio  we also know that new initiatives can be successful if they involve from the outset those who deliver services and those who use them. The best approaches incorporate co creation,  with the genuine buy in of those they affect,  specifically prisoners and staff. We hope that all current reforms don’t take their eye off their most important component: the people.