Jail risks giving prisoners too much control by being overly-PC, campaigner claims

Faith Spear. Picture: KJ SPEAR

Faith Spear. Picture: KJ SPEAR - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk jail risks giving prisoners too much control by using politically correct terms to refer to cells and criminals, a leading prison commentator and campaigner has claimed.

HMP Warren Hill in Hollesley, Suffolk Picture: ARCHANT

HMP Warren Hill in Hollesley, Suffolk Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Faith Spear was speaking following the revelation that HMP Warren Hill, in Hollesley near Woodbridge, now calls prisoners “residents” and cells “rooms”.

Other jails are also known to avoid the term “inmates”.

The criminologist from Ipswich, who rose to prominence after she was dismissed as chairman of Hollesley Bay’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for highlighting what she saw as failings in the system, said it was important to treat prisoners humanely.

The IMB at Warren Hill praised the decision, made last summer, to use the words residents and rooms, saying it helps provide a safe and “pioneeringly constructive environment”.

It was decided by managers at the prison and was not a directive from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

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Warren Hill has also been ranked as one of the country’s top performing prisons, according to the IMB, with staff-prisoner relationships said to be excellent.

But Mrs Spear said using the terms residents and rooms at the Category C prison, which had a population of 242 at the end of September, “sounds like you’re running an old people’s home”.

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She asked: “Are we trying to normalise a prison to make it more acceptable or palatable by changing our language?”

She added: “You have got to treat prisoners as humans. They are not aliens.

“However I think you can get caught up too much in the language and worried we are going to offend.

“I worry that the prisoners, offenders, inmates or whatever you call them will then be running the institution they are in.

“There has got to be something that shows a level of discipline.

“There is respect but there is also going over the top and you can’t tell who is actually in charge.”

A spokesman for the MoJ said: “The governor at Warren Hill believes this measure will ensure prisoners feel treated with decency and can contribute positively to society - part of a much wider rehabilitative culture that helps offenders with training and employment upon release.

“Giving governors the autonomy and freedom to make decisions in the prisons they know best can help offenders turn their lives around and ultimately reduce reoffending.”

Mrs Spear was dismissed as chairman of the IMB at Hollesley Bay after she wrote an article under the pseudonym Daisy Mallett.

This broke no prison rules and named neither individuals nor the prison she worked in, but in the public interest challenged the idea that monitoring boards were truly independent.

Since her dismissal Mrs Spear, who has a degree in criminology, has continued to campaign for prison reform and to speak out on her blog on issues facing prisoners.

In 2017 she was nominated for The Contrarian Prize, which values independence, courage and sacrifice and honours people who go against the grain, put their head above the parapet and stand up for what they believe.

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