Tag Archives: criminal justice

Panorama: Behind Bars: Prison Undercover

By Dr Michael Naughton, Reader in Sociology and Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The BBC Panorama programme, Behind Bars: Prison Undercover, aired on Monday 13 February 2017. Culled from footage from an undercover reporter in HMP Northumberland, it claimed to “reveal the reality of life behind bars in Britain’s crisis-hit prison system.”

Leaving aside the obvious methodological issues with such a claim, i.e. that such a generalisation cannot be made from a few insights in a single, adult, male, category C, private prison, what we got, instead, was an entirely biased, one-sided view. On this occasion, it was the fears of clearly overworked and overwhelmed prison staff that was the central focus of concern. The narrative depicted was simplistic: prisoners are both out of control and in control of the day to day running of prisons, supported by images of drug taking, drunken and abusive prisoners. A strong case was being made for more prison officers, which is totally justified in the context of overcrowded prisons and savage cuts to prison staff.

A major problem was that this was at the expense of a more balanced programme that took account, also, of the prisoner side of the story – the desolation, monotony and periods of sheer terror of everyday life behind prison bars. This is well documented in the research and it might, also, go some way, at least, to contextualising and/or explaining the images of the relatively small handful of misbehaving prisoners that were selected to persuade viewers to accept the underpinning narrative without question. Continue reading

Righting the Injustices of the Past: The Case of Alice Wheeldon

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).

Right – left: Alice Wheeldon, Winnie Mason, Hettie Wheeldon and a guard, taken when on remand in 1917. © Alice Wheeldon Campaign.

History matters in the context of criminal justice; it matters that our criminal justice system lives up to standards of justice and upholds due process in respect of the past. The strength of support for this view is, for example, shown in the successful campaign to pardon men executed by British Forces during the First World War (the Shot at Dawn campaign).

Miscarriages of justice cases, such as those of the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward, also illustrate the importance of righting the wrongs of the past when it comes to crime. One hundred years ago today another such injustice occurred and efforts are now being made to right this wrong.

At the Old Bailey on March 10th 1917 Alice Wheeldon, her daughter, Winnie Mason, and her son-in-law, Alf Mason, were convicted of conspiracy to murder the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George along with the leader of the Labour Party Arthur Henderson and other persons unspecified. Alice was sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude, with Alf receiving 7 years and Winnie 5. Their efforts to appeal were rejected and so they were sent to prison. Alice went on hunger strike, was released early due to ill-health but died of influenza in 1919. Alf and Winnie were released unexpectedly at the end of the war. Continue reading