Saturday, 28 November 2009

Johnny Cash: The Story of Folsom Prison

Documentary which explores the most important day in the career of the legendary Johnny Cash. Cash's concert at Folsom State Prison in California in January 1968 touched a raw nerve in the American psyche and made him a national hero at a troubled time in American history.

Strongly recommended

UPDATE: For those of you who missed the film here is a clip from YouTube

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Christina Pantazis Talk on Nation States and Social Harm - Wednesday 2nd December 2009 at UWE All Welcome

Department of Sociology & Criminology - Open Research Seminar
Wednesday 2nd December 2009
University of the West of England, Bristol
Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY
1.30pm in Room 3D07

Christina Pantazis
(School of Policy Studies, University of Bristol)

Nation States and Social Harm: Resisting the Hegemony of 'TINA'

Christina is one of the founders of the Social Harm school who seek to move our focus away from state defined concepts of 'crime' onto what Steven Box had described as those behaviours which objectively and avoidably cause us the most harm, injury, and suffering’.

Her paper will provide an introduction to social harm theory and challenge the assertion made by Margaret Thatcher that 'there is no alternative' to global capitalism. By adopting a social harm perspective it compares the nature and levels of social harm across different state formations. The UK and US are compared with corporatist and social democratic nations; by doing this we are able to identify more humane forms of capitalist formations operating within the constraints of contemporary globalisation.

All Welcome

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


The last couple of days I have been attending the graduation ceremony for last year's students at UWE. It was the first time I had attended one, having chosen to get my degrees by post. Felt kind of weird parading around in fancy dress but was great to see last years crew and share their big day with them and their parents. I have been promised that I will be sent photos by a few and will post them up when (and if) they arrive.

I was really surprised that even in these difficult times the majority had gone on to 'graduate' jobs or higher degrees. Even more surprising how many were in fields directly related to criminology. Hopefully some of the critical ways of thinking will have stuck and they will question lots.

Update A couple of pictures have been sent through. Hoping for more

and some more

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Loic Wacquant on Radio 4's Thinking aloud

Loic Wacquant was a recent guest of Laurie Taylor on his excellent Thinking Aloud programme on Radio Four. Loic links the expansion of prisons in the US and UK with the decline in the welfare state and warns of the consequences.

You can listen to the programme here

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The disgrace of Britain's jails

The Independent on Sunday ran these stories on England's prisons last Sunday. (Click headline for full story)

The disgrace of Britain's jails: Institutions short-change inmates and society
Britain's prison system is being "brought to its knees", according to penal reform experts responding to a damning new report obtained by The Independent on Sunday. The soaring prison population, consistently high re-offending rates and increasing numbers of people on short sentences highlighted in the Prison Reform Trust's dossier have produced a system that is "not fit for purpose", they say.

The alarming findings come at a time when the number of offences recorded by police has fallen, as has the number of people found guilty in the courts. The report's evidence will heap pressure on the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, already under fire for his stewardship of the penal system.

Juliet Lyon: Our prison-building binge is a badge of national shame
The fevered rate of prison building, at a cost of £170,000 per place, is now set to propel the UK past most of our Eastern European neighbours for prison capacity. Overuse of custody has become a badge of political toughness rather than a matter for national shame.

With no crime wave to fuel it, how has this addiction to imprisonment taken hold so fast? According to a Ministry of Justice review, around 70 per cent of the increase in demand for prison places between 1995 and 2005 arose due to changes in custody rates and increased sentence length. A welter of criminal justice Acts, the creation of thousands of new offences and a raft of mandatory minimum penalties have all taken their toll.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Prose and Cons : New Plays by Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners

Friday 4th December – 7pm, Saturday 5th December – 2:30pm

A fantastic series of script-in-hand readings from Koestler Award winning plays. Performed by actors from Synergy Theatre Project and Clean Break, the readings will showcase the best up and coming writing talent in the UK prison system today. Blue Room, Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall

Tickets are £5, with a 50% discount for concessions (limited number) Please book through Southbank Centre Box Office on 0844 875 0073 or their website

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Landmark book shows how to legalise drugs

After the war on drugs: Blueprint for Regulation from Transform on Vimeo.

There is growing recognition globally that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure. However, a major barrier to drug law reform has been fear of the unknown – what could a post-prohibition regime look like? In answering that question, Blueprint demonstrates that legally regulating drugs is not a step into the unknown, but a tried and tested approach to control drug production, supply and use.

The book is available as a freedown load here (7.7mb)

I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

November 13th – Eighth Anniversary Of 'Liberation' Of Afghanistan

Join Bristol Stop The War Coalition supporters on the Centre (opposite the Hippodrome) from 5pm to 6pm on Friday 13th December to mark the eighth anniversary of the 'liberation' of Afghanistan by the USA and Britain. Bring banners, placards & friends.

Eight years on from November 2001, British & American troops still occupy Afghanistan and are being met by stronger resistance than ever. British casualties this year will be the highest ever. Many thousands of Afghans have died as the USA furthers its interests in the area. Pakistan has been de-stabilised. After a fraudulent election, the Afghan people have a corrupt and weak government which has no support in large parts of the country.

In Britain, the government is in disarray. Senior political and military figures openly question the purpose of being in Afghanistan. Gordon Brown's justifications for being there become lamer and lamer by the day.

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton faces court-martial for refusing to return to Afghanistan. Other soldiers and their families are increasingly prepared to speak out against this war.

Today the Independent called for withdrawal of British troops.

An opinion poll published today shows that well over 60% of people think the war is unwinnable and British troops should be brought home.

Join us on The Centre on November 13th to add your voice to the call for occupying troops to leave Afghanistan and for the Afghan people to have the opportunity to determine their own future free from foreign interference.

For further information email

Drugs and the BNP: introducing Information is Beautiful


Really interesting new datablog from the Guardian launches with some interesting data on BNP membership and the dangerousness of various legal and illegal drugs

Well worth a visit

Yarl's Wood Blockader Imprisoned

Zelda Jeffers appeared at Bedford Magistrates Court on Monday November 2nd. She was sentenced to 16 days in prison for refusing to pay a fine of £450 for her part in blockading Yarlswood Immigration Detention Centre on the day of a charter flight to Nigeria. The joint charter flight that was meant to carry several families to Lagos via Dublin on July 30th this year was delayed for several hours due to the blockade by the Stop Deportation Network and deportees'refusing to board the plane.

Around 1:30pm, as the Yarl's Wood deportees were being put on the coaches to be taken to the airport, supporters and campaigners from the Stop Deportation Network started a demonstration outside, blocking the only way out of the centre. The protest lasted until about 4:30pm, when it was removed by police and the coaches left immediately afterwards. Zelda was arrested while sitting in the road to try and stop the coaches leaving.

Zelda has been sent to HMP Peterborough.

Letters of solidarity either direct to Zelda Jeffers, HMP Peterborough, Saville Road, Westfield, Peterborough PE3 7PD or via London Catholic Worker whom Zelda is a member of at London Catholic Worker, 16 De Beauvoir Road, London N1 5SU or by e-mail to londoncatholicworker[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Why write to a killer on death row?

Saw this article in the Times

Nearly 3,000 Britons, mostly female, are penpals with men awaiting execution in the US. Our writer finds out what drives them and why some marry murderers

When you imagine women writing to murderers on death row it is difficult not to think of Catherine Tate’s tragi-comic figure in her wedding dress preparing to tie the knot with a doomed penpal. What sort of weird, vicarious reason, you wonder, drives them do it? But when you meet someone who has done it, and she describes attending the execution of an inmate who was afraid of dying alone, all such thoughts seem terribly smug and cheap.

Jenny is a young-looking, 50-year-old secretary from Staffordshire, a mother of three with two grandchildren. Jenny is not her real name: like many correspondents, she keeps her pastime a secret believing her friends wouldn’t understand. In 1999, she began writing to condemned convicts in the US after reading an article on prison pen friends in a magazine. One of the men to whom she wrote had been found guilty of murdering an elderly person in Texas, a crime that he always denied. To protect Jenny’s identity, we will call him John.

The rest of the article can be read here

See also World coalition against the death penalty

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Five for a penny (plus £2.75p postage)

Five highly recommended books which should be in the library of all critical criminologists. All are great reads.

Each one is available second hand on Amazon marketplace for 1p. You have to pay a further £2.75 p&p but given the size of a couple of these that is not bad.

1. Steven Box
Power, Crime and Mystification

One of the classics of radical criminology - a compelling account of how power and powerlessness operate within the criminal justice system.

•Paperback: 272 pages
•Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (24 Nov 1983)

2. Prue Stevenson & Una Padel
Insiders: Women's Experience of Prison

Gives voice to women incarcerated in Britain

•Paperback: 224 pages
•Publisher: Virago Press Ltd (14 April 1988)

3. Ronnie Thompson
Screwed: The Truth About Life as a Prison Officer

'My name is Ronnie Thompson. Being a prison officer was something I used to be proud of. I soon realised the truth of what its like working as a screw, though.It's afucking headache. Corruption, danger, violence. Welcome to my world.'

•Paperback: 384 pages
•Publisher: Headline Review (24 Jul 2008)

4. Nelson Mandela
A Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

The story of a convicted Terrorist

•Paperback: 784 pages
•Publisher: Abacus; New edition edition (12 Oct 1995)

5. Roger Graef
Living Dangerously: Young Offenders in Their Own Words

The author looks at the experiences of a group of young offenders on a probation programme in Britain, looking at individuals, the crimes they have committed, their circumstances and the problems they face.

•Hardcover: 272 pages
•Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (4 Jan 1993)

For all of these there are a number of 1p copies but these can sell out.

Happy reading

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The danger of a loose Nutt

Back in July I blogged about my trip to London to hear David Nutt deliver the Eve Saville Lecture at the excellent Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Last week an edited version of his paper Estimating drug harms: a risky business was published.

David is a scientist not a politician and much of his work has been about identifying the harms associated with various drugs and other activities. His research shows that most illegal drugs are less harmful than legal drugs and other activities. The fact that horse riding is more dangerous than taking ecstasy and smoking cannabis is far less likely to kill you than wine or beer is an inconvenient truth for a government that whilst supporting the alcohol industry promotes the criminalisation of less harmful drugs on the basis of risk. The chart below produced by Nutt compares the harmfulness of legal and illegal drugs:

This shows clearly that the claim that drug classification is anything to with harm is nonsense.

Despite having demonstrated the nonsense of drug policy Nutt was appointed as Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) effectively making the Government's chief advisor on drug policy. Not surprisingly Nutt tried to advise the Government to move towards an evidence based policy and to sort out the mess of the classification system. This was too much for Home Secretary Alan Johnson who following the publication of the Eve Saville Lecture last week sacked Nutt.

Much though I respect David Nutt I thought he was wrong as the classification system needs abolishing not reforming. This case has been made powerfully by Steve Rolles in an article The ABC of UK drug classification - not fit for purpose (pages 7-9). Essentially classification links criminal sanctions to 'harmfulness'. This presumes that criminal justice is the most appropriate method for managing drugs potential harm. This approach has clearly failed with drug use increasing, availability widening, and price falling since it was introduced. It has also seen incentives on producers to produce stronger products and dealers to mix all sort of (often dangerous) rubbish with the product.

I suspect that although Nutt was an irritant to Government whilst he was an advisor, insisting on telling them truths they really didn't want to hear he will be a more substantial critic now he has been sacked. Freed from the ACMD and its role in the classification system he will now be able to look at wider drug policy and use his expertise to critique drug policy in far more detail. His sacking is likely to prove a massive mistake for government.

Two other members of the AMCD have resigned in protest at Nutt's sacking

there is a petition which can be signed up to on the Prime Minister's web
site - you can sign it here

It says:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Re-instate Professor David Nutt On 30 October 2009 the Home Secretary sacked the Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Professor Nutt has expressed politically unpopular opinions such as -

Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine,
barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth"


Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14
and 18 respectively."

Drug policy should be based on science not hysteria. Scientists
expressing their honestly held expert opinions should not find
themselves in fear of losing their jobs.

Professor Nutt should be re-instated immediate