Posted in Master's blog

My erstwhile PhD student Dr Amy Ludlow organized a wonderfully stimulating discussion day on this subject last week. It was well attended by perhaps 100 people from prisons, probation, coroners, academia, and the Ministry of Justice. Professor Alison Liebling kicked off with a brilliant review of the research in this area area – much of it carried out by her and her colleagues in the Prisons Research Centre of the Institute of Criminology over the last thirty years. Her message that if you reduce distress in prison you reduce not only suicide but also reduce re-offending is a powerful one.

I spoke on the report on Deaths under Probation Supervision, of which I was a co-author four years ago. Loraine Gelsthorpe, Jake Phillips and I undertook an analysis of data for the Howard League  which they had obtained under Freedom of Information requests on the number of adults who had died under probation supervision – including deaths following release from custody and on probation licence over the period from 2005-2010. This data had not previously been published. We subsequently obtained further data, following another FOI request. Despite the fact that the quality of the data was (astonishingly?) poor, we counted 2,275 deaths of men and 275 deaths of women under probation supervision between 2005 and 2011. Suicide accounted for not less than 13 % in each year. Other important causes were alcohol issues (8% in each year for which there are figures), unlawful killing (5% in each year), and misadventure/accident (not less than 8%). Also, a large number were classified as ‘unknown’ cause (not less than 15%). The suicide rate in prison in shocking – but the deaths of those under supervision in the community is much higher, and apparently largely ignored.

We noted then what seemed like defensiveness on the part of probation staff in terms of what and what is not recorded on the forms, and a focus on staff management issues (support for staff). There was much ambivalence and ambiguity when it came to what might have been done differently; e.g. it was not clear how far probation staff were equipped to support families, nor indeed, how far they were prepared to do this within the context of other duties and constraints. We asked, at that time, some challenging questions:

  • Was there an ethics of care? Was prevention a priority?
  • What factors connected deaths: e.g. are they related to length of prison sentence or licence conditions?
  • Which other agencies beyond Probation Service were involved at the time of death?
  • Were different agencies aware of the vulnerabilities of this group of people?
  • Did the prison authorities inform the local Probation Service where people were perceived to be particularly vulnerable upon release?
  • What information, if any, was received from prisons to inform probation practice for those on licence?

These questions were impossible to answer from the data we had. It felt very different from deaths in custody, which seem to be investigated much more ‘seriously’. That was five years ago and the probation world has changed almost out of all recognition with privatisation and the new Community Rehabilitation Companies.This is reflected in the new Probation Instructions which have replaced earlier circulars. I was shocked to learn, as a result of an email to the Ministry of Justice, that, despite “greater emphasis on learning and improvement” and a statement that “a national report will be published by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) each year (on deaths under probation supervision) in PI 01/2014”, the Government has decided not to make the data available to the public.This is really disappointing: no progress in five years? Perhaps we’ll embark on more FOIs…

Meanwhile, the Howard League is carrying out a new Inquiry into suicide prevention in prisons, with the Centre for Mental Health. It is of course difficult ‘learning’ within a culture of blame: a number of speakers spoke of the very negative impact on staff confidence (and therefore competence?) of inquests and of police investigations into deaths in custody. There were powerful thoughts on how organisations and individuals must feel enabled to do more to prevent suicide. All agreed that our common humanity should commit us to involving prisoners and their families in reducing the risk of suicide in prison and in the community. An inspirational day.

Posted in Master's blog
Nicola Padfield by Beka Smith_8BA0477_DxO (Medium)

Nicola Padfield by Beka Smith (Acrylic on board 65x47cm)

No-one has ever had the task of painting my portrait before and Beka Smith rose magnificently to the task. (More to the point, I have never gone through the process of being painted before). She was a real pleasure to work with: always positive, and always smiling. I found the process interesting: would I sit or would I stand? Would she seek to convey specific messages through the portrait? Beka and I spent some time together as she worked out how she wanted to present me. She worked largely from photos so I didn’t spend long periods ‘sitting’: she came and snapped and snapped and snapped, and then worked away in her studio. The end result is brilliant: it captures something of my personality (though am I looking rather sad?) as well as the physical pose. And the details are fascinating – the details of the eyes, the hair, and things like the stray thread on the blouse sleeve button. (I chose that blouse because my husband Christopher (Engineering 1968) had recently made it for me: a tribute to his endless hard work behind the scenes as Master’s consort.)

I found the ‘unveiling’ very funny. Many people congratulated me on the portrait – but it was of course all Beka’s work. More importantly, the painting is very realistic: I couldn’t stop looking at that person pretending to be me, in the corner of the room … my alter ego, perhaps? She is not exactly as I see myself – but that is part of the intriguing business of portraiture. I am very happy with the ‘statement’: sitting down, leaning forward and listening. But she’s not entirely me: or maybe, she’s just one snapshot of me.

I was very interested at the time of the unveiling to learn of the work of alumnus artist Gerald O’Connell (Economics 1970). He has been painting homeless people, and his frank discussions of the painting processes (on the website which tracks his artist-in-residence project at St Mungo’s Broadway Trust) are, to me, intriguing. They are fabulous portraits, and it is fascinating how he comments on details: for example, ‘As I make small changes it becomes apparent that the area of the mouth is most important in conveying Richard’s personality. His face settles naturally into a quizzical half-smile, as though there is a private joke that he is permanently on the verge of sharing with us. Keeping hold of this impression will be an essential aspect of establishing and retaining the likeness.’


The three stages of painting Richard

The three stages of painting Richard (Gerald O’Connell)

Posted in Master's blog

I was born in 1955. ‘Anyone who had a heart’ was top of the pops when I was 9. My elder sister was very keen on Top of the Pops, and on the charts – they never quite grabbed me in the same way, and I firmly diverted my loyalties from pop to classical and folk music in my mid-teens. But Cilla was different. She touched my heart and moved me. I knew her songs, and I felt I knew her: she was magic. I loved to sing her songs loudly and confidently. Go on, try: learn from her hit version of ‘Alfie‘ or watch this behind-the-scenes video. Don’t you want to be Cilla? I guess I have always wanted to be Cilla … she gave hope to so many little girls that we too could reach for the stars. But I soon realized I couldn’t sing like that .

There were other women pop singers then who were fantastic: Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Petula Clark. Pop music had a number of iconic women, though I don’t think we would have called them that. People much younger than me think of Cilla as the compere of Blind Date, a warm and cuddly Liverpudlian, representing the girl next door, Everywoman, as we’d like her to be. But there can’t have been much that was ordinary about Cilla. She was determined, professional, hard-working, and genuinely herself – a person of instinctual integrity, who seems, despite the temptations of that glitzy world, to have retained her values. She was never pompous.

I have been gripped by nostalgia today (her funeral), along with so many people, not for Cilla the TV presenter, but Cilla the singer who continued a successful career over many decades, juggling career and family; not effortlessly – it was doubtless a huge effort. Cilla who had the confidence to be herself: to sing, to know that she could do it, even in a man’s world. And Cilla who adapted her career: juggling family and many other commitments. And who continued, despite fame, to be loyal, friendly, witty and down to earth.

Would she be pleased that a Cambridge academic aged 60 spent today feeling nostalgic for what she felt she owed to Cilla? I think she would have laughed and given me a hug, if she could. And she would have been delighted. (But there are too many of us queuing up for that hug). I’ll keep her in my personal gallery of feminist icons. (And of course I don’t really wish I’d been Cilla! I hope I’ve been me).

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In October 2011, anti-capitalist protesters set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral. Unsurprisingly the church authorities were deeply perplexed about how to deal with them. Soon after the protesters arrived, the Dean of St Paul’s announced that the cathedral would close until further notice, asking the protesters to leave the building’s vicinity so that the cathedral could reopen. A few days later, Dr Giles Fraser resigned as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s over the way the church was dealing with the protestors. The Corporation of the City of London then took legal action against the camp (without support from the church authorities), and in January 2012 they were granted an injunction against continuation of the protest. The camp was eventually broken up on 1 March 2012.

There is plenty in this story on which to base a powerful play. Playwright Steve Waters’ Temple is a brilliantly simple yet compelling telling of the story, currently being performed in a packed-to-the-rafters 90 minute session at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden. (Waters is the husband of Fitz Fellow Hero Chalmers). The play creates tension, atmosphere and good characterisation within the confines of a single scene and a small handful of actors, two of whom, perhaps extravagantly, were young trebles supposedly from the cathedral choir.

The central character is the reflective, indecisive, insecure, other-worldly but thoroughly decent Dean of St Paul’s and thus head of the governing ‘Chapter’, played brilliantly by Simon Russell Beale. (There are references to other leading and indecisive Anglican churchmen, who play a role both on and off stage). The play follows the Dean as he is buffeted by contrary leanings from his new PA, a self-identified “chav”, and the only voice of common sense in this recreated world; from his bishop, from the City’s lawyer and from two members of his Chapter, who both sort-of resign (reserving the right to continue destabilising the Dean’s precarious foundations) during the course of the play. In this high-profile chaos, the poor struggling Dean is left alone to discern the will of his God. The Dean majors on the cathedral as temple, a place where worship has to continue, as against the urgings of the younger self-aware and media-aware Canon Chancellor, who wants the church to engage with those who, however improbably, are campaigning on behalf of the oppressed and unfortunate.

Simon Russell Beale (Dean) and Paul Higgins (Canon Chancellor)

Simon Russell Beale (Dean) and Paul Higgins (Canon Chancellor)


See it if you can. It will make you think. For the Master of a Cambridge College, there were some uncomfortable parallels between the Chapter of St Paul’s and a College Governing Body…

It can be difficult negotiating unexpected and conflicting positions. This is a delightful illustration of the personal difficulties involved in decision-making.


Posted in Master's blog
Albie Sachs at Clare Hall. Photo: Phil Mynott

Albie Sachs at Clare Hall.
Photo: Phil Mynott

Justice Albie Sachs has the power to inspire. He gave Clare Hall’s Ashby Lecture on Monday 6 July on the subject of “Liberty, Equality. What happened to Fraternity [Human Solidarity]?” With rugged kindly face, deeply tanned by the sun, and gloriously colourful South African loose shirt, he contrasted strongly with the audience who had been asked to attend in ‘business attire’! A master communicator and story-teller, he sat throughout his presentation on an upright chair in front of the audience, waving sometimes his stump (he was blown up in a car bomb in 1988) and sometimes his good arm, talking quietly. And indeed he was, in the words of our host and President of Clare Hall, David Ibbetson, utterly spell-binding.

He identified himself as a secular Jew, whose family had been resolutely internationalist. He did not speak much of the ANC’s struggle against the apartheid government, but the aftermath of armed struggle was the setting for his reflections primarily on his experience as a judge on the post-apartheid Constitutional Court. His quest in those years, as seen through the lens of retrospection, was to find ways of characterising, capturing and harnessing the positive essences of humanity and civilization to the resolution of the problems that found their way up the legal cascade to the highest court in the country. Thus he helped forge a decent nation out of the dangerous maelstrom and anger of conflict, with its inevitable caravan of grievous wrongs, resentments and hatreds.

Many of us in the UK admired South Africa under Mandela’s leadership, promoting peace through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other means. From Albie Sachs we heard a simple account of courage and humanity, told in stories (particular cases that had come to the Constitutional Court). We understood his ambition to achieve peace and mutual respect within the rule of law. What was wonderful and moving was the absolute centrality and penetration of the highest human values into every fibre of the debate. We had the privilege of seeing beneath the packaging of the new South Africa, and had a glimpse of the workings of one among what must have been so many mechanisms working towards the same end: the care for and integration of every single human being into the new South Africa, as if they mattered.

For human solidarity, read ubuntu  According to Wikipedia, President Obama spoke about ubuntu at President Mandela’s memorial service, saying, “There is a word in South Africa – ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us…..”

One case that gave great anxiety to “Albie the Human” was the Port Elizabeth squatters case. Clearly there was no right answer – but the Court (“Albie the Judge”) had to manage the situation. It would have been an affront not only to the squatters, but to all of us (said “Albie the Human”), if they had been evicted without having a voice, without a meaningful engagement. There is “a thumb on the scales in favour of the rich” – and both Albies worried about this.

He accused David Cameron of withdrawing into a “silo of hurt pride” in considering withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights. The Government, he said, would be setting a terrible example for reasons which are difficult for an outsider to discern: so sad, profoundly undermining one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. How could David Cameron say that it made him sick to think of prisoners voting? The lack of humanity towards prisoners is, Justice Sachs suggested, a blind spot in Britain. The right to vote is simply a way of acknowledging that everybody counts.

Posted in Master's blog

Prevent’ is one of the four elements of CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. It aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.

Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (the Act) places a duty on universities (and other bodies) to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. So we now have ‘Prevent Duty Guidance’.

This is difficult territory, and whilst some of the ‘Prevent duty’ may lead to empathetic support for more vulnerable students, other aspects would appear to be more alienating than supportive. First a positive bit of guidance:

… we would expect [universities] to have clear and widely available policies for the use of prayer rooms and other faith-related facilities. These policies should outline arrangements for managing prayer and faith facilities (for example an oversight committee) and for dealing with any issues arising from the use of the facilities.

Then there’s:

Universities will be expected to carry out a risk assessment for their institution which assesses where and how their students might be at risk of being drawn into terrorism. This includes not just violent extremism but also non-violent extremism, which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists exploit.

This provokes obvious concerns about freedom of speech: one person’s non-violent extremist is another person’s wise voice. No university in this country will want to ban free speech, or arguments that cause offence. But the ‘Prevent Duty Guidance’ raises something even more troubling than the risk to freedom of speech: the ‘othering’ of young Muslims.

Whilst I was thinking about this, Mathew Wilkinson kindly gave me a copy of his recent book, A Fresh Look at Islam in a Multi-Faith World: a philosophy for success through education (Routledge, 2015). The book is focused on the teaching of history, religious education, and citizenship in schools. Wilkinson regrets the decline in humanities education: he encourages us to re-imagine the nation though history education; to use religious education in schools as a “living ‘multi-faith’ encounter” and citizenship classes to value new ethno-national ‘hybridity’. “The skilled teacher can present young Muslims with civic scenarios redolent with ethical overlap and creative tension, rather than Manichean opposition and incommensurability” (p 245).

For me, the main value and challenge of the book is how Wilkinson articulates the ‘othering’ and ‘counter-othering’ of Muslim youth. He explores history, and the contributions of Muslim scholars from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries, who were often both motivated by the demands of their faith, and living within “the nexus of diverse, multi-faith Islamic civilizations” (p17). He argues that the institutional fabric that sustained Islamic scholarship and civic cohesion gradually crumbled, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, as a result of a combination of internal (structural) and external (colonial) pressures. For Wilkinson, the Muslim-majority world gradually shifted, first in the consciousness of non-Muslim powers and peoples, and then its own self-consciousness, from being the shaper of the intellectual and political world, to being shaped by the intellectual and political world of non-Muslim powers and processes. These institutional changes, and a loss of structural coherence towards the end of the Ottoman period (1800-1924), generated a theological and intellectual crisis among Muslim religious thinkers (see p22). Taking history forward, Wilkinson classifies reformists as secularists, Islamic modernists and radical Islamists. The book is as hard-hitting in its criticism of modern Muslim states as of the ‘west’.

I cannot evaluate Wilkinson’s history, but I can engage with the difficult questions facing Muslim youth in this country. What does it mean to live in a Muslim-minority country, surrounded by people who do not believe in the truth of Islam, or even in God in any form, and yet who are more often than not palpably good and decent human beings? What does it mean to obey God in a society whose members often do not believe in Him and which sometimes makes religious obedience difficult and even counter-cultural?

Being a young Muslim in the UK today is challenging – not least because they have been thrust into the national consciousness in a way which has led to the ‘securitisation’ of the Muslim community (p 8). The current school curriculum doesn’t help. (I slip over intriguing chapters on Islamic critical realism, and a detailed analysis of the Koran and of the life of the Prophet Muhammad). To generate ‘success’ in educating young Muslims, Wilkinson argues that we must avoid overwhelmingly negative stereotypes: for boys, both a real and an imagined vulnerability and a propensity for radicalisation and violent extremism; for girls, an intense focus on Islamic dress codes. Focusing on these negative stereotypes means that Islam constitutes, for large numbers of British Muslims, “an identity from which to resist ‘white’, ‘Islamophobic’ oppression rather than a daily practice that forms a platform for educational engagement and success” (p 121).  His argument suggests that the type of ‘Prevent strategy’ that singles out one group as a security risk and identifies educational spaces as the means to ‘deal with them’ can fuel the alienating othering-counter-othering dynamic that drives extremist discourses of all types and which threatens to alienate parts of the Muslim community.

Have the drafters of the ‘Prevent Duty Guidance’ thought adequately about this? The stigmatisation of Muslim youth needs to be handled with great sensitivity. Islam, and Muslims, are too easily construed or assumed to be a potent and threatening ‘other’ to modern, secular ‘normal’ liberal beliefs. The ‘counter-othering’ by some elements of the Muslim (usually young, male and Islamist) community to the effect that our criminal justice system is inherently un-Islamic, and therefore not to be respected, also needs to be addressed (see p 29). This ‘othering’ and ‘counter-othering’ is already being recognised within our prison system. Let’s not encourage it within our universities.

Clearly, Wilkinson is keen to argue that Islam can be a medium by which Muslims can interact productively with a multi-faith and no-faith world.   But his questions are not unique to Muslim/non-Muslim relationships, and indeed to focus on this issue may itself add to the ‘othering’? Let’s also think about Catholic and Protestant identities in Northern Ireland, or the way English nationalists can thrust other minorities into a defensive-aggressive ghetto. And indeed, let’s never forget the intolerance of many Muslims to non-Muslims. Wilkinson’s main focus is to argue for the potential ‘humanising’ role of the humanities in education.

I write this blog simply to suggest the need for ‘humanity’ in the way the ‘Prevent’ agenda is both portrayed and implemented. We need to tread carefully. We need, in universities, to create safe spaces for the robust articulation of difficult debates and histories and to promote the sort of ‘inclusion’ (a sense of comfort and security?) which just might remove the need for a ‘Prevent strategy’ in the long term.

Posted in Master's blog

Thanks to the warmth and generosity of Graham Nutter (Geography 1965), fourteen of us joined him and Jenny for a wonderful weekend of fine wines, feasting and gentle culture at his domaine just north of Carcassonne in southern France. In 2001, Graham left his previous career in finance to develop a run-down but intrinsically promising domaine situated in a beautiful corner of the Minervois. In the intervening years he has invested heavily in every aspect of the enterprise – soil, vines, machinery, expertise, storage, drainage and water supply; in turning the chateau into an exceptionally beautiful dwelling and winery; and vitally, investing his own vision and indefatigable energy. We arrived from every possible direction on Friday evening, found bedrooms in his house and gîtes, and gathered on the still-sunny terrace for an aperitif and then for dinner.

Graham Nutter

Graham Nutter

On Saturday a minibus took us all to the village of Caunes Minervois, where a delightful guide showed us medieval streets and renaissance houses with some beautiful features. The heavily restored Abbey was particularly stunning from the outside: square towers, and ancient apses.

Lunch involved a happy séjour under plane trees at a restaurant exhibiting historic tools from the local pink marble trade (“le restaurant la Marbrerie vaut un détour”, as Michelin would say), and then we were off to a Truffle Museum (this part of France being one of the global producers of this quixotic natural fungus that sells at a price to make eyes water) and then finally up into the limestone hills at the foot of the Black Mountains to visit the huge underground chamber at Cabrespine (170m long, 250m high). As we entered, there was a short son et lumière to Carl Off’s Carmina Burana (a nice link back to Fitz where we performed this work with enthusiasm last term). The day ended with a feast cooked by Michelin-starred chef Jean Marc Boyer, chez Graham.

Sunday was a glorious day of sunshine and light breeze, and we explored the domaine on foot through the eyes of its patron: the flowering vines, the eleventh-century chapel he had so painstakingly restored, the truffle oaks he had planted and was tending, forests, vestiges of Roman road and a Visigothic cemetery, and wild orchids galore. Paradise!

crop 119The weekend was marvellous; much of the time hilarious – easy companionship enjoyed by a group of Fitz alumni and their partners who slipped into that relaxed conviviality for which Fitz is so well known. You may have missed Fitz Sud, but you can still book one of Graham’s luxurious gîtes or buy his wonderful wines: see Chateau Saint-Jacques d’Albas.

St Jacques d'Albas

St Jacques d’Albas



I’ve always felt that friendships need to be fed by doing something together, something you care about, to make them meaningful. Formal dinners in College every five years or so don’t quite reach all the necessary parts; at least not on their own. Graham clearly understood just that and more; he provided a brilliant example of Fitzwilliam get-up-and-go, by creating a whole host of opportunities for people to chat and to laugh and to explore, in different groupings throughout the weekend, and thus to create fresh, living memories to add to a pretty important part of each of their histories.

Do tell me about reunions that you have been part of – and/or if, near you, there are wonderful things to experience and good places to stay, why not organize your own at-cost reunion in your own special corner of the globe? We‘ll help with contacting people … and I’ll come!

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The creation of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in 2005, on the recommendation of Lord Carter in December 2004, was welcomed by many. Lord Carter had rightly understood a significant problem: prisons and probation were working in very separate ‘silos’. He thought that an umbrella organization could bring them together to achieve ‘end-to-end sentence management’. But has NOMS solved the problem?

Not at all, many would agree. NOMS provides a roof over increasingly fragmented prison and probation ‘services’ but has not effectively ‘joined up’ this ‘system’ in any way. Nor is ‘management’ the right concept, if we want to help prisoners to desist from criminal life styles: we need to help them help themselves. The system needs management, not the offender. Probably the majority of offenders need individualized social, practical and financial support over a long time span. The significance of social bonds and support mechanisms should not be underestimated.

The process of desistance is hugely difficult: a process, a social transition, which requires a change both in attitude and identity. A rich literature shows how many offenders want to change, but are often ambivalent about the possibilities and endless challenges they face. Prisons are damaging places, and rarely help.  Even if an offender resolves to change whilst in prison, this resolve can dissolve on release, when he (and it is usually he) is faced with the realities of life on the outside.

There have been many wise words written on the pains of imprisonment (see Ben Crewe’s work), but ‘going straight’ brings its own pains: pains of isolation, pains of failure, pains of hopelessness. And these pains vary unpredictably from time to time. I have often described a prisoner’s journey though the prison system as a game of snakes and ladders: sometimes one goes up the ladders (transfer to a lower security level, or to higher earned privileges, release, of course), but there are just as many unexpected or unpredicted snakes (adjudications, recall….). In theory a prisoner should be on a gradual and smooth return from prison to society. The reality is far from smooth. The ‘spikes’ on the graph of prisoner re-entry, the high and lows, means that ‘sentence management’ is not a smooth process. From an offender’s perspective, these random ‘spikes’ do little to inspire a sense of fair play.

I would argue that the prisoner has a right to rehabilitation or reintegration or resettlement (as Humpty Dumpty said, words can mean what you choose them to mean), or put otherwise, that the state and society owe a duty to all its citizens to facilitate their reintegration, a duty not to return prisoners to society worse off than they were before they served their sentence. For that reason, a prisoner deserves a champion: someone whose first priority is helping his or her reintegration or re-entry. But a more pragmatic justification: it is in all of our interests that re-offending be reduced.

My proposal: providing every prisoner at the very start of his or her sentence with a ‘ champion’, a key worker… not an offender manager, but an old style probation officer, or social worker, whose job is to help the offender negotiate his or her way through our over-complex penal system. Not a prison officer or someone in uniform. Probably not an ex-offender: ex-offenders can make the best mentors, but would they have the ‘clout’ to advocate effectively with the ‘authorities’ to help speed an offender through the ‘system’? Probably not a volunteer mentor, as volunteers need careful (and expensive!) management. My recommendation: an old-fashioned independent and senior probation officer (even the 19th century police court missionary – we need probation officers with a missionary’s zeal!). They would have the lead as the offender’s advocate, arguing loudly for measures and interventions which support rather than impede desistance. Pushing the prisoner’s case for reintegration, for progress through the system, at every corner. Lord Carter nearly understood this: he wanted every prisoner to have his or her own ‘offender manager’. But our understanding of desistance has come a long way in ten years: ‘management’ is not the answer.

These thoughts are being written on my return from a conference held on 26-28 March in Greifswald, northern Germany on Prisoner Resettlement in Europe. I owe a debt to everyone there for having inspired me to shout a bit louder about what’s wrong with our penal system, or rather to try and keep a public conversation alive. My thanks in particular to Fergus McNeill and Ineke Pruin. But my thanks go to everyone there: it was truly inspirational. One of the best messages I heard: you can’t learn to swim without water.

Posted in Master's blog

At the end of my recent brief trip to the USA (wonderful and stimulating alumni dinners in both New York and Boston; and a fascinating afternoon discussing the “meaning of success” with Global Cambridge), I was fortunate to be able to spend an afternoon in the court house in Boston (proper title: the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse – a curious American habit: it is inconceivable in the UK that a court house would be named after even a much loved local politician!).

The building is stunning: brick is a fun metaphor, since the law is also built brick by brick, case by case. But most exciting are the inspirational stone carvings throughout the building. The building resonates with quotations from the giants of US law: “Men and women were created equal; they are both moral and accountable beings, and whatever is right for man to do, is right for woman” (Sarah M. Grimke, 1837); “The law is the witness and external deposit of our mortal life. Its history is the history of the moral development of the race” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1897); “The responsibility of those who exercise power in a democratic government is not to reflect inflamed public feeling but to help form its understanding” (Felix Frankfurter, 1958), and so on.

From the rhetorical to the individual bricks. I sat in the overflow court for the high profile Boston Marathon murder trial of Dzhokhar “Johar” Tsarnaev. But was soon diverted into a host of other, more ‘ordinary’, cases.

I had been told that Judge Young was a master of his craft. Sadly, his first case that I went to watch (listen to?) ‘went down’. But his second hearing was a pre-trial hearing (in the absence of the defendant) in which the defence lawyer sought to speak to the judge in chambers. The judge stated that he didn’t believe in chambers (i.e. he wanted justice to be done in public) but he was prepared to come to the bar of the court. I have been in many courts in many countries, but I have never seen the judge come down into the body of the court and stand in a huddle with the lawyers, having a whispered conversation…. Much better than secret justice, chambers justice, but definitely intriguing. I had an excellent conversation with the defence lawyer at the end of the hearing, which included a discussion of jury tactics (so different in the US).

I also sat in on a sentencing hearing (a woman pleading guilty to tax fraud) and was amazed to hear the extent to which the guidelines predominate: a lengthy discussion about whether it was offence level 33 or 30, whether she should get 2 or 3 points for acceptance of responsibility, and so on. I am nervous that guidelines in our country may be starting to fetter unduly the discretion of the trial judge. But we haven’t seen anything yet!

Then there was a bail hearing (a detention hearing, I think in the US; an interesting reversal). It was clear to me that this defendant was very unlikely to get bail: but the judge was charming and kindly as she remanded him in custody. Most surprising to me in that hearing was the court layout: at the end, the defendant was handcuffed in court and then led to the front of the court and out of a door adjacent to the judge’s bench. We would not have handcuffed him in court, but then he would have been in a much worse position in the court: in a glass box at the back of the room, and then led down to the cells from the back of the box. Much better that this ‘dangerous’ man was sitting in the middle of the court, right next to his lawyer throughout the hearing.

A useful reminder that none of us should accept that the way we do justice is the right or the only way. There are many ways to do justice. And my alarm at the state of American prisons and jails (see the Vera Institute’s latest offering on the misuse of jails) should not extend to their court houses: the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse is impressive. “The dignity and stability of Government in all its branches, the morals of the people, and every blessing of society depend upon an upright and skillful administration of justice” (John Adams, 1776).

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Today we tend to talk of ‘Fitz’, not “Fitzbilly”, as they did in the past, but as Lent Term 2015 came to an end, I realised that it was a term which had filled me with real and significant “Billy pride”, as they would have said in earlier decades. It has been a term full of excitement and ‘buzz’.

Here are just a few examples…

Pride in our sporting heroes…The men’s first boat won their blades in the Lents (particular mention perhaps to captain and cox, Samantha Tarling (Classics 2012).  It was great to see Fitz represented in the amazing blues women’s rugby team which defeated poor Oxford by a fearsome 47-0. Hurrah for Chloe Withers (Nat Sci 2012)! And I was particularly buoyed by a serendipitous conversation at that match when I was told that the Fitz men had been unanimously awarded the Fair Play Trophy that Cambridge University & District Rugby Referees Society (CUDRRS) awards annually to the most sporting college rugby team. All credit to Captain Joe David (Philosophy 2012).

Pride in our staff who keep the ‘show on the road’ on an amazingly tight budget and to such astonishingly high standards… HRH The Princess Royal’s visit on 10 March was an obvious example: the sun shone on a stunningly beautiful College, and proceedings flowed as though effortless (ha – particular thanks to Caroline Choat in the conference office).

Pride in our musicians… The Fitz Chapel Choir, under our new Director of Music, Katharine Parton, was invited to sing at the University’s annual ceremony to commemorate the generosity of benefactors in the Senate House. Their rendition of “Exsultate justi” by Viadana was fabulous. And then Charles Gurnham, Senior Organ Scholar (Nat Sci 2012), must have glowed with pride as he conducted the choir in his own version of the College grace before dinner in King’s College Hall.

Pride in some wonderful student-led activities…Not only the Fitzwilliam Literary Society at which alumnae, Adele Thomas (English 2000) and Caroline Williams (English 2003) talked about staging Beaumont’s, The Knight of the Burning Pestle in the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe; Fitz Enterprise has launched a series of events, creating wonderful links between alumni and students; and FitzTheatre put on an energetic interpretation of The Crucible in the Auditorium.

Cast in The Crucible Photo: Johannes Hjorth

Cast in The Crucible Photo: Johannes Hjorth











Thanks to the energy of Titi Odusanwo (Law 2014) Fitz’s celebrations of International Women’s Day involved a photo-shoot as part of the ‘Cambridge Women Speak Out’ campaign. I was pleased to take part. The photos were all exhibited, complete with forceful messages, at the Michaelhouse Café in Trinity Street.

Nicky Padfield

I was pleased to take part in the photo shoot for Cambridge Women Speak Out. “Human dignity matters – shout about it!”











Another first year law student, from Sri Lanka, Sandamini Chandrasekara-Mudiyanselage (Law 2014) must be glowing with pride and needs to take a major bow too, winning both the Brewster debate and the College Moot this term.

Pride in the academic achievements of our students…Where to start? Perhaps I will just mention the graduate conference on Saturday 14 March: a galaxy of amazing short presentations: Juana Yunis (MPhil Education, 2014) doing empirical work in Colombian classrooms on ‘reconciliation’ in a conflict-zone; Sophus zu Ermgassen (Zoology and Management Studies, 2011) studying ‘ecosystem services’ provided by coastal habitats in the Gulf of Mexico; Stefan Theil (Law 2014) exploring environmental protection through the lens of European Convention on Human Rights litigation; Millie Papworth (MPhil European Literature and Culture 2014) painting a really astonishing picture of being a woman in early modern Italy under the title ‘Women do Not Belong to the Species Mankind’, and finally Gourav Khullar (MAST in Astrophysics) helping us understand the formation of galaxies in the universe. What a wealth of talent.

Next term the undergraduates put their heads down and focus on Tripos exams. I hope we will have a glow of pride in their results. If this term is anything to go by, Fitz is going places….