Tuesday, 17 April 2012

All in the name of research

Recently one of my contacts on the police force invited me to visit a Homicide and Serious Crime Command Unit. In the course of a fascinating day, I visited the police cells - taking great care not to touch the panic strip on the wall on the way! Apparently it’s not unheard of for new recruits to set off the alarm by mistake, but as a visitor I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself – not on the way to the cells at any rate…
I’ve seen police cells on the television, of course, but it was a strangely eery and depressing experience to see what little space is allocated to those held in custody. The cells are clean and safe, but very grey. Needless to say, I was glad to leave the custody suite. There was no dramatic clanging of metal gates or jingling of massive bunches of keys. Compared to representations on the television, it was all very low key (Sorry! Bad pun. Very bad.) The ‘rights’ read to prisoners are also very long compared to those you ever hear read out on the small screen, and very dull.
I admit to having a lively imagination – I do write fiction after all. So after my visit to the custody suite, it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to visit a closed prison to talk to prisoners about writing crime fiction. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me, and I couldn’t help wondering how my talk would be received. The gates of the prison clanged shut…
I can’t speak for all establishments in HM Prison Service, but the prison I visited offers educational and cultural opportunities for the prisoners similar to those offered in many colleges. Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of such provision in prisons, there is clearly an admirable agenda to rehabilitate offenders and facilitate their return into the community. Whether or not it is effective is a complex issue to unpick, with so many other factors involved.
What I can tell you is that my prison visit was fascinating. Although the prison officers and the prisoners were very friendly and welcoming, I was still glad to leave. The visit also helped in the writing of the fifth book in the Geraldine Steel series – but you’ll have to wait until the end of the year to find out what happens!

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