Carolyn Harris MP: Reflections on her IPT Fellowship | IPT

Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea East, having been elected at the 2015 General Election. Carolyn began her fellowship to gain a greater understanding of the role of private sector companies in the administration of justice and penal reform. Considering her current position on the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Carolyn looked more specifically at pregnant women and new mothers in prison, Trans people in prison and how to prevent re-offending in vulnerable female offenders.

We asked Carolyn to tell us in her own words why she signed up to the IPT Fellowship Programme and what impact it has had.

Why did you sign up for the IPT Fellowship Programme and how did you first hear about it?

I think it is really important that as Parliamentarians we have a thorough and varied understanding of wider industry both within our own communities and further afield – we owe that to our constituents who have put their faith in us to stand up for them.  A colleague told me about the Fellowship and I didn’t hesitate to get in touch as it seemed like a fantastic opportunity. I knew instantly the area that I wanted to learn more about and find ways of having a positive impact on.

What were your highlights during the IPT Fellowship Programme?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the  whole experience and meeting a range of organisations who are doing all doing a fantastic job at supporting people in prison and on their journeys post custody.  But for me the real highlight has been visiting the prisons, meeting staff and those in the prison population, and hearing their stories.  It has really highlighted to me the links between past trauma and the criminal justice system – particularly for women – and helped me to understand the wider issues that those in prison and those working in prisons face.

I was fortunate to get to visit a wide range of places including Bronzefield Women’s Prison and Mother and Baby Unit, HMP Belmarsh High Security Prison, Serco-run Category B Thameside Prison and the Military Correction Training Centre in Colchester.  All very different but in all of them I found examples of how those detained were not only being supported while in prison but were being given the tools they needed to support themselves when released.  There is certainly a lot more still to be done but the fact I can now better understand that is also one of the things I think I have gained from this experience. 

How has the IPT Fellowship Programme helped you in your role as a parliamentarian?

I chose this as my area of interest for the Fellowship because the criminal justice system is something that I have always wanted to understand better.  It is clear that there are still a number of issues that need resolving – particularly for women and more so for when they are released to ensure that they don’t get recalled due to lack of opportunities and support.  It is something that I will continue to pursue and something that I will always be looking at to see what we as Parliamentarians can do to improve the prospects of these people.

What I have learned from talking to organisations and visiting prison estates has given me much food for thought and I can now confidently approach Ministers to raise issues of concern and highlight where change is desperately needed, as well as promote the best practice that is already happening.