Confederate and Black America: why clashes at Charlottesville show Civil War alt-histories are more than just fantasy

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Shutterstock

Jenny Barrett, Edge Hill University

The clash between far right protesters and anti-fascist counter-groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of a statue of Confederate general, Robert E Lee, is the latest incident to reflect ongoing tension in American race relations. From the Black Lives Matter campaign that emerged after repeated police shootings of black people to the ongoing battles over the continued reverence of notable southern Civil War figures, such events show the legacy of slavery is still very much a live issue in modern America.

It is within this current political atmosphere that the reaction to the announcement of two seemingly rival alt-history shows must be seen. In July, HBO approved the production of Confederate, an original series by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D B Weiss in which the American Civil War leads not to peace and unity, but to stalemate and the secession of the southern states.

Fast forward to an alternate present, and slavery has evolved into a modern institution in the south and a Third Civil War looms (a second civil war having also taken place). The ensuing outpouring of criticism then seemingly forced Amazon to announce early that they were also working on an alt-history show called Black America, another that imagines a racially-divided America coming out of the Civil War. But this time it will instead tell the story of free African-Americans who form their own sovereign nation, New Colonia.

In the present, New Colonia prospers while the US declines. To be produced by Will Packer (Straight Outta Compton) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks), the show will consider an America where reparations for slavery could have been paid.

The history of film has many examples of similar stories competing at the same time at the box office, but the timing of these two seemingly opposing narratives as America still battles over simmering issues as seen at Charlottesville is especially poignant. Comparisons between the two proposed shows were made immediately. Black America drew support from the likes of #NoConfederate campaign founder, April Reign, while Vanity Fair called it the “anti-Confederate”.

Black America producer, Will Packer, left. Shutterstock

For many the idea of Confederate cuts too close to the bone. Packer summed this up when he told Deadline that on a personal level “the fact that there is the contemplation of contemporary slavery makes it something that I would not be a part of producing nor consuming … Slavery is far too real and far too painful, and we still see the manifestations of it today as a country for me to ever view that as a form of entertainment.”

The fear that the show could exploit the history of black oppression that many argue did not end with the emancipation of African slaves in the 19th century led to calls for a boycott, with #NoConfederate going viral on Twitter.

But while the public take sides, we’ve yet to know how either show will pan out – they haven’t yet been written. Indeed, the television network drew attention to two other members of the writing and production team, African Americans Nichelle Spellman (The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire), and promise that the show would not be “Gone With the Wind 2017.”

Alt-history: why the controversy?

Alt-history has been a popular literary genre for decades, and is currently enjoying something of a boom, thanks to Amazon’s recent adaptation of Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Two of the most common alt-history themes are – no surprise – the Axis powers winning World War II (or indeed plotting their return) and the Confederacy winning the Civil War or seceding from the Union, such as MacKinlay Kantor’s influential early alt-history, If the South Had Won the Civil War and even a mockumentary film, CSA. These counter-histories each depend on the reader or viewer knowing the “real” history before it was re-written, to appreciate the difference between “what was” and “what if”. Herein may lie the problem.

SS-GB: a Nazified London. Sid Gentle Films Ltd/Screen Grab

The emergence of previously “unheard” histories from the mid-20th century onwards, such as Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, which exposed the horrific treatment of Native Americans, means that there is no longer a single, objective history that can be called “the truth”. Instead there are many histories seen from different perspectives. However, not all of these histories will be heard, meaning that certain dominant views of the past may stubbornly remain or may fail to recognise how it might offend others. As a consequence, we may “know”, for example, that slavery in America came to an end in the 1860s, and strictly speaking that is true. But perspectives on this topic differ – plenty of Americans see slavery as a story that has not ended.

“What if” history may offer a space for silenced voices to write counter-histories, and Black America promises to tell a story where slavery comes to an end and black liberation and prosperity are real. However, alt-history also assumes that we already know and are agreed on what the real history was. In this understanding, history is fixed, which enables the writer to conceive of a history that is different or opposite to the one that is undisputedly fact. And if the known history is disputed, its fictional alternative may be also.

The reason that a show like The Man in the High Castle hasn’t attracted such controversy is that it is not so obviously rooted in disputed histories. The Nazis lost. The Holocaust happened. Holocaust denial flounders in the face of undeniable evidence. But from the perspective of the #NoConfederate campaign, HBO is rubber-stamping a history which regards slavery as a thing of the past. Just as the campaigners have made assumptions about the content of an as-yet-unwritten TV show, Benioff and Weiss have made an assumption about perceptions of American history.

The ConversationFor more than 8m black Americans, slavery is the root of a current reality of inequality and oppression. HBO and Amazon lending their name to a version of history – whether factual or counter-factual – is an inherent endorsement of its content, assumed or otherwise.

Jenny Barrett, Reader in Film and Popular Culture, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is Dance Movement Psychotherapy?

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Vicky Karkou, Edge Hill University

Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) uses the body, movement and dance as a way of expressing oneself and findings ways of exploring and addressing psychological problems or difficulties. It is an approach to psychological treatment that does not rely on talking about problems as the only way of finding solutions.

According to the Association of Dance Movement Psychotherapy UK:

DMP recognises body movement as an implicit and expressive instrument of communication and expression. DMP is a relational process in which client and therapist engage in an empathic creative process using body movement and dance to assist integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.

It is often regarded as one of the arts therapies, which also includes music therapy and dramatherapy, and a type of embodied psychotherapy, and also a relatively new profession, founded in the 1940s in the US and only in the 1980s in Britain. It is also practised in Australia and Germany. In all cases, therapists receive specific training and licence to practise in the discipline and offer their services to a wide range of vulnerable people, working in private practice, hospitals, schools, social services, charities, care homes or prisons offering one-to-one or group work.

In these different settings, practitioners may follow different approaches but they all adopt a specific direction based on the needs of the clients. Our early research outlined some of the common features of this therapy across settings and client populations.

• Dance: a range of different practices including breath, posture, gesture, pedestrian movement, rhythmical movement and – less often – a more technical or style-specific form of dancing. Skill is not a requirement for people to begin this therapy and learning steps isn’t what takes place within sessions.

• Embodiment: the connection one may have with your own physical self is of high value because it can support a “body-mind” integration.

• Creativity: the process that enables patients to find new solutions to problems.

• Imagery, symbolism and metaphor: important tools used to access unconscious or difficult feelings such as anger, shame or fear. Using these tools allows the patient to work through problematic issues indirectly.

• Non-verbal communication: people don’t always have the words to express what they are feeling. Sometimes it is easier to reach and communicate emotions to other people non-verbally.

Does it work?

Our research suggests that DMP can contribute to a person’s overall well-being. But, to confidently answer the question of whether it is effective as a treatment, there is a need to improve the number, size and quality of the studies in this area. Both practitioners and researchers are still exploring what are the important components of this psychological intervention that contribute towards positive change.

Results from systematic reviews of studies with all client groups suggest that DMP can have a relatively large impact on a wide range of symptoms. The authors conclude that the degree to which DMP can achieve therapeutic change can be compared to other forms of psychotherapy. A more recent study also suggested that this form of therapy can increase quality of life, well-being, mood, body-image and can offer substantial decrease in levels of depression.

Other reviews look at work with different client populations. For example, we found that DMP is a promising intervention in the treatment of depression when compared to standard care, especially with adults.

The ConversationStudies on effectiveness of DMP on people with schizophrenia suggest that it can reduce symptoms such as apathy, lethargy, blunted emotional responses and social withdrawal. Improved quality of life was the main finding from the review of studies on DMP in cancer care. A review on the treatment of dementia and a study on autism suggest that further research is needed. But in all cases the results seem positive, making this form of therapy a very attractive alternative to conventional psychotherapies.

Vicky Karkou, Director of Postgraduate and International Affairs, Leading the research group on Arts for Wellbeing, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A ‘learning disabilities commissioner’ without a learning disability is a waste of time

Michael Richards, Edge Hill University

Calls to appoint a commissioner to look after the interests of people with learning disabilities have been growing louder since the shocking story of Ian Shaw became national news. Shaw, 34, was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year after spending nine years in secure hospitals where his condition wasn’t spotted. Now there is talk of installing a commissioner to “uphold the rights” of people with learning disabilities. But unless the government plans to give this job to a person who is actually learning disabled, then I believe this would be another dead end. Instead of being left out of the process, people with learning disabilities should be at the heart of the solution.

The calls are being led by Stephen Bubb, who believes a commissioner could be charged with monitoring, and holding to account, all services which look after people with learning disabilities. Bubb authored the 2014 NHS England report – Winterbourne View: Time for Change – which explored the shortcomings in care and support for people with learning disabilities in the UK. The report followed a string of scandals that emerged from Winterbourne View, a publicly-funded private hospital in Gloucestershire.

The scandal there was first exposed in 2011 by an undercover reporter who revealed the psychological and physical abuse people with learning disabilities were facing. The hospital was subsequently shut down. Despite the Care Quality Commission receiving a series of warnings about mistreatment at Winterbourne, the complaints received were never followed up.

Bubb made ten recommendations in his report, including the recommendation that there should be a legal charter of rights for people with learning disabilities and their families. He later suggested that a commissioner would help to “protect and promote” the rights of people with learning disabilities. But if a role for a learning disabilities commissioner was created, would someone with learning disabilities be appointed? Despite there being more than a million people with learning disabilities (although the number is rising and there are many who are not accounted for), it is very unlikely that one of these people would be. Bubb’s report fails to get to grips with the need to take action and make a difference in the lives of people with learning disabilities in order to give them the chance of achieving such a position.

Serious failings in care

And despite the case of Winterbourne being well known, private companies continue to be paid over one billion pounds by the NHS to run mini-hospitals for people with learning disabilities. This despite government policy aiming to reduce them to ensure more people with learning disabilities are instead looked after in their own homes.

Abhorrent crimes are continuing to occur in the delivery of basic care. Earlier this month, a consultant psychiatrist admitted a string of failings over the death of vulnerable teenager Connor Sparrowhawk, who drowned in a bath at an NHS care unit.

In addition, people with learning disabilities face regular physical, mental and sexual abuse, as well as hate crimes. A letter to the Guardian, signed by more than 100 charities, said the shrinking of the welfare state risked leaving individuals cut off from their communities and work.

Not the problem, the solution

While Bubb’s report aims to highlight the challenges people with learning disabilities face, they themselves do not appear to be at the heart of the decision-making that is likely to take place on their behalf. People with learning disabilities do not need a government appointed commissioner. Instead, they need to be in full control of what happens to them.

My own research suggests that people with learning disabilities are not helpless individuals. They are people who are fully engaged with their own lives, who understand how to make choices and have expertise in politics. They are able – when things are made accessible – to fully participate in the decision-making that affects their lives. This indicates that people with learning disabilities are not the problem but the solution.

If a commissioner was to be appointed, it makes sense that someone with learning disabilities should take that role. For example, people with learning disabilities experience health inequalities and have worse health, on average, because of difficulties using the health service. By working harder to listen to the experiences of the learning disabled, a better understanding for health promotion and disability may emerge. In all aspects of life, people with learning disabilities should be making choices, sharing knowledge and participating at every level to ensure that they have control over their own destiny.

The ConversationSo unless the commissioner is learning disabled, I would suggest scrapping the idea completely. They are the experts on what is best for them and how they want to be included in society and they should be closely consulted about any kind of systemic changes. To avoid scandals like Winterbourne, people with learning disabilities should be respected as equal citizens.

Michael Richards, Lecturer in Applied Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

PR challenges facing Vince Cable

By Paula Keaveney, senior lecturer in PR and Politics

It is all change at the top of the Liberal Democrats, with Vince Cable replacing Tim Farron.

Cable’s  position comes as a result of Farron standing down in the wake of the most recent General Election. The Lib Dems will forgo a leadership election though as Cable was the only nominated candidate after a series of likely contenders, including  Scottish MP Jo Swinson and North Norfolk’s Norman Lamb, ruled themselves out.

Since the 2015 General Election, and 2016 Euro Referendum, the Lib Dems have seen membership soar. But the clear pro EU positioning in June failed to deliver much of an increase in seats. In fact, there were more lost deposits and a low vote share, leading to internal discussions about what happened and why.

So, what are the key challenges facing Cable?

Sir Vince does start with one advantage: He is known in a way that Farron was not when he took over. Cable became prominent for his prescient warnings over the economy in the run up to 2008. He has also had time standing in as Lib Dem leader – remember the soundbite about Gordon Brown going from Stalin to Mr Bean – and he was a Cabinet member during the Coalition.

So, the party has less to do in terms of making journalists and the wider public aware of who the new leader is. Being known will make it easier for him to gain broadcast time and print inches .

However, the profile of an individual leader does not necessarily mean the party’s image is right or the party well positioned.

The immediate challenge for Cable is party conference in September. It is one of the few guaranteed shop window events for a smaller party.  Farron was known for his energetic , activist style. Cable will need to use the occasion to show that the party is very much back in business.

However, poll bumps as a result of  a good conference rarely last and the first big challenges, barring any by elections, will be May 2018, when local elections include those in London (in which every seat is up for grabs) and in the Metropolitan Boroughs (in which some seats are contested in places like Liverpool and Manchester). In many cases the party will be attacking Labour which will be in the happy position of facing a Government party likely to be garnering poor reviews. This makes life very tricky for Lib Dems. A good showing is needed but this is not particularly fertile ground.

This means Cable will need to be very canny in terms of positioning. Some individual campaigns will go against the general run of play, but in many local elections people follow their general impressions of the parties on offer.

So which positions would work?

The clear ‘give people another say on the EU’ call did not work in the General Election. The ‘sage advice on the economy’ is useful but not unique.  ‘More investment in schools, health and policing’ is usually a welcome message but is shared by just about every party.

There is no one position which is both stand-out and likely to work at the moment.

Of course, politics is not just the art of the possible. It is also the art of opportunity. In the past leaders such as Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Tim Farron (on Hong Kong, Iraq and refugees respectively) have found and pursued issues which made clear calls about human rights and liberal values. Sir Vince will need to bide his time and be ready to recognise the issue which provides a liberal moment which resonates with the public.

He will also need to avoid overstatement early on. Reports in some media that he is likely to talk about making the Lib Dems the second largest party will worry long term activists. Many remember talk by former leaders of replacing Labour.

And meanwhile? Meanwhile the task is to reassure activists, many of whom did not see the poor result of 2017 coming, and take the fight to Theresa May in the Commons. The Mr Bean sound bite won’t work now, but I feel sure the Lib Dem team will be looking for something equally cutting and memorable.

Re Lancastrianising Leonora

Abuse of women MPs is not just a scandal – it’s a threat to democracy

Julia Gillard in Australia: another high-profile victim of online abuse. EPA

Laura Bliss, Edge Hill University

Following the intense election campaign of 2017, Labour shadow home secretary Diane Abbott spoke out about the racist and misogynistic abuse she received online.

Abbott revealed that she was subject to a litany of abuse on Twitter. In a recent Westminster Hall debate, she described the comments she received as “characteristically racist and sexist”.

Abbott’s experiences are not just depressing on a personal level – they pose a threat to democracy.

The BBC recently reported that a huge number of women MPs are experiencing abuse on social media. The problem was so bad during the 2017 election, with several MPs making complaints to the government, that Number 10 asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to investigate the abuse of MPs during election campaigns.

Comments during the 2017 campaign included: “stab the c*nt”; “nazi witch” and “repatriate the b***h back to Africa”. The prime minister herself was called a “whore” by some Twitter users.

In Australia, the former prime minister Julia Gillard was subjected to twice as many abusive online comments as her Labor party rival Kevin Rudd between 2010 and 2014. Many of these statements were of a sexual nature.

Similarly, in the Democratic presidential primaries in the US, Hillary Clinton received almost twice as many abusive comments as her Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.

These types of comments have started to become the norm for women politicians. Gillard has said:

As a woman in public life, the violent threats take on another sicking dimension. Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common. A woman in public view may expect to receive them almost daily.

With so many people subject to online abuse, many are choosing to withdraw themselves from social media. In fact, a campaigner I recently interviewed about the online abuse she received was advised by the police to shut down her social media accounts.

But advising a woman to remove her online presence if she doesn’t want to be abused is akin to telling a woman that she needs to behave a certain way if she doesn’t want to be raped.

Rather than engaging in victim blaming, we should be tackling the behaviour of abusers. We need to be sending stronger messages to individuals that online abuse will not be tolerated. A full, in-depth inquiry is needed to establish if social media companies need to take more responsibly for what is posted on their platforms; or, if in fact, we need more specific legislation to govern social media. The likelihood is that we are now at a point where the law itself needs changing.

Who’d be a woman politician?

Online abuse may be seen as an everyday part of being a politician, but it’s a threat to democracy. Constant abuse aimed at politicians, especially female politicians, threatens to reduce the plurality of voices essential for a modern democracy. As conservative MP Sarah Wollaston recently said, online abuse is “designed to intimidate”. If that intimidation is successful, women will be dissuaded from becoming politicians. Already, only 23.3% of politicians worldwide are women.

Abbott has said:

Other women look at how those of us in the public space are treated and think twice about speaking up publicly let alone getting involved in political activity.

The ConversationIf we want to live in a world of true equality, we need to start tackling online abuse. Simply concluding that such abuse is an everyday part of life is clearly a threat to the political system.

Laura Bliss, Graduate Teaching Assistant in Law, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to reboot Britain’s fractured emergency services

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Professor Paresh Wankhade, Edge Hill University

The Grenfell Tower fire and recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London have put the spotlight on spending cuts for emergency services.

In Manchester, an independent review into the emergency response was ordered in the aftermath of the bombing to look into the “the strain of spending cuts” on police. The city mayor is also investigating the fire service after crews were apparentley “held back” from helping the victims.

Whatever the outcome of these investigations – and others like them – I believe the problems go far beyond staff numbers and resources. The only way forward is to engage in a full system “reboot” to get better results.

The problems are legion. For starters, the emergency services are far too fragmented. There are huge differences across the emergency services when it comes to size, funding and organisational structures with no overarching body for coordination.

Disconnected ministerial oversight also creates uneven and localised outcomes in performance. And the government’s approach to the problem is vague and unclear. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 has brought important changes to the governance of the police and fire and rescue services – but ambulance services remain independent of these provisions. It places a duty on police, fire and ambulance services to work together which currently remains undefined.

Ambulance demand is growing at an annual rate of about 5.2%. Managing such levels of demand and maintaining the quality of patient care is unsustainable and it is no secret that ambulance services across the country are struggling to meet their performance targets. The police are witnessing a reduction in recorded crime but are increasingly dealing with cases relating to cybercrime, child and sexual exploitation and mental illness. Meanwhile fire services have seen a massive reduction in fire call-outs. But these organisations continue to be performance-managed and target-driven – and current models of service delivery do not reflect these changes.

The focus for the emergency services remains on performance metrics and stringent target regimes. Alongside this is the influence that staff associations and unions have on determining the scale and pace of reforms. Workforce issues such as stress remain largely neglected and recruitment and retention of black, Muslim and ethnic minorities (BME) continues to be a challenge.

Issues around Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other illness – which are common among emergency workers – are not being fully addressed and ambulance staff sickness is highest within the NHS. Media reports also increasingly highlight cases of harassment and bullying within the emergency services.

There are no easy fixes for all these problems but emergency services do need a “road map” to help them navigate the shifting political landscape and the changes to training and performance regimes. Here are five ways to improve the emergency services and better equip them for the future.

Leadership reform

There needs to be a move from isolated chiefs calling all the shots to a more collaborative culture. This is because front-line staff and managers should have confidence in their own leadership and decision-making skills while dealing with other 999 services during major incidents and during interactions with the public.

Promote collaboration

A top-down bureaucratic approach to force the merger of police and fire services is unlikely to work and should be abandoned if it proves costly and does not bring results. Proposals for merger and reorganisation of the fire services need to be reconsidered, along with the feasibility of a national or regionally organised police force like in Scotland.
Further reforms should allow pooling organisational and management oversight.

Similarly, the role of the ambulance services within the emergency architecture should be spelt out more clearly, since they derive their funding from the National Health Service budget. They work more as the emergency arm of the health services rather than the health arm of the emergency services.

Adapt to changing demands

There is a clear need to understand how usage is changing – and to support staff to respond to new challenges. This will help to improve workforce motivation and reduce the cost of ill health by building a “resilient” organisational culture.

Academic partnerships

Developing partnerships with academia will be useful in building modern and professional organisations and to further improve the research base in the “Blue Light” services.

New management skills

Addressing staff morale and retention and setting performance criteria that make sense will be central to improving the services. The obsession with a target-chasing culture should give way to broader sets of measures to reflect the new challenges and changing organisational realities. We need a new set of collaborative leadership and management skills to inspire a shared purpose across a network of organisations to respond quickly to current and future problems.

The ConversationThis is an important moment for the emergency services. The steady rise in the 999 demand along with shrinking budgets are seen by many as two of the key challenges which are unlikely to go away in the near future. There is an urgent need to restart Britain’s limping emergency services and bring about real “transformational” change. But it requires determination, imagination and leadership – or the 999 services will be facing their own emergency situation.

Professor Paresh Wankhade, Professor of Leadership and Management with expertise in emergency service management, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Exercise can be punishing – but here’s how to stop thinking of it as a punishment

shutterstock/oranzyphotography
Andy Levy, Edge Hill University

The fitness industry is said to be worth £4.4 billion in the UK alone. But, despite medical research telling us that exercise will help us live longer, the majority of people do not engage with health and fitness. Could it be that exercise is still considered a punishment – as it was in Victorian prisons? Or do we just need to increase the fun and social aspect to exercise to get more of us working up a sweat?

Medical research suggests exercise is good for our health and will help us all live longer. But a report by the British Heart Foundation indicates that 20m people living in the UK are physically inactive. To be considered active, the UK department of health recommends adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. So it begs the question, why do close to a third of the country’s population struggle to meet this recommended amount of exercise, when doing so could prolong their life?

A reason why inactive people may not engage in enough exercise is because it is not perceived to be a fulfilling or satisfying leisure pursuit. Other competing pastimes of a more sedentary nature, such as watching TV, reading and gaming, are seen by some as being more enjoyable.

Exercise as punishment

The treadmill was devised as a form of punishment for convicted criminals in the Victorian era. At this time, prisoners had to undertake long hours of hard labour by walking on treadmills to grind flour. This form of punishment was abolished in the late 19th century for being too cruel.

Exercise also has a long history of being used as a form of correctional behaviour in schools. Indeed in 2014 the then Conservative education secretary, Nicky Morgan, proposed to ban exercise being used in schools as a form of punishment for fear that it would put children off being active.

Given that exercise has a lengthy historical association with the use of discipline for the purpose of punishment and obedience, can 21st-century society ever be truly accepting of exercise as a leisure pursuit that can have personal fulfilment? At present, the high volume of inactivity levels in the UK suggests a large amount of people are not motivated to take exercise. Getting people to be more active, therefore, would require a shift in people exercising because they want to rather than having to.

Making it social

A group training session. Daxiao Productions/Shutterstock

My research explores the role of social psychology for the development of interventions that make physical activity a fulfilling pursuit for long-term condition sufferers. This is because social psychological science has consistently demonstrated that people are motivated to seek social connections in order to fulfil their psychological needs as human beings. For example, “the belongingness hypothesis” states that people have a basic need to feel closely connected to others.

So it is important people have positive social exercise experiences which enrich their quality of life and in doing so make the pursuit of exercise a more satisfying and worthwhile activity. This can be achieved by creating exercise environments that provide individuals with a shared sense of social connectedness, creating opportunities for people to form friendships, meaningful attachments and mutually supportive relationships.

For example, the EuroFit programme takes a unique approach for improving men’s health and fitness by allowing fans to train in the environment of a professional football club they support. City Ride events are another example, where families and friends of all ages and abilities can enjoy cycling together through the streets of a vibrant traffic-free environment. Similarly, walking sports offer a social atmosphere of fun, laughter and camaraderie for those who may have difficulty participating in high impact activities.

The ConversationConnecting people in dynamic and socially rewarding exercise environments has the potential to offset the drudgery often associated with exercise and make it a leisure pursuit worth doing.

Andy Levy, Reader in Psychology, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Feltham ruling shows youth custody fails to meet needs of vulnerable childre

Many young people in detention have a history of childhood trauma. via shutterstock.com

Sean Creaney, Edge Hill University and Michael Richards, Edge Hill University

By placing a 16-year-old child with mental health issues in isolation for a prolonged period of time, Feltham Young Offender Institution in London breached his human rights and contravened prison rules, the High Court has ruled.

The ruling came a few days after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons said Feltham A – the part of the institution for boys aged 15 to 18 – was “not safe for either staff or boys” in a report published after an unannounced inspection. Parts of the institution were described as “deeply troubling” with issues of violence, uses of restraint techniques and isolation deemed to be serious causes of concern.

Named AB in legal documentation, the child’s solitary confinement for more than 100 days was ruled on July 4 to have contravened Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a private and family life. He was locked in his cell for in excess of 22 hours a day, for more than 15 days in a row.

The judge, Justice Ouseley, explained that this denied the child the opportunity to an adequate education and to socialise with other inmates. But he dismissed the argument that the boy’s treatment was inhuman and degrading. The Howard League for Penal Reform, a charity whose legal team represents the boy, is now seeking to appeal this part of the ruling.

Despite the child’s challenging behaviour he deserves to have his rights respected and to access appropriate support for his mental health issues and special educational needs. However, the High Court ruling also failed to recognise his need for appropriate support.

Putting distressed children in cells for more than 100 days only exacerbates any pre-existing mental health problems, leaving them vulnerable to traumatic stress. The punishment is the loss of liberty and children should not be doubly punished by enduring ill treatment in poor conditions.

Unmet needs

The child had complex health and social care needs and adverse childhood experiences. But these were disregarded, with security concerns trumping the need for appropriate care – as it often does in custodial settings. He had attachment difficulties following a traumatic childhood that involved being subject to emotional and physical abuse. He suffered from bereavement and had witnessed domestic violence. He was on the child protection register and had had a number of residential placements. The boy was also diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and conduct disorder.

There is a larger problem here: a disproportionate number of children in the youth justice system have experienced trauma. Research has shown that 91% of young people who have committed violent offences had experienced abuse or loss. The prevalence of such trauma in custody can result in children becoming violent, committing sexual offences and misusing substances. Being in solitary confinement can also trigger self-harm and intensify the symptoms of trauma.

Access to support

Young offender institutions and prisons generally do not have the right provisions, expertise and resources in place to support people who need to be cared for: an issue that has intensified following the onset of the government’s austerity programme.

Children with learning disabilities are known to be disadvantaged in prisons and to be more susceptible to bullying, segregation and depression. They can often struggle to follow written instructions relating to prison rules, to complete paperwork, or to make doctors’ appointments. It can be difficult for these children to comply and comprehend what is expected of them. Support tends to be one-size-fits-all – tailored treatment to individuals with learning disabilities is seldom offered.

The ConversationAlthough the rights of children in custody ought not to lag behind the rights of children generally, child prisoners are particularly vulnerable to having their rights abused and should be safeguarded. The Feltham young offender case highlights a grim aspect of youth custody and is yet another indicator of the crisis afflicting prisons in which understaffing, overcrowding, lack of training and high staff turnover are creating a dire situation.

Sean Creaney, Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour, Edge Hill University and Michael Richards, Lecturer in Applied Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Searching questions need to be asked about the Grenfell Fire

Dr Howard Davis, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Whether in the form of a public inquiry, as announced by Theresa May on June 15th, or through an inquest, offering the possibilities of a narrative verdict by a jury, questions following the Grenfell Fire need to be searching and wide ranging. Limited inquiries often neglect broader circumstances within which conditions for disaster develop. There are obvious incentives for governments to restrict terms of reference after tragedies like this. Exploration of social, economic and political contexts within which disasters ‘incubate’ may threaten established ways of seeing and doing things. Disasters in this sense often challenge authorities, whose primary task should be to keep us safe.

‘Questions need to be answered’ has, and usually does become, the instant ‘go-to’ mantra. And questions certainly do need to be answered about this fire’s extraordinary spread. It became clear immediately that external cladding was not only flammable but had been attached to the building so as to create a void behind it. It was also quickly confirmed that recent renovation did not include retrofitting sprinklers and that there was no effective alarm.

But we need to know much more than this. We also need to understand what was, or what should have been known or suspected, about the dangerousness of materials, design and practices. As Niall Howson of the Association of Fire Protection told the BBC yesterday, fires involving cladding on high rise buildings are not uncommon worldwide. In light of this, why were regulations not up to date, why did the combination of regulation, renovation, oversight and inspection fail? It will not be enough to suggest that most related cases to date happen to have occurred outside the UK and so were unknown. More urgently than an inquest or public inquiry might be able to address, we need to know the implications of design or material failures for emergency procedures that direct people to stay in their apartments rather than evacuate. We also need to imaginatively project the safety implications of these failures onto many other potential scenarios.

One grave suspicion of course, is that as safe materials, proper practices, resources, training, and oversight systems do not come cheap, years of cost-cutting, ‘business friendly’ regulatory adjustment and less regular inspection have achieved a terrible conjuncture in this conflagration. For this possibility to be examined we also need to know how changes in the control and management of social housing have shifted, dispersed or blurred responsibilities for safety. National and Local Government have long ‘incentivised’ a shift of housing from local authority control. One local resident complained after the disaster of a “whole chain of organisations who have been subcontracted in an attempt at plausible deniability”. Fundamentally, an inquiry or inquest must get to grips with deep political currents. Ultimately, it must force governments to reverse and undo political, financial and economic values and practices that drive safety negligence. Building bonfires of regulations might suit the business classes but their cost, as we see before us, can be devastating.

Any inquest or inquiry should also include the humanitarian response. Serious concerns have already been voiced about the local authority’s performance. To be clear, there will be important aspects of humanitarian work that will not be visible from the outside. Rehousing people and supporting the bereaved will not be going on in full public view. But these concerns are serious and should be addressed. Importantly, questions here should reflect not just on performance during the incident but also on pre-incident preparation and resourcing. Poor or underfunded organisations do not magically improve when crisis strikes. The understandable temptation in austere times is to see preparation for disasters that may never happen as an unaffordable luxury. If this was the case in a borough as wealthy as Kensington and Chelsea it will raise a whole set of wider questions.

Acute disasters are followed by long and painful processes of ‘sense-making’, both individual and social. At the social level it comprises criminal investigations, inquests, inquiries, political and public debate. Whether what will eventually come to pass as ‘justice’ meets public satisfaction remains to be seen. That is a different issue to what I am discussing here, that is, establishing truth. But even for truth, the questions that need to be addressed strike to the heart of Britain today. Recent research estimating a 30,000 annual austerity ‘excess death’ rate, speaks of a society where some lives matter far more than others and where some matter not at all. The very strong suspicion is gathering that the Grenfell Fire will come to be seen in precisely this light.