Guardian: Letters – Pauline Campbell our beloved colleague


Sent to the Guardian letters, 16 May 08

Dear Madam/Sir

Frances Crook’s comment that Pauline Campbell, who died tragically on 15 May, had been the “single most effective and inspiring campaigner” against women’s imprisonment, is closest to the truth (“Prison campaigner, 60, found dead by daughter’s graveside”, Guardian, 16 May).

Like the mothers of the disappeared in Latin America and elsewhere who have campaigned tirelessly for decades, Pauline was able to turn private pain into public protest.  Like them, her work for justice was an extension of her caring work as a mother, and, like them, she was fearless.  The State had taken what was most precious – her child.  How could they harm her now?

After three decades of political parties vying for more prisons and longer sentences, Pauline’s uncompromising determination and her brilliance as a speaker changed the climate.  By direct action, without funding and without her own organisation, she forced the State to acknowledge their responsibility for the welfare of women in their care.  Her actions won the path-breaking Corston Report, which highlighted that most women prisoners posed no threat to the public and did not belong in prison, and recommended replacing “women’s prisons with suitable, geographically dispersed, small, multi-functional custodial centres”.

Pauline brought together a network of mothers who, like her, had lost a child in custody.  But while focusing on women prisoners, the most likely to self-harm, she was just as compassionate to families who had lost sons.  Every life was of value.

She opposed any measure which would result in any woman being imprisoned.  As a member of the Safety First Coalition, which we co-ordinate, she spoke forcefully against the compulsory rehabilitation of sex workers, which was part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.  Her lobbying helped us defeat those clauses in the bill.

We loved her.  If her commitment to justice was an “obsession”, it was the kind of obsession we need more of – an antidote to the cowardly, uncaring and defeated approach of so many professionals.  She set a standard to live by.

Niki Adams

English Collective of Prostitutes