Commission on sex in prison

Press release

27 June 2012

Commission on Sex in Prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has launched an independent Commission on Sex in Prison. The Commission comprises eminent academics, former prison governors and health experts and will focus on three broad themes:

  • consensual sex in prisons
  • coercive sex in prisons
  • healthy sexual development among young people in prison.

The Commission will undertake the first ever review of sex inside prison where it is unlawful to have sex because prison cells are deemed to be public places.  There is currently little reliable evidence available on both consensual and coercive sexual activity in prisons. It is not known to what extent men and women who identify as heterosexual may have sex with other prisoners while in prison. The Commission will also consider coercive sex which could involve rape, harassment, intimidation, assault or bribery.

The development of sexual awareness and intimate relationships are an integral part of adolescence and the Commission will consider how relationship patterns formed in adolescence can impact on the rest of a person’s life.  The healthy sexual development of adolescents in prison warrants further investigation.

The purpose of the Commission is to understand the nature and the scale of the issues and problems, making a series of recommendations with a view to making prisons safer. It will also examine how the situation in England and Wales differs from other international contexts, looking for best practice.

The Commission on Sex in Prison will undertake primary research, conduct visits and hear evidence from experts. It is expected to publish briefings on interim findings and produce a final report at the end of the two year investigation.

The Howard League has extensive experience in conducting commissions and inquiries in various areas of penal policy.

Further information


Michael Amherst

Michael Amherst is a Director of Just Detention International, an international organisation campaigning against sexual violence in prisons. Michael Amherst is also the Chief Executive of the charity Avonbrook Projects Abroad and a Trustee of the literary journal The White Review. Michael Amherst is a writer of both short stories and novels.

Marc Bealls – former prisoner

Deborah Cowley

Deborah Cowley is the Director of Action for Prisoners’ Families. Action for Prisoners' Families works for the benefit of prisoners’ families by representing the views of families and those who work with them and promoting and supporting good practice. Deborah Cowley worked in parenting support for many years including work as Director of Operations at Parenting UK, an umbrella organisation for agencies and individuals working with parents. She is a member of the Children's Rights Alliance for England Council of Management and is a Trustee of Family Links which delivers training to support parents and children’s emotional health and wellbeing.

Frances Crook OBE

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Frances Crook has been responsible for research programmes and campaigns to raise public concern about suicides in prison, the over-use of custody, poor conditions in prison, young people in trouble, and mothers in prison. She writes articles for the national media and takes part in interviews on radio and television. She was awarded an OBE for services to youth justice in the 2010 New Year Honours List. She was appointed a Senior Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics in 2010.

Dr Chris Sheffield OBE

Dr Chris Sheffield is the Chair of the Commission on Sex in Prison. Chris Sheffield is a senior advisor to Salford University Centre for Prison Studies. Chris Sheffield joined the Prison Service in 1980 and has over a decade of governing governor experience. His last prison was Manchester, which was awarded ‘high performing prison status’ for two successive years during his tenure. He was awarded his OBE in 2008 for his long and distinguished career in the Prison Service.

Dr Peter Carter OBE 

Dr Peter Carter is Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, the world’s largest professional union of nurses. Before assuming the post in 2007, Peter Carter spent almost twelve years as the Chief Executive of the Central and North West London Mental Health NHS Trust. In addition, he has held a number of clinical and managerial posts in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London. Peter Carter is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel. He was awarded his OBE for services to the NHS in the 2006 New Year’s Honours.

Dr Neil Chakraborti

Dr Neil Chakraborti is a senior lecturer in Criminology at the University of Leicester. He has published widely on issues of hate crime, victimisation and diversity. Neil Chakraborti sits on the editorial board of the British Journal of Criminology. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Howard League for Penal Reform, having previously been a member of their Research Advisory Group. He is the lead organiser of the Partnership Against Targeted Hate, a knowledge exchange partnership between the University of Leicester and regional criminal justice organisations.

Baroness Gould

Baroness Gould entered the House of Lords as a Labour Peer in 1993. Originally a pharmacist, she moved on to a career within the Labour Party, and was the party’s Director of Organisation from 1985 to 1993. Baroness Gould has been the President of the Family Planning Association since 2000 and has a longstanding interest in sexual health. Baroness Gould chaired the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health between 2003 and 2010. She became an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in 2006 and of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV in 2007. She was Chair of the Women’s National Commission between May 2007 and December 2010.

Professor Roger Ingham

Roger Ingham is Professor of Health and Community Psychology at the University of Southampton, and Director of the Centre for Sexual Health Research. The Centre carries out research in the field of sexual conduct in the UK and in other countries.  Professor Ingham has worked in this area for twenty five years and has published widely on relevant topics and worked closely with policy makers. He has been a consultant for the World Health Organisation for many years on their reproductive health and AIDS programmes. He was a member of the Independent Advisory Group for the Teenage Pregnancy Unit and involved in the development of the UK National Sexual Health and HIV Strategy.

Phillippa Kaufmann QC

Phillippa Kaufmann QC is a member of Doughty Street Chambers. Doughty Street Chambers has established its reputation as a leading set for civil liberties and human rights law. Philippa Kaufmann took silk in 2011. Her expertise spans the public and private law arenas. She has extensive trial experience in complex private law claims brought against public authorities including the police and central government departments. She is the leader of the Prisoners’ Rights Team at Doughty Street Chambers.

Eoin McLennan-Murray

Eoin McLennan-Murray has been the President of the Prison Governors’ Association since 2010. Eoin McLennan-Murray has served in ten prison establishments. He has twice been governing governor, at Lewes prison and Blantyre House, and has spent four years in Prison Service Headquarters where he was Staff Officer to the Director General and then the manager responsible for development and national roll out of the accredited cognitive skills and sex offender programmes. When McLennan-Murray was governor of HMP Blantyre House, a resettlement prison in Kent, the establishment had the lowest reconviction rates of any prison in the United Kingdom and elements of the pioneering work on resettlement have now been replicated in many other prisons.

Professor Jo Phoenix

Jo Phoenix is Professor of Criminology in the School of Applied Social Sciences and Director of the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities at Durham University. The Centre draws together academics from across a variety of disciplines to explore issues of sex, gender and sexualities. Professor Phoenix has worked in the area of gender, sex and its regulation for the last decade. She has published extensively on policy and policy reform in relation to prostitution and childhood sexual exploitation. She has also worked in the area of youth justice in relation to risk and need assessment and the punishment of young people.

Professor Pamela Taylor

Pamela Taylor is professor of Forensic Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, and advisor on forensic psychiatry to the Chief Medical Officer to the Welsh Assembly Government. She is a trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Pamela Taylor is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. She is an elected member of RCPsych Forensic Psychiatry Faculty Executive. She has published widely, mainly on the relationship between psychosis and violence and long term outcomes for offender patients.  Books include Forensic Psychiatry (a textbook with John Gunn, 2012) and Couples in Care and Custody (with Tom Swan, 1999).  

Sue Wade

Sue Wade is the Chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Sue Wade is a former Deputy Chief Probation Officer and Youth Justice Manager in Hampshire. Sue currently works as a consultant for various criminal justice organisations and charities. She is a performance advisor for Hampshire Police Authority. Sue has been a member of the Howard League since 1989. She has directed reform projects in young offender prisons and court systems in the US and Syria, and has been the Howard League’s representative at UN Crime Commission meetings, specialising in advice on implementation of international norms and standards.