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  1. Impact Philanthropy
January 18, 2024

Lady Edwina Grosvenor on drugs, justice and keeping non-violent women out of prison

From the magazine: Lady Edwina Grosvenor, the philanthropist sister of the Duke of Westminster, on her justice charity One Small Thing

By Spear's

I think my parents were worried my older sister and I were going to snort our inheritances up our noses. When I was 12 or 13 they took us to Hope Street, a rehabilitation centre in Liverpool, where we met a man and a woman who were heroin users going through drug rehabilitation. We just had the most unbelievable open discussion. I can remember thinking: ‘This is amazing. I can ask them anything I want.’ And: ‘Why am I not taught this at school?!’

I quite liked getting into trouble when I was growing up – although I never got into proper trouble. But there was something about places you shouldn’t go, like prisons, and the people we don’t talk about. It was more of a societal thing, as opposed to anyone ever having said that to me. It’s incredibly depressing. When you’re looking at the justice system, you’re talking about self-harm, suicide, murder, sexual abuse, childhood sexual exploitation – the worst things that go on.

[From the magazine: How the rich and famous fell for Miami]

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But where you’ve got the very dark, you also have the very light. Shortly after my father died I was in a women’s prison and a prisoner came up to me, and told me her dad had died too. She said: ‘I know, it’s really tough,’ and just gave me a really big hug. We had a cry together.

When people manage to make it, to kick a habit or turn their life around, it’s totally incredible because they’re up against everything.

Women make up only 4 per cent of the prison population, but 70 per cent of them are in for non-violent, low-risk crimes. So why are they there? Sheer frustration led me to build Hope Street – you will remember the name from Liverpool. It’s designed to provide a place for non-violent women to go, even if they have children. The first building was opened in Hampshire last year by the Princess of Wales. There are beds for 24 women, there’s a crèche, an activity space and seminar room, and a coffee shop that’s open to the public. We plan to have 12 buildings on the site in total, and, in time, other sites across the country.

Lady Edwina Grosvenor: ‘Prisons are all about managing risk’

Should people were born male but now identify as women be in women’s prisons? For me, it’s about managing risk. If their index offence is violence against women, why on earth would you put them in a women’s prison?

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I’ve met transgender prisoners in women’s prisons; one was a Samaritan, a listener, and was known for just getting on with her life. She posed no threat to the people around her. But do I advocate trans women who are sex offenders being in a women’s prison? No, actually, prisons are about risk. A lot of the conversation often focuses on genitalia, but just having a penis doesn’t make you dangerous. It’s your behaviour.

[From the magazine: Introducing Spear’s Magazine: Issue 90]

The justice system is a horrific mess. I’m 24 years in and I’m still waiting to meet the politicians that will be the ones to turn it around. It’s not rocket science; the solutions are all there. For one thing, if the government didn’t give multimillion-pound contracts to G4S and Serco, they could give them to me and I could build Hope Street and we could start emptying the women’s prisons!

Whether you’re on the far left or the far right, we can all agree that we want safer societies to live in, to bring our children up in. So we have to do what is right, not what is palatable to Mrs Miggins down the road. The politicians who fundamentally understand that need to step forward. I’m still waiting.

As told to Edwin Smith, onesmallthing.org.uk/donate

This feature first appeared in Spear’s Magazine Issue 90. Click here to subscribe

Illustration: Cat Sims

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