In 1995 our Managing Director Mark Leech was released from prison after serving 14 years for robbery.
Within a few months of his release Mark had published the first ever edition of The Prisons Handbook, it consisted of just 192 pages and had been painstakingly put together inside his prison cell. Having been in 62 prisons during his sentence he realised that there was a need for a book which until then never existed - a professional A-Z guide to every prison and young offender institution in the country, detailing its accommodation, key officials, medical, religious, work, visiting, catering and physical education facilities - including a precis of the latest inspection reports on each prison - and that was only one third of the book!
Working then as the consultant to the Prison Law Department in what was then AS Law Solicitors in Liverpool, Mark and the then senior partner at AS Law, Elkan Abrahamson, soon became aware that prisoners up and down the country were being given inaccurate legal advice about their rights n custody because no training existed in the subject - so was born The Institute of Prison Law.
In 1998, after a meeting with the then Home Secretary Jack Straw, it became clear that that politicians of all policitial parties were lost when it came to this issue of how to reduce crime and Mark set out on a mission to inform political debate, and influence prison service policies. Mark teamed up with another ex-offender, the actor Stephen Fry and betweeen them (with ex-offender probation officer Bob Turney) they created what was to become the national ex-offenders charity for England and Wales 'UNLOCK' and for the next three years Mark was its Chief Executive.
In 2004 Mark went through a period of ill-health and it was while convalescing at home that Mark started work on The Prisoners Pocket Directory (PPD); a quarterly prisoners directory, one which consisted of a diary, a directory of recommended law firms and a digest of legal rights in prison - and which was free to serving prisoners.
The quarterly PPD drove forward the idea for a national monthly prisons newspaper - one which was robust, straightforward, and dealt with real issues that effected those who lived and worked inside our prisons - so 'Converse' was born.
Today, 16 years after Mark Leech left prison, The Prisons Handbook is now in its 14th edition, its initial 192 pages has grown to over a 1,000 pages and it is now the 'bible' for the prison system in England and Wales - and a mandaory publication for every prison and young offender institution in the country (www.prisons.org.uk/handbook.html).
The Institute of Prison Law, accredited by both the UK's professional legal bodies (The Solictors Regulatory Authority and the Bar Standards Board) has deivered accredited prison law training to thousands of solicitors, barristers, prison governors, prison officers, prison law advisors and even to serving prisoners themselves (www.prisonlaw.org.uk)
UNLOCK is today the well-respected charity that Mark and his colleagues set out to create all those years ago - headed today by Mark's first deputy Bobby Cummines, a ex-offender who was rewarded with an OBE by HM The Queen in 2010 for his services to reforming offenders, the charity is today well established in its field. (www.unlock.org.uk)
The Prisoners Pocket Directory is about to enter its 30th edition and has grown to 100 pages, it is one of the most popular publications in our prison system - and Converse has become the highest circulation national prisoners newspaper delivering upto 60,000 copies a month to every jail in the country.