Itís time for active equality over passive tolerance

By Diane Curry OBE - CEO, POPS, from insidetime issue April 2012

Maya Angelou was once quoted as saying Ďit is time for parents to teach young people early so that in diversity there is beauty and there is strengthí.

Itís time for active equality
over passive tolerance

Maya Angelou was once quoted as saying ‘it is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength’. Her understanding of the riches to be found within diverse communities and her instinctive understanding of equality continues to inspire and not least at a time when our collective approach to equality and diversity appears to have flat-lined at ‘tolerance’.

I dislike debates around semantics, but in my mind to ‘tolerate’ describes a situation in which you put up with a situation or person, you endure their company, you stomach their opinions. There has been a lot of talk about tolerance in light of the Equality Act 2010 coming into law, but is it enough to aim for and encourage mere tolerance? Can tolerance ever be enough?

Tolerance is not about an on-going process of change, it is a line we are legislated to walk. Having an active approach to equality is to engage with who a person is, to be driven to explore and understand their point of view, to treat them with respect and, where points of view differ, as they inevitably will, to disagree well! The Equality Act 2010 is now enshrined on our statute books and its enforcement ensures that certain behaviours and discriminatory statements are actively discouraged by the state. But what legislation can never achieve is the transformation of people’s individual thoughts and attitudes often developed over years through the influence of communities, families, peers and experiences.

Here at POPS we’ve fought the face of ‘institutional racism’ and challenged intolerant attitudes within systems but there remain pockets of discrimination that have largely refused to shift. Not least among these is the attitude of society to prisoners and their families. In our attempts to further overcome years of entrenched beliefs, held by those within the prison establishment and wider society as a whole, we felt we needed to get a bit more creative. This creativity needed to embrace prisoners, families, staff and other stakeholders. To do this we have built upon work we undertook in HMP Dovegate last year, supporting a group of students to deliver a drama-based project which engaged staff and prisoners collectively to inform, challenge and reinforce their understanding of racism, sexism and disability. The use of interactive drama techniques was central to the success of the project, with audience engagement crucial to engendering change. Participants were encouraged to engage in discussions, debates, role-playing and hot-seating. In doing so they developed their personal understanding of the issues being addressed and the impact of discriminatory behaviour. Following the success of this project we are returning to HMP Dovegate to deliver another course covering the remaining strands of the Equality Act 2010 including age, religion and sexual orientation.

You might ask yourself why, in such a tough environment where hierarchy is prized and inequality to some extent intrinsic, such a project is so effective? Putting aside the experience of the facilitators for a second, the fundamental key to the project’s success is the crux of what it sets out to achieve. By treating inmates as equals you automatically encourage that behaviour in return. Participants are given the space to contribute their opinions without fear of reprisal and to identify and relate with characters from a safe distance.

I think it helps we are a charity. As such we are distinct from the prison and are able as a result to give prisoners the distance they need from the ‘establishment’ to openly discuss their points of view, exploring their personal beliefs without the pressure of ‘ticking a box’ or passing a course. Staff also feel able to explore their personal beliefs within a safe environment that allows them to engage with a ‘character’ rather than a recognised individual.
Using the medium of drama and character ‘hot-seating’ allows all concerned to feel equal in the learning and awareness process. That the process takes place in a custodial setting where inequalities exist by the very nature of its remit is to be applauded, and HMP Dovegate deserve recognition for their progressive approach in enabling the project delivery.

Opponents to change may struggle with the concept of equality in a situation involving offenders, but how will individuals with intolerant attitudes ever broaden their horizons and overcome prejudices without being shown what it is to be treated equally. Prison has a primary function of punishment but if we are to support its secondary and equally important role of rehabilitation we need to take seriously all elements of that rehabilitation. We must think creatively (no pun intended!) about the process of change and the most effective ways to achieve positive outcomes. It is no good just being told you need to think differently; change comes from exploring the impact of your attitudes, as in the case of restorative justice interventions, and most people need the space to be open about what they think and why they think it! Changing ingrained attitudes takes time; we cannot simply tick the box and move on.

We can instruct and even legislate for equality but unless we are active in pushing through the screen of tolerance we will be left with a bland, inactive form of equality that does little to educate our children, or indeed ourselves, about the strength and beauty found in diversity.

If you are interested in finding out more about the drama programme you can contact POPS on 0161 702 1000.

Back to top

Comments about this article

There are no comments, be the first to leave one!

Post a comment

This article appears under the following categories...
Prison Conditions

Summary of headlines for April 2012
Womenís prisons shame Britain
DNA evidence in court
Is the prison system failing Britainís youth?
Who is responsible?
Exclusion zones or banishment
Childcare resettlement leave: A prisonsí duty to consider the best interests of the child
A sense of dťjŗ vu
Psychology: off on a tangent again
Thousands of children Ďunlawfully restrainedí
Weighing up the risk
Month by Month April 2012
Skills for Life
Families First
Eurovision Song Contest Baku 2012 Light your fire!
O Brave New World
Manís inhumanity to man
We canít go on like this
In support of gay marriage
From over the wall
The Rubies
Current page: Itís time for active equality over passive tolerance
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002
Conspiracy to Defraud & Conspiracy to Cheat

Back to top


Inside Time Latest Issue

Issue : December 2014

Headlines | Mailbag | Poems
Book List | PSI Updates


Back Issues

Back Issues

View backissues and extras

Browse and Search Tools

View headlines by category
Search headlines | All headlines
Search mailbag | All mailbag
Search poems | All poems

December 2014 Headlines
> Treat Prisoners as Human Beings, Not Criminals
> What are prisons for
> A search for any trace of the governmentís Rehabilitation Revolution
> Tell us why you did it?... You must be joking I didnít do it
> Care Act - what does it mean for prisoners
> Doctor Frankenstein and his monster
> Human Rights: truth and lies
> Scapegoating the undeserving poor
> Interview
> The first Miscarriage of Justice
> Month by Month - December 2014
> The 2014 Longford Trust Awards
> Is it all in the mind
> Time
> Learning in prison
> Take your first Steps to Success in 2015
> Spotlight Police and Crime Commissioners
> From over the wall
> Over-tariff IPPs: an appeal for your stories
> Paperwork is the key
> Adjudication - donít let those days count against you
> Insider Dealing
> Christmas Stories
> Christmas Messages
> Christmas Messages

About Us

About insidetime
Editorial Team

InsidePoetry Book

insidepoetry book New! Volume 5 of
insidepoetry book
is now available!

A collection of poems by prisoners of all backgrounds.

Availabe to buy from this site! Volume 1,2,3 and 4 are also still available and you can SAVE by purchasing bundles!

USP Service

USP from Inside Time

The Useful Services for Prisoners scheme from insidetime provides discounts, vouchers and other benefits from USP Group Members for Prisoners, their families and legal advisors. Click the image above to read more about it.


You can subscribe to insidetime Newspaper and get the paper each month delivered to your door!


Advertise your business or solicitors office to a highly defined target audience.

Other Publications

Inside Time has produced a number of books and publications you can purchase online.


Contact Us

All contact info for the Operations office and the Editorial Team.

Site Map

Our site map page contains links to all pages on the insidetime site.

External Links

We have a number of external websites which you may be interested on our Links Page.

Social Networking


Inside Information


Everything you need to know about visiting people in prison; procedures, opening times, directions etc.

Comprehensive information about each prison regime; lock down times, facilities, healthcare etc.

*NEW* Detailed information about IRC - Immigration Removal Centres.

insideinformation Book

insideinformation book
The insideinformation book

A comprehensive guide to prisons and prison related services, designed and compiled by former prisoners.


Help and Support

Various pages of information for help and support organisations and networks for those in custody as well as recently released. Also information for friends and family.

Grants and Funding

This grants and funding pdf document aims to meet the need of prisoners and ex-offenders for accurate, up to date information on the supplementary funding available to prisoners.

Rules and Regulations

Information on rules & regulations used throughout the prison service.

Glossary of Terms

The Glossary of Prison Related Terms explains what all the acronyms and terms stand for with prison related matters. Includes links to external sites to further explain things.

Fact Sheets

We have produced many Prison Related Fact Sheets inc. Legal Fact Sheets, Parole Fact Sheets and Other related information.


Find a Solicitor

You can search our solicitor database for listings of solicitors in your area that provide the services you require.

Find a Barrister

You can search our barrister database for listings of barristers in your area that provide the services you require.

Address Finder

You can search our address database in many ways to retrieve contact information for all those elusive addresses you need in a hurry.

Prison Law pdf

This document provides details of leading training providers who offer sound professional training.

Other Publications

Inside Information has produced a number of books and publications you can purchase online.

Site Map

Our site map page contains links to all pages on the insideinformation site.

Contact Us

Use the Contact Us Feedback form to send us suggestions, plus our address and phone numbers.



Inside Justice

insidejustice was launched in July 2010 to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice.

Full introduction is on the insidejustice homepage

insidejustice Cases

insidejustice Articles & Reviews

insidejustice Advisory Panel Members

insidejustice Sponsors page

insidejusticecontact details