Saturday, April 10, 2010

Recalling Lifers

A unique aspect to British life sentences is that, on release, lifers remain tethered to the State until their death. This is the Life Licence.

It allows that we can be recalled to prison for any behaviour "which gives rise to cause for concern". Note that committing a crime isn't necessary.

This is obviously highly subjective and over the years I have witnessed some truly monstrous miscarriages of justice. Those familiar with the writing of Erwin James may recall his friend, Big Rinty. Having resettled back into the community, Rinty was accused of a crime. He was acquitted in Court. And yet he remains in prison 13 years later. Such is the nature of Life Licences.

All that is required is a phone call from a probation officer to the Ministry of Justice, and police are despatched to round up the Lifer and deposit him in the nearest local prison.

A few weeks later, the Lifer should be presented before the Parole Board, who decide whether the behaviours he allegedly exhibited are, firstly, substantiated and secondly, whether they suggest the Lifer poses a more than minimal risk to life and limb.

The Lifer may then be immediately re-released. Or, like many, he will remain wandering the prison landings for some years, wondering quite what went wrong.

Of course, prison staff always hint that there is more to this than we know about, that the recalled lifer can't be trusted in his version of events. All lies, intended to serve some unspoken belief that probation officers can never be wrong. Such was the situation with a certain Prem Singh. Only when he managed to have his recall reviewed by the European Court was the full tale exposed, a travesty of baseless accusations from vindictive probation staff which led to him spending another five years in prison.

The astute will have realised by now that Lifers in the community are extremely vulnerable. One accusation after an argument, a bitter relationship breakdown, or defending oneself against a drunken aggressor can all lead to the existence that has been carefully created on release being transformed into so much dust.

The only genuine "release" from a life sentence is death.


  1. This is exactly why people tell their probation officers what they want them to hear. It is worring that Probation officers yeild so much power here, considering most have some micky mouse degree from a third rate college. These comments are made, as i speak as i find, and are not an personal attack on any one probation officer. I hve only ever met one good one ever.

  2. This amount of power should never be given to one person - if somebody is to be recalled (particularly if they have not committed another crime - then at least two professional people should agree that it is necessary. I have heard of some stupid reasons why people are recalled and it is quite scary to think a probation officer has so much power. I know someone who has had 8 probation officers in 3 years - how could they possibly know what risk the person represents?