Sunday, May 30, 2010

Letter re Article in the Mail on Sunday

Dear Ms Levin,

Re: Article in Mail on Sunday Review, 16 May 2010

I was astounded and deeply disturbed at several comments that you made in your article for the Mail on Sunday.

As Vice Chair of the 'watchdog' body, charged with satisfying yourselves "as to the state of the prison premises, the administration of the prison and the treatment of the prisoners", it is a pre-requisite that you have a grasp of the prison rules.

As these legal requirements are at the heart of ensuring that prisoners are not treated indecently, I fail to see how you can fulfil your statutory function when you are so clearly - and now publicly - bereft of understanding their provisions.

How can you possibly ensure that prisoners are being treated within the Rules when you don't know the Rules? This is all the more worrying given that the prisoners you are meant to be safeguarding reside in a prison with a shocking history of staff abuse and brutality.

You quote the Human Rights Act as being responsible for several aspects of prison life that you find objectionable. It is unfortunate that each of your claims is completely wrong.

You claimed that, "Due to the misguided Human Rights Act, prisoners have a right to take whatever unlawful drugs they choose."

This is a complete misunderstanding of the court's judgement and one which is common amongst prison staff. A British court found that forcing prisoners to go cold turkey without offering the palliative care that is always offered to patients in the community caused these prisoners unnecessary suffering. It did not, in any way, give prisoners any right to take illegal drugs. That you have persuaded yourself of the truth of this canard, so popular with the Daily Mail, is revealing.

Part of your duties include supervising the proper treatment of prisoners held in the Segregation Unit (punishment block). At any one moment, there will be prisoners being held there as a punishment for taking illegal drugs. Are your inspections of the Seg so cursory that you fail to notice this? Did you never wonder why, if prisoners are entitled to take illegal drugs, they were then being punished for doing so? This is extremely worrying, as the Seg was the rotten centre of the brutality previously inflicted by prison staff. As your inspections of the Seg are seemingly so shallow, how are we to be reassured that this brutality has ended? As a 'watchdog', you appear to be deaf and blind as well as toothless.

You also assert that, "as a result of the Human Rights Act, prisoners can no longer be searched internally". Prison staff have never had the power to conduct internal searches. This has no connection with the Human Rights Act and even the most cursory reading of that Act would inform you of this. It has only ever been the case, under common law, that in life threatening emergencies then a Doctor may conduct an internal search, if necessary with the assistance of prison staff. As one of the people charged by the Secretary of State to ensure that prisoners are not ill treated, that you are ignorant of the circumstances when a prisoner may be physically restrained by staff and have their orifices probed by force is quite shocking. In a prison with a history of staff brutality, it should be obvious that you should pay particular attention to any use of force by staff.

You then go on to claim that, "human rights means they have the right to decide if they want to lie in bed and do nothing all day". On the contrary, the Human Rights Act specifically exempts prisoners from the prohibition on slavery and the Prison Rules allow that we can be forced to work for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, with no pay.

That most prisoners are left locked in their cells every day has nothing whatever to do with the Human Rights Act. It has everything to do with the inability of the Prison Service to supply sufficient opportunities to work. It has been thus for at least two generations and that you are unaware of this basic penological fact is something that I find quite unsettling.

In unquestioningly accepting the Prison Service propaganda on mobile phones, I can't help but wonder what else you are willing to accept on faith when told to you by prison staff. As a 'watchdog', displaying such a trait is deeply disturbing.

You repeat the lie that mobile phones are inextricably linked to drug smuggling and witness intimidation. That a tiny minority of prisoners abuse phones in this way does not detract from the truth - that overwhelmingly, prisoners use mobile phones for the simple purpose of maintaining family relationships. You should be aware that supplying a handful of payphone landlines for the use of several hundred prisoners, coupled with charging men 7 times the usual payphone rate, makes the use of illicit mobile phones almost obvious. That you are all too willing to accept the propaganda issued by prison staff on this issue inevitably raises questions as to your willingness or ability to fulfil your official remit.

That you then claim that prisoners can simply hand these phones to staff and avoid punishment is absurd. Any prisoner caught with a phone is subject to disciplinary charges, if not criminal ones. Again, that as one of the people charged with monitoring the process of punishment and discipline, your ignorance of this reality is alarming.

Your complete ignorance of the Human Rights Act and the Prison Rules aside, what I found to be most disturbing in your article was your attitude to prisoners and their circumstance.

On a Christmas Day, you felt you had the right to pass a moral judgement on a prisoner who was missing his children. You were not troubled by a scintilla of compassion, not a single moment of understanding or humanity. If not for the prisoner, then for his children.

This attitude reached it's apogee with your comment that, "They complain endlessly about the treatment they receive when they have only themselves to blame."
I cannot over-emphasise my disgust with this statement. Prisoners are responsible for their crime, and only their crime. That society chooses to place them in prison is societies choice and its responsibility.

Once in prison, the treatment meted out to prisoners is in the hands of prison staff. Prisoners are rendered, as you recognise, largely impotent. In Wormwood Scrubs, this treatment has included staff meting out mock executions, bloody beatings and rape.

You are Vice Chair of the body charged with ensuring that prisoners are not ill-treated and yet you not only berate prisoners for complaining about their treatment, you blame prisoners themselves for that treatment.

Having read your comments, what prisoner could have sufficient confidence to approach you with any complaint? Equally importantly, any prison staff reading your comments will feel confident in their ability to mislead you, knowing that your supervision of the punishment block is perfunctory and that your knowledge of the Rules is merely illusory.

As a 'watchdog', you have revealed yourself to be judgemental, ill informed and incompetent. As a 'watchdog' in a prison with a history of staff brutality, I can only suggest these qualities mean that you are positively dangerous.

You have revealed an ignorance of the Prison Rules and the Human Rights Act, and in doing so portrayed an incorrect version of prison life. At best, this is reckless, and cannot but undermine your position. I can only suggest that you resign.

As a matter of courtesy I inform you that copies of this letter will be lodged with the Secretary of State, at whose pleasure you continue in office; with the Chair of the IMB at Wormwood Scrubs;and published on my Blog, It will also be offered to Inside Time for publication.

Yours sincerely,
Ben Gunn


  1. I'll be interested to see if this actually gets published as it should in the letters page.

    Will you be sending this to Iain Duncan Smith as well?

  2. Go Ben! Congratulations on your succinct response.
    You letter may not get you out of prison, but it clearly shows that you understand the rules and regulations far better than those appointed as watchdogs.
    I hope you get a round from applause your fellow prisoners.
    Well done.

  3. Have I missed a previous link to the original article? Could anyone post one here?

    Is this a suitable case for a complaint to the press complaints commission?

    They are another toothless watchdog but I believe they are at least obligated to investigate every complaint.

  4. You tell this Ms Levin Ben. She should get out and leave right now, for all her nasty, bigoted views and the damage that ensues. (Brilliant letter, they ought pay attention.)

  5. This is the link to the article Ben is talking about:

  6. It was anything but succinct and some of the grammatical errors are a cringeworthy. My advice would be to make such letters are impersonal as possible because the hint of hysteria really damages the integrity of the piece. If you're going to take on these people your 'work' has got to be flawless.

  7. Great letter, Ben, you tore her to bits. She's nothing special - just a jumped up writer. It does show what kind of ignorant people the Ministy of Justice are willing to recruit for those positions though.

  8. Anonymous #2,

    You comment, while succinct, contains a few grammatical errors that are a little cringeworthy. My advice would be to make sure your own writing is flawless when critiquing other's 'work', otherwise you end up looking a right tit.


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