Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paper Ambush

The power of paper in prison is immense. It causes far more damage than any blade or bludgeon. And staff use it with a vengeance.

Before every parole hearing, staff submit reports making their recommendations. A favourite way to screw a man over is to make a recommendation that he does some 'offending behaviour course'. It's too late to do it before the parole hearing, so the parole board will then insist the man remains in prison to complete this course. Job done, stitch-up implemented.

You may think that this recommendation for psychological treatments is not unreasonable when applied to people who have committed horrible crimes. And I would see where you're coming from.

But it is all in the timing. If a man has served, say, 15 years and been in this prison 3 years, to pull a new course out of the hat just before a parole hearing begs the question.

If he needs it, why was it not recommended before? So, were staff incompetent then, or malicious now? And this is merely one of the many ways our progress to release is frustrated.

So those who wonder how the hell I've managed to serve 30 years, may I gently suggest that a fair chunk of it results from being arsed about by prison staff.

And I am merely one amongst thousands. This is costing you lot a fortune.


  1. Hi Ben/Ed

    Just had the reply from my MP/Minister - although I am not really surprised, it does disappoint somewhat (understatement). Sorry, it's a bit long but I quote:

    "Thank you for your email of 21 September relating to John Gunn. My understanding in this case is that the 10 year tariff was only a recommendation, hence it is still possible for him to be imprisoned.

    I understand your concern regarding sentences. It is no wonder that the public had such little confidence in the criminal justice system under the previous government when sentences handed down by courts often bore no resemblance to the sentence served. It has led to a situation whereby many people feel that sentencing in Britain is dishonest and misleading. The current sentencing framework is indeed over complicated, confusing and somewhat [eh?!] disingenuous.

    This government recognises the importance of effective sentencing. That is why we are conducting a review of sentencing frameworks for adults as well as young offenders, as well as the full range of penalties available in the criminal justice system.

    We will explore in particular proposals to restore public trust through minimum-maximum sentencing. Under this system, offenders would serve a minimum period in prison set as the minimum punishment by the judge in court. They would not eligible for release before then. The judge would also set the maximum period, and offenders would have to earn [double "eh?!"] any release before that point.

    This will also give us the chance to look at whether we've got the balance right in recent years between ensuring a certain level of consistency in sentencing across the country, while giving judges the discretion they need to consider all the evidence that they hear of the circumstances of the case.

    The Government intends to consult on sentencing reforms as part of a re-habilitation Green Paper in November. It is of course, vital that we rebuild confidence in the criminal justice system and convince people it is working to protect them. It is my firm belief that this can only be achieved once belief in the effectiveness of sentencing is restored.

    Yours etc...."

    Vomit!!! So, basically there is no indication of an intention to intervene in your case, which as a concerned constituent of his I would expect that he does on my behalf, even if it was purely through representations to the Justice Dept.

    I will continue to make a small noise (if you get my drift) and will get back to him and also contact our Ken C and the Parole Board plus making as much noise as poss in the blogosphere.

    Keep smiling - you will get out.

    Davina x

  2. The higher cost is lives being frittered away behind bars and hopes and dreams being left unfulfilled. At least you are making a difference with your blog Ben, and bringing these injustices into the light.

  3. Davina,

    It would seem they have missed the point completely. Granted, 10 years was the "recommended" tariff but 20 years later here we are? A tariff should be, at the very least, the time the offender should be reasonably expected to serve. So in this sense we could reasonably expect an offender to serve at least 10 years but anything over 15 years must be justified in law. There should be a simple rule, maximum time incarcerated = minimum tariff + 50%. At any point after minimum tariff the offender can be released on license but the offender MUST NOT be detained beyond minimum + 50%. Which in Ben's case would mean he should have been released a staggering 15 years ago! But wait... my idea might make sense and the guv'ment must never be seen to make sense!

  4. Anonymous, I disagree with you that "[a] tariff should be, at the very least, the time the offender should be reasonably expected to serve... but anything over 15 years must be justified in law."

    I do not think you have understood the tariff system at all. The Court states that the sentence is life imprisonment and then sets out a tariff, which in effect represents the period that the Court believes reflects the time that should be served for punishment. However, the sentence is NOT 10-years; it is LIFE. Upon expiry of the tarrif, the prisoner must prove to the Parole Board that he is no longer a danger to the public before he can be released. The situation for IPP sentences is similar to that for lifers.

    I cannot reconcile Ben's case with my experience of the parole system. Lifers should make progress through the system. I am very curious as to why he has failed to miserably to make any progress through the catergorisation system? From reading the blog it is clear that he remains in closed conditions. How is it that after so much time he has not made it beyond Cat C status (Cat C being the lowest category of prisoner held permenantly in closed conditions).

    I also do not recognise his claim that prison staff suddenly recommend courses that must be undertaken out of the blue.

    If that is happening then why is Ben through his solicitors not taking the point that this was never in his sentence plan? Further, when a prisoner is knocked back for parole by the Board it is common for the Board to say why they are refusing and to indicate what steps should be taken to address the problems they have had. The Board doesn't say do X,Y and Z courses, but it is pretty clear what needs to be done to acheive either release of a move to open conditions.

  5. Davina, an intervention by your MP beyond considering the broader problems of the prison service would be illegal. The European Court of Human Rights makes it clear that politicians should not have the power of sentencing, which is why all decisions are made by the parole board rather than the Home/Justice Secretary.

    If your MP were to pressurise the relevant authorities into releasing Ben, such a decision could be challenged under the Human Rights Act (and potentially would be by victims groups).

    This is not a comment on the justice in Ben's case, just on the difficulty politicians have when dealing with individual cases.

  6. Could 'anonymous' people not give themselves an identity, albeit a fake one, so at least we could tell which anonymous person was saying what? It would make life more interesting than all this bland anonimity!

  7. Anonymous #1

    Please spend half an hour reading the backstory both here and on the Facebook page. The post entitled "how to serve 30 years" should answer most of your questions and, if you can read more than the first 10 or so of Ben's posts and not begin to grasp the depth of this problem and the degree to which the system is broken, then this is the wrong blog for you. Please don't let the door hit you on the way out.

  8. Wigarse, it's Anon #2 here. I have read Ben's back story and have visited the Facebook page and I still cannot reconcile it to the system of which I have experience.

    I have seen nothing that explains why he has failed to progress through the system. I see nothing that explains why not a single one of the 10 parole boards he should have faced have either recommended release or a move to open conditions. I say 10 because usually they take place every two-years, although I know that the system is barely functioning at present, but even so he must have had at least 6 or 7 appearances before the Board.

    To be blunt, the most common way for a prisoner to fail to progress is because he causes problems in the prison that limit the category to which he can be assigned. Ben does not seem like that sort of prisoner. The other common type are prisoners who are either unwilling to complete the various offender management/behaviour courses that are required to reduce risk level and thus lead to release. Both types of prisoner often have only themselves to blame for their continued imprisonment.

  9. anon, your naivety is astounding...and very worrying. If you read the material you will see that ben was recommended for open prison for ten years, but not moved by the ministry...and so it goes on.

  10. Anon you seem to be unable to grasp or put matters of justice into any meaningful perspective and I feel your pain.

    Simply bleating on about how prison rules are right and justified does nothing to address the reality of injustice that is prevalent in society.

    Prison rules are often petty and brutalizing both psychologically and physically.

    Ben is not the only one in such a situation, there are others; the famous ones such as Mumia Abu Jamal and of the many cases of miscarriages of justice, one of the worst is that of Gary Critchley who is still in prison after thirty years, you can look up about him on the net,

    Instead of trying so hard to defend a weak and brutal prison system whose bitter fruits are tragedy after tragedy, you'd do better to join the many campaigns including Ben's one that seek redress and justice.

  11. Anons:

    Read this timeline:

    You will note that on four occasions recommendations were made by the board that, for whatever reason, the secretary of state at the time declined to follow.

    I could write more, but the information is all here and on Facebook and freely available for you to read if you have the will.

    Anon #2 - you say Ben's experience cannot be reconciled with your own experience of the system. What is your experience? In what way is it different?

    Do you disbelieve Ben? Because I have checked his story with his barrister and she says everything he has said is true. If you are accusing Ben of lying (and I am struggling to find an alternative interpretation for your words), then you are also accusing his barrister of lying.

    I am not responding to any more comments along the lines of "that's not the system I know". The evidence is here for all to see and if you choose not to look then nothing I can say will change that. I do not have the time to waste trying to convince people who prefer to believe in their own fairy tales than face up to the reality.

    If you raise an interesting discussion point with genuinely new information or a novel perspective then I will gladly continue debating with you.

  12. I am always amazed at how people can point to Facebook and declare "There is the evidence; I shall discuss it no further." Wigarse, I wonder if you'd like to name the barrister to whom you spoke?

    I'm very wary of that FB timeline - the Parole Board recommended a move from Cat B to C. Maybe things have changed since 1988, but such a move is beyond the powers of the parole board who can recommend only a move from C to D, immediate release or remain in closed conditions!

    The we see that in 2004 he was moved to open conditions and within months returned to closed conditions because he refused to comply with the regime - please don't try and claim that the regime in open prisons in brutal, that's just a joke.

    Sophie J, our prison system is not brutal - compare it to the systems in other parts of the world if you want to see brutality.

    I think you are naive - I've dealt with a large number of murders, rapists, terrorist, paedophiles and all sorts of criminals lower down the scale. I've visited most of the prisons in the country and have represented defendants accused of everything from murder to begging. I've attended parole board hearings and prison disciplinary hearings. I'm quite sure I'm not naive.

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  14. anon2, you lazy git! If you read the fb you will see that his barrister is flo krause, and read her statement. I hope to god you prepare better on behalf of your clients...

  15. anon2,

    I didn't point to Facebook AS evidence, I pointed to evidence which happens to be posted ON Facebook. That it is on Facebook is irrelevant, it is still evidence.

    As madalbert says, if you had bothered to read any of that evidence, you would know Flo Kraus is Ben's barrister. I set up the Facebook site and, before doing so, I checked out Ben's story. That included checking that Flo Kraus is a real person and a real barrister (she is) and she also happens to be a specialist in cases such as Ben's. I then wrote to her and received her own opinion on Ben (she considers him a friend) and secured her permission to post that opinion on the Facebook page for all to see - you can read her full statement in the FAQs. If you don't want to take my word for it, I don't blame you, go and find out for yourself - the information is all freely available.

    But please, for the love of Bob, check your facts before making any more stupid allegations because when you go up against people who have done their homework you just end up looking a tit.