In their own words
Case Study A: Mental health issues and alternative accommodation
Prisoner B was prohibited by her licence conditions from returning to Spain upon release, where she had been residing prior to going to prison. After her release, Prisoner B faced a difficult time in the hostel where she was residing. She did not drink alcohol or use drugs which were rife within the hostel. She also faced bullying and isolation, leading to mental health problems.
We urgently requested that Prisoner B be considered as a priority housing need due to her vulnerability and mental health problems. Our Women Prisoners Caseworker wrote to Bedfordshire Pilgrims Housing Association asking for Prisoner B to be rehoused as a matter of priority. Following our intervention, she was moved to alternative accommodation.
Case Study B: Provision of suitable accommodation upon release
Prisoner C was a vulnerable woman prisoner suffering from depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, and she had previously attempted suicide. She was due to be released and therefore in need of suitable accommodation.
Our Caseworker helped to ensure that approved premises had a vacancy for Prisoner C in advance of her release. We persuaded the Parole Board to grant her release on licence – as her risk was now manageable in the community thanks to the supportive accommodation we had secured for her.
We wrote to her Offender Manager and Offender Supervisor to confirm her place at a supportive hostel, and we submitted representations to the Parole Board in support of her release on licence. Following our intervention, Prisoner C was granted release on licence and was successfully housed in a special women’s hostel that assists ex-prisoners.
Case Study C: Resettlement Overnight Release
Our Women’s Caseworker received a request for help from a woman in prison (Prisoner A), who was at risk of being released homeless in three weeks’ time.Her application for Resettlement Overnight Release (ROR) to see her four children and sort out accommodation had been refused by the prison. Without accommodation, Prisoner A could not be reunited with her children on release.
Her concern to be with her children and resume her role as their sole carer was acute, with a daughter undergoing tests for a terminal illness.
Our Caseworker wrote to the prison challenging the legality of their policy to deny ROR in the last 28 days of sentence and their failure to consider the best interests of her children. The prison reversed their decision and granted ROR to Prisoner A within 24 hours of our intervention.
Case Study A: Facilitating Re-categorisation and Better Treatment of Terminally Ill Disabled Prisoner
Our Community Care Caseworker recently assisted a disabled, terminally ill prisoner who was serving a short sentence.
Although he was a Category C (lower security classification) prisoner, he was being held in a Category B (higher security) prison – as it was deemed better suited to deal with his health needs.
Even so, the care was woefully inadequate. He was placed upstairs and therefore could not leave his cell or even go outside for fresh air. He also required a special diet to avoid potentially choking, but the food provided was not appropriate for his condition.
Our Caseworker sent a pre-action letter to Government Solicitors. This resulted in him being moved to a Category C prison. She then made categorisation representations which got him de-categorised to Category D (lowest security).
However, the prison refused to transfer him, claiming that his medical needs needed him to be on medical hold. We eventually resolved this through correspondence and he is now finally in a Category D (open conditions) prison.
Case Study B: Broken wheelchair
We acted on behalf of a disabled prisoner (Prisoner B) who had been provided with a broken wheelchair that was not fit for purpose. The back wheels were so small that he could not reach them to push himself along and therefore he was not capable of independent movement. Then the footrests broke and were not replaced.
Prisoner B has a progressive spinal condition which means that he cannot raise his feet. The absence of footrests caused his feet to drag continually along the ground when he was being pushed along, inducing pain and ruining his shoes.
The situation caused him to feel very vulnerable and humiliated and his mobility was severely restricted. Prison officers refused to push him in his wheelchair; some alleged they required training in order to so do. This meant that Prisoner A was unable to move around the prison unless a fellow prisoner helped him.
By the time Prisoner B contacted PAS, he had been using a broken wheelchair for over six months and had been submitting written and verbal complaints to the prison, asking for a replacement, without success.
Our Caseworker wrote to the prison pointing out the breach of their legal duty and asking them to provide a suitable wheelchair and assistance. She stressed that The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on public bodies to provide necessary ‘auxiliary aids’ to disabled persons (in Prisoner B’s case a working wheelchair). She eventually threatened Judicial Review if this was not forthcoming.
Following our intervention, Prisoner B has now been provided with a functioning wheelchair, with footrests, so that he can push himself along. The prison now also pays another prisoner on his wing to act as his carer.
Case Study C: Disabled prisoner’s access to class
Prisoner C was an elderly prisoner suffering from sleep apnoea, arthritis, diabetes, neuropathic pain, chronic pain, balance problems and short term memory loss. Some of these conditions had been caused by a stroke. He also suffered from depression.
He used to attend an Arts and Crafts class on the ground floor of the prison and he was happy doing this as it provided some therapeutic distraction from his disability and pain. The class was then moved to an upstairs room that he was unable to access due to his medical conditions and old age.
He was very disappointed but was told by prison officers that, to offset this, he would be paid long term sick rates for his disability and his cell door would be left unlocked during the day when other prisoners went to work and education. However, instead of this he was locked in his cell all day. He stopped taking his medication in protest at his treatment and became very ill.
We wrote a letter to the Deputy Controller at HMP Parc reiterating a public body’s legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 to avoid unlawful discrimination against disabled prisoners. We requested that the Arts and Craft class was returned to the ground floor so that Prisoner C could attend.
Following our intervention, the prison moved the class back to the ground floor and Prisoner C was able to start attending the classes again and resumed his medication.
Case Study D: Disability discrimination
Prisoner A is 18 years old and had recently been transferred from a Young Offenders Institution to a private adult prison.
He had a good behaviour record at his YOI and had recently applied for accumulated visits so he could see his parents whom he had not seen for 2 years. He has ADHD, significant learning difficulties and an IQ of 60.
He accrued 10 proven adjudications in four days for disobeying staff orders/threatening words and behaviour etc. He did not understand much of what was going on or the charges he faced. He was unable to remember much of what was going on.
As a life sentenced prisoner he will only be released when deemed suitable by the parole board so needs as few adjudications on his record as possible.
We drafted appeal representations on the basis of disability discrimination – that reasonable adjustments should have been made for his learning disability both when officers were giving instructions and at the adjudication hearings.
Case Study E: female disabled prisoner’s transfer to a suitable prison
Our caseworkers met Prisoner A at an outreach clinic. She has multiple physical and mental health issues including anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and severe Cervical Spondylosis leading to chronic pain and lack of mobility. She was incarcerated in a completely unsuitable prison cell.
One of our caseworkers helped her to secure a transfer to a modern prison facility with a modified cell suitable for her needs. She is now eligible for parole, her mental health is much improved and her physical condition is stable.
She has commented on our help as follows “PAS supported me all through my sentence and presently has been phenomenal, excellent and immeasurable. I will forever be grateful and sing of PAS services everywhere now and in the future. No matter what.”
Case Study A: Ensuring a prisoner could take a degree
The decision that we challenged in Mr C’s recent case related to his ability to undertake a postgraduate degree (MA) in English following the implementation of a new Prison Service Instruction.
Under this PSI, the maximum number of books allowed in a prisoner’s possession has been reduced to 12. The set number of books required for Mr C’s degree was 14 (plus a number of module guides).
Mr C requested an exemption for the limit to be increased in his case. His request was denied on the basis that it was national policy.
However, thanks to our intervention, the prison backed down and allowed him to exceed the limit of 12 books in order to undertake the degree course.
Case Study B: Using the law to fight injustice
Former PAS client, Prisoner A, was born in Forest Gate, East London, 44 years ago and describes his former self as a rebellious youngster. He was taken into care at ten years old and started fighting the system from then on.
His rebellious nature found him in prison at a young age, and upon release, he established a pattern of re-offending and further imprisonment. Shortly after his last sentence had begun, he took a look in the mirror and did not like what he saw. He decided to get his life back on track. He was keen to learn about personal development, particularly of the mind, and to find out more about inspirational figures, such as Nelson Mandela.
He was released on licence in 2009 following a successful challenge to a decision to extend his sentence with the help of PAS.
Prisoner A has stated in a public debate in May 2014 that, through the support of PAS, he came to see the Law as a weapon to fight injustice. Previously, he had always used violence to fight his corner. ‘I come from a background of violence, if I felt threatened I would lose control.’
He told the debate that his experience and negative perception of the Law started when he was in local authority care as a teenager. ‘It was only later in life, when in prison, that I realised I could use it as a tool to fight my corner: legal aid was my weapon against injustice.
‘The more I used it, the less I wanted to use violence. Having that power made me feel more a part of society. The legal aid system gave me a sense of power I never had as a youngster.’
Since PAS aided his rehabilitation, Prisoner A has given talks, including at the House of Commons, about prison education. He has also spoken at a rally, celebrating 64 years of legal aid, outside the Old Bailey. He is now a mentor to ex-offenders.
Case Study C: Further education
PAS client, Prisoner B, used our services in 2010 to help him access a university degree course that the prison had refused to facilitate. He is a prisoner who maintains innocence, which can put him in a less favourable position within the prison system compared to other in-mates. He contacted PAS to help solve the matter.
As a result of this request, PAS challenged the prison’s position by beginning proceedings in the High Court. This eventually resulted in a Consent Order stating ‘prisoners at HMP Long Lartin will not be denied further education solely on the grounds of their denial of guilt’. This settled the dispute, enabling him to continue his education within the prison.
However, the prison later attempted to stop his degree course again. So we presented them with the Consent Order for the second time – which solved the issue again.
Case Study A: Bereavement support
Prisoner B was at HMP East Sutton Park, where we met her at a recent outreach clinic. She was extremely distressed at the death of her younger sibling (to whom she had been very close). However, she had not received any support or assistance from the prison regarding her bereavement issues.
We wrote to the prison to highlight her distress and the prison’s failures to provide proper counselling, etc. As a result of our intervention, Prisoner B was transferred to HMP Send where her issues are now being better addressed through support from the prison Chaplaincy and some much needed bereavement counselling.
She has recently written to thank us for our assistance and reported that it has really helped her in moving forward after this loss.
Case Study B: Special Purpose Licence for newborn
Prisoner A is in an open prison. He had had several releases on temporary licence planned but none that coincided with his wife’s due date and he very much wanted to be present at the birth of his child.
We advised him to apply for a Special Purpose Licence (SPL) for when she went into labour, which neither he nor the prison had known was an option.
We contacted the prison to request that they consider an SPL for this purpose as soon as possible, in light of the prisoner’s exemplary behaviour and the importance of maintaining family ties.
Three days later Prisoner A’s wife was admitted to her hospital maternity unit. She contacted the prison and within a couple of hours he was released on SPL and went straight to the hospital. Prisoner A was able to be with his wife at this crucial time and remained with her and the baby in the hospital for 48 hours before returning straight to the prison.
Case Study C: Temporary transfer closer to elderly relatives
A prisoner contacted us from a prison in the North of England where he had been incarcerated for a year and a half. He had been trying unsuccessfully to get transferred temporarily to a London prison for accumulated visits by elderly relatives who could no longer travel long distances to see him.
We corresponded with prisons in London and eventually sent a letter to the Directorate of High Security. Following our involvement, the prisoner was temporarily moved to a London prison to enable his accumulated visits from elderly relatives to take place.
Case Study D: released prisoner returning to his family abroad
We received an inquiry via email from a prisoner who had been released and who wanted to contest the requirement that he remain in this country for the duration of his probation licence, instead of being allowed to return to live abroad with his wife and children.
We corresponded with the probation service to no avail and eventually issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court, at which point the government solicitors asked probation to urgently reconsider its decision. Faced with the prospect of court proceedings in which they could not defend their decision, probation then made a new decision in our client’s favour.
He says: “It should never have come to this and I should have been allowed to leave as soon as I was released, but PAS were amazing sorting it out for me.”
Case Study A: Resettlement leave
A prisoner (Prisoner A) with a 16-year sentence had progressed to open conditions. However, as a result of a consecutive sentence imposed upon him (due to non-payment of a confiscation order), he was told that his eligibility dates for resettlement leave had changed, according to a blanket prison policy.
He would therefore have 6 weeks resettlement leave at most, despite having a young daughter whom he had never seen and an ill father. Prisoner A had taken previous resettlement leave without incident.
PAS took the decision to Judicial Review on behalf of Prisoner A, which led to the prisoner’s resettlement leave being recalculated. The decision has also led to a new policy in the prison estate for prisoners with consecutive sentences placed on them due to non-payment of confiscation orders. Their resettlement leave is now subject to individual assessment.
Thus, PAS taking on one test case eventually led to a significant policy change for an entire category of the prisoner community.
Case Study B: Hospital treatment
Prisoner B suffers from a hereditary eye condition. Retinal detachment in 2012 led to permanent blindness in his left eye. He now lives in fear of losing sight in his right eye. In prison, he suffered the same symptoms in his right eye which led to pain, redness, black spots and flashing lights in his vision.
Although the prison was aware of his condition and that he was under the care of Moorfields Eye Hospital in the community, his repeated requests to see a doctor and for urgent treatment were not acted on. Nothing happened for seven days, during which time he suffered significant pain and anxiety. The prison had also been cancelling his appointments due to “security reasons”.
Our Caseworker managed to ensure that Prisoner B received sight-saving treatment by writing letters pressing the prison to honour their legal duties to take him out for hospital treatment.
Case Study C: Ensuring hospital appointment happens
Prisoner C had waited four months for a hospital appointment. His hearing aid was blocked and he could barely hear.
Prison officers thought he was ignoring them when spoken to. He was also due to be reviewed for re-categorisation to Category D conditions. But he was then informed that he was going to be moved imminently to another prison. This would mean that he could potentially lose his hospital appointment and suffer delays to his re-categorisation review.
Thanks to our intervention, the prison agreed to delay the prison transfer until his hospital appointment and re-categorisation review had taken place.
Case Study D: accessing vital medication
Prisoner B’s prescription of medication had been stopped for two days despite him making complaints and speaking to the healthcare unit within the prison. He telephoned our helpline panicking and with a racing heartbeat.
One of our caseworkers sent an urgent fax whilst another rang the prison and, following our intervention, his prescription arrived later that same day. Prisoner B contacted us shortly afterwards to say thank you.
Case Study A: Accommodation for elderly prisoner
We were contacted by a housing charity based in a prison. They had an elderly prisoner (Prisoner A) shortly due to be released street homeless.
He suffered from physical problems – Prisoner A was a wheelchair user and incontinent and also long standing mental health problems. The charity had referred him to his home local authority for a community care assessment but this was not forthcoming.
We sent a Pre Action Protocol letter to Adult Social Services reminding them of their legal duties and the duty to assess his needs. He was allocated a social worker who visited him in prison to assess him prior to release. He then found him a suitable supported accommodation placement that he was released to.
Case Study B: Community care needs assessment
Prisoner B was an elderly disabled prisoner who was going to become homeless upon release. He was suffering from a range of disabilities and health issues including Korsakoff’s Syndrome, depression, alcoholism, and physical disabilities (including mobility issues) as a result of a failed leg operation.
We wrote a pre-action protocol letter to the Social Services and Housing Department of Kingston Council, requesting an assessment of Prisoner B’s community care needs.
Following our intervention, Prisoner B was offered a suitable placement in a hostel that could cater for his disabilities and that also specialises in rehabilitation from alcoholism.
Case Study C: Urgent medical care
Prisoner C is an elderly vulnerable prisoner who had not received the urgent medical attention that was necessary to treat his multiple health issues including: headaches to one side of his head, bleeding from an eye, a lump in his eye and confusion stemming from his memory problems.
We wrote a pre-action protocol letter to the Head of Healthcare at HMP Oakwood requesting that the prisoner be taken to an external hospital Accident and Emergency department for the necessary diagnostic tests and be reviewed by a specialist. We also asked the Parole Board to direct his assessment at hospital and they have done so. We now expect the assessment to take place in the near future.
Case Study D: Diabetic amputee
Prisoner D was an elderly amputee prisoner with diabetes. He was experiencing severe mobility difficulties and health issues after he had his electric wheelchair taken away from him by the prison. This resulted in problems accessing the showers and sores caused by his diabetes that significantly worsened due to his being effectively bed bound.
We wrote a letter to HMP Wandsworth requesting that the prisoner have his electric wheelchair returned. Following our intervention, Prisoner D had his electric wheelchair returned. He stated that he was also being treated better as a result of our letter and that he was no longer suffering in adequate care and disability discrimination.
Case Study E: Resolving Accommodation Issue on Release for Elderly Wheelchair User Suffering from Cancer
Our Community Care Caseworker acted for a prisoner in his eighties. The case had been referred to us by his parole solicitor. The parole panel had indicated that they wished to direct his release, but no suitable accommodation had been found. The second parole hearing date was approaching and still no suitable housing had been identified. The prisoner was a frail, elderly man with his left leg amputated above the knee; he was a wheelchair user. He had serious underlying health conditions including bowel and bladder cancer. His family had contacted the local authority, asking for him to be placed near them – so that they could provide support. The Probation Service had also made referrals, to no avail. This matter was resolved by our Caseworker through pre-action correspondence. Thanks to our involvement, an adequate community care assessment was conducted and a suitable address in a care home was found. The parole board then directed the prisoner’s release.
Race and Religion
Case Study A: Protecting Rights to Practise Religious Observance
Muslim prisoners in a Category B prison recently complained that the policy of not allowing them to wear religious headgear was a breach of the national guidance for prisons, especially as another group of prisoners were allowed to wear headgear representative of their faith.
We wrote to the prison asking them to review this policy, which they did quite promptly and changed their policy to reflect the national guidance. Following our intervention, Muslim prisoners in that prison, as well as prisoners of all other faiths there, can now wear religious headgear if they choose to.
Case Study B: Right to practice religion
A Jewish prisoner was in an arrangement with the prison he was held in to be excused from work on Saturdays, which is the Sabbath, and to make up the time on a different day during the week so that he would not lose out on his pay.
One Saturday an officer unlocking prisoners for work ordered him to make his way to work, which he refused both on religious grounds and the established arrangement he had with the prison. The officer went on to place him on report for refusing to go to work.
PAS acted for him, and both had the report dismissed, and oversaw a successful damages claim for a breach of his right to practise his religion.
Case Study C: Dog search during prayers
A high security prison was in possession of intelligence that suggested a drugs exchange during religious service.
On a Friday, during Muslim congregational prayers, the search team attended the chapel to search Muslim prisoners with drug dogs before they began their prayers.
The prisoners objected as contact with the dogs would render it necessary for them to wash again before they could pray, and there were no appropriate washing facilities in that part of the prison for the large group that had gathered to pray.
They tried to negotiate with the officers to observe them during prayer, and to search them after they had completed their prayers. This was not accepted, and the prisoners were obliged to concede to a search with the drug dogs. Subsequently several were touched by the dogs, and had to return to their wings.
Two days later at a Sunday service, Christian prisoners were attended by the search team. Prisoners and the chaplain requested they be observed during service, and searched after the service. The search team accepted this arrangement and waited until the service was concluded before carrying out their intelligence led search. No drugs were found on any prisoners at either search.
PAS acted for some of the Muslim prisoners and bought a civil suit against the prison for breach of their religious right (to congregational prayers) and indirect discrimination. As a result the prison changed its policy on dog searches and settled the case out of court.
Case Study D: Requirement of religious faith
A Sikh prisoner has worn a silver bangle, called a kara, since childhood and throughout his time in prison as a mandatory requirement of his religious faith, which was reflected in national prison service policy.
On one occasion he was asked to remove the bangle, which was too small in any event to be easily pulled off as he had first acquired it as a teenager, prior to attending the workshop as part of a security measure.
The prisoner refused on the basis that his faith required him to wear it constantly, and also that he had routinely worked in the workshop with no issues arising from him wearing the bangle.
As he refused to take off the bangle, he was not allowed to go to work that day and also placed on report for refusing a lawful order to remove the bangle. We assisted the prisoner with the adjudication which was dismissed, and he received an apology.
Case Study E: PAS secures apology for Muslim prisoner given non-halal meat
A Muslim prisoner complained that the prison he was located in breached his right to practise his religion by giving him food that is forbidden for him to ingest.
He had made reasonable enquiries before eating the food, to ensure it was compliant with his religious belief, and he had been assured that it was.
It was only later that he found out that the food contained non-halal meat. This upset him greatly, especially as he had enquired first and had been assured the food was suitable for him to eat. We advised him in his complaint against the prison who then admitted their error and apologised to him. The prison also provided assurances that immediate steps have now been taken to ensure that such an incident will not happen again.
Case Study A: Ensuring Prison Transfer and Equality of Treatment for Transgender Prisoner
We assisted a transgender prisoner in transferring to an open prison which had initially refused to accept her – on the basis that it would not have been able to address her complex needs.
Other women in the same prison were submitting their transfer requests long after her, yet being transferred quickly to open conditions. She wanted to be treated in the same way as the other women.
We intervened, invoking the relevant terms of the Equality Act 2010, and the matter was swiftly resolved. Following our involvement, the prisoner has now been transferred to the open prison and is progressing towards her eventual release.
Case Study B: Childcare Resettlement Leave
Two female prisoners were refused Childcare Resettlement Leave (CRL). CRL is a form of temporary release available to low risk prisoners who can demonstrate that they have sole caring responsibility for their child under 16, which the claimants could do in this case but were refused CRL due to the length of their sentence.
CRL was only available for prisoners in open prisons (those who have only two years or less left until their release). These women had more than two years left. The separation from their mothers was causing an adverse impact on the mental health of the children. One was undergoing counselling and another being treated for depression.
PAS acted on the case, finding barristers to represent the claimants and their children, and supporting the women in taking a Judicial Review. The judge found the prison’s decision to be unlawful and stated that, when considering CRL applications, Article 8 Right to Family Life, of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 3(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should be taken into account.
In this case, our intervention and the consequent ruling righted an unjust policy, thus protecting the rights of the children and their sole carers. Considering the best interests of children involved is now a legal prerequisite in decisions by prisons on CRL applications. The ruling also changed the law such that all prisoners can now apply for CRL at any point in their sentence, not just in the last 2 years. As such, a large proportion of the prison community has potentially benefitted from this.
Case Study C: Early release
An ex-prisoner explains how PAS helped her: “Before I spoke with PAS I faced being disabled in prison and not (feeling like) I had any rights. I was told I wasn’t entitled to early release. I appealed but was told I was still not entitled to it.“The children’s social worker recommended that I talked to PAS. You’re entitled to two appeals against the decision against early release, and PAS helped me to do that before the cut-off date.“When my son was ill and rushed into hospital, I wasn’t allowed to see him, speak to him or anything, but PAS said they should not have done that.“My life became a lot easier when I had been in contact with PAS. Nothing was too trivial that they wouldn’t speak to me. Even after I came out of prison they were still there for me. If I needed any help readjusting they were there.
“They were brilliant – they put me at ease. The trouble is the prisons don’t tell you about PAS. You have to find out about it in a different way. You are alone in there – although you make friends – but when you have PAS on your side you have got someone you can fall back on.
“Without Prisoners’ Advice Service, I would’ve been worse off than I am now with my health. My kids were also finding it hard, so it was better to be able to come home and be with them again. PAS is a lifeline for so many prisoners.”
Case Study D: Resettlement Overnight Release
Our Women’s Caseworker received a request for help from a woman in prison (Prisoner A), who was at risk of being released homeless in three weeks’ time. Her application for Resettlement Overnight Release (ROR) to see her four children and sort out accommodation had been refused by the prison.
Without accommodation, Prisoner A could not be reunited with her children on release. Her concern to be with her children and resume her role as their sole carer was acute, with a daughter undergoing tests for a terminal illness.
Our Caseworker wrote to the prison challenging the legality of their policy to deny ROR in the last 28 days of sentence and their failure to consider the best interests of her children. The prison reversed their decision and granted ROR to Prisoner A within 24 hours of our intervention.
Case Study E: securing specialist legal representation
Our caseworker met a particularly vulnerable female prisoner at a recent outreach clinic. During their consultation, the prisoner disclosed that she had been trafficked to the UK as a young teenager, and since then had been the victim of domestic and sexual abuse. She is a single mother of three children whom she has not seen since she entered custody. Despite this, the government are seeking to deport her on completion of her sentence.
Our caseworker took on her case on a pro bono basis, and secured her specialist legal representation for her trafficking and immigration matters. The prisoner has sent us two thank you letters since we took on her case: “I would like to take this opportunity to show my appreciation for supporting me in this matter. I am very, very grateful”, “Thank you so much for securing me a legal representative. It means a lot and your support is much appreciated.”
Other Human Rights
Case Study A: Absconder policy review
Recently we successfully pursued a case with a potentially far-reaching impact. In a judgment with implications for a series of legal challenges brought by affected prisoners, the Court held that the Secretary of State for Justice’s ‘absconder policy’ was unlawful. The policy was introduced following high profile press reports of prisoners absconding whilst on Release on Temporary Licence from prison (ROTL).
Whilst these ‘absconder’ cases were in fact isolated and rare incidents, the Secretary of State responded by introducing a policy that ‘absconders’ would no longer be eligible for transfer to open conditions and ROTL save in exceptional circumstances.
The scope of the ‘absconder’ policy was so wide that it included our client (Mr Gilbert), who failed to return to prison from ROTL on a Sunday evening after missing his train. He handed himself into custody the following morning.
In the judgment, the Court held the absconder policy to be unlawful, and described the inconsistency between the Secretary of State’s Directions and his absconder policy as “irrational”.
Case Study B: Radio removed from prisoner
Prisoners in segregation face extreme isolation with little human contact and limited facilities. Many prisoners in segregation suffer from mental health problems and often self-harm.
PAS received a letter from Prisoner B, who was held in segregation in a south London prison, who complained that the prison was removing radios from prisoners serving punishments of cellular confinement, even though the Prison Service’s own guidance lists radios amongst facilities which will ‘not normally’ be forfeited as part of the punishment.
Prisoner B had complained unsuccessfully through the internal complaints procedure and his complaint was then rejected by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman on the grounds that the prisoner was not personally affected by the policy as he was not serving a punishment of cellular confinement and was in segregation for other reasons.
PAS wrote to the governor complaining about the prison’s policy. We received a reply stating that there was no local policy of depriving prisoners of radios (even though there clearly had been) and Prisoner B wrote to thank us for our intervention as the prison had started re-issuing radios to prisoners in segregation.
Case Study C: Restoring normal visits
A prisoner contacted us who had been put on ‘closed visits’. This means that there was a glass screen between him and his visitors – to prevent all physical contact. This followed an incident in which the dogs which are used to see if visitors are bringing in contraband had indicated some suspicion, but nothing had been found.
According to Prison Service guidelines, closed visits should be imposed for a period of three months, but reviewed monthly to see if they are still appropriate. However, in this case, the prison said that three months was the minimum period.
We wrote and complained about this on the prisoner’s behalf. As a result, the prison reviewed this case and put our client back on normal visits. It also revised its whole way of conducting reviews in such circumstances, so that prisoners only remain subject to closed visits if considered strictly necessary.
Case Study D: Intimidation in the prison
Prisoner A was suffering intimidation by his co-defendants, after they were all convicted and sent to the same prison, awaiting transfer elsewhere. He had his Enhanced privileges removed because he had refused to leave the wing or go to work because of the intimidation.
Following a letter to the prison from PAS, he is being sent to a different prison from the others, in which they are never likely to be put. Prisoner A also has been reinstated to Enhanced status and has got a prison job back.
Case Study E: Facilitating a transfer to open prison
Ms B was a life sentenced prisoner whom we recently represented pro bono. Legal aid is no longer available for these types of cases. Yet these are often the cases where prisoners require the most assistance to secure a transfer to open conditions prior to the expiry of their minimum term.
Ms B had progressed as much as she possibly could throughout her nine years in custody and had the strongest possible case for consideration for a transfer to open conditions. She had made use of her time in prison as constructively as she could and remained deeply remorseful of the incident which had given rise to the index offence. The panel of the Parole Board that heard her case shared the same view and recommended her transfer to open conditions.
Case Study F: PAS pursues prisoner’s claim for damages after degrading treatment
We have recently settled a claim for damages on behalf of a prisoner who had been handcuffed during intimate medical procedures while in hospital for a period of some weeks.
Furthermore, prison staff had been present during all of his consultations with consultants at the hospital.
We argued that the former constituted inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the latter a breach of the prisoner’s right to privacy during consultations under Article 8, the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. This prisoner had approached us through our telephone advice line.
Case Study G: Upholding right to protest peacefully in prison
We were contacted by a large number of prisoners at a high security prison who had been placed on report for having taken part in a peaceful protest.
Nineteen prisoners had been objecting to the prison’s repeated failure to deal with ongoing complaints ranging from a lack of basic toiletries to a lack of access to new clothes.
They refused to return to their cells at lock-up time until the prison agreed to take their grievances to the governor. They returned to their cells when the prison agreed that this would happen, and the following day prisoner representatives met with a governor and senior manager.
However, all the prisoners were subsequently placed on report for failing to return to their cells when ordered to do so. Two were then transferred out of the prison and the other 17 found guilty of the charge, despite detailed submissions from PAS arguing that procedural flaws and breaches of Common Law and the European Convention on Human Rights rendered the charges unlawful.
However, following our continued intervention, all the guilty findings, bar one, were successfully appealed to the casework unit in prison service headquarters. We are confident that the outstanding charge will also be quashed by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to whom we have referred this case.