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Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence Annual Lecture: 10th December 2018 at the House of Commons

Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence Annual Lecture: 10th December 2018 at the House of Commons

On Monday 10th December, I attended the House of Commons at the Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (PPMI) Annual Lecture, ‘Is the Parole Process Fit for Purpose? Releasing Safe Individuals Promptly.’ This event was attended by guest speakers, Dean Kingham, Head of Prison and Public Law at Swain & Co, Ruth Tully, forensic psychologist from Tully Forensic Psychology and two ex-prisoners, Chris and Cookie.

It was a thought-provoking evening and it was great to meet so many passionate people who work helping those wrongly convicted, and as well many inspiring families who have been gravely affected by miscarriages of justice.

Dean Kingham was the first to answer the ever-important question, ‘Is the Parole Process Fit for Purpose?’ Dean was instructed by Mr Worboys in the Judicial Review, is in front of the parole board daily at oral hearings, and has been involved in many poignant cases in the past few years, namely The Queen (on the Application of Wakenshaw) v The Secretary of State for Justice, where the High Court made a declaration that the Justice Minister had interfered with the independence of the parole board.   This is a clear example of how the Justice Minister has no respect for constitutional values that are deep rooted in this society, namely the doctrine of the separation of powers and Dicey’s Rule of Law.

Dean stated in reply to the question,

“It is not about whether the parole board is fit for purpose for those maintaining innocence, the question is whether the Secretary of State for Justice is fit for purpose.”

Dean exclaimed that although we are not where we would ideally like to be with the parole board and how it effects those who maintain innocence, improvements have been made and the parole system is better than it used to be, in that the likes of HORIZON and KAIZEN are now offered as offending behaviour courses, where one will not have to discuss the index offence. Ultimately however, the problems of the system seem to always fall back into the Justice Minister’s hands, and problems with parole are the same. When one is recommended for open conditions by the parole board, the Secretary of State inevitably has the final decision, which in a case we worked on recently was turned on us negatively.

Dean spoke at length about the troubles with progressing those who are category A, and the issues with the category A team in that they essentially penalise those who maintain innocence. Dean also discussed the major cuts on probation and the effect that this has had on the parole process itself, and moreover discussing that HMPPS in its entirety completely misunderstand maintaining innocence. Often it is naturally assumed that maintaining innocence equates to risk, but it has been evidenced that maintaining innocence is often a protective factor.

It was also mentioned that despite the slight dip in release rates post-Worboys, release rates have in fact gone up, and the number of oral hearing have rocketed, given the rulings in Osborn, Booth and Reilly. Only today did we at Swain and Co get a release decision for someone maintaining innocence.

On a final note, Dean mentioned the cost of keeping people incarcerated… £40,000-£60,000 per year, and £70,000 for those in the high secure estate. Thus, he detailed how necessary it was to progress those in prison to be able to have their risk managed in the community, and moreover the importance of progressing prisoners maintaining innocence.

Following on from Dean, Ruth Tully, a forensic psychologist of Tully Forensic Psychology, discussed the linked with psychology and progressing prisoners maintaining innocence. Ruth is an independent psychologist who often creates psychological reports of offenders who go in front of the parole board, at the instruction of solicitors representing them. An independent psychological assessment is an assessment by a psychologist who is independent of the system that detains them, and an assessment which is conducted by those who will present their truthful professional opinion of the offender.

Ruth depicted an often-common situation in which a prisoner may have had a very bad experience of prison psychology, and how that will often affect their engagement with psychology in general. Ruth clearly stated that the relationship between denial and increased risk is objectively unclear, and that denial doesn’t necessarily increase risk - the research is inconclusive overall.  Ruth also spoke at length at about enabling a good rapport with offenders to be able to complete a full assessment of them, and this involves progressing those who maintain innocence, who often do not want to discuss the index offence they maintain they have never committed. Psychology often involves discussing the index offence, but an understanding of their stance and their view that they have never been involved in that, will improve the quality of report writing.

Offending behaviour courses are often ‘sold’ as being the only way to reduce risk in many prisons, however, Ruth discussed that offending behaviour work is not the only pathway to progression and thus a reduced risk of serious harm.

The event then heard from Chris, who was released 6 weeks ago after spending 20 years incarcerated for Joint Enterprise. The injustice of Joint Enterprise is well known, from the old case of Derek Bentley to the most recent case of Laura Mitchell and is brought to public knowledge and fought against daily by the wonderful grassroots campaign that is JENGbA.

Following the question, ‘Is the Parole Process Fit for Purpose?’ for those maintaining innocence, Chris made clear that the parole board are not fit for purpose, the government are not fit for purpose, HMPPS is not fit for purpose, and in its entirety the whole system is not fit for purpose. To hear this from someone who has spent 20 years serving for a joint enterprise, it really struck a chord with everyone in the room.  Chris stated that the system is currently undergoing a catastrophic failure, which requires a complete overhaul if things are going to get better for those who maintain innocence. Chris detailed that no matter what you were saying, because you are a prisoner you are lying and everyone around you is telling the truth, be that probation, psychology and so on. In respect of the parole process, he noted a poignant question to finish on… ‘How are things going to change when you are only presented with one side?’

Cookie, an ex- prisoner who maintains innocence of her index offence also spoke in detail of the struggles in the system for those who maintain innocence. She described situations of when she was brandished a liar, and how your innocence is taken as a joke to those who work within HMPPS, be that prison officers or probation. She noted the struggle of confidentiality within prisons also, and how offending behaviour work, often described as a key to progression, is made substantially difficult when one protests their innocence. Specifically, noting victim empathy work, asked how is it possible that you can complete victim empathy work when you are serving for an offence you didn’t commit and thus have no victims.

Another main point that Cookie raised, which we see daily in our current system, is that for those maintaining innocence, you are not prepared for your release whatsoever. The fact you have spent years in a system unjustly convicted, and now you are expected to prepare for life on the outside with no assistance, is daunting and unjust in itself. Cookie also noted the gender disparity in the system, and also how this effects those who maintain innocence linking with the offences they have been, although unjustly, convicted of!

The room then listened to a number of questions, all from families of those who are unjustly incarcerated, and those who have been wrongly convicted. An ex-prisoner and a victim of a miscarriage of justice asked the question, ‘how can I do offending behaviour work when I didn’t offend in the first place?’ Several questions and answers focused on the Court of Appeal, the CCRC, and the phrase ‘Show us the Evidence!’ echoed through the room by the Centre of Criminal Appeals.

In the system we have, we find that too often than not the problems within it aren’t well known or ever really brought to the public sphere, and it is pertinent to get the message out that miscarriages of justice do happen and the need for a solution to this problem. It was also noted the issues for BAME communities and how this interlinks with problems with progressions for those maintaining innocence.

It was suggested towards the end of the annual lecture that there is clearly a need for a parliamentary group or committee, committed to finding justice for those that have searched for so many years, and to enable the progression through the system for those maintain innocence.

History tells us the system makes mistakes, if anyone has any doubt, then think about:

  • Derek Bentley
  • Guildford 4
  • Birmingham 6
  • Maguire 7
  • Barry George
  • Victor Nealon
  • Stefan Kiszko
  • Bridgewater 4
  • Cardiff 3
  • Eddie Gilfoyle
  • Sally Clark
  • Angela Cannings
  • Sam Hallam
  • Sean Hodgson
  • Ched Evans

And the many more miscarriages that have never come to light in the public eye….

Whether parliamentary support will happen sooner rather than later is unknown, but in the meantime, support these amazing campaigns and all the work they do, and hopefully we will find a solution to this injustice one day.

PPMI: http://www.prisonersmaintaininginnocence.org.uk/

JENGbA:  http://jointenterprise.co/

Centre for Criminal Appeals: http://www.criminalappeals.org.uk/

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