COVID 19 – The prison experience: Notes from a ‘shielded prisoner’ who is maintaining innocence.
No education or distance learning. No gym. No visits. One phone call a day, sometimes curtailed due to queuing in 30 minute window. No library. Exercise outside cell: 5 minutes maximum. On the wing: no cell visits, tea/coffee chats, no warmth or social exchange. Not left wing for 6 weeks. 23 hours and 30 minutes every day behind cell door. 22 hours lying on bed: boredom and bed sores. Total secrecy re COVID progress in prisons – breeding suspicions. Last Wednesday – 24 hours lock down with no explanation, shower or phone. (Posted on this site May 2020.)
Miscarriages of justice happen. Even in the best legal systems. Most people believe that there are systems in place to put things right. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) was set up following the notorious cases of the Guilford 4 and the Birmingham 6 to do just that.
But it doesn’t work like that in reality. The CCRC is often unable to help victims of wrongful conviction. The prisoner has been found guilty by a court and therefore remains guilty in the eyes of the public as well as the Criminal Justice System; and it does not stop there.
Release from prison on tariff expiry (the minimum term set by the judge) for those serving life or indeterminate sentences is usually only from Category D prisons, unless exceptional circumstances apply. This means that, to achieve release, a prisoner must first progress from a higher category (A or B) to a lower category (D). But recat and parole decisions rely on risk-assessments, and these are based on findings of guilt – there are no tools for those maintaining innocence. For this reason, release can be more difficult to achieve for these prisoners, and there are some who serve many years beyond tariff expiry. Similar problems are faced by prisoners serving a determinate sentence with a parole element (usually the last third of the sentence).
To challenge the policy and practice in the current system through which prisoners who maintain their innocence are reviewed and progressed.