Determinate Sentence Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (DSPMI)
Some guidance notes by Danny Barrs
We tend, quite rightly, to concentrate on the problems facing prisoners on indeterminate sentences because those are the prisoners facing the most severe problems. However, that does not mean that there are no problems facing prisoners with determinate sentences. In this document, I will try to cover some of the issues
I will not consider the career criminal maintaining innocence of the crime for which he was convicted because he has no specific problem with prison. He would generally regard prison as an occupational hazard, understands how things work and would have an internal support network to help him.
Nor will I consider the mentally disturbed or addicted because we cannot regard their maintaining innocence as affecting dramatically their prison life. They have too many other problems.
So, this paper will concentrate on the person serving his first (and only, we hope) prison sentence. He is completely lost, relies upon other inmates for survival and the fact that he regards himself as innocent could dramatically affect his life in prison.
There is not much sympathy for this type of prisoner from other inmates. Typically, one hears “Yes, mate, we are all innocent” followed by guffaws. Prison staff are unhelpful because they feel, and I presume are taught, that they ought not to discriminate between prisoners on the basis of their perceived guilt or innocence. Wing staff are usually not even aware of the crime for which the prisoner is convicted.
Now the DSPMI will be told many stories by his fellow inmates – some true, some false – he will not know how to distinguish. He will not feel at home, by definition, amongst true criminals and will search out the marginal cases – too long to go into detail here – but, for example, the guy who rents out his garage and supposedly should have known it was for storing drugs. His view was that it was not his responsibility what the garage was used for. He is not maintaining innocence in the sense that the evidence was incorrect; he regards himself as innocent because he did not feel responsible for the use of the garage. There are many such cases of those condemned by hearsay, innuendo and assumption.
They all suffer terribly when surrounded by “real” criminals, particularly those engaged in illegal activity within prison. Overcrowding makes things far worse. Imagine the difficulty for a DSPMI sharing a cell with a non-compliant prisoner;
One of the things the DSPMI will hear, although untrue, is that it is impossible to attain D Cat status while maintaining innocence. One of the causes of this myth is that all prisoners wishing to progress will have “Victim Awareness Programme” as part of their Sentence Plan. There are ways of completing this using an in-cell pack and with the help of an Offender Supervisor (OS) from the Offender Management Unit (OMU). The OS will conduct an interview and update or create an OASys file which is a profile of the offender. The relationship with one’s OS is crucial and, if the relationship is not positive immediately, the best approach is probably to request to change. There may be other requirements on the Sentence Plan but they will be dependent on the nature of the “crime”. The DSPMI must be encouraged to acquire his Sentence Plan and complete its requirements as soon as possible.
So, it is important to impress upon the DSPMI that D Cat is worth making an effort to get to as quickly as possible. To do this he will have to integrate into prison life by, for example, working. Now, I have often heard DSPMIs say they refuse to work for peanuts because they are not guilty and refuse to “play those games”. But that probably means being locked up more than necessary, earning less money, getting less privileges, reduced attention from wing staff and, above all, increasing the time required to attain D Cat status. Contributing to prison life can also be extremely rewarding psychologically and the inverse is also unfortunately true. Any prisoner can fall into a spiral of inactivity and depression. Of course, integration into prison life does not necessarily mean working, but keeping oneself occupied without working is exceptionally hard work! He might as well do the real thing.
We have to assume that anyone maintaining innocence is going to want to go through the appeal process. Under B Cat conditions it is almost impossible to work efficiently on an appeal. The noise, sharing a cell, the lack of privacy, the lack of computer and reference facilities all contribute to encouraging people to not appeal – apart from the expense, of course. Now C Cat is better than B Cat and D Cat is better than C Cat in terms of gaining access to facilities which could help an appeal. On a ROTL, for example, there is nothing to stop a prisoner accessing the internet for research purposes and sending and receiving emails. So, again, this reinforces the need for the DSPMI to progress through the system.
So, as a short conclusion to this short synopsis, we need to make sure the DSPMI knows what progression means and gets on with it without being hindered by feelings of injustice.