Legal Challenge – but is there really a ban on prisoners having books?

Prisoner reading a book

The government’s so-called ban on prisoners receiving books is facing a legal challenge, with one prisons expert asserting there is no ban on books at all.

The Ministry of Justice and secretary of state Chris Grayling have been criticised over the Earned Privileges Scheme, which sees prisoners banned from receiving books and other items in the post.

Now a female inmate, known as BGJ, has decided to challenge the ban, according to the BBC.

BBC Newsnight’s political editor Emily Maitlis said: “She [the prisoner] is an epilepsy sufferer, very highly qualified and she has said her life is in despair without access to these books, which have really been taking her through this life sentence that she will serve.”

The MoJ says the legal challenge comes outside of the three-month window for appealing against a new policy, as the scheme was introduced in November.

The BBC said the lawyers would press ahead with the challenge, arguing that the policy had been brought in at different times in different prisons and that BGJ had only been affected in the past 10 days.

Authors and human rights groups have condemned the policy, which Grayling has previously defended as a measure to stop illicit materials being smuggled into prisons.

Writers including Carol Ann Duffy, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Mark Haddon have protested against ther ban, but Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said there was no ‘ban on books’ just a restriction on where they could come from.

Mr Leech said: “Anyone who reads Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 30/2013, which brought in the new Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, can see there is no ban on books at all – just a general restriction that they cannot be sent in from family because of cases where pages have been doused with liquid drugs which are then cut up and sold to prisoners – but even then Governors have discretion to allow it [para 10.4].

“For example page 46 of PSI 30/2013 states ‘Specialist products including.. books.. may be purchased by prisoners for their own use’.

“Page 56 states Prisoners are allowed a maximum of 12 books in possession for their own use, and page 62 says that Governors may not prevent unconvicted prisoners from having supplied to them at their own expense..books.

“Where is this ban – I am a publisher and we send around 100 books a week in to prisoners, none of which have been withheld.

“I believe that any legal challenge is destined to fail, it would be bizarre if the Secretary of State could not make restrictions on security grounds which limit potential souces of abuse, and the courts have a long history of being reluctant to look behind ‘security grounds’ advanced as reasons for policy.

“Its unlikely that any challenge will get off the ground anyway because the PSI came into force on 1st November 2013 and the rule is that any legal challenge to it must be brought ‘promptly’ and, in any event, not later than 3 months after the grounds to make the claim first arose infact there have been cases brought within the three month time limit which were nonethless ruled out of time because they were not brought ‘promptly’.” (CPR Part 54.5 and ex.p Finn-Kelcey)

psi302013

 

Grayling In Prison Privileges Crackdown

Chris Grayling

All convicted male prisoners are to be banned from watching violent and sexually explicit films as part of a crackdown on “perks” that comes into effect today.

Inmates will also be required to wear a uniform for their first two weeks behind bars, and will lose automatic access to daytime television and gym equipment.

The changes to the prison service’s incentives and earned privileges regime have been ordered by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, and will apply across England and Wales.

The requirement to wear prison clothes and restrictions on access to private cash will be compulsory for all convicted prisoners for the first fortnight of their sentence as part of a new “entry level” to the system. Female prisoners will not have to wear a uniform. In most cases the uniform will involve a grey or maroon tracksuit with a light blue T-shirt. In some jails older uniforms with a striped top will be worn.

Grayling has said that under the new policy a lack of bad behaviour will not be enough to earn privileges. Instead inmates will have to work actively towards their rehabilitation and help other prisoners.

The justice secretary has been particularly exercised about access to television for prisoners. The 4,000 inmates in privately run jails will not be able to watch Sky Sports or other subscription channels that are not available to public sector prison inmates.

All prisoners are to be banned from watching daytime television when they should be doing purposeful activities.

Prison governors have been working to make staff and prisoners aware of the changes since April to ensure the scheme is implemented safely.

Earlier this week Vicky Pryce, who was jailed along with her ex-husband, the former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, warned that there could be rioting when the changes come into effect. “There’s very little else to do in prison but watch television. It’s one of the very few things that these people have,” she said. “And if they take those away from their cells, as the government is saying it will do now, there will be riots, serious riots. And that is not an overstatement.”

But Grayling defended the changes saying: “For too long the public has seen prisoners spending their days languishing in their cells watching TV, using illegal mobile phones to taunt their victims on Facebook or boasting about their supposedly easy life in prisons. This is not right and it cannot continue.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for Prisoners said the crack down was “playing a dangerous game of politics with prisons.”

Mr Leech said: “The reason why so many prisoners spent their days locked up in their cells is because Grayling has cut prison budgets to the bone, there is no money for workshops and, even if there was, there isn’t the money to employ the amount of staff needed to escort them there.

“Grayling is playing a dangerous game of politics with prisons, it’s all very well him sitting safe and secure in his Whitehall office – it is prison staff on the landings who have to translate these dangerous policies into practice.”

Prisoners should have internet access

Prisoners need to learn computer skills, but the internet is strictly banned

Prisoners should have access to computers and the internet to help with

reintegration into society and reduce reoffending once they are released,

according to research.

Secure, controlled use of the web can also transform education, family contact

and resettlement in jails, the joint Prison Reform Trust and Prisoners Education

Trust report said.

Through the Gateway: How Computers Can Transform Rehabilitation examines the

use of information and communication technology (ICT) in prisons and its

potential as a tool for rehabilitation.

It is based on a survey of jails sent to all prison governors and directors in

England and Wales supported by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS)

focus group.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the prison governors and managers who responded

to the survey agreed that prisoners should have secure and controlled access to

the internet, while 94% agreed ICT skills were necessary for everyday living.

Three quarters (67%) said that prisoners should be able to set up bank accounts

while in prison using ICT.

The report said greater and more effective use of ICT in prisons would improve

opportunities for education, training, employment, resettlement and strengthen

family ties – all factors which have been shown to reduce reoffending on

release.

Nearly half (47%) of adults are reconvicted within one year of release. For

those serving sentences of less than 12 months and young people aged 18-20 this

increases to 58%. In 2011-12, just 27% of prisoners entered employment on

release from prison.

The main barriers for prisons using ICT to improve rehabilitation were concerns

about security, financial constraints, the lack of a co-ordinated strategy,

licensing and insufficient central resources, researchers found.

In the foreword to the report, Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons,

wrote: “We can’t go on with prisons in a pre-internet dark age: inefficient,

wasteful and leaving prisoners woefully unprepared for the real world they will

face on release.

“I have not met one prison professional who does not think drastic change is

needed.”

He added: “Of course, there are security issues that need to be managed but

the technology itself allows every key stroke to be monitored and access can be

risk-assessed.

“Perhaps there are some who will say computers and the internet are luxuries

prisoners should do without. There was probably some grumbling when they first

put telephones on the wings too and if we want prisons to rehabilitate those

they hold, we have to give them the tools to do so.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Controlled use of ICT

is a sensible way to bring prisons and prisoners into the 21st century.

“Closing the digital divide between people in prison and the community is

vital for effective rehabilitation and resettlement.”

Rod Clark, chief executive, Prisoners Education Trust, said: “These days most

people could not function without computers or the internet and if we can’t

work, find a job or study without the use of ICT, how can we expect people in

prison to do so?

“Technology can provide us with many solutions to help rehabilitate people in

a safe, secure way and if we do not explore them, then we risk sending more

people back into society without the skills or the motivation to live a life

free from crime.”

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said he broadly supported the idea.

“I think there is a very valid case for internet access to be made available to prisoners – 48 US States allow some inmates internet access of one sort or another.

“Screened internet access, linked into the incentive earned privileges scheme and made available to those on enhanced regime, is certainly justified and one I would certainly support – but it must be earned by sustained good custodial behaviour, proven progress on offending risk reduction and compliance with the prison rules.”