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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Prison Reform Trust involved in scandal

Prison Reform Trust involved in scandal

"Prison Reform Trust withholds Council of Ministers decision allowing time for political windowdressing" (IPJ)

Pressure groups play an important role in reforms (Christoph 1962; Hindell and Simms 1971).

"One of the complicating features in analysis of pressure group influence is that several organizations may be pursuing similar but not identical aims in different and even contradictory ways. The pattern is noticeable in the context of prison reform (Wright 1975) where there is an uneasy coexistence of gradulists and radicals. The National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders (NACRO), funded mainly through the Home Office is able, as a voluntary organization, to conduct experimental projects with official backing. It's closeness to the authorities gives it access to information, 'the most valuable commodity in the reform business'. The Howard League for Penal Reform acts as an independent body, with influential parliamentary links, which carries out research and produces educational material on prison reform. Preservation of the Rights of Prisoners (PROP) is run by and for ex-offenders, focussing on prisoners' rights and at times resorting to direct action. Finally, Radical Alternatives to Prison (RAP), fuelled by allegations in the late 1960s of harsh prison conditions, brutality in detention centres, and force feeding, concentrated its attention on the more fundamental question of whether it is right to incarcerate people at all".

"Ryan (1978) in a comparison of the performance of the Howard League and RAP, illustrates the limits of pluralism. He shows that Governments and top bureaucrats grant differential access to pressure groups, according to their willingness to abide by unwritten rules about what can be questioned and the limits of permissible change. RAP, because they have not kept to such rules, but demanded total abolition of the prison system, have been defined out of the reform process. The Howard League on the other hand, has obeyed the rules, maintained access to the powerful (and as former Secretary Hugh Clare, 1979, concedes, has steered clear of what it has always regarded as hostile public opinion) and has consequently achieved some, though limited, success. In doing so, however, Ryan concludes, the Howard League has been contaminated by the Establishment and has buttressed a system which tolerates only gradual reforms".

"It is hardly surprising that such limits exist. Pluralism, after all does not imply that all pressure groups are equally powerful. The fact that pressure groups with no power base (whether in terms of supportive public opinion or access to legislators and administrators) fail to exert an influence is only to be expected. Fringe, radical, groups will fail as much under pluralism as under any other system of power distribution. Indeed, what is perhaps more instructive from Ryan's account is the degree of success achieved by the Howard League despite negligible support from either public opinion or the mass media" (Quotes taken from a chapter called Law and Society, which I had photocopied c.1989-91 from a book the author and title of which escapes me. All I do know is that it is not from Law and Society in Engand 1750-1950 by W.R. Cornish and the late G. de N. Clark.).

The point I am making here is that the same criticism levelled at the Howard League can be levelled at the Prison Reform Trust.

PROP and RAP have ceased to exist as pressure groups. Following PROP, the PLA emerged from the Strangeways Prison riot during April 1990. My understanding is that the letters stood for Prisoners' Liberation Army. However, one of the organisers Dominic Noonan, later claimed that the letters stood for Prisoners' League Association.

In any event, on 21 August 2000, Matt Born in the Daily Telegraph reported:

Prisoners in move to set up trade union

"BRITAIN's 65,000 prisoners are planning to form their first trade union to secure better living and working conditions in the country's jails.

Lawyers acting on prisoners' behalf are expected to approach Martin Narey, director general of the Prison Service, this week asking his permission for a union to be set up. If Mr Narey refuses, the prisoners are confident that they will be able to win the right to form a union under the Human Rights Act, which comes into effect on Oct 2".

"The new union will be called the Association of Prisoners. The acronym, AOP, is a deliberate inversion of that of the prison guards' union, the Prison Officers' Association. The move for union recognition reflects growing frustration among prisoners at the failure of successive governments to implement recommendations made by Lord Justice Woolf 10 years ago in the aftermath of the riot at Strangeways prison in Manchester in 1990".

"However, if the request is rejected the prisoners plan to mount a legal challenge under Article 11 of the Human Rights Act which guarantees an individual's right to form and join a union

I was elected as the General Secretary of the AoP, and although Hirst v UK(No2) bears my name, it was taken for and on behalf of the AoP and I have always referred to it as being the Prisoners Votes Case.

The PRT supported the cases of Pearson and Martinez, however, the PRT and their lawyers Hickman and Rose, were against supporting my/AoP case for prisoners votes. Therefore, my/AoP lawyers Elkan Abrahamson (solicitor) and Flo Krause (barrister) began a separate application to the High Court. Whilst all 3 cases were rejected by the High Court, only my case succeeded in passing the admissibility test set by the European Court of Human Rights. In other words, the two horses backed by the PRT fell at the first fence. Since that time, the PRT has been keen to jump upon my horse and take over the reins! My challenge succeeded before the Chamber of the ECtHR, and withstood the appeal launched by the UK to the Grand Chamber.

Some prisoners, in particular the present General Secretary of the AoP, Ben Gunn, and John Bowden, are critical of prison reform groups for their too close ties to the Establishment. Likewise, I agree that they are too often part of the problem and not part of the cure.

In March 1986, Monty Finniston, Chairman, PRT, stated: "In the prison world in particular, it seems that information is power...Unnecessarily restrictive access to information is a pervasive element of the institutional atmosphere...".

On Thursday 3 June 2010, Geoff Dobson, Deputy Director of PRT, came into possession of information relating to Hirst v UK(No2) but refused to share the information with me, the person who took the case all the way to Europe!

On Friday 4 June 2010, Juliet Lyon, Director of PRT, promised me that she would email me the information as soon as she got into the office. She broke her promise. Furthermore, she lied to me. When I phoned asking for an explanation, she said she had to email Europe to ask permission to release the information to me!

This is, for me, a scandal!

I want an explanation why such information was given to the PRT and not me in the frst place. Secondly, why the PRT is sat on the information waiting for it to be made officially public. Thirdly if English courts allow the parties involved prior access to information before it is made public, why should I have to wait for a public announcement from Europe?

UPDATE: "Our lives begin to end the day we stay silent about things that matter" (Martin Luther King).


Charles Cowling said...

Fascinating and informative. Thank you for this analysis and these insights. I've long wondered how the various prison reformers stack up and stand vis a vis each other. I hadn't expected to like what I would see and, by heck, I haven't.

jailhouselawyer said...

Charles: Where the fuck have you been? I thought you had deserted me!

It's frustrating for prisoners who know that those who are supposed to be supportive are actually being part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

John, I am with you on that, it is absolutely scandalous and words fail me! What a power trip! How to disempower the people in a blatant and unapologetic way. I am sorry that something like this has happened, it is simply awful.

Charles Cowling said...

I've been on holiday, John. And I have the switching-off capability to the max.

Right, it's Shameful Secret time. I joined the Howard League earlier this year. I thought I ought to try and be part of something constructive. My instincts told me not to do it (I'm not a joiner of anything by temperament). I swear (down) I shall be part of the problem only until my sub runs out.

Part of the problem. Shit. Pissing into the wind I could accept. I done a bad thing. Middle-class tosser.

But I have NOT deserted you, John!

jailhouselawyer said...

Charles: It is not prison reform groups, per se, that is the problem.

The problem is those within the prison reform groups who either conspire with the authorities to do nothing about prison reform, or enter into a conspiracy of silence not to speak up against abuse.