Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Open prisons

I dealt with someone in court last week for two assaults on police officers, and a section five Public Order Act matter. He was drunk, shouting and swearing at the police officers who turned up to deal with him. They were trying to do so sensibly, i.e. they didn't arrest him, and told him to go home. He was so abusive he was eventually arrested. He got to custody and "kicked off", and was rather forcibly restrained for his trouble.

He was charged with one assault PC for kicking an officer, and I added the second for spitting in the same officer's face. He was adamant he was not guilty, despite the custody CCTV being at court, for once.

The usually friendly probation officer came over, rather puzzled.

"The computer says he's on licence"

After that little incident, they're hot on that sort of thing. Being on licence is when you are released to serve a portion of your custodial sentence in the community. If you re-offend, probation should recall you to prison to finish your sentence inside, but they might not get round to it until you've murdered two French people.

"Oh, thanks for letting me know, I wasn't even given his pre-cons. What's he on licence for then?"

"It's for 360 months, so it must be murder".


Now, the police had arrested this man, fingerprinted him, and then bailed him to court. Goodness only knows why. Not their finest hour. He had been in and out of the dock all morning while I tried to figure out why he had been bailed by police, why he hadn't been recalled by probation, and where his bloody solicitor was.

The police liaison officer at court saved the day by finding an up-to-date set of previous convictions. It turned out that he wasn't on licence for murder at all. It was a life licence though, but just for an armed robbery. He still wasn't represented, and shuffled back into the dock. I rose.

"Sir, I now have the information I require, and this matter can be dealt with. While I'm addressing you and your colleagues, might the gaolers be called in?". They were. I asked for him to be remanded in custody pending his trial. He was. It wasn't a challenging application.

He was well-dressed, in blazer and overcoat, clean, smart, well-spoken, and polite to a fault throughout the proceedings. Think Reggie and Ronnie Kray. A gangster of the old-school. Respectful of authority, in his own bizarre, armed-robbing, drug-dealing way.

He thanked the bench when they told him to go downstairs, even knowing that he wouldn't be let out for a good few years. I had to remind myself that there was a damned good reason he got life, but I couldn't help thinking, "He won't be any trouble at all inside".

And I was right. He'd been saving himself for when they started day-releasing him. His first day out was when he attacked the police officers, his second was when he answered his bail at court. He told the prison he had a job interview.

Anyway, all that is why I was entirely unsurprised when this happened.

Although, if the open prisons were all like this...

East Park Prison
... people might want to stay there. Is it just me, or is that actually a stately home, and not East Park Prison?


  1. Sadly a lot of prisoners live in better conditions than their victims. Providing their victim is living at all. Convicted of murder and into an open prison in less than a decade. An insult, to the victim and family and the people who worked relentlessly to make sure that the most serious crime we have was dealt with. The judge didn't see it the same and recommended a minimum of 12 years. 12!! Sickening.

  2. Its a minimum of 12. That absolutely does not mean that he/she will be released after 12 years it just means that an application can be made to the parole board, who in my 20 odd years experience never release at the first hearing, in fact it is likely to be many years later in the majority of cases. Indeed now that she has failed to return, she has undoubtedly significantly increased her time in custody ( probably quite rightly ) and condemned herself to never being back in an open prison ( again probably quite rightly!)
    Tut Tut Mr AP - asking the gaolers to come into court whilst you were adressing the magistrates...
    A lot of this is down to CJSSS or as we now have "streamlining". Swift justice is often no justice for either party, I have lost count of the number of times that pre cons are missing, no cctv evidence, or quite frankly no evidence at all on the papers. Very often it is the CPS who are disadvantaged and not the defence,a shambolic waste of time..

  3. What else was I supposed to do? Wait for the magistrates to announce their decision, and then hope that Mr Convicted Armed Robber decides to wait for gaolers like a good boy? Nah, you need them in court.

    And as for "streamlining", we were moaning about that only today...

  4. Oh joy, a licence case appearing for new offences - a Probation officer's worst nightmare. Buried in recall paperwork for days.
    I've found after the Sonnex incident the court's are far more receptive to an RIC request, even for the less risky cases; all it takes is a quiet word in the legal advisor's ear.
    What's disturbing is the police ALWAYS miss this *minor* detail and more often than not don't even think to tell Probation that they've arrested someone.

    Just found your blog through a recommendation - going to keep me busy for a while catching-up and I'm looking forward to new posts. Thanks!

  5. I'm guessing the Police didn't know he was on license and that his previous convictions were all about 10 years old as he was inside. Hence the bail decision.

    You're right about one thing though - communication between the police and probation is non existant!