Recently I was asked for help by another prisoner who has been downgraded from enhanced regime status to standard regime for very unclear reasons. Now, this prisoner can be a headache at the best of times, but this is not entirely his fault. Some time ago he suffered a severe brain injury and now he is not always aware of it when he is being socially awkward. It is quite possible that he was fairly awkward beforehand too, but now he can struggle to understand even the most basic things and it does take some patience to deal with him.
When he was downgraded he was told that it was due to the fact that he has not been engaging with the psychology department to address his offending behaviour. However, he tells me that he is currently awaiting a neuropsychological assessment as there is some suspicion that he is unable to engage in such group based courses due to his brain injury. When he and another prisoner approached the wing senior officer about this, the story changed slightly. This time they were told that it was because he had shown limited engagement and he had also received a negative comment on his file due to printing inappropriate posters out in education.
I asked him about this and he produced an application he had submitted which showed that he had done nothing of the sort at all. He had been making a poster as part of a course he was on and had written something along the lines of “easy banking online”. Then he left his computer unattended to use the toilet and when he returned and printed the poster out, someone had changed a single letter, giving the poster a wholly inappropriate slant.
He accepted responsibility for the whole incident, saying that he knew he should have locked his desktop until he returned, and the education staff saw fit to leave it at a verbal warning. However, when the wing staff found out about it they issued him with a formal written warning for printing inappropriate posters and this remains on his file.
When he approached me, he already knew what he wanted to complain about, but I did help him to phrase it in a way which was a little more constructive that he might have otherwise. However, when the complaint came back it claimed that he had already been seen by a psychiatrist who had said there was no psychological obstacle to his doing group courses, and that he had taken responsibility for the incident in education, so the formal warning stands.
Now on the one hand, the fact that he has been downgraded is not that big of a deal. It is annoying, and must be doubly so for him given that he cannot really understand why it has happened at all. But it is a short term problem. What is much more long term is the affect that his brain injury may have on his sentence. As an IPP sentenced prisoner, he will not be released until he has demonstrated a reduction in risk sufficient for the parole board to deem him suitable to return to society. But although a psychiatrist has said that there is no psychological obstacle to him engaging with group courses, he has still not received a neuropsychological assessment to determine whether there is a neurological obstacle. As such, he cannot access the courses which are normally used to measure and reduce a prisoner’s offending behaviour and risk levels, but nor can he get them taken off his sentence planning targets. So whenever he goes in front of the parole board he cannot argue that his targets are wrong (because assessment has not yet been carried out to confirm this), he cannot argue that he is ready for release (because he doesn’t even know what ‘ready for release’ looks like, or means). As long as this situation continues, he is stuck in prison. He cannot avoid inappropriate and ineffective treatment pathways. He cannot access appropriate ones. And he cannot progress at all. But worse that any of that, he cannot even understand why this is all the way it is, because no-one has got the patience to sit down with him in an official capacity and explain it in a way he can comprehend.
If you ever wondered why British prisons are so overcrowded, look no further.