Breaking Down the Rules

I have said many times that, in theory, there are enough Prison Service Instructions, Standing Orders, Prison Rules, Regulations, and Prison Service Orders to provide for a system which, by and large, works. However, the reasons that the system, by and large, doesn’t work is because all of the rules set out in those documents are re-interpreted, twisted, and sometimes even blatantly ignored by staff at ground level. In short, prison works until the screws get involved.

In ‘Porridge’ there were only two rules: Don’t write on the walls, and obey all the rules. In real life the ins and outs of the rules in prison are extremely complex. Even more so when you come to realise which ones you can expect to see implemented and which ones will be implemented in a very different way to how they are written, if they are ever implemented at all.

With that in mind, I thought I’d start a series of posts, breaking down one Prison Service Instruction at a time in an attempt to explaing how things are meant to work, and how they actually work, from personal experience. First up, Prison Discipline.

The Prison Discipline manual (PSI 47/2011) sets out the procedure for adjudications. Whenever a prisoner breaks the rules and is placed on report, these are the procedures they will have to go through.

Firstly, if an allegation relates to self harm then the prisoner should not be placed on report (when a prisoner has taken an overdose of unauthorised medication for example) unless they have also endangered the safety of others (such as by setting fire to their cell).

If a prisoner is to be placed on adjudication, it must be done within 48 hours of the discovery of the offence by a member of staff. Often this is the first get out prisoners look for. If you know you’ve done something wrong and the officers know about it, you immediately start counting down to the 48 hour time limit. However, the staff are wise to this and in my whole time in prison I have only seen the deadline get broken once.

Where the charge is laid on time, the prisoner is given a form explaining what they have been placed on report for, and who by, along with a sheet explaining how the adjudication will be conducted. The second get out prisoners use is an incorrectly filled out notice of report form. If there is anything of substance which is wrongly recorded (such as saying that an offence was committed on ‘C’ wing, when it is actually alleged that it happened on ‘D’ wing) then the charge is liable to be dismissed. However, if the 48 hour time limit has not expired when the charge is dismissed, the Governor can decide to lay a new charge, with the correct details on the notice of report. That said, it is very rare that there would be time left to do this.

If there is a possibility of a prisoner being placed in segregation as a result of the adjudication then a health screen must be completed before the hearing. A nurse completes a checklist to indicate whether the prisoner is fit to be segregated and then the Governor is required to either accept that recommendation or to overrule it, with reasons given. In practice I have found that most nurses simply tick everyone off as fit without any consideration at all. One nurse I know even said someone was fit when he was already known to have been considering suicide before he was even placed on report. The nurse knew this and still wrote on the form that there were no self-harm concerns. He was segregated and attempted suicide just days later. However, even when a nurse does say that a prisoner is not fit to be segregated, the Governor often overrules this and simply leaves the ‘reasons’ section of the form blank. This could potentially lead to legal proceedings, but that doesn’t help a prisoner who is segregated whilst they are still in crisis.

In theory the prisoner should be able to have a look at the prison discipline manual for at least two hours prior to any hearing, but this is often denied. A copy is supposed to be kept on all wings but I have never known sufficient copies to be kept anywhere other than the prison library, which the prisoner is unable to simply visit prior to the hearing. As such, many prisoners have no idea what the rules are before they face their charge. Next comes the hearing itself, which I’ll cover tomorrow.

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3 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Rules

  1. V interesting, may be worth noting 48hrs to issue the charge, 72hrs for the charge to be opened (unless exceptional circumstances), by opened the charge and prisoner brought before the adjudicator, particularly over weekend and bank holiday periods this 72hrs can lapse rendering the charge dismissed.

    I must say I have observed some adjudication styles which may not reflect the principle of fairness and natural justice, not a PSI requirement but certainly good practice, on every hearings that I adjudicated I would read and explain word for word the points of evidence from the PSI ie PR 51/55 (1)

    • Did the accused prisoner apply force to another person, or act in such a way that another person was in fear of force being applied to them?
    • Was the force unlawful, i.e. more than was reasonable in the circumstances for self-defence against an assault or to prevent a serious crime?

    I would the discus at look at each point of evidence, worthy of note, where CCTV evidence is 1st introduced, it is again good practice to offer the accused a 2 hour adjournment to consider the CCTV evidence they have just been shown.

    Again not required practice but on a number of occasions I would read back, invite the prisoner to read my hearing notes and sign to indicate they are a true reflection of what was said. I have observed some records of hearings which may not reflect some defence comments which under appeal may have a bearing in the accused favour.

    I am pleased to say over the years of hearing adjudications I have never had a single appeal lodged by a prisoner, I would like think that is because the process was fair and transparent.

    Similarly I took the time to explain the same points of evidence to reporting officer on occasions where the charge or procedures were flawed resulting in me dismissing the charge. I have also dismissed charges where other disciplinary options should of been explored ie IEP before escalating to a formal adjudication.

    I look forward to reading your blogs with interest.

    • Thanks for your comment, Steve. I have to say, if you really dealt with adjudications in the way you describe then I wish you could have handled mine because no governor I have ever appeared in front of has ever handled things this way.

      You did say that other disciplinary measure such as IEP should be used before escalating to a formal adjudication though. This just goes to show that the IEP is a disciplinary measure, despite the PSIs claiming that it isn’t. Of course, they only say this so that both an IEP warning and an adjudication can be issued without constituting double jeopardy, but in practice they are a de facto disciplinary measure nevertheless – as your comment illustrates.

  2. Pingback: Incentives and Earned Privileges (Part Two) | Adam Mac

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