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Common Sense Alert! 11

Sometimes I really have to wonder at the sheer audacity of this place. When the law changed making it illegal to smoke in public places the same rules were applied throughout the prison estate. It was deemed that a prisoner’s cell could not be considered a public space, and they may therefore continue to smoke there, but all other areas of prisons were public and smoking in those areas was therefore prohibited.

This applied to staff and prisoners alike and was instituted across the country. Except at Wakefield. Here staff refused and continued to smoke on site.

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Common Sense Alert! 10

Recently the regime here at Wakefield has changed somewhat. Now each wing is kept off work for one afternoon a week and given association time instead, so that they can be left locked up during the evening. The reason given for this is that the prison, like many others now, is drastically short staffed.

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Common Sense Alert! 9

Some turns of phrase make total sense. Others don’t. Prison Officers tend to like the ones that don’t.

One example I’ve heard a lot lately is ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’. Except, of course, that’s rubbish on absolutely every level. If you take it literally, it’s simply wrong. Cigarettes aren’t on fire. Smouldering maybe, but not on fire. Yet the fact that they ‘smoke’ is the whole point!

So, OK, maybe it makes sense on a metaphorical level then, right? Nope. To say where there’s smoke there’s fire is like saying that whenever anyone says anything about you, anything at all, it has to be true. Well doesn’t that mean there’s no such thing as a lie or a liar? Unless of course someone actually calls you a liar. Then, since where there’s smoke there’s fire, they must be telling the truth and there is such a thing as a lie after all. In fact, you should probably check your pants because where there’s smoke…

Yet Prison Officers seem to love parroting that absurd line at anyone they can. No sooner had I been accused of being involved in trouble than I heard one of them saying “Where there’s smoke.” Innocent until proven guilty? Not in prison. Here you aren’t even guilty until proven innocent. It’s worse than that. You’re guilty until a better scapegoat comes along.

But then actual justice isn’t much part of this justice system, so why should actual guilt have anything to do with being found guilty or sense have anything to do with common sense?

Common Sense Alert 8

A letter in the May issue of Inside Time recently asked how NOMS justified the value of the fines issued to prisoners for damaging prison property. In response NOMS said “The standard charge for a replacement TV is set at £57. When a TV is destroyed, regardless of age, a replacement is required which involves such costs”. So the prisoner would be charged the full £57 regardless of issues such as ‘wear and tear’.

That doesn’t sound too unreasonable. At least until you discover that the same principle does not apply to prisoner’s property that is lost or damaged by the prison service.

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Common Sense Alert 7

I want to start this post by saying that I totally get that Wakefield is a high security jail with some of the highest risk prisoners in the country. But not all of the prisoners here are high risk.

Take some of the older prisoners here. There are prisoners who can barely walk, prisoners who are blind, and even wheelchair bound amputees who are all categorised as cat A, high risk prisoners and housed in one of the most secure prisons in the country. If categorisation were applied as it’s meant to be (based upon risk of escape and potential danger to the public in the event of escape) then how could anyone justify keeping an eighty year old blind amputee in these conditions?

It just makes no sense.

Common Sense Alert! 6

A while back the Ministry of Justice changed the rules regarding how prisoners in high security prisons are searched following visits with their families. They said that 100% of category A prisoners still needed to be strip searched, but category B prisoners no longer had to be. Instead, they said, each prison should set a percentage of category B prisoners who would be strip searched at random. Most high security prisons did this immediately, setting the percentage at between ten and twenty percent. Not HMP Frankland. They did nothing. Continue reading

Common Sense Alert! 5

A while ago, at another prison, there was an incident where a prisoner attacked a number of officers resulting in some serious injuries. He was subsequently put on trial for attempted murder but was cleared of all charges when it was found that he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and had genuinely acted in the belief that it was self-defence. The following day the Governor of the prison appeared on the local news and stated that it was a travesty of justice and that the Courts had got it wrong.

Seeing this, I sent a letter to the prison newspaper, Inside Time, to say that whilst I wouldn’t wish what had happened on anybody, I found the Governor’s comments confusing. The prison service regularly tells those prisoners who are maintaining their innocence that prison staff have a legal obligation to accept the verdict of the courts and therefore cannot entertain any possibility of them actually being innocent unless they successfully appeal. And yet here was a prison governor disputing the verdict of the court because it had not gone in his favour. It seemed that this was a governor in denial.

The censors department intercepted my letter and refused to let me send it on the grounds that I had identified individuals by name (which is not allowed in articles intended for publication and is also why I haven’t identified them here). So instead, I sent the letter to a family member with the intention of them forwarding it on to Inside Time themselves.

Some time later, I wanted to get a copy of the letter back so I asked them to send me a copy, which they did. But here’s the funny part. When my letter arrived back at the prison, the censors department intercepted it again and said that I couldn’t have it because allowing me to read it could compromise the good order and discipline of the prison. They completely missed the fact that I knew what it said because I was the one who wrote it!