A psychologist has identified ‘feelings of hopelessness and despair’ induced by his indeterminate sentence as leading to the mental health problems of a prisoner who has spent more than a decade behind bars for stealing a mobile phone.
The UN’s special rapporteur on torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, told the Guardian that the case of Thomas White was ‘emblematic of the psychological harm’ caused by IPPs.
The prisoner’s family is being supported by the campaign group JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association). A psychological assessment was commissioned by his solicitor Dean Kingham and the family in an attempt to move White into a more appropriate setting.
The report, which has been made available to the Justice Gap, calls for the prisoner who spends much of his time in segregation to be moved to a psychiatric hospital to deal with his personality disorder. ‘I am concerned that Mr White would remain incarcerated indefinitely due to his continual failure to complete the necessary treatments in prison,’ it concludes.
The psychologist was asked to take a view on whether the indeterminate nature of IPP sentences created a psychological burden on the prisoner – a point addressed in the recent House of Commons’ justice committee report (see here).
‘I have been asked to comment on whether the IPP sentence and a sense of hopelessness is contributing to his current mental health situation having regard to the Justice Committee report. Mr White did describe a sense of hopelessness about his sentence and the outcome of recent parole hearings. It is probable that his negative experiences have contributed to the development of his persecutory delusion systems. Mr White’s views mirror those identified in the report which emphasises the psychological harm caused by IPP sentences, leading to feelings of hopelessness and despair, which presents a challenge to their progression.’
From Thomas White’s psychological assessment
Thomas White is now 39 years old with a 13-year-old son. In 2012, he received an IPP sentence for robbery of a mobile phone and ordered to serve a minimum tariff of two years just months before IPPs were abolished.
‘If Thomas had been sentenced four months later, he would not be in prison now,‘ the Conservative MP for Bury North James Daly, told the House of Commons in April. ‘That in itself tells a tale… he should’ve been released after his tariff of two years, so why is he in prison 10 years later? It is because his mental health has taken a huge blow during that period. He suffers with psychosis and various other mental health traumas. Where has that left Thomas’s family? His 13-year-old son has been left without a father. He has been moved to 16 times, and on many occasions hasn’t been given access to the appropriate resources because of his mental health challenges.’
‘Something broke in my brother’
His sister, Clara, spoke to the Justice Gap. She recalled a time when she herself was hospitalised for six days with exhaustion as a result of her brother’s increasingly alarming behaviour in prison. ‘We are a Christian family but his faith became unhealthy. Something had broken in my brother and he began to tell me that he was Jesus Christ and he was going to save everybody,’ she recalled. ‘He told me he just needed to get out of segregation and start blessing people. We started receiving phone calls from friends he had in Norwich prison that he was wearing his own bedding. It must’ve been very disturbing for the other prisoners having this man walking up and down thinking he was Jesus Christ.’
Clara said the officers decided to unlock him last ‘because it was causing other prisoners to feel uncomfortable’. ‘There wasn’t much food left and he started to lose weight. He had also started hallucinating and hearing voices.’ White is 6”4’ but presently weighs only nine and a half stone.
‘Thomas spends a lot of a lot of time in segregation. To be honest, he’s adapted to segregation. He says: “It’s better because they bring me medication to me on time so I don’t hear the voices. When we’re on the wings, we have to wait ages for our medicine.”‘
She said her brother had been ‘in and out of prison’ before 2012. ‘When he was younger, he went to special needs school – he never went to mainstream school. He hated it. There was always something a bit different about Thomas, he couldn’t sit still. He was only 11 years of age when he was placed in a secure institution, and he has been institutionalised from that age.’
Clara White says her brother stole the phone that led to his conviction from two Californian street preachers in central Manchester after he had been binge-drinking. Apparently he discussed the bible with the two men, ‘hugged them and kissed one on the forehead’ before stealing the phone. She says his prior offending behaviour was non-violent. ‘He was a shed thief, a bike thief. He never hurt anyone. I don’t defend him – he should’ve got a custodial sentence.’
Does she ever think Thomas would be able to live independently? ‘I pray that he will. He needs to get to hospital and he needs to have the medical care that he is entitled to. I’m trying to get him into hospital, not released. He wouldn’t survive at the moment. He needs constant care around the clock. If you love somebody, you want the best for them. I want him in hospital.’