A recent report has identified an expectation gap between prisoners across the country and various authorities. The report by the Building Futures Program under the Prison Reform Trust reveals the frustration and confusion of prisoners who have already remained in custody for at least ten years. With uncertainties about whether they could pass parole processes, prisoners raised concerns about whether they could ever eventually be rehabilitated and enjoy liberty once again.
While prisons focus on prisoners’ compliance with rules, the Parole Board seeks prisoner development, reduction of risk and release. As a result, a prisoner cannot guarantee being deemed to be of limited ‘risk’ and getting released even if they complied with all the prison rules and instructions. This concept of risk ‘pervades prison life’; yet it is never clarified to prisoners: ‘risk of what, from what, to whom, in what circumstances?’ said the Trust.
Reducing risk is not the only criterion for satisfying the Parole Board; sentence length is another barrier they face. Prison schemes tackling offending behaviours are prioritised by earliest release date. This means that older and long-term prisoners are unlikely to progress through the system. A prisoner commented that ‘being rehabilitated to re-enter society is…a false goal.’
‘Serving a life sentence longer than I have lived—is that normal? It felt as if the prison estate did not even know what to do with us…. sadly many lifers, myself included, saw progression as somewhat of a myth’, another prisoner stated.
The report advises HM Prison and Probation Service to develop a long-term framework that equips staff with the ability to assess risk and communicate effectively with all parties involved in the process. It further advised earlier involvement from the Parole Board to assist prisoners to take the necessary steps to secure their release.
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