Howard League blog · 8 Dec 2016
A young person being held in a state of limbo over a decision to allow him to attend his mother’s funeral
Two weeks ago I wrote about the efforts of our legal team to persuade a prison to escort a young person to see his dying mother. The prison had told the lad it was too short-staffed to take him. His mother died before he got the opportunity to visit her.
I am pleased to report that the prison is engaging with one of our lawyers about the funeral arrangements and the governor has confirmed that the prison recognises the importance of prisoners being able to attend the funerals of close family members.
That makes it all the more perplexing that the prison is refusing to confirm whether or not he will be allowed to go to the funeral until much closer to the time. Our lawyer has been told that this is because circumstances might change between now and the date of the funeral which affect the decision.
I understand that prisons must be very careful when making decisions about releasing prisoners into the community, even under escort. However, at a time when prisons are in disarray and there are chronic staff shortages, the refusal of the prison to make a decision until the last minute only increases the likelihood that there will be insufficient staff available at short notice.
He is likely to be released soon anyway, so the hesitation about making a firm decision whether to allow him out into the community for a day to go to his mother’s funeral is annoying.
The young man is understandably worried about being let down again. Our lawyer is seeking an assurance that he will be able to attend his mother’s funeral and that the decision is made now.
The prison’s refusal to confirm this in good time denies him the small amount of autonomy over his own grieving process he might otherwise have. Instead, he is in a state of limbo, unable to mentally and emotionally prepare himself for a funeral that he doesn’t know with certainty he will be allowed to attend.
This case illustrates our concern that prisons are under so much stress, are so short staffed, overcrowded and are consequently so chaotic, that they are unable to deliver fair decisions. Inevitably this generates frustration and resentment amongst prisoners and, as we have seen, also amongst staff.