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Frances Crook's blog · 8 Feb 2017

Attending a funeral

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

Before Christmas, I wrote about a lad whose mother died whilst he was in custody. He had not been allowed to see his dying mother in hospital. Howard League lawyers were then trying to get the prison to agree to him attending his mother’s funeral.

Four days before the funeral it was confirmed that he would be allowed to attend but would have to be handcuffed. He would not be allowed to attend the chapel of rest beforehand to see his family and to say goodbye to his mother.

No explanation was given as to why a distinction was being made between attending the chapel of rest and attending the funeral. This was particularly perplexing as the young person’s probation officer had already risk-assessed and approved attending both parts of the day. To make it more ludicrous, the lad was likely to be released a few weeks later anyway.

Our lawyers continued to make representations to the prison challenging these decisions and asked for disclosure of the risk assessments upon which the decisions had been made. At 3pm the day before the funeral, the prison finally confirmed that he would be allowed to attend the chapel of rest but would remain handcuffed throughout the day. The risk assessments were never disclosed by the prison.

Prisons inflicting indignities on children and teenagers and their families at a time of bereavement does not encourage respect for the system

He went to the funeral the following day. He told us that the officers who accompanied him were respectful and allowed him to spend time with his family before and after the funeral. When our lawyer spoke to him afterwards he said that he was pleased to have gone and seemed much brighter and happier.

He has been released from custody. We hope that he will be able to spend time with his family and resettle back into life in the community.

This is not an isolated incident. Inflexible prison policies mean that people in prison, including children and young people, are refused permission to go the funerals of family members. In some cases this can even include being denied access to funerals of their grandparents, who are not deemed to be “close relations” under prison service policies. They normally have to be handcuffed, even if, as in this case, they are being released within days.

Prisons inflicting indignities on children and teenagers and their families at a time of bereavement does not encourage respect for the system.

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