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Howard League blog · 15 Jul 2016

Double punishment

The Howard League had to issue a judicial review recently on behalf of someone I shall call ‘Michael’, a young deaf person in prison, to make sure he got the medical treatment and support he is entitled to.

Michael had not had a functioning hearing aid for around six months. During this time, he was unable to communicate with the lawyers in his criminal case or participate in prison life. His total isolation in prison resulted in him being doubly punished. All this in a prison system that we know is chaotic and frightening for anyone at this time. As is now common place, this young person is held in a jail where prisoners have taken their own lives.

It became clear that there was no guarantee he would get the medical attention he needed due to problems in arranging prison escort staff. At a recent high level meeting I was told that people in prison are not taken to around 40 per cent of all health appointments because of lack of staff to escort them. This means that the NHS is also affected by the missed appointments.

The judge who considered our case called the facts “worrying and distressing” and thankfully ordered the (private) healthcare provider in the prison and the prison authorities to work together to ensure Michael’s needs are met. Yet it is so sad that for a young deaf person to be able to secure his basic needs, our lawyers had to take it to the High Court.

This case is the tip of the iceberg and illustrates the chaos across the system. It means a deaf young man can be left without a hearing aid for months on end. It also means that people with long term illnesses are not being taken to hospital, so their conditions deteriorate.

In a way, Michael is one of the lucky ones – if only because he is being helped by the Howard League legal team. But many thousands of other people are not getting essential medical help. Last year missed hospital and GP appointments cost the NHS over £1billion, quite a lot will have been people in prison unable to get there due to lack of staff.


  • Frances Crook says:

    This sounds dreadful, Jill. It was reported to Ministers recently that about 40 per cent of healthcare appointments are missed due to to prison staff shortages. This causes huge distress, and pain, but also has a damaging impact on the NHS. We are taking this issue up with new Ministers.

  • Tim says:

    I’m very glad that the Howard League were able to help this young deaf man; well done to everybody involved. As has been pointed out, this should have been resolved as a matter of course, not through a court.

    As a profoundly Deaf law graduate, I am anxious on behalf of Deaf prisoners. If you are a profoundly Deaf prisoner who uses sign language, then being locked up may be similar to solitary confinement, because you will not be able to communicate or communicate well with the wardens and fellow prisoners. This could result in getting into trouble with wardens for “ignoring” orders or being bullied by fellow prisoners. With escalating violence and bullying in prison, Deaf prisoners are especially vulnerable.

    As if all that is not bad enough, unless there is an alternative, Deaf prisoners will not be able to use the telephone to contact family, lawyers or helplines. They may be alone and cut off.

    I hope that the Howard League continues with their excellent work on these issues.

    • Frances Crook says:

      Thank you Tim. Shrewsbury prison was pioneering teaching both staff and hearing prisoners to sign, but it was closed down. We will certainly keep up pressure on the issue.

      • Tim says:

        Thank you for your reply Frances.

        I remember reading about Shrewsbury prison’s good work and thought it was such a shame that it closed down.

        Thank you for keeping up pressure on the issue, I am relived to learn that you are doing this.

  • Well done HL Prisons shouldn’t rely on charities to do their work.

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