Frances Crook's blog · 22 Apr 2020
How our lawyers continue fighting for young people in prison who are suitable for release
Alongside our wider legal challenge to the government on the issue of early release of selected prisoners, our lawyers have had to continue fighting for individual young people in prison who are suitable for release to be let out of prison.
This week, after several months of making representations, a lad whom the Parole Board directed should be released and who ought to have been released in February, was finally released. The hold-up was due to lack of spaces in probation approved premises during the pandemic. Despite extensive efforts from Howard League lawyers, a place was only found after our lawyers had to take the step of sending a letter threatening judicial review.
Our lawyers had already represented this young person at his parole hearing earlier in the year. He had worked really hard in prison to earn his parole: he had a lot of trusted responsibilities in the prison, had developed good relationships with staff, and had done lots of work with professionals thinking about his offence. This young adult had grown up in jail, in his own words, he came in as an immature kid and had matured into a young adult who was ready to prove himself on release and wanted to be given a chance. The Parole Board agreed and directed release but to an Approved Premises. The decision was unchallenged and became final in late February.
The short supply of probation hostels meant that, although the Parole Board decided he was safe to be released, the lad remained in prison, where due to the pandemic he was spending 23 hours a day confined to his cell. He was becoming increasingly withdrawn and feeling hopeless, he could no longer work at the prison due to the coronavirus lockdown and he had no idea when he would be released despite having worked very hard to get a positive parole decision.
Neither he, our lawyers, nor his probation officer received any information about the process for allocating beds at hostels or how many people were on the waiting list. This continued to be the case even after our lawyers raised the issue with the department at the Ministry of Justice responsible for dealing with releases, and tried to resolve the issue through the probation complaints process.
Our lawyers were left with no choice but to send a pre-action letter threatening to issue judicial review proceedings if probation did not find this young person a space at a hostel.
Less than 48 hours later, probation confirmed that a bed was available.
This was an excellent result for this young adult but it should not have taken the threat of judicial review for our client to be given a space at a hostel. It is a concern that there are likely to be many more (likely unrepresented) people who are safe for release but remain in prison simply as they have nowhere to go. The lack of transparency over the scale of waiting lists for probation hostels and the process of deciding who gets beds at probation hostels is a serious concern.
The Ministry of Justice should immediately publish this information and should be taking steps to ensure that those who are safe to be released are released.