Last year I was contacted by a university lecturer in criminology. He was conducting an academic project into life sentenced prisoners. We exchanged a few letters without issue. However, in August, 2 of his letters to me were stopped by Security and withheld. Their reason was that he did not have permission to conduct research.
Now, I’m pretty much on the ball when it comes to the reasons letters can be stopped
(S.11, PSO 49/2011); there are no provisions which give the prison authority to interfere with correspondence of this type. Their initial opener was that this contact “directly contravenes PSI 22/2014.” This PSI gives instruction and guidance on applying for and getting the authority to conduct research in prisons; nothing about correspondence. In fact, it is only PSO 49/2011 which allows them to stop letters.
I went through the complaints procedure and asked for clarification on which section of PSI 22/2014 was contravened. The reply: “the whole of PSI 22/2014 specifically 2.1,” a section to do with the policy for making applications not stopping mail.
They then stopped my letter to the lecturer, which contained no research information. Another unlawful stoppage, another complaint. They capitulated on that issue.
I went the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), Nearly 5 months later they send me their record of investigation. My complaint was not upheld. Whilst admitting that PSI 22/2014 “does not list specific forms of contact,” the PPO was of the opinion that” this in no way hinders its implementation.”
This is yet another example the PPO filling in the blanks in the in prison service instructions. This is not how the law works. You can only interpret what has been legislated or provided for; not interpret what is not included. If PSI 22/2014 has no provisions allowing the prison authority to stop mail it cannot be relied on to support that action. Yet, here we are, again, where the PPO does just that. This is just the sort of poorly thought out decision which has given the PPO such a poor reputation amongst prisoners. After all this, the prison continues to withhold the 2 stopped letters.
You may ask why they have gone to such lengths. One possibility is that the research application process allows them to control the type of research and, through their internal management of participants, the results of the research. I never see guys like myself, who challenge the system, being invited to take part in research projects. Who knows what we might say? May…be the truth.
Be happy, be safe.
Graham Coutts, 16th April 2017