Tuesday 30 June 2009

Prisoners Votes Case aired on the radio on Iain Dale's radio show

Prisoners Votes Case aired on the radio on Iain Dale's radio show.

Listen here.

John Hirst, Jailhouselawyer, appears twice within the first hour.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

ConVerse response

ConVerse response

By Ben Gunn

(Click on image to enlarge)

Mark Leech - The Truth

Mark Leech - The Truth

By Ben Gunn

(Click on the images to read)

Sunday 7 June 2009

Committee on Petitions

Committee on Petitions

Committee on Petitions
The Chairman

Mr John Hirst
Association of Prisoners
5 Adderbury Crescent
Adderbury Grove
UK - HU5 1AT Hull
United Kingdom

308742 04.06.2009

Subject: Petition Nr.0268/2009 (reference to be quoted in all correspondence)

Dear Mr Hirst,

I would like to inform you that the Committee on Petitions has begun its examination of your petition. The Committee considers the petition to be admissable since the subjectmatter falls within the sphere of activities of the European Union.

The committee felt that the issues raised in your petition should be submitted, also, to the Committee in the European Parliament within whose terms of reference it falls and decided as a result to refer it to the Committee on Constitutional Affairs for information.

Please note that consideration of your petition by the European Parliament has been concluded and the file is now closed.

Yours sincerely,
Marcin Libicki
Chairman of the Committee on Petitions

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Mark Leech and ConVerse proved to be frauds

Mark Leech and ConVerse proved to be frauds

ASA Adjudications

Spyhole Press Ltd t/a ConVerse
175 Hill Lane
M9 6RL
Number of complaints: 1

Date: 29 April 2009
Media: Press general
Sector: Publishing

A front-page flash on ConVerse - a newspaper distributed to prisons - stated "THE HIGHEST CIRCULATION NATIONAL NEWSPAPER FOR PRISONERS."

A reader challenged whether the claim "THE HIGHEST CIRCULATION NATIONAL NEWSPAPER FOR PRISONERS" was misleading and could be substantiated.

The CAP Code: 3.1;7.1;18.1;18.3

ConVerse said the "highest circulation" claim was based on the number of copies delivered to prisons. ConVerse said the Oxford English Dictionary defined "circulation" as "the number of copies of each issue of a newspaper, magazine, etc. distributed." They said they believed their "highest circulation" claim was therefore likely to be understood as referring to the number of copies distributed only. They supplied figures, which they described as circulation figures, published respectively in ConVerse and their competitor publication. They believed the figures showed that, over the preceding 15 months, ConVerse had circulated 52,000 copies more than the competitor publication. They said that amounted to an average of 3,500 more copies per month, which they believed justified the "highest circulation" claim. They said that, in addition to England and Wales, their competitor's publication was also circulated to prisons in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and so their competitor's circulation figures for England and Wales were in fact smaller than their total circulation figure. ConVerse said they conducted surveys with prisons every six months to check that the newspaper was being received and distributed satisfactorily and whether too many or too few were being delivered. They said that, for a prison population of 83,000 prisoners in England and Wales spread across 139 prisons, their latest monthly figures (dated February 2009) were that they had printed 48,000.

They said the "national" part of their claim referred to England and Wales. They said the Probation Service referred to itself as the National Probation Service and its remit covered England and Wales but not Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The ASA considered it was reasonable for ConVerse to use the term "national" within England and Wales to refer to distribution within England and Wales. We noted that the figures ConVerse had supplied and described as circulation figures would have been described as distribution figures if they had been subject to normal Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) criteria. We noted that the print invoices ConVerse had supplied showed their print run figures exceeded the distribution figures that the competitor publication claimed for itself. We noted the dictionary definition of "circulation" which ConVerse had supplied, together with the exceptional circumstances of a free newspaper that was distributed to prisons only. We nevertheless considered readers, and in particular advertising buyers who were potential advertisers with ConVerse, would be familiar with ABC's use of the terms "distribution" and "circulation" and that they were therefore likely to understand ConVerse's "highest circulation" claim to mean that they had the highest sales figures. We considered that, because ConVerse had not shown that they had the highest sales figures of any national newspaper distributed to prisons, the claim was likely to mislead. We told ConVerse to remove the claim and, in future, to avoid using the word "circulation" to describe the number of copies of ConVerse distributed.

The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 18.1 and 18.3 (Comparisons).

The ad must not appear again in its current form.

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)

Ben Gunn, General Secretary of the AoP, and John Hirst were recently attacked unjustly by the fraudster Mark Leech of Arsehole Press. Revenge is sweet and a dish best served cold...

Thursday 2 April 2009

The future is in our hands

The future is in our hands

By: Ben Gunn - HMP Shepton Mallet

Lifer Ben Gunn announces that he is the newly appointed General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners and challenges all prisoners to play their part in bringing about change

It seems that I have been ‘anointed’; a wizened hand reached down from Hull and passed on the baton that is the General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners - AoP. Perhaps it's because I tweak the management's tail through my comments in Inside Time; or maybe it's because I do love the politics!

Whatever the reason John Hirst, founder of the Association of Prisoners and winner of several important legal challenges, has passed the pen down the line to me. Some of you know me, I have been wandering the landings for 29 years and gracing the pages of Inside Time for so long I'm surprised you aren't sick of me.

What fewer people know is that I began this sentence when I was a youngster, standing in the dock in my school uniform having killed a friend. My tariff was 10 years but due to my bloody-minded refusal to keep my mouth shut I'm still here 29 years later. If there is one thing I just can't stomach it is abuses of power; and as the essence of prison is power, I have found myself at odds with management in most places I've been.

That attitude now sees me at the helm of an Association which has no formal structure and no list of members. In one sense, long may it stay that way; the Prison Service currently forbids us from organising nationally, claiming that we have no shared interests. That is just a reflection of their fear, because all prisoners obviously have shared concerns – we labour under a national set of rules, a national IEP system, a national psychology programme ... to claim otherwise is just plain silly.

One of the legal challenges I intend to make this year in the name of the AoP is against these petty restrictions and to stop the Prison Service saying we are allowed to organise but then throwing up so many barriers as to make it impossible.

However for the moment, we have to work with what we have - no national organisation. For the time being, what I want to do is develop the AoP into a loose collective of individuals who share a similar outlook, spread across the system. These are the people who take the time to help others with the perpetual ‘paper-chase’ that rules our futures; the ones who have the sense to stand up and resist the system’s excesses; the ones who stick their head up above the parapet and say their bit on the landings and in Inside Time.

Look around you; there is one of these people on every landing. There are those driven by outrage or despair; there are those driven by anger; and there are those driven by a deep understanding of the crass waste of life that is imprisonment. Some of these people have only their balls and brass-neck to offer. Some have a particular knowledge of psychology, law, prison, parole or the IEP system. All of these people have their effect and, little by little, change does happen. It may be a screw who thinks twice, or a management policy that is altered, but things do change. Now imagine how much more could happen if all of these professional pains in the arse got together and developed new ideas, swapped tactics to help resist the stupidities that comprise our daily life. Imagine if their particular skills were offered to help other cons who are currently being screwed over.

I want the AoP to foster a network of active prisoners who can all subscribe to the same broad agenda and coordinate between each other. As time passes, and the conditions change, then I would like to see a more formal structure being developed, with a list of members who are able to organise and vote for the Association’s officers. Once our legal challenge is won, then each wing, each prison, will be able to organise and elect its representatives, and the AoP leaders will exist only because you chose them.

Alongside this informal collective, John Hirst and myself will be reaching out to invite support for various aspects of the AoP’s agenda from prisoner-friendly groups and individuals in high positions and low places. As these links develop, we hope that the loose collective of members will become more focused and formal - but still with the same aims.

As well as challenging the restrictions placed on the Association, I can now reveal that I am the un-named party who took up last month’s front page in Inside Time - I am attempting to force the government to deal with the prisoners’ vote judgment that they have avoided for four years. Along with this, I intend to challenge the fact that we are being used as forced labour for outside companies.

But this isn't 'someone else’s struggle'. It is the struggle of every prisoner on every landing to be treated decently. Each of us can play a part, in a thousand small ways. Each time you request a copy of your OASys and demand the errors be removed; each time you write in the food comments book; each time you challenge a psychologist; each time you refuse to be spoken to like an idiot; each entitlement you demand... in itself, each of these is a small gesture, an infinitesimal ripple; however each in itself also speaks volumes; for each is a sign that as individuals we are autonomous, thinking human beings and not rabble to be dismissed and misused.

Each small step any of us takes is an assertion that we are individuals, not 'bodies', and that what we say matters. Each tiny step builds our confidence and shows us that we can make a difference. And once we have that confidence in our own voice, then we can begin to speak louder and more firmly. The future is in our hands. Welcome to the Association of Prisoners.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

The law should stand up for prisoners too

The law should stand up for prisoners too

By Eric Allison

Throughout my association with the penal system - a link stretching back over 50 years - there has always been talk and hope that, one day, prisoners would gain "rights". And the fight for those rights has not been limited to lobbying. The riots that erupted in the last three decades of the last century, at Hull, Parkhurst, Strangeways, and other jails, had a common cause: in every case, prisoners had reached the end of their tether; their rights, as human beings, had been ignored once too often.

Now, nearing the end of the first decade after the millennium, a new chapter in the struggle has begun. As before, prisoners are leading the way - but this time not on the wings and landings of the system. They are taking their fight to the courts, and they may just have the government on the run.

Later this year, a legal challenge to the government's refusal to give prisoners the vote will be launched. Five years ago on Monday, the right of prisoners to be involved in the electoral process was established by the European court of human rights after a former prisoner, John Hirst, had successfully argued that a high court ruling in 2001, forbidding prisoners to vote, was a breach of his human rights. The government appealed and lost. It then spent two years on a consultation exercise, but refused to publish the results, then announced that another discourse would take place, but will not say when this will begin or end. The fudging may now have to stop.

The challenge, by the newly-reformed Association of Prisoners (AoP), will seek a high court ruling that the ban on prisoners voting is a breach of the Human Rights Act. Lawyers for the AoP will ask the court to order the government to enact legislation allowing prisoners to vote, before the next general election. If the government refuses, an injunction will be issued to prevent the next election taking place.

This challenge has firm foundations. Parliament's joint committee on human rights has stated that "the government must give prisoners the right to vote or the next general election will be illegal under European law. Ministers have been warned."

The Ministry of Justice is running scared on this issue, terrified of the reaction of the tabloids to prisoners becoming engaged in the democratic process. It has suited New Labour, as it suited the Tories before them, to dehumanise prisoners in the eyes of the public. It ignores the fact that, one day, all but a minuscule minority of prisoners will re-enter the society they came from, and that common sense dictates that we engage prisoners in that society as much as possible while they are detained.

Giving suffrage to prisoners will not be a panacea for the ails of the system that holds them. To cite just two problems, it will not stop the scandal of imprisoning, in their tens of thousands, those who, in a just society, would be treated for the mental health problems they suffer from (if you enter a local prison - the jails that receive prisoners from courts - you are more likely than not to be forced to share a cell with a prisoner who has significant mental health problems); and nor will it stop the practice of holding prisoners hundreds of miles from their homes, thereby creating massive problems for their (innocent) families and friends.

It may, however, concentrate the minds of MPs in constituencies where there are prisons - the Isle of Wight, for example, holds around 1,500 prisoners - and force them to address the need for reform. How ironic it will be if it is the judiciary that brings about this change, over the heads of a government that panders to tabloid tastes.

It is said that everyone deserves their day in court. Those who are held in our jails have had more such days than most, and generally see the law as being solely an instrument of punishment. If the law that sent them down now stands up for the rights of prisoners, who knows, maybe some of them will be less inclined to break it in the future.

• Eric Allison writes on criminal justice.

n.b. This post was copy and pasted after 12 Noon and therefore is not an April Fool's Day joke and should be taken seriously.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Prisoners votes case on The Politics Show

Prisoners votes case on The Politics Show

The Politics Show Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

Fast forward to 30 minutes for discussion of prisoners votes case.

AoP petition to EU Parliament

AoP petition to EU Parliament

Saturday 21 March 2009

Innocent Inmates Association of Ohio

Innocent Inmates Association of Ohio

Prisoners Are Now Telling You What Really Happens in Your Judicial System and the Prison Business

Palestinian prisoners; Israeli diplomats

Palestinian prisoners; Israeli diplomats

By Gideon Rachman

August 2, 2007 10:35am

Life for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is getting steadily worse. On Wednesday, an Israeli official told me that the Gaza economy is in a “state of total collapse”. Travel for Palestinians on the West Bank is incredibly arduous because of the huge number of Israeli road-blocks.

But – right now – many Palestinians seem more pre-occupied by the internal dispute between Hamas and Fatah than by the Israelis. I got a sense of the bitterness of the dispute when I visited Issa Qaraqe, a Fatah legislator, in his offices in Bethlehem.

Qaraqe runs the Palestinian Prisoners Association, which tries to look after the interests of the 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. He himself was imprisoned for 10 years and then released in 1993. On his office wall is a large poster of Bobby Sands, the first IRA hunger-striker to starve himself to death in a British prison.

But Qaraqe’s take on Hamas is almost as dark as the version you will get from the Israeli foreign ministry. He is not uncritical of his own organisation – and will admit that Fatah has committed human-rights violations and made huge political errors. But Hamas, he says, are Islamist fanatics and the tools of Iran. He says that while Fatah have a secular, democratic and nationalist view of the Palestinian problem, Hamas “approach the Palestinian issue as a religious question, not a national question.” He claims that Gaza is in the early stages of “Talibanisation” – and points to the destruction of the statue of the unknown soldier in Gaza, likening it to the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist statues.

This is all contentious stuff. Hamas officials point out they won democratic elections and they are at pains to present a moderate and welcoming face to the foreigners who are trickling back into Gaza. UN people and visiting journalists say that security in Gaza is much improved, since the Hamas takeover. But Qaraqe’s hardline take on Hamas accurately reflects the views of Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president. UN people say that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is even more insistent on cutting off Gaza economically than the Israelis.

All this leaves the Israelis themselves sitting pretty – at least for now. Few Israelis I’ve met seem to have any real expectations for the latest peace initiative, which they assume will run into the sand.

Israeli officials remain obsessed by the “Iranian threat” – in particular Iran’s support for Hamas and its nuclear programme. By contrast, they seem oddly relaxed about the debacle in Iraq. If the Israelis provoked the Iraq war – as many conspiracy theorists allege – they seem curiously detached about its disastrous outcome.

One official analyst explained that they cannot start producing internal papers about what will happen when the Americans pull out – because they will inevitably leak and cause embarrassment. But, when they focus on the problem, the Israelis do see plenty of reason to worry. In particular, they are anxious that the likeliest outcome is that the US leaves behind a weak Shia-led government that is in Iran’s pocket – thus hugely expanding Iran’s regional clout. And they blame the Americans na├»ve pre-occupation with democracy for this outcome. When I asked one Israeli official what the best outcome in Iraq would be, he replied – “Find a pro-western Sunni strongman, who will reconstitute the Baath party, hold the country together and keep Iran in check.” I don’t think he was joking.

It is very striking that the Israelis – at least at the level of diplomats and analysts - do not share the Bush administration’s belief in democracy promotion. The term “neo-con” is bandied about with as much contempt as in left-wing London salon. The Israelis see their region in cold, Kissingerian balance-of-power terms. They seem frustrated that America is not doing more to woo Syria away from Iran – something they once again blame on Bush’s tiresome crusade for democracy. As far as the Israelis are concerned, elections in their region have so far brought them an Iraqi government in Iran’s pocket and Hamas. They are not keen to press on with the experiment.

August 2, 2007 10:35am in Middle East

UK: Prisoners' Association criticises White Paper

UK: Prisoners' Association criticises White Paper

* Subject: [prisoner-rights] UK: Prisoners' Association criticises White Paper
* Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2002 15:07:26 +0100

The Association of Prisoners

Immediate Release - No Embargo

Prisoners' Association
criticises White Paper

An organisation campaigning for the rights of prisoners has criticised the
White Paper, "Justice for All", published this afternoon by the Home Secretary.

General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners, John Hirst, said today:

"Justice for All is not the piece of carefully
considered legislation that we need. It amounts to
little more than knee-jerk reaction to public concerns,
many of which are unfounded."

Mr Hirst, who is serving a life sentence at Sudbury prison in Derbyshire,
also criticised plans to increase magistrates' sentencing powers to twelve
months. "If you want a plan guaranteed to increase the prison population
overnight, then you've found it. It will also lead to more people opting
for a Crown Court trial in the hope of being found not guilty - but costing
the taxpayer millions."

"What is needed is a concerted effort at reinforcing public confidence in
the criminal justice system, then allowing a reduction in the prison
population. For as long as the public see a community penalty as a 'let
off', a reduction in the prison population would be political suicide," he


Prisoners let down by the system

Prisoners let down by the system

Published Date: 29 August 2004

YOUR article ‘Pants protest against Scots prisons’ (News, August 22), concerning the Association of Scottish Prisoners’ efforts to secure the basic necessities for hygiene contained some inaccuracies which, I feel, distorted the issue.
I have had to raise legal actions in the past just to force the Scottish Prison Service to obey the law, but I do feel that we should expect the SPS - as part of the justice system - to obey the law as a matter of course and not only when obliged to do so by the courts.

While I accept that some prisoners may have raised issues in the courts which could be regarded as frivolous, I do not think it unreasonable that I should expect clean underwear and socks more frequently than once a month. Nor is this an isolated case - I have had to take the same issue to the press on two previous occasions in order to secure the most basic hygiene.

I also feel that the picture painted of prisoners and lawyers jumping on the gravy train was disingenuous. I was first to raise the issue of slopping out, almost five years ago - I did this through the internal complaints procedure, with no thought of legal action.

Despite a recommendation from the Prisons Complaints Commissioner, and the acceptance by the chief executive that slopping out was "degrading and unacceptable", nothing has been done in the intervening years. Nor is the problem beyond solution - the SPS have a contingency plan prepared should they lose the appeal in the Napier case; to place two extra officers on night shift and allow prisoners access to toilets - ending slopping out at a stroke. This could be done tomorrow.

I did make it very clear to your journalist that I had not sought legal aid on the laundry issue, nor was it likely to be granted. I have raised actions in the courts in the past, but always for a token £50 damages - the object being to secure lawful conditions, not to milk the public purse.

Annabel Goldie makes the telling point - the internal complaints system does not work! We are obliged to raise issues in the courts which should have been resolved internally. The Complaints Commission takes over a year to respond to complaints, thereby making the commission irrelevant to prisoners serving less than two years. If matters were dealt with promptly and effectively internally there would be no need to resort to legal action; but to suggest that we are deliberately raising matters to secure damages is grossly inaccurate - we are doing so because the system has failed us!

And we are well aware when we attempt to do so that it is extremely unlikely that legal aid will be granted. My previous actions have been funded by myself and were born of disgust at the SPS being able - and willing - simply to ignore the law.

Far from jumping on the gravy train, such actions, and the running of the Association of Scottish Prisoners, have occasioned considerable personal expense - so in the public/personal purse issue I am working at a loss. Give us a complaints system that works, and a prison service that obeys the law as a matter of course, and we would not have to go to the courts.

John Higgins, secretary, Association of Scottish Prisoners

TV Licensing abandons case against unlicensed TV owner

TV Licensing abandons case against unlicensed TV owner

A former prisoner at the forefront of prison law advocacy has overturned a TV licensing conviction on appeal. John Hirst said that he used his television only for watching videos, DVDs and CCTV footage of his own house but was found 'technically guilty'.

Hirst, who tells this week's OUT-LAW Radio about the case, represented himself at Hull Magistrates' Court despite suffering from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. Again representing himself, he won his case on appeal to the Hull Crown Court when the TV Licensing Authority decided not to defend the case.

Hirst claimed that the interview on which his conviction was based was improperly carried out when representatives of TV Licensing visited his home. An unusual verdict at the Magistrates' Court found him 'technically guilty' but gave him a complete discharge.

Hirst said that he thinks that is because the court believed him that he did not view television broadcasts on his set. "That was when I knew they believed I was telling the truth," he said.

Despite the fact that Hirst was discharged, he took the appeal on a point of principle. "The TV Licencing Authority assume if you say that you don't watch your TV for live broadcasts you're a liar," Hirst told OUT-LAW Radio. "It's still down to the prosecution to prove guilt, not for the assumption to be there that you are guilty and you need to prove innocence."

"As far as I am concerned there is nothing such as 'technically guilty' in English law, you are either innocent or you are guilty," he said.

Hirst is an expert in prison reform. Convicted for manslaughter in 1979 he was a violent prisoner who was moved from prison to prison. In the late 1980s he applied for an experimental educational programme and learned that prisoners had the right to air their grievances through official channels that he said prisoners were never told about.

Diverting his energy to legitimate protest he successfully used the Human Rights Act to challenge the governments' attempts to ban prisoners from speaking to the media and in 2000 formed the first prisoners' representative group, the Association of Prisoners.

Hirst believes that if more prisoners knew about their legal rights they would not have to conduct riots to voice their objections to their treatment. "I realised that I could now start complaining and receiving responses to complaints rather than start throwing the desk around and being violent," he said.

It was a sense of injustice that led him to take his TV licence case as far as he did. "It began with a whole lot of letters that came, each letter got more and more threatening as it went along," he said. "It was a whole lot of assumptions that I was doing something wrong."

"I have admitted to offences as sever as manslaughter and arson, so I'm not going to lie on something as piddling as a TV Licence," he said. "They got that wrong, they picked on the wrong person."

When contacted, the TV Licensing Authority did not say why they did not defend the Crown Court appeal.

See: OUT-LAW Radio

AoP early days

AoP early days

Rye Hill (Warwickshire)

Group 4 Falck and Carillion manage this prison (capacity 600).

In April 2001, according to the Association of Prisoners, a teacher in the prison was not allowed to take her copy of the Guardian with her into the education unit. Mr Hirst, General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners speculated that this might have been because the Guardian reported about three prisoners’ High Court case for prisoners being given the right to vote.60

60 Group 4 bans the Guardian on Prison Education Unit, Press release from the Association of Prisoners, 10 April 2001.

Prison Conditions at HMP Woodhill - Babar Ahmad

Prison Conditions at HMP Woodhill - Babar Ahmad


Dear brothers, sisters, friends, supporters and well-wishers,

Assalamu alaikum

I have received a number of letters asking me to describe some of the prison life here at Woodhill. I will attempt to highlight some details about life here, bearing in mind that the conditions and regime vary from prison to prison. Since all the Muslim political prisoners here are in the dangerous ‘A Category’, they are housed separately, together with other dangerous prisoners, i.e. those on remand for and serving sentences for murder, armed robbery, drugs, assault and other violent offences. Being a dangerous prisoner has its privileges, in that you always have your own cell (because you might murder your cell mate if you have one!) Therefore, the conditions described forthwith apply to this dangerous category of prisoners, since you will be placed into this category when you come to prison for being a Muslim. Some details are embarrassing, but must be mentioned.

The cell is basically a large toilet. It has a toilet, sink, bed, table, chair, cabinet and small wardrobe. Its dimensions are approximately six metres long by two-and-a-half-metres wide. There is a small window (barred of course) that you can open and close for fresh air and sunlight as you wish. You are allowed to have your own TV (you rent it from the prison for £1 a week) and can also you have your own stereo/CD/radio player sent in by your family.

Association is when your cell-door is opened and you might do any of the following during association time: meet other prisoners either on the landing or each other’s cells, telephone (approved numbers only), get your meal (at meal time), go for a visit (if pre-arranged) with your family, shower etc. Association is about five hours per day on the other three days of the week and seven hours per day on the other three days. [Belmarsh is about two hours association per day for Muslim political prisoners.] The rest of the time, you are locked in your cell, known as “Bang Up.” Sometimes, the Muslim prisoners pray together in one of the cells if association coincides with a prayer time.

There is no concept of awrah (shame, etc) in prison and you are regularly strip-searched. Showers are communal so you have to wear shorts and ideally go when they are empty. When you first arrive at the prison, or leave it, or arrive from court etc. you are strip searched. Likewise, you are also strip-searched before and after a visit from a relative, lawyer, etc. Every month, your cell is searched and you are strip-searched. Strip-searching is only carried out by male officers (two on average), in a private room. They never touch you and you are never naked of all your clothes at any one time. Obviously, your awrah is exposed at some point during the strip search. The above only applies to ‘A-Category’ prisoners; others are strip-searched maybe once in several months. Needless to say, as a Muslim imprisoned for your religion, Allah rewards you every time they humiliate you by this strip search.

Most of the other prisoners are OK, there being like an informal ‘brotherhood’ between prisoners. Some of them actually sympathise with the Muslim political prisoners and curse the establishment when they see the injustice under which Muslim political prisoners are held. There is always a minority of racist inmates but since the Muslims always stick together, they are too afraid to openly display their racism, resorting instead to quiet mumbling among themselves. If anything, one fears evil more from the racist prison officers rather than fellow inmates.

Many of the prison officers are racist and Islamophobic. They have cold hatred in their eyes towards the Muslims. However, since they are in a system that regulates them, they cannot be and are not overtly racist. Therefore, they resort to showing their hatred by making little, routine things difficult for the Muslims. In some cases, they do this to try and provoke a situation in which the prisoner reacts and then they have an excuse to assault him and then send him to the isolated punishment block. This happened to a Muslim prisoner on our wing a few weeks ago and he was beaten up by prison officers who burst into his cell. Obviously, nothing happened (in terms of disciplinary action) to the officers concerned. Otherwise, they will do things like playing around with visit booking, gym usage, trying to delay medical appointments and trying to introduce rules insisting on strip-searching some Muslim prisoners before and after Friday prayers. Although this has not been implemented yet, the prison officers will take any opportunity they can to strip-search Muslim prisoners, as they know that it is offensive to Muslims.

That said, about one in ten officers are friendly, helpful, professional and consequently very popular and well-liked by inmates. Prisoners who have been in prison before say that every time they leave prison, they are worse than when they came in (reference to normal non-Muslim prisoners). This is not because of the facilities but because of the attitudes of the prison officers. One really sees in prison how much of a farce government directives on equal opportunities, racism etc, really are. It is ironic, therefore, when ministers ask themselves why the rate of suicides amongst prisoners in British prisons is high and increasing. No one thinks about looking at the attitudes and the manners of the prison-officers. It can also safely be said that Muslim political prisoners do not leave prison with an increased ‘understanding’ and ‘tolerance’ of their fellow British compatriots, especially when they see them in the figures of racist, skinhead prison officers.

Halal food is available and there is always a variety. Extra food can be ordered via the weekly Argos-style canteen order sheet. All A-Category prisoners have all outgoing telephone calls listened to and recorded; all incoming and outgoing mail is photocopied and searched and all visits recorded (videoed as well when in closed visits where a screen separates the prisoner from his visitors). Legal visits are not meant to be recorded, but everyone knows that they are, secretly.

Friday Prayers is in a hall in the prison; about 100 Muslim prisoners attend. Most are young, of Asian origin and predominantly in for drug-dealing and related offences (firearms, assault, etc.) It is sad to see so many Muslim youths who waste their efforts in such activities. Prison is an excellent environment for renewing one’s Iman and many of these prisoners begin to pray once in prison, only to stop when they go back in their bad company upon release. Since they have lots of spare time on their hands, they are hungry for Islamic books, literature, etc. Sadly, most of the Muslim prisoners here do not even have Qurans, let alone other Islamic books and literature. Muslim organisations have really fallen short in their obligations towards these prisoners, when even £20-£30 would buy a comprehensive ‘starter pack’ for a Muslim prisoner, comprising Quran, prayer mat, hadith books, heart softening books, Sahabah story books etc., may Allah forgive these organisations.

British Political Prisoner Babar Ahmad
HMP Woodhill
5th September 2004

Prisoners can talk to media, says judge

Prisoners can talk to media, says judge

By Ian Burrell Home Affairs Correspondent

Saturday, 23 March 2002

Serving prisoners won the right yesterday to take part in radio programmes and speak to newspapers about issues relating to Britain's jails and the inmates held inside them.

Serving prisoners won the right yesterday to take part in radio programmes and speak to newspapers about issues relating to Britain's jails and the inmates held inside them.

A judge upheld a legal challenge brought by long-serving prisoner John Hirst, who claimed that jail authorities were breaching his human rights by preventing him from talking to the media.

Mr Justice Elias at a High Court sitting in Cardiff ruled that Home Office policy on dealing with access to the media by phone by serving prisoners was unlawful.

The judge said that serving inmates had a right to speak directly to journalists on "matters of legitimate public interest relating to prisons and prisoners".

The Home Office, which was granted leave to appeal against the judgment, has been ordered to pay the prisoner's costs. Hirst, 53, who was given life for manslaughter in 1980 and who is being held at Sudbury prison in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, said he was "chuffed" at the ruling.

"I have to give the judge credit for having the courage to hold out against the authorities," he said. "I find it incredible that the state is able to gag prisoners when there is a debate going on about jail overcrowding or electronic tagging." Hirst, who was yesterday on day release at an office of the charity Barnardos, where he works four days a week, said prisoners had a unique perspective on penal issues.

"We have got an inside-out view, whereas the lawyers can only look at prison from the outside in," he said.

The ruling will not allow prisoners to participate in live "phone-ins" and interviews for radio will have to be pre-recorded and cleared by jail authorities to ensure they do not include inappropriate material.

Hirst's solicitor Nogah Ofer, said subjects for discussion that were barred by the ruling included comment about the prisoner's own case, information on prison security or the identification of prison staff.

The Prison Service tightened restrictions on phone calls after convicted killer Jeremy Bamber was able to participate in a live radio debate from jail.

Hirst, who has established an organisation called the Association of Prisoners to campaign for better jail conditions, accepted that some victims of crime or their relatives might feel "aggrieved" to hear a prisoner talking on the radio.

AOP's, Association of Prisoners

AOP's, Association of Prisoners

By Mark Barnsley

I was interested to read about these latest plans to form a prisoners union, (AOP's, Association of Prisoners) and would be interested to know more. I fully support the idea of prisoners organising to fight back against the current wave of repression, but it would clearly be naive to think that the system would welcome or applaud the formation of any genuinely radical organisation. like all despots they both loathe and fear the solidarity and mutual aid which will ultimately lead to their destruction.

While much can be achieved, even in reformist terms, a proper perspective on prison work needs to be considered carefully. In my view, simple calls for a ‘fairer’ prison wage are not only reformist and short-sighted, but they play into the hands of the builders of the Prison Industrial Complex. Indeed the cosmetic raising of prison wages is an intrinsic part of its cementation. We are seeing this in private prison like Lowdham Grange, where prisoners receive a higher than average wage, but sign away their rights, to day-time visits, full-time medical care and education. The private prison companies, and ultimately the state, will gladly pay out higher prison wages (generally based on piece-work,) in return for a compliant and hard-working slave labour force - ‘Better a happy slave than a resentful one.’ Charges for room and board, payments to ’victim support organisations’, and the strict enforcement of a ‘company store’ (canteen) monopoly will allow much of the money paid out in wages to be recouped in any case.

Having largely achieved a compliant mainstream prison population over the past few years. during phase 1 of the building of the ‘British Industrial Prison Complex,’ the state ultimately desires a situation where prisoners are either behind their doors (watching TV if they’re good boys and girls), or at work ‘producing’.

Work - consume - sleep. The ideal capitalist economy in microcosm.

By collaborating with the prison economy we are ultimately assisting in the expansion of the prison building programme (largely financed by the private sector,) and the imprisonment of greater numbers of working class people. We are also helping to undermine the wages and conditions of workers outside.

Everything that is happening in British prisons today, right down to things like higher phone tariffs as an incentive to go to work (the creation of needs and desires,) happened in America yesterday. Often we are dealing with the same corporations. for those who have bothered to look, there can be no surprises in current and future British penal policy (unless like the POA you’re too stupid to see it.)

These gulags only function in the way they do because of the foolish compliance of prisoners suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ (or the adoption of a selfish ‘kapo’ mentality.) We cook the food clean the landings, make the uniforms, bedding ,soap toothbrushes, in some cases we even help build the places. Imagine how different it would be if we refused to conspire in our own imprisonment. That’s my vision, not �30 a week and a TV set. compulsory labour is slavery, no matter what the pay and conditions, and i’m not going to be anybody’s slave.

We should avoid replicating the mistakes the wider labour movement has made in the last 100 years, allowing it to be completely co-opted and practically neutralised, by the adoption of authoritarian structures and an entirely reformist agenda.

We don’t need Martin Narey’s consent to organise.

First published in 'Inside Out' No 14

(n.b. The present Director General of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is Phil Wheatley).

Ben Gunn General Secretary of the AoP bio

Ben Gunn General Secretary of the AoP bio

Wednesday 25 February 2009



The General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners, is a serving prisoner, who wishes to remain anonymous at this point in time, for personal reasons, and will make a public announcement in due course. In the meantime, John Hirst aka Jailhouselawyer, to the online community, is the former General Secretary of the AoP, and presently its Legal Adviser, Political Adviser, and Media Adviser.

Elkan Abrahamson of AS Law (solicitors), Liverpool, legally represents the General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners, and the AoP, as does Flo Krause, barrister.

“Parliament and you

Any citizen of the European Union, or resident in a Member State, may, individually or in association with others, submit a petition to the European Parliament on a subject which comes within the European Union's fields of activity and which affects them directly. Any company, organisation or association with its headquarters in the European Union may also exercise this right of petition, which is guaranteed by the Treaty.

A petition may take the form of a complaint or a request and may relate to issues of public or private interest.
The petition may present an individual request, a complaint or observation concerning the application of EU law or an appeal to the European Parliament to adopt a position on a specific matter. Such petitions give the European Parliament the opportunity of calling attention to any infringement of a European citizen's rights by a Member State or local authorities or other institution” (Source: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/parliament/public/staticDisplay.do?id=49&language=en).

Juliet Lyon is the Director of the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), and whilst is not a member of the AoP, nevertheless is in support of convicted prisoners being allowed the franchise.

Geoff Dobson is the Deputy Director of the PRT.

Mike Fitzgerald is a Social and Political Scientist, formerly a Lecturer in Social Sciences at the Open University. He spent 4 years closely associated with the formation and development of the prisoners union PROP (Preservation of the Rights of Prisoners). He is the author of Prisoners in Revolt, (Penguin, 1977).

Joe Sim

Sunday 22 February 2009

Sorry I have moved

Sorry I have moved

new URL http://jailhouselawyersblog.blogspot.com


Press Release:UK Prisoners vote out government

The Association of Prisoners (AoP), have surprised the government, today, by launching a legal strike last night, to the European Parliament, because of the Ministry of Justice procrastination in abiding by a ECtHR decision relating to the universal suffrage.

The AoP which was formed as a result of the Human Rights Act, allowing the move under Article 11 of the Convention, have engaged in Lawful Rebellion against the government and Parliament for the failure to pass the necessary legislation allowing all convicted prisoners to vote in the UK General Election. They have petitioned the EU to be allowed to vote in the UK, at the Elections to the European Parliament, to be held on 4 June 2009. They wish to vote for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Under Article 194 of the EC Treaty the AoP have submitted a petition to the European Parliament to be allowed to exercise their rights as EU citizens.

The surprise legal move has caught the UK government off guard, because its erroneous legal view is that:"At present prisoners serving a custodial sentence do not have the right to vote. This ban was enshrined in section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 as amended by the Representation of the People Act 1985:

3 Disfranchisement of offenders in prison etc,

(1) A convicted person during the time that he is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of his sentence [or unlawfully at large when he would otherwise be so detained] is legally incapable of voting at any parliamentary or local government election".

The AoP, in its petition, contends that the "any parliamentary" only applies to any UK parliamentary election, because under EU law the UK cannot bind the EU Parliament, but the EU parliament can bind the UK. For example, a Swedish prisoner in a UK prison is entitled to vote in the EU parliamentary election. It follows that because UK prisoners are also EU citizens they can exercise their right to vote in the forthcoming election. The prisoners are relying upon the principle of universal suffrage. To deny them this right would mean that they are being victimised, and would lead to claims for compensation costing the government many millions of pounds at a time when there is an economic downturn.

Following the landmark judgment in Hirst v UK(No2), Cyprus, Iraq, and the Republic of Ireland, have granted prisoners the vote, and now Hong Kong is to follow suit.

The petition has been filed with the Committee on Petitions, the specific point raised about the EU parliamentary election did not emerge during the above case, which is itself to be the subject of the Committee of Ministers meeting on 17-19 March 2009, when the execution of the judgment is expected. It would appear that the government is facing a double whammy, and have seriously underestimated the legal ability of the jailhouselawyers and AoP members politicisation over recent years.