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