Working with Women Prisoners
Changes to our services as a result of the Coronavirus situation
Due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, on 12 March 2020, PAS suspended it’s Outreach Clinic service in prisons. However we have been able to keep our Telephone Advice Line open, and have increased the number of Caseworkers answering calls. We have seen a sharp increase in the number of calls from prisoners, receiving over 4,300 calls between the 12th of March and 9th of April. Caseworkers are dealing with a range of questions, including physical and mental health issues.
PAS has called on the government for the release of low risk prisoners and those who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. We have also composed a Compassionate Early Release letter template, which can be downloaded on our website and be used by anyone to advocate for a prisoner’s early release.
In March, PAS participated in the GlobalGiving ‘Girl Fund’ and raised over £380 to go towards our work with women prisoners. Thank you for all your donations.
PAS helped Prisoner A, a woman in her late 50s, who had been convicted of two counts of manslaughter and one of arson and had received an Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence with a minimum tariff of eight years (meaning that she can be retained in custody after her sentence has been served). The prisoner committed her crimes in order to fund her drug addiction, which began at eight years old as a result of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother. She had no history of violence or arson offences, but set fire to a chair in her flat, which then spread, killing two of her neighbours.
Prisoner A suffered from significant mental illness, which was undiagnosed at the time of the offence. She had previously been sectioned but was released without treatment or support. She also suffered from cognitive difficulties, functioning in the Extremely Low and Borderline Range. Illiterate when she entered prison eight years ago, she is now able to read and write a little.
The prisoner had become eligible for parole, and wanted to request a transfer to open prison conditions rather than release, which would have been unlikely, due to the IPP nature of her sentence. The psychiatrist who assessed her for the purposes of parole concurred that she had been let down by mental health services and that she was not being appropriately treated at the time of the offence, going so far as to suggest that, had she been receiving treatment, it might not have occurred.
PAS represented Prisoner A at her parole review, requesting that she be transferred to open conditions. Due to enduring mental illness and illiteracy, she found it very hard to understand, and remember, the parole process, which made taking instructions from her difficult. These also meant that PAS could not communicate with her by letter. Our Women Prisoners’ Caseworker visited Prisoner A regularly – more frequently than is usual – and arranged telephone calls throughout the process to ensure that she understood what was happening.
During her minimum tariff, Prisoner A’s illiteracy had meant that she wasn’t able to engage in any offender behaviour courses, to which the Parole Board attach great weight. PAS was able to persuade the board that this should not pertain in this instance, and that to keep her in closed conditions now would amount to punishment for low levels of intellect and cognitive ability.
As a result of our intervention, the Parole Board recommended that Prisoner A be transferred to open conditions, which would be required in order to convince the board to ultimately release her. PAS continued to assist the prisoner to ensure she was able to access the support she needed whilst in open conditions in order to progress to her eventual release.
Prisoners’ Advice Service remains most grateful to GlobalGiving for helping to support our work with women prisoners in England and Wales. It is particularly relevant at this time, with women prisoners facing a range of issues in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. The donations we receive from individuals such as yourself are crucial to enable us to continue providing this vital support.