Founder of Media Diversified Samantha Asumadu has been moonlighting for openDemocracy. We know It’s hard for some to care about prisoners, but we should all care about a prison system used to effectively torture individual prisoners. This article is the first in our series about indeterminate sentences for public protection
My latest investigative story for openDemocracy was published on Thursday.
Here it is Exclusive: Prisoners ‘may have been refused parole due to fake crimes on files’
I hadn’t really connected what I was investigating as ‘exposing human rights abuses’ until I saw this tweet.
All I thought I was doing was exposing lies and state crimes and discrepancies on the record. Basically I really have to compartmentalise what I work with horror or I can’t get things done.
It would overwhelm me. I nearly cried when I read this tweet yesterday (even though I knew the quote was in the article, after all I recorded the interview) but couldn’t let myself as I still had work to do. I couldn’t let the horror of it all overwhelm me. The horror of what the people had been put through.
I had first met Shirley Debono on the 11th January this year. It took nearly a month to report the first story because of the sheer amount of horror stories that were accumulating in my phone and inbox.
We met in a cafe in Cardiff. As she talked, I began to hold my breath. And my tears. I couldn’t write fast enough so I turned on my phone’s voice recorder. I usually film people. I don’t record voices. But her words were so shocking over a 2-hour meeting that I knew it needed to be documented somehow. And my shorthand writing wasn’t doing it justice. She told me “I’ve had an email from Leroy around about October time begging me to get help for him to get his story out there to the newspapers, begging me to get in touch with reporters and journalists to get his case out there. Leroy was deemed safe for release to a D Cat prison in June last year, but they won’t put him in an open prison because he is on methadone scripts for pain. So he is languishing in prison because he’s on a methadone script. It’s just barbaric that he should be in prison not for the crime he committed, but because there is no help for him out there.
And Leroy does need help to get out, he’s done 17 years now. On a two-year tariff.”
A tariff is what the American sitcoms and even our own BBC dramas would call a minimum sentence. Between 2005 and 2012, when it was scrapped a judge could give you an IPP (indeterminate sentence for public protection) Between 2005 and 2013 8,711 people in England and Wales were given a particular type of life sentence, the IPP.
Before 2005 the sentences were reserved for murder, the most serious cases of manslaughter, GBH and rape
If a judge deems you are guilty of committing a crime a tariff is given if the court thinks an offender is a danger to the public. On the government’s website they say an ‘indeterminate’ prison sentence does not have a fixed length of time.
- no date is set when the person will be released
- they have to spend a minimum amount of time in prison (called a ‘tariff’) before they’re considered for release
The Parole Board is responsible for deciding if someone can be released from prison. judgement is administered by either a magistrate or a drudge, and it’s usually the maximum time you will spend in prison. If you’re in an indeterminate prison for public data Basically if you are sentenced to an IPP your tariff is the very least amount of time you can be locked up.
Shirley told me that “Leroy done a street robbery of a mobile phone in 2006, with no violence, just took the phone” 17 years later he is crying out to be released. In a little cafe with a more than friendly manager, who intermittently brought me pens, coffee, sugar and an ashtray attended us as Shirley told me about Jason. A then 16 years of age he punched a boy in the face and stole his bike. Jason was moved to a mental institute over 4 years ago “because there is no mental health care in prison, his mental health care was mistaken for bad behaviour. “
We both teared up as she told me that his mother is in despair. “They have took all authority away from her because he says he don’t want to speak to her, so they won’t even tell her how he is”
The last time Jason’s mum spoke to her son, they had forced him into a chair and took him off ECT treatment which is forced electricity treatment to the brain. “
“He was crying Mum, they are trying to kill me, they are trying to kill me. His mum is in despair and he is still in a mental facility.”
I decided to investigate IPPs myself, they couldn’t be as brutal as Shirley described on the sunny Cardiff morning I thought. I was wrong.
The first article for Open Democracy was an exclusive: Thousands left in English and Welsh prisons without release dates, despite controversial indefinite sentences long being scrapped
I then went on to TrashFuture Pod to make sure all my questions to the Ministry of Justice were oput on record.
In this special extra segment, Nate interviews Sam Asumadu from Media Diversified (@WritersOfColour) about the phenomenon of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs), a now-banned sentence that has resulted in thousands of British residents effectively receiving life sentences for acts as minor as stealing a mobile phone at age 17. Sam’s written an article on the topic for OpenDemocracy, excerpt below
“Seventeen years I’ve been in jail, on a two-and-a-half year [minimum sentence], for a phone robbery where no violence was ever used.
“My daughter Lataya, 19 years old, has recently passed away, and my uncle now also. Please ask the media to run my story.”
Leroy Douglas wrote these words to campaigner Shirley Debono from his cell in Stocken Prison in the East Midlands. He does not know when he will be released.
Leroy was given a controversial type of indefinite prison sentence, known as ‘imprisonment for public protection’ (IPP), for stealing a phone during a street robbery in 2006. Some 8,000 IPPs were given out by judges in England and Wales between 2005 and 2012, when they were abolished.
On the 15th February my editor Ramzy Alwakeel asked me to do a round up of political reactions to my first exclusive.
This new article was meant to be a simple 800 word piece. I approached people such as former Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke who scrapped IPPs in 2012, current Shadow Justice Minister Steve Reed, Sir Tony Blair and others who never got back to me. I sent out this simple email adjusted dependant on their position/likely ego:
I’ve been writing about the issue of prisoners still serving IPP sentences. We published this story last week: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/families-plea-over-barbaric-indefinite-prison-sentences-for-minor-crimes/
We’d really value a comment from you on the matter as Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, as we’re now working on a follow-up.
In particular, would you be able to let us know what you think personally about the fact there are still people serving sentences like these?
And could you comment on what you think should happen?
Would you, perhaps, add your voice to the calls for all prisoners serving IPPs to be freed as soon as their minimum tariffs had been served, and for their licence conditions to be reduced?
We plan to get political reactions to it from across the spectrum, including from Lord Blunkett and Lord Blair. We also want to get across that IPPs are a disability issue too.
Would you be prepared to make a statement considering IPP sentences were banned in 2012. It’s left thousands of working class white, black and Asian men and women languishing in prison, many for over a decade.
Instead as I collected comments from the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board and corresponded with family and friends of IPP prisoners a darker truth than I had even imagined emerged:
‘Luton man Martin Myers, 40, has been in prison on an IPP sentence since 2006.
In 2013, he was wrongly accused of being a sex offender in a letter from the Parole Board that was seen by fellow inmates. He was savagely beaten.
Martin made a complaint to the prison service in June 2015 after he was attacked by three men who made it clear they were targeting him because of his supposed sexual offences. The Ministry of Justice admitted its mistake and offered Myers £21,000 in compensation, but no effort was made to correct either his record or his reputation with other prisoners, and he was attacked three further times in 2017 and 2018.
‘So patently wrong and unjust, it’s hard to believe that it’s real’
-Green Party peer, Jenny Jones
This was not the first time errors had been made in Martin’s file. In another letter seen by openDemocracy, from 2012, a senior prison officer admits that a reference to Martin being a “hostage taker” in his notes could similarly not be verified.’ Read more here
It’s only just all kind of finally sinking in two days post publication…
I am thankful to to @open_Democracy for supporting me to investigate this story. If ANY of it was untrue or badly sourced or undocumented my editor would be blowing up my whatsapp by now with messages about prosecutions and D-notices etc. The prison service, MOJ and Parole Board are instead as quiet as a mouse… In fact the only message I have had since publication was from a senior Ministry of Justice Press Officer who said “Thanks Sam, Good Piece”
We know It’s hard for some to care about prisoners in the main, but we should all care about a prison system used to effectively torture individual prisoners…
An enquiry can only happen if you make a noise about it.
There are some powerful and influential people who read this site, editors at the Spectator, Telegraph, New York Times, Financial Times, Black Ballad, British Black List CCN and the Guardian to name a few. Journalists at The Independent, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Declassified, Aljazeera English, New Statesman, and Channel 4 just for starters. It’s in your hands now.
My first investigation for @openDemocracy was described by George Monbiot as ‘profoundly disturbing’
It revealed something that had been guarded and hidden for years by both the Labour and Tory Ministries of Justice and the Independent England and Wales Parole Board.
My second investigation for openDemocracy however, reveals hard news. This is in the realm of calling for an enquiry. Careers should be lost and resignations abound.
Read it. And demand #JusticeForIPPs
Samantha Asumadu is a former documentary filmmaker and breaking news reporter. She is the founder of Media Diversified. She is a writer and journalist and is currently working on her first two books, The Wannabe and Radical Empathy: The Columnist Class, Egos and Accountability – More info here:Between a Rock, a Hard Place and a Dystopia.
Find her on Twitter @SamanthaAsumadu
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