Support for prisoners serving life sentences and their loved ones
While it is crucial never to forget the victims of crime and the suffering they endure, it is equally important to acknowledge the families and friends of individuals serving life sentences and the ongoing detrimental impact on their lives.
Currently, in the UK, a large proportion of the prison population are serving some form of life sentence, leaving thousands of families grappling with emotional and financial challenges. The prevalence of long and life sentences is on the rise, necessitating our remembrance of the innocent children and loved ones left behind.
With an increasing number of individuals being sentenced to longer terms at younger ages and the broad application of the Joint Enterprise law (which allows joint convictions if one party is seen to have foreseen the other's criminal actions), the prison population serving life sentences is rapidly growing. As a result, prisoners are aging behind bars, yet there is insufficient infrastructure in place to prepare for this surge and the resulting issues, not only within prisons but also for the prisoners and the communities they will eventually re-join.
Unfortunately, there are no official support groups in the UK dedicated to life-sentenced prisoners and their families on the outside. Our aim is to establish an open community and support group that addresses the experiences of prisoners and families enduring their loved ones' sentences, while raising awareness of the effects of these sentences on prisoners, families, and friends.
Furthermore, there is a misconception that adults sentenced to mandatory life only serve half of their sentence before being released, but this is not the case. Mandatory life sentences come with specified tariffs that individuals must serve in full before becoming eligible for parole. Even after completing the sentence, there is no guarantee of release, as automatic release is not granted to any prisoner serving an indeterminate sentence. Consequently, some individuals may end up serving many additional years beyond their tariff.
Whether it is a relatively long sentence or any type of life sentence that is impacting you, we understand the harm these sentences can inflict, and our primary objective is to provide a lifeline and assure you that you are not alone.
Given the ongoing increase in life sentences, we urge the government to reduce sentence lengths, establish more comprehensive structures to address the needs of prisoners serving lengthy tariffs and support their constructive rehabilitation during their time in custody.
From the Category A system until release and beyond, it is more crucial than ever to shed light on the challenges and difficulties prisoners and families continue to face behind prison walls, upon release, and in their reintegration into society.
Our support network is fully aware of the need for sensitivity and assistance for individuals serving long and life sentences, and it lies at the heart of our mission. Through our platform, we aim to educate those who come into contact with our network about life sentences and their impact on others.
Our campaign is committed to raising awareness about the far-reaching consequences of life sentences, shedding light on their hidden conditions, and advocating for the reform of these sentences.
Reforming Policies, Sentences, Rehabilitation, and Reviews: Many countries mandate periodic reviews of life sentences, considering the possibility of release after a certain number of years. The underlying principle is to allow for the rehabilitative effects of imprisonment and recognise the potential for personal transformation. However, in the UK, the length of life sentences has more than doubled in recent decades, with approximately 10% of the prison population serving life sentences, and for many, these sentences are longer than they have been alive. Alarmingly, the European Convention on Human Rights states that there is no obligation to rehabilitate life sentence prisoners within the prison system, exacerbating the damage inflicted by these sentences. Our campaign advocates for the implementation of sentence reviews for life-sentenced prisoners who have demonstrated significant improvement and emphasises the provision of rehabilitative resources to support their progress. Instead of merely punishing prisoners more severely, we advocate for sentencing rules that facilitate rehabilitation and positive change. Moreover, we are dedicated to promoting the reform of life sentence conditions and influencing sentencing policies that currently deprive individuals of hope for rebuilding their lives after imprisonment.
Programmes and Support: Currently, the UK prison system denies funding for higher education based on the stage of a prisoner's sentence. This policy has severe consequences for individuals who are limited in their opportunities to learn at certain stages of their sentence. We support the campaigns and organisations working to change this policy and urge the government to take action. In the absence of higher education services and courses, we aim to develop tailored programmes and workshops specifically for life-sentenced prisoners. These initiatives play a crucial role in supporting individuals throughout their sentences, especially in the early stages and in Category A establishments. Life-sentenced prisoners, particularly those who may feel wrongfully convicted, face significant marginalization within the prison community. They require a distinct approach that offers tailored support to help them navigate their sentences, rather than being solely evaluated based on perceived risk. We are eager to collaborate with organisations that can provide these types of programmes and resources. Additionally, we aim to enhance the skill set of prison officials to better support those serving life sentences, highlighting the benefits of providing comprehensive care and support, which can foster improved relationships, prison safety, and morale.
Maintaining Connection: Digital skills are essential for individuals leaving the prison system and studies indicate that prisoners who sustain relationships are less likely to reoffend. Therefore, it is crucial to advocate for technology access for life-sentenced prisoners, enabling them to stay informed about current events and maintain connections with loved ones on the outside. Many Category A prisons lack in-cell phones and are often located in remote areas, making it challenging for families to afford travelling long distances and maintaining regular contact. Additionally, considering the prevalence of COVID-19 regulations and heightened sanitation measures worldwide, all UK prisons should adhere to these regulations and install in-cell phones. This step would not only reduce the spread of infection but also provide prisoners with a degree of privacy when communicating with loved ones or seeking support from organisations, significantly benefiting their mental health and alleviating isolation. The combination of limited contact and lack of access to information further institutionalises prisoners and compounds the frustration of isolation, affecting their loved ones as well. By keeping prisoners in a pre-digital age, we systematically hinder their ability to function in the world they will enter upon release.
Unity: Our platform and forum aim to unite families and friends affected by the prison system, particularly life sentences. We are focused on establishing a membership community that transcends prison walls, where we can collectively drive positive change for those inside and outside of prison. Through sharing first-hand experiences and knowledge from those serving life sentences, we seek to raise awareness about the impact of life sentences and collectively work towards solutions.
Progression and Law: Prison law and the progression process can be intricate and confusing, even for those with experience and knowledge of the system. Policies frequently change, and information on practices can be unclear, causing distress, discouragement, and confusion among prisoners and their loved ones. Our platform provides guidance on the protocols of various processes, including pre-tariff reviews, categorisation, parole, licence conditions, and recall.
Life after Life: For some prisoners, release can be the most challenging phase of their journey. Upon release, prisoners often find that their expectations of returning to normal life are unrealistic, especially after serving lengthy sentences. The world may have changed significantly during their incarceration, leaving them unprepared. Life-sentenced prisoners face immense difficulty in preparing for release and readjusting to life outside due to ongoing economic and societal obstacles. Limited resources, inadequate support, and stringent licence conditions hinder successful reintegration into the community. Our campaign focuses on identifying specialised support that life-sentenced prisoners can receive after release. We are keen to assist probation services in managing this demographic and ensuring they receive the necessary support. Additionally, we have established our own peer support group for prisoners and their loved ones who may feel vulnerable throughout the prison sentence and after release. This peer support platform provides a safe space for individuals to share their experiences and knowledge, helping them navigate their journey.
Restorative Justice: Through our organisation, we aim to facilitate opportunities for prisoners to pursue restorative justice, should they wish to do so. Restorative justice is a process in which remorseful offenders take responsibility for their actions, particularly to their victims and the community. It fosters an obligation to make amends and actively involves victims, offenders, and the community in finding solutions that promote repair, reconciliation, and reassurance. Restorative justice contributes to a criminal justice system that is accessible, compassionate, and fair, providing a framework for addressing and preventing harm beyond mere punishment and towards healing.
If we neglect to reform the practices concerning life sentences, the potential consequences could lead to less safe prisons and communities. It is of utmost importance to provide prisoners with hope and opportunities for redemption. Otherwise, upon release, they might be in their later years, lacking vital life skills and meaningful relationships that could showcase their transformation beyond the crime for which they were incarcerated.