Regular readers will have noticed that I follow prisoner Ben's blog, but until now have resisted making any comment on what is a current case. However, seeing that his situation is reported in the Guardian and eminent persons such as Lord Ramsbotham have made comment in the past, I no longer feel quite as constrained. As a blog by a serving prisoner it is of enormous value in being able to give some insight into this normally very secretive world, but additionally due to his lifer status it also serves to shed some light into the issues that surround decisions concerning such prisoners and why they do not seem to be progressing towards release. As I have pointed out before, there are many lifers that are way over their tariffs due partly to the Parole Board becoming increasingly risk averse as a response to public opinion.
By blogging, Ben is either being extremely brave or unwise or a bit of both. In normal circumstances it would not be a good idea to comment on a case without being privy to the file or indeed knowing the person at all. All we know about the case is from Ben himself and that he is some 20 years over his 10 year tariff. We are not going to hear the other side as it were, but there has to be some particular reasons why this man does not seem to be making progress towards release. I suspect the clue is in his reported policy of not being particularly co-operative with 'the system'. Now as all probation officers know, being co-operative is precisely what 'the system' requires in order to inform its decisions about progress and ultimately release.
In 'normal' circumstances the power balance is massively weighted in favour of 'the system' as opposed to the prisoner and possibly most people would not be that surprised and in fact might question how it could be any different. But here we appear to have someone who wants to challenge that power balance, whilst at the same time presumably also wanting to be released. There seems to be an impasse as to exactly on whose terms progress can be made. It strikes me that this only poses a problem to 'the system' because Ben has decided to make it all public. Normally the public would know nothing of such things, but I can't help but note he asserts in a recent blog that he does not manipulate.
I know of a very similar case where the prisoner refused to co-operate with any programmes, courses or processes that could have assisted with efforts in helping him progress through his sentence and towards release. Although regarded as a 'model' prisoner, despite much effort at trying to persuade him to co-operate he resolutely refused, thus making meaningful assessments of risk quite difficult. After several years of making absolutely no progress at all, I well remember attempting to make as good a case as I could at an Oral Hearing that possibly 'the system' might have to adopt a different approach towards making a decision because I could see absolutely no prospect of the man changing his attitude. The exchanges with the Parole Board Panel were interesting, but their written response some weeks later confirmed that such an idea was not going to be possible. The simple fact is, 'the system' at present just can't cope with people who decide that for what ever reason they're not going to play ball. In the end the guy took matters into his own hands and absconded from an escorted visit and remains unlawfully-at-large to this day. I think most would agree that this is not a very wise way of resolving such an issue.