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Face to face with former prison inmates

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sinead-rebecca-and-adam-2Criminology, Psychology and Sociology students met former prison inmates at a Life Behind Bars conference. Students Adam Reed (right – Computer Science, Criminology and Use of Maths – wants to work in Computer Forensics), Rebecca Loudon (centre – Criminology, Sociology and Psychology – wants to be a Forensic Psychologist) and Sinead Beale (left – Criminology, Sociology and Travel & Tourism – wants to be a Customs Officer) explain what the conference involved:

“I had no idea what to expect beforehand,” says Adam.

“I knew that we would be meeting former inmates, but didn’t know what they would be like – or why they’d been in prison,” adds Rebecca,

“We heard from three former inmates,” says Sinead. “One of them looked rather menacing and didn’t really seem to care that he had been in prison. He found it quite easy to be there as he could pick up tips on how to avoid being detected!”.

“He had been in prison for committing a string of comparatively minor crimes,” adds Adam. “These included shop-lifting and burglary, though he had also served time for GBH (grievous bodily harm).”

“The next person had been in prison for a ‘white-collar’ crime,” says Rebecca. “He had been arrested, along with some other people, for fraud – persuading people to invest in an ostrich farm. The ostriches then disappeared! His case was interesting – the defendants were recommended to plead guilty. They were told that they would then serve shorter sentences if found guilty. The defendants who refused to do so were found not guilty, whereas this man agreed to plead guilty and went to prison. He maintained that he was innocent.”

“We then had a big shock,” says Adam. “There were a couple of other people there, and we thought that their job was to run the conference, but it turned out that one of them had been convicted of murder.”

“He had been walking home late at night when a naked man jumped on him. They got into a fight, and he knocked out his attacker. He was arrested for GBH, but his attacker then died,” adds Sinead.

“Even though the attacker was a convicted paedophile, and high on alcohol and drugs,” says Adam, “our man was still sentenced to 12 years in gaol. He was only 23 at the time.”

The three students agreed that there were possibly some complexities in the case, which might have resulted in the murder conviction rather than manslaughter.

“However, we would never have identified him as a murderer – he just didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would do something like that,” says Rebecca. “What was even more shocking for me was that when we first arrived, he was handing out mince pies!”

“The murderer, along with the ‘ostrich farmer’ gave us useful advice,” says Sinead. “They said to avoid fights whenever possible. It is actually worryingly easy to cause a death if you hit someone. They may fall over and hit their head on something – so always try and remain calm.”

All three men were in HMS Prison Leicester, and the murderer and ostrich farmer shared a cell. “The burglar did everyone’s washing for them in return for phone cards – everyone is given phone cards of the same value, but those who can’t use them up, swap them for other things,” says Adam. “You also have to buy your television and pay the licence fee so that the tax payer is not funding your entertainment.”

The three inmates complained that the vocational courses they took while in prison weren’t always very useful for finding work afterwards. “There was no real rehabilitation,” says Sinead, “so many people left gaol and then committed the same crimes again. “The murderer took a Health & Social Care degree but then wasn’t allowed to work in a care position when he was released, even though he worked in a care home garden once he was moved to an open prison.”

“The murderer also said that he kept a low profile while in prison as murder convicts can face hostility from other inmates,” says Rebecca. “He never tells anyone about his conviction, and it’s difficult when he’s with a group of new friends who support the death penalty.”

There was also a forensic psychologist at the conference who talked about the risk assessments she needs to carry out to make sure those convicted are sent to the most appropriate prisons. She also has to assess whether they are safe to release into the community at the end of their sentence.

“It was interesting to hear how contributory factors leading to the crime are examined in each case,” explains Adam. “Some people have underlying psychological conditions such psychopathic tendencies. Others are just opportunistic whilst a third category relates to the person’s place in society. This was why it was so useful for students from all three subject areas (Criminology, Psychology and Sociology) to attend.”

To round off the event, students tried out different examples of prison clothing. Adam was one of the ‘models’. “They have leisure gear, work clothes and even prison pyjamas!” says Rebecca.”On top of that, they have special clothing for visitor days.”

The three students found the conference a sobering occasion. “Not only did these three men spend considerable periods of time in prison,” says Sinead. “They also found it hard to find work and fit in with society on their release. We were really grateful to them for coming and speaking to us – we learned a huge amount and had much to think about afterwards.”