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“Here” is Pul-e-Charki.

The long and contested history of this complex has eluded my ability to summarise. Lyse Doucet‘s 13 minute report for BBC Newsnight does an excellent job.

That the Ministry of Justice and Prison Service have embarked on a course of activity in an effort to disrupt my blog only reinforces my view that I was right to intrude on the public. That the MoJ and the HMPS have the brass neck to portray themselves as guardians of the law while traducing it reveals the very underbelly of criminal justice morality that my blog wishes to illustrate.

Ben Gunn, Guardian. Monday September 14th, 2009

There is an interesting debate growing in the UK. Should prisoners be allowed to blog?


Ben Gunn, who claims to be the only serving UK prisoner who blogs, had a letter to his wife intercepted by the prison governor and told “the content is interesting enough to be published on the internet” and on this ground it was stopped from leaving the prison.

Gunn set up the blog at the end of August. He writes the content and his editor posts it to the web.

Gunn has caused a stir with forthright opinions on politicised victims groups, spineless politicians and poor prison management. These, he argues, are not fallacious rants, but genuine problems of an overly-punitive system and disengaged society.

Furthermore, Gunn argues that despite his original sentence of 10 years, he remains in prison after 30 because he has continuously challenged the prison authorities. At present Gunn is engaged in research towards a PhD, focused upon the role of Human Needs Theory in prison conflicts.

My question “How do we feel about Prison Bloggers?” is largely rhetorical. How we feel about them makes no impingement on their lawful right to write and publish from prison. Let’s be absolutely clear here. Gunn is breaking NO LAW.

The only law that may pertain is that Gunn may receive no compensation for his writing while a ward of the prison service. But this was never the issue at stake. Gunn’s free speech was deliberately quashed by the administration of a system that stood to face criticism through his words.

The official position as summarised by another excellent prison rights blogger John Hirst (The Jailhouse Lawyer):

The Ministry of Justice writes: “There is no specific Prison Service policy on prisoners using or posting blogs, as they do not have direct unregulated access to computers or the internet”. However, the reply goes on to to say that it can be implied from Prison Service order 4411, that a prisoner cannot ask someone else to communicate what the prisoner is not in a position to do himself and which violates the rules. The MoJ has clearly failed to take into account the human right to freedom of expression guaranteed under article 10 of the European convention, and prisoners’ rights to contact the media “on matters of legitimate public interest“.

I agree with many of Gunn’s positions, I don’t appreciate his tone sometimes, but I think he must absolutely exist within the dialogue about British criminal justice. His thoughts as a serving prisoner are of central value to debate and an informed public.

The echoes ring true and far. Gunn’s concerns over misinformation, scare-mongering and codes of silence are as acute (if not moreso) in the US prison industry.

I’ll leave you with Gunn’s view on prevailing distortions to debate and his admirable defiance:

In reducing discussions to trite slogans and vote-grubbing soundbites, we debase ourselves as a collective and as people. I realise that I pose a challenge, but regardless of any efforts expended by the government I am not going away.


As well as the Guardian sources linked in this article, the BBC picked up on this story and includes a brief but informative audio discussion of the issue.


Editor’s note: It seems strange that in the UK this quasi-controversial issue has taken a long time to rear its head – after all, Michael Santos has been blogging from US federal prisons at his own Prison Journal and as a guest at since January 2009.

Two stories from the British press this week mimicking to two pressing issues of the American justice system – care provision for mentally ill prison populations & exoneration after wrongful conviction.

First off. As the Beeb reports, The Lord Bradley Report has recommended moving mentally ill inmates out of prisons and into alternative care environments. That’s a significant victory for prison mental health reformers, and for the UK public.

The impressive thing Bradley’s report is that he ties the shortcomings of the prison system to provide appropriate mental-health care to wider problematic practices of policing; highlighting in particular the relatively new anti-social behaviour (ASBO) as inflexible and routinely applied. From the BBC,

It is expected to highlight how ASBO and penalty notices can accelerate the treatment of mentally ill people as criminals. Some estimates suggest 70% of inmates have two or more mental disorders


In February, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures revealed that a record 3,906 offenders with mental disorders were being held in secure hospitals in England and Wales at the end of 2007.

'I miss the prison crowds' ... Sean Hodgson. Photograph: David Levene/Guardian

'I miss the prison crowds' ... Sean Hodgson. Photograph: David Levene/Guardian

Secondly, The Guardian ran Sean Hodgson’s story about time served on a 27 year wrongful conviction. It also covered the first three days following release and the circumstances of Hodgson and reporter, Aina Edemariam, meeting. Edemariam picked Hodgson up off the street after he’d been clipped by the wing mirror of a passing taxi.

Sean Hodgson has been dealt a shitty hand. He suffers from a long list of serious health problems, his money has run out so he survives on coffee. He is lonely. On a ‘couple of times he has felt so depressed he has called a crisis line. But it was busy, he says. “So I just went to bed.”‘ He has also been stalked by a tabloid photographer.

In the US, The Innocence Project has led the way using DNA evidence to overturn wrongful convictions. I think Britain lawyers’ eyes were opened by the Innocence Project’s legal endeavours. The UK has been slower in it’s use of DNA testing for old cases. Sean Hodgson has served the second longest term for a wrongful conviction in the history of British law. And after doing that time? Well it was an abrupt transition:

Lifers who admit guilt go through a few years of preparation for their release: they are given parole, are able to work outside the prison, to put housing and income in place; they can retreat to the prison whenever the outside world gets too overwhelming. Those who have never admitted their guilt very rarely get parole, and thus receive none of this. So Hodgson was taken immediately to the housing and benefits offices – where it transpired that someone had stolen his identity and he no longer had a national insurance (social security) number, meaning that officially he did not exist. His MP had to intervene to sort that out.

With his brother he had his first pint and cigarette as a free man. Although they had spoken twice a week throughout his incarceration they hadn’t actually seen each other for over 10 years, because, he says, his brother couldn’t afford to travel to the prison. After their drink, his brother went back to his hotel, and the next morning, home, to work a night shift. And then Hodgson was on his own.

And then in some final insult, Hodgson’s compensation from the government, which will take at least a year and for which he must apply!, will pan out like this:

Then, when compensation is finally paid out, the government, unbelievably, docks room and board, or “saved living expenses” calculated on the basis of what a frugal person might have spent on their own upkeep if they were free. “As if you voluntarily popped into the local prison,” says Young, contemptuously. “Yes, it would have cost them something to live – but you’ve taken their liberty. If you can afford £50bn to bail out a bank you can afford to compensate someone for 27 years in prison.” McManus estimates that Hodgson will pay a minimum of £100,000 for the privilege. The appeal was paid for by legal aid, but it does not cover the process of applying for compensation. And so Hodgson will have to pay legal fees too.


I know it’s quote heavy. I tried to reduce the articles down to their essentials.

David Levene’s photographic work for the Guardian

Permanent for Sean Hodgson article, ‘Freedom? It’s lonely’

Continued Guardian coverage of Sean Hodgson


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