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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

and

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.

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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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