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If you are sure whole life sentences really are good for us all please consider this….

20, July 2012

Letter for publication to; The Editor of the Daily Express. Re:- Jeremy Bamber’s European Appeal against a whole life prison sentence, following your online articles on the 20th July 2012 here;

and here;

It will be in all of our best interests if The European Court of Human Rights does allow Jeremy Bamber and his co appellants to have their whole life sentence tariffs removed. Killers are more likely to admit their crimes and co-operate with prison authorities if they have some hope of release one day. We are able to run our prisons with as few staff as we do because most prisoners do co-operate, knowing their co-operation makes it more likely they will be released earlier than if they are obstructive.

Our system functions so that whatever tariff the sentencing judge sets, a prisoner will only be released when the Parole Board believes, he is unlikely to offend in future. After release he is monitored for as long as needed by the probation service.  As I know from personal experience, poor co-operation and/or a worsening risk assessment of reoffending will result in a return to prison.

Allowing release at some time in future also means we, the taxpayers, don’t have to pay quite so much to maintain old prisoners, if they become frail.  I knew one man who was still a risk after over 30 years inside. Just a few years later however, he was very frail confined to a wheelchair and unable to cause harm. Eventually he was successfully released, meaning prison staff could concentrate on those who did not need nursing.

It would still be possible for a court to set a tariff of 30 or 40 years or even longer, so it will always be the Judge in the UK who decides the length, not the European Court. Britain’s longest serving prisoner – not sentenced to a whole life term is Harry Roberts, now in the 46th year of his sentence. He still has another 9 years to serve if he is to overtake the longest ever sentence of the late John Straffen who died 4 years ago after 55 years of a life sentence, again without a whole life tariff.  A change in the law in the way sought by Bamber would not guarantee release before his death. It would give him and others cause to hope release might happen and so prompt co-operative behaviour so that prison officers can give more attention to preparing others for rehabilitation as lock-downs are less likely to be needed. In the long run it should lead to less resentful prisoners on release, surely better for us all?

Yours faithfully

Retired Probation Officer


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