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Prison Officers understand right and wrong, Legal Representatives understand winning and losing. Blog.

November 17, 2011

Prison Officers understand right and wrong, Legal Representatives understand winning and losing. Discuss.


“Gov, how can you do this job?”

Many years ago a Headteacher said to me “fundamentally, people are good” and it’s turned out to be true. Strangers I’ve met throughout my life have been given the benefit of the doubt and mostly come up trumps. I believe you should be able to lean a bike against a shop window and find it there when you come out. Your car should have as many windows in it as when you parked it and your house should not have to be like Fort Knox to keep burglars out. I agree with the laws of this country, including the right to be free from sexual or physical assault. If you cross these laws you will go to jail and I will lock the door every night with a clear conscience.

“What about those who are innocent?”

I don’t know who they are. It’s not easy to get in to prison, if anything most people should go to prison long before they get their first sentence but the bottom line is, I don’t meet many people that claim to be innocent. Of those who claim innocence most are arguing that the exact conviction is wrong. Yes, they were there and involved but the exact conviction is wrong. Unlucky kid.

“What if they’re mentally ill?”

Difficult, I am aware of quite a number of prisoners whose mental health behaviour has been interpreted as criminal because the other option of using a Section of the Mental Health Act to hold then assess is no longer available due to resource issues. If this response was used against you it might take the following course. You’re having dinner with friends in a lovely restaurant when an ulcer in your stomach bursts. You wretch and spray some blood from your mouth. Instead of an ambulance, the police turn up and arrest you for criminal damage to the restaurant carpet and you go to prison. Replace ulcer with mental health problem and you have the mental illness route into custody. So how can I lock them up? It’s easy, most people in this situation are homeless when not in prison so its good to give them 3 meals and somewhere warm to be. Also, behind the illness is the personality and I’m lucky enough to be working with some people who are frankly a bit of a laugh. I’m working to try and ensure they don’t hit the streets on release so it’s not ideal but it’s moving on.


“I told that idiot on the switchboard I’d be here at 10 now where’s the prisoner?”

Most of my dealings with legal representatives come when I supervise legal visits. The quote above was fairly unusual in its rudeness but fairly common in reflecting an underlying attitude of mild contempt from legal reps to prison officers. One of the reasons for this is simple. Prisoners often portray officers as brutal violent thugs when in conversation with Legal Reps. I know this because they will go for the double whammy and speak of officer brutality in a loud voice to gain lawyer sympathy and officer anger. The drip drip of prisoner accusations is never balanced with any conversations with officers therefore the view of officers becomes negative.

Legal representatives have no moral compass at all.

Before you jump all over me hear me out. Appearing in court is a process devoid of morality. Has the prosecution got a case? Can they present it without falling into a trap? Was the investigation conducted properly? Was the evidence handled properly? Is this the correct charge? Is the paperwork complete and legal?

I suggest, for the purpose of this discussion, that Legal representatives adopt a position of neutral morality for their job. You don’t ever ask if this defendant is a danger to society because it’s not your job. Sometimes, legal people go into an area akin to hell. Rape victims being grilled in the witness box for hours in the hope they disintegrate as a person or the Dowler family being put on trial in the faint hope that Bellfield might see their resolve weaken and he gets away with murder. I’m not saying that I see an alternative but I am saying that as a prison officer I have a clear moral compass while as legal representatives you don’t have that luxury and I wonder what that does to you, how you manage the problem or indeed if you think there is a problem at all.



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  1. I think you are being a tad damning of the Legal Profession here. I value, as I am sure others do, you’re input through the eyes of a Prison Officer so I am not going to explosively critical.

    You may want to read the recent blog as to this issue:

    Morals: I think you will find most lawyers have a well developed “moral compass” when dealing with cases we also have another guideline to help us, ethics. There are well defined ethical rules that have developed over many, many years. It is not up for a lawyer to determine guilt or otherwise, that would usupr the function of a jury and would leave a person without a viable person to help put his case. A rape allegation maybe made by a person who is inbalanced or scorned. Do you not agree that a complainant ought to be cross-excamined to see if this is the case. I could go on but won’t, I just feel that someone ought to register disagreement with your comments. You have every right to make such comments, lawyers try to protect your rights to make them.

    As for allegations made by prisoners about prison officers, I do keep a pinch of salt close by, people in custody want to blame all and sundry and lawyers recognise this is the case.

    • Thank you for a very considered response and for not becoming explosively critical.
      I wonder if you might recognise my next move as the tactic of an excellent advocate, that is to reveal more information having earlier appeared to state a full case.
      This is a one off situation and the blame lays wholly in the hands of the Legal Representative concerned and not the profession. A legal representative was speaking to a client, who had exhausted legal appeals to aviod deportation, in front of border and immigration staff and me.
      He said “When they get you on the plane tear off your clothes and act like you’re mad, disrupt the flight and they can’t remove you”
      Ethics would suggest this is not appropriate behaviour but my point is that in a fee and success driven business relying on peoples concience to police the ethics is going to be more than some can manage.

      As for the rape allegations needing full scrutiny, I completely agree with you. I might be referring to cases where a defendant has considerable evidence against them but then insists that the victim be produced for examination suggesting an abusive situation. While I write this I am aware that I don’t have a single incident to bring by way of evidence of this happening. I can only assume that I have accidentally read a copy of the daily Mail which has temporarily caused an imbalance in my otherwise sharp thought processes.

  2. What an excellent and well balanced post – clearly your job gives you a balanced approach to the real world. Lawyers do get a bad rap, ultimately they are not our moral guardians, but I do like your non-judgmental attitude towards some in prison. The reasons are much more complex that just “good or bad”.

  3. Calum permalink

    Gosh, lawyers sometimes defend bad people as part of their job. Astonishing revelation, there.

  4. I was repeatedly threatened with prison in Stafford and Wolverhampton secret family courts, if I committed Contempt of Court, which seemed to be me talking about Ralph Underwager and Richard Gardner, two dead paedophiles from America who invented junk science syndromes that the secret family courts use to take peoples children away for no good reason. I am one of the Staffordshire Pindown child abuse victims, and the same judge (John Shand) who was at my case (he stormed out the court room and I didnt know why) was the one who jailed some of the paedophiles who were in charge of the Staffordshire childrens “homes”, my case went on for 7 years they made me very ill and I though I was going to die (pneumonia, they grinded my health down so much it was like hell on earth) MI5 are involved in covering up the abuse and terrorising the victims with legal abuse, my son has Asperger Syndrome and so do I, they had me weeping and screaming on the floor, terrorising me, I wonder how many victims of the Secret Family Court they’ve put in jail, and how many committed suicide, I felt so low that at one point I wanted to die how can they get away with doing that to people?

  5. and also they’ve covered up the Staffordshire Pindown government report, denying it to victims of the abuse, yet terrorising them in all sorts of crafty ways, its dreadful what they have done, paedophiles are in high places, including child protection!

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