Frank Wilkinson: from Cat A to Cat D in the Twinkling of an Eye
On Thursday December 29th, the day after his 65th birthday, Frank was transferred in a high risk security van, a "sweatbox", double-handcuffed, from HMP Long Lartin to HMP North Sea Camp. On arrival, he moved, almost instantaneously, from Category A to Category D conditions - an almost unheard-of transformation from the highest to the lowest security category prison in one leap! In Frank's own words:
...all the way across the country, chained up like a dog, until we arrived at North Sea Camp, where all fetters were finally removed and, in the blink of an eye, I was able to wander about to my heart's content. No walls, no fences, no restrictions - nothing at all.
You can read Frank's own account of the transfer process in his blog account ''Beside the Seaside''.
This move fulfills all the promise held out by the exemplary Oral Hearing conducted by the Parole Board Mandatory Lifer Panel on May 26th. Despite the Prison Service refusing a downgrade to Category C at a re-categorization review held just days before, on May 21st, the Board's decision was to recommend a transfer to open conditions, and therefore a downgrade to Category D. (You can read details of the Mandatory Lifer Panel in here . . . . )
(Incidentally, the prison's re-categorization review may have been held in response to a move by Frank's solicitors applying for a Judicial Review of the latest round of the sentence planning process, which had been dragging on inconclusively for months, the prison having failed to provide a clear re-categorization decision since the original review meeting held on October 5th 2010. Of course, the imminence of the Parole Board hearing may also have been a factor...)
The transfer process
* On July 18th, the Secretary of State wrote to Frank saying that he accepted the Parole Board's recommendation that Frank should be transferred to open conditions.
* Later that month, the prison presented Frank with a plan to transfer him to a Category C prison. Frank saw this as defiance of the Secretary of State's decision and so objected. He then wrote direct to Kenneth Clarke, plus his probation officer and the Governor of Long Lartin, explaining his objection. He also wrote to the Governor of North Sea Camp applying for a place there and setting out his CV (as it were).
* The following week, a member of the prison transfer department told him that they were sending his details to every open prison in the country. She also told him that North Sea Camp had been in touch asking for Frank's medical records. It's amazing what a bit of individual initiative can achieve!
* There followed a frustrating period of several months' waiting for a place at North Sea Camp to be available. Towards the end of August, Frank's solicitors chased North Sea Camp for progress and received the following response: I can confirm that we have received the documents required to consider the request for transfer, however, there is a hold on those at the moment as our Governor is waiting for decisions from our Area Office regarding the number of Indeterminate Prisoners that we are to accommodate. Until further information is received we cannot progress with any more applications. We have 116 on our waiting list at present and can usually take only 2-4 in per week.
An illustration of how our justice system is relatively good at getting people into prison but not quite so good at getting them out again - like a funnel, the entrance is much wider than the exit (one of the reasons we have record numbers inside and growing).
* On October 20th, once the Secretary of State had accepted a shortened parole review period (see "The parole process" below), Frank's solicitors again chased progress on the transfer, this time writing to Long Lartin asking for confirmation that: ...Mr Wilkinson's transfer to open conditions is being prioritised in accordance with the new date that has been set for his next review i.e. May 2012.
In response, the prison revealed: ...Mr Wilkinson was offered a transfer to HMP Kirklevington Grange on 07/09/2011 which is a C/D semi open prison, Mr Wilkinson declined the transfer stating that it was not a fully open prison and that he would like to wait for a space to come up at North Sea Camp, he was informed that this may take some time.
They further explained that transfers were now being managed by a central "Population Management Unit" and that this PMU estimated that Frank could expect to be transferred around January 2012.
* By this time (November 2011), the next parole review process had already started, with the target completion date of the dossier of reports of December 27th. Frank's solicitors therefore approached the Population Management Unit on November 10th asking for a timescale for Frank's transfer and that he be prioritised in light of the shortened review period. On November 21st, the PMU responded by confirming that "Mr Wright" (sic) could expect to be transferred some time in January 2012.
* On Thursday morning, December 22nd, Frank was called up to the office and given his parole dossier - but just to look at, not to take away and keep. According to Frank, there was some irrelevant reporting from OMU at Long Lartin that had just failed to keep up with events - there was even a full prospectus for Kirklevington Grange in the dossier! - but nothing detrimental.
Five minutes later, he was given a slip of paper telling him that he was definitely being transferred to North Sea Camp the following week.
Who knows what the connection was between these two events - or even if there was one. They move in mysterious ways...
The parole process and preparation for release
* When the Secretary of State accepted the Parole Board's recommendation that Frank should be transferred to open conditions, the next review period was set at 16 months, with the review process itself due to start in April 2012 and the next Parole Board oral hearing due to take place in September 2012. This period was to: ...allow time for a transfer to open conditions and to include an appropriate resettlement period, including testing of your outstanding risk factors
* Frank's solicitors then made submissions to the Secretary of State that the review period should be set at 12 rather than 16 months. These submissions were accepted by the Secretary of State on September 29th, meaning that the review process would now start in December 2011 rather than April 2012 and the next Parole Board oral hearing would take place in May rather than September 2012. (This rescheduling of the review timetable had an obvious impact on the transfer process.)
* On February 15th there will be, according to Frank, a "board thing" at North Sea Camp (presumably an ROTL - Release on Temporary Licence - Board) which will determine when and whether he will be granted days out and overnight releases. With the positive support of his probation officer, his swift and remarkably easy adjustment to life at North Sea Camp (see below) and the fact that his next Parole Board hearing is only 3 or 4 months away, it seems likely that Frank will find himself - at last - able to walk by the sea once again very shortly.
* Once the ROTL Board has met and accepted Frank's suitability for release on temporary licence, my understanding of the process (the Prison Service Order for this runs to 30 pages or so and has 8 chapters) is as follows:
1. Frank will be granted an RDR (Resettlement Day Release) and will go on his first day release. He's planning just to go for a wander about by the sea, watching the waves and getting a feel for the world again. (I think this must come under the heading "life skills training".)
2. Provided this first day release goes well, Frank will be granted a second RDR. For this second day release, he's planning to visit nearby Boston, to see how he will cope with crowds, traffic, noise - the hustle and bustle of everyday life. ("Life skills training" again.)
3. Again, provided the second day release has gone well, Frank will be granted an ROR (Resettlement Overnight Release) the purpose of which, according to the Prison Service Order, is: ...to allow prisoners to spend time at their release address, or an approved temporary hostel address
Frank's probation officer is currently looking for somewhere that will fit the bill here.
* Provided he has been able to complete the two day and one overnight releases to everyone's satisfaction ahead of the Parole Board oral hearing scheduled for May, it is likely that the Parole panel will recommend Frank's release. He will have been in prison for over 26 years by then.
Life at North Sea Camp
Frank has quickly adapted to the very different conditions at North Sea Camp. He seems to be walking everywhere, talking to everyone, enjoying the open air and the fresh food and relishing life in general - evidence the following extracts from his <http://justiceforfrankwilkinson.blogspot.com/>Blog:
There is absolutely nothing nicer than getting up at the crack of dawn (in this case, about a quarter to seven) and making a cup of tea, then going outside to sit on the step with the hoar ?frost decorating the grass and every other surface in sight.
As I sit there in the dark, slowly catching hypothermia, I can see a waning moon in the clear sky above me along with a few die-hard stars that are still glittering for my personal entertainment. Off to my right, in the direction of the dyke that is protecting me from the sea, I can see various navigation lights of vessels, big and small, as they go about their early morning sailings or dockings.
There is, of course, the odd call from a blackbird and the cooing of the isolated ring-necked dove, but the birds won't really get into their stride until daylight. I can even hear the very comforting bleating of a sheep somewhere nearby.
Personally, I think it's wonderful...
It shouldn't be too long before I can start going down to the local town myself - a bit of shopping, stuff like that. I have already applied for my bus pass. I can't wait to get on a bus. I haven't used a bus for such a long time - some time in the 1960's in fact - it's going to be an experience in itself.
...the search will begin for a hostel where I can live in peace and quiet while I write a few things, read a few things, get used to having a dog again perhaps, and put the past quarter century where it belongs - into the capsule of forgotten nightmares, along with all of the other memories that are better forgotten, and concentrate on the future.
The mill cannot grind with the water that is past.
HMP North Sea Camp