Is there any hope for lifers?

May 6, 2014

I read an article today on a notorious offender nicknamed the “skull cracker” Michael Wheatley (

Conservative backbencher Philip Davies, MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, said whoever had allowed Wheatley out of prison was “a berk”. He went on to say, “It is completely ludicrous that a serving life-sentence prisoner is even in an open prison where they can simply walk out.”

Although I don’t want to comment on individual cases such as Michael Wheatley’s, I did want to reflect on the issues. Society has decided that all but a few lifers will be returned to society at some point in their sentence.

Rehabilitation starts in prison…

The prison system delivers a pathway of rehabilitation for prisoners.The pathway of rehabilitation means lifers work their way through the prison system eventually ending up in open conditions which allows them to apply to be released on temporary licence which allows them to rehabilitate back to the community and prove their worthiness for release.

Stepping stone to release

Liz Calderbank and Nick Hardwick recognised the crucial stages in lifers rehabilitation in their inspection report on the management of lifers which was published in 2013.

It said, “Being sentenced to an indeterminate period of imprisonment brings a unique dimension to incarceration, since it removes the certainty of release on a given date in the future. One of the key transitional phases in the life sentence is the move from the confines of closed prison to the relative freedom of open conditions. It is the stepping stone that leads towards an eventual return to the community.”*

Clearly this process needs to be properly risk managed – I will repeat again I do not want to comment on individual cases.

Changing perceptions on rehabiltation

It would be ludicrous to release someone straight from closed conditions (high control situations) straight into the community. Are we not duty bound as professionals within the Criminal Justice sector to educate and raise the awareness of key individuals such as politicians on the rehabilitation process within prison?

The only alternative I feel is to hold lifers in prison for life . This is of course society’s choice, but the consequences of increasing the number of whole life tariffs would be to increase the number of inmates being contained in our jails without hope.

Hope is the key

Hope is the key to engaging an individual’s motivation. Erwin James wrote in the Guardian, “Hope may be exhausting and dangerous, but one thing I did learn in prison is that there is no such thing as false hope – there is only hope.” (

This week’s blog is from Tracy Wild, CEO, Langley House Trust, 6th May 2014