John Bowden: Post-tariff life sentence prisoners, the Parole Board and my continued incarceration

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There is currently a massive population of “post-tariff” life sentence
prisoners over-crowding British Prisons. Lifers who remain detained
long beyond the time originally recommended by the judiciary or
secretary of state, which includes prisoners sentenced under the IPP
(‘Imprisonment for Public Protection’) Law. Although this law has been
scrapped, it has left a legacy of thousands of prisoners still
languishing in jail. Britain has more life sentenced prisoners than the
whole of Europe combined, a consequence of a “lock em up and throw away
the key” culture and mentality that pervades the bourgeois judiciary and
justice apparatus, as well as a Parole Board that exists just to
legitimise what is in reality the unlawful detention of thousands of
prisoners. “Preventative Detention” was created by the Nazi Party in
Germany in 1939 to “cleanse” society of anti-social elements and
Britain is a zealous inheritor of that instrument of repression, while
British prisons are now little more than modern day concentration camps,
full of prisoners with no hope of release.

The collaboration of the Parole Board in unlawfully detaining
Post-Tariff lifers who represent little or no actual risk to the
community was typified in a parole judgement on my own case in June
2017, when after 37 years of my imprisonment, more than ten years beyond
the original judicial recommendation, the board denied my release for
nakedly political reasons. Officially, the position of the Parole Board
when considering the release of post-tariff life sentence prisoners is
determined by evidence of continued “risk to the public” and whether it
is necessary for “public protection”. If there is evidence, release is

On the 14th June 2017, a five hour parole hearing here at Swaleside
Prison established conclusively from imports and evidence, that any
actual risk I represented to the community was non-existent, so the
Parole Board simply moved the goal posts and focused instead on my
politicised “anti-authoritarianism” and refusal to obediently accept and
comply with the omnipotent power of the prison system. I would continue
to be detained not because I represent any sort of risk to the
community, but because I have a “deeply held mistrust of authority” and
because “your political affiliations could prove risky”. In fact, the
claim is that it’s not the public or community that I represent a threat
to, but to those enforcing the power of the penalogical state. To
support this claim the boards quoted a report from a prisoner system
hired psychologist who wrote: “Bowden will perceive professionals
responsible for his supervision in the community as part of a larger
corruptive system. This then provides him with an ideological
justification for engaging with violence against them. Victims here are
likely to be those in positions of authority and the type of violence
could be severe, based on opportunity. Bowden is likely to be drawn
into activist movements where violence is more easily justified.
Victims here are likely to be people in authority who Bowden perceives
to be advocating something he is against and could be severe given the
likelihood to justify violence in such situations”. Equating my long
history of struggling for prisoner’s rights with a risk of terrorism if
I’m released says much about the reactionary middle class culture and
mentality of the Parole Board, and also the sheer desperation of their
attempt to manufacture a “public protection” rationale for my continued
detention, when in fact none exists.

Quoting again from the prison hired psychologist report, the Parole
Board decision says “Dr. Sorrow noted in her evidence that you had
discussed with her situations where violence is justifiable, for the
greater good, and to secure justice for the vulnerable. She was
convinced that in the community this could be a “risk factor”. So,
because during an abstract discussion about the right of vulnerable
groups to self-defence (I have expressed the opinion that such a right
was inalienable), this made me a “risk” to the community. So because,
in the words of the Parole Board, “you have seen violence as justified
in some circumstances and you have a deeply held mistrust of authority”,
my continued imprisonment is wholly justified and lawful.

My writing and distribution on the outside of articles exposing abuses
of power by those working for the Criminal Justice System was also
severely condemned by the Parole Board. Clearly my exposure of the lies
of prison Probation Officer Matthew Stillman who, in a report to the
Parole Board in 2007, claimed that I was linked to a “Terrorist Group”
in the form of prisoner support organisation, the Anarchist Black Cross,
was not going to be forgiven by the board. In relation to this it said:
“The board sought your views about matters that were considered by
previous parole hearings, specifically your on-line campaign against
certain individuals. You told the hearing that there was a need to
expose the behaviour of such individuals and the board considered that
your claim did not demonstrate the insight and change in attitude that
the previous panel had considered would be appropriate.”, i.e. no doubt
silently accepting the power and authority, no matter how abusively
used, of those responsible for my “supervision”.

Focusing on my political belief system and the support shown towards me
by groups on the outside in distributing my writings was obviously felt
by the board to probably be a questionable lawful justification for my
continued detention, so it focused more specifically on my “difficult
relationship” with the prison system as the ultimate rationale for my
detention. In it’s final judgement it says “whilst the board entirely
accepts that in 20 years there has been no prison violence, there remain
concerns about your ability to deal with perceived unfairness and
authority figures you consider are abusing their power.” In an attempt
to prove or illustrate my “problem with authority” the board then
completely distorts and misrepresents the facts relating to an incident
in Greenock Jail in 2015 when I defended myself from a completely
unprovoked attack from a prison officer. A court of law subsequently
ruled that I had not acted unlawfully and there was absolutely no
evidence that I had initiated the confrontation or assaulted the guard.
The board, however, adopted a different perspective on the incident,
claiming: “Whilst the board accepts that your views in relation to
violence have changed, the board was concerned that when discussing the
issue in relation to the most recent allegation of violence against a
prison officer you felt that the officer was trying to humiliate you
and, in the circumstances, physical conflict became the most likely
outcome. The board was satisfied that this incident, whilst not leading
to serious physical harm from to either you or the prison officer,
demonstrates your attitude towards authority and your inability to
manage your feelings.” When I pointed out to the Parole Panel at the
hearing that I had defended myself from a physical assault by the guard,
and the decision of the subsequent court hearing that there was
absolutely no evidence that I had initiated the incident or behaved
unlawfully, the board responded with the claim that I was being
“defensive, argumentative, talking over the panel, and refusing to
consider an alternative view”, even though they had to concede that
“your actions whilst not leading to a finding of guilt, do nevertheless
demonstrate your attitude towards authority”. In other words, the
verdict of the court of law counts for nothing. For having the tenacity
to remind the Parole Panel that even prisoners retained the human right
of self-defence, the board, in visceral language, described me as
“arrogant and self-confident” and dismissed, with contempt, my
application for release after 37 years of imprisonment.

The appointment of ex-prison inspector Nick Hardwick, who had witnessed
the massive overcrowding of prisons with indeterminate sentenced
prisoners, and the climate of despair and hopelessness that now plagues
prisons, as chairman of the Parole Board promised, by his own words, a
real shift in cultural attitude within the Parole Board and a
significant increase in the number of post-tariff lifers released. His
words were predictably empty and the Parole Board continues to deny the
release of thousands of lifers, without any “public protection”
justification at all. “Life means life” continues to guide the
decision-making mentality of the Parole Board, and as a consequence they
have created human warehouses festering with rage and overflowing with
hatred that will sooner or later ignite into open and desperate

  • Comrades in Chile on hunger strike after being held for more than a year without any real evidence.
    This audio is based on material from Voces de la Disidencia.

Alfredo Tralcal Coche, Pablo Trangol Galindo, Benito Trangol Galindo and
Ariel Trangol Galindo are imprisoned precisely in the jail in Temuco,
Chile, since July 9th of 2016, accused of setting a church on fire with
only one piece of evidence against them: the statement of a witness
without a face who claims to have seen a truck similar to that of Lonko
Alfredo Tralcal Coche near the fire.

After one year deprived of their liberty, without evidence against them,
without a set sentence or a reasonable date of trial, on july 7th of
2017, the comuneros decided to begin an indefinite hunger strike with
the following demands: 1) fair trial within a reasonable date; 2) no to
the use of the antiterrorist law 18314; 3) no to the use of witnesses
without faces; 4) liberty under article 140; 5) repeal of the cautionary
measure of preventative prison.

You’ll find the audio (to listen online or download in different sizes)

Length: 3 min

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