Saturday, 17 April 2010

An afternoon in prison…

Last Tuesday I went to a prison to visit a lady I am acquainted with who has been remanded into custody pending a successful bail application or trial.

Prison - This is a place used for confinement for those who are remanded into custody awaiting a bail hearing or trial and convicted criminals.  

Custody - The detention of a person by lawful authority or process. []

Remand - A prisoner who is remanded into custody is sent back to prison subsequent to a preliminary hearing before a tribunal or magistrate until the hearing is resumed, or the trial is commenced. []

In a previous life I worked as a Crown Court Clerk whilst deliberating if I should peruse a career in Law or not. In this role I worked as an assistant to the lead solicitor for criminal cases. My role involved taking depositions from witnesses, visiting crime scenes, the coroner’s office, assisting barristers during trials, reading endless case files, attending the police station to represent people arrested on suspicion of a crime and visiting clients in detention centre’s and prisons. It was an incredibly colorful job, never a dull moment, constantly dance on the tight rope that is the line between truth and fabrication (lie!). After defending a rape case, a pedophile and a murderer I decided that criminal law was not for me! So when I was working late one night and a bunch of opportunistic criminals decided to break into our offices to steal out computers (outrageous isn’t it! Imagine that, criminals stealing form a defense solicitor’s office!) Well this incident which as you can tell (because I’m still here five years on to tell the tale) I survived, propelled my departure from that practice.

There was nothing about that experience that I look back at fondly and as you can imagine I had no intention of becoming that up close and personal with the criminal justice system again and successfully achieved this for five years until now…I stood in the waiting room armed with my double forms of identification (photo and proof of address). I showed this information to the guard in the ‘meet and greet’ reception building, was then booked in after showing them my evidence of who I am and where I live then I was ushered to the next building which was the front end of the visiting area. Now you must understand that on a legal visit, it took a maximum of 10 minutes to check in as in Bristol (where I worked) our firm was well known and inmates need as much time as possible with their defense lawyers. So when I arrived at the second building (10 minutes was already taken up in building 1) I was unpleasantly surprised to find a second check in desk, with a queue of people waiting to go through the whole process again! Well another 7minutes and I got to the front of the queue, showed them my photo identification and proof of address and then they said I had to give them my biometrics!

Biometrics – The measurement of physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, DNA, or retinal patterns, for use in verifying the identity of individuals (which are collected by government bodies and added to a database). []

Now I’m sure everyone has heard about the scandalous ‘British ID card’ that parliament tried to bring into effect as law but received great opposition. The government states that; “the identity card offers a convenient way to prove your identity in everyday situations.” This is the official statement, however it seems that the collection of biometrics and issuing of ID cards has a similar and more sinister agenda…control! Why else would a normal law abiding citizen with a passport and driving license for photographic identification) need to have (at a cost to myself no less,) a third form of identification?[]

 Furthermore As I am not a criminal, suspected or proven, why hould the government need my fingerprints and all other biometric information? The official statement in relation to prison’s collecting visitors biometric information is, “the introduction of biometrics in prisons is aimed at cutting down on contraband - prohibited items such as mobile phones and alcohol - and drug trafficking, the Home Office said.”  [] Seriously!?! I have already told you two parts of the five part process one has to go through before you can even get to the station which does the final check before you can get in to see the prisoners!
Prisoner’s Visitors check in process:
1.    Show 2 forms of ID (including photo ID) at initial Reception building and receive a red form pre-printed with the name you provided when you booked your appointment.
2.    Go to second building in prison grounds where you go through the same identification process you did at building one
3.    Provide your biometrics (photo and scan of both your index fingers)
4.    You are body searched (thoroughly)
5.    You have go through two vacuum corridors until you get to the other end then provide your finger print again in order to access the visitors area.
A minimum of 30minutes is required to complete this process before your visit.
Please can anyone explain to me how anyone would be able to (or stupid enough to try) smuggle contraband of traffic drugs into a prison during a formal visit? So what was the point or purpose of the biometrics when you bring photo ID and two proofs of address????? Not to mention the body search! I was needless to say not very happy with the very principle of this and has the lady not been expecting me to visit I would have declined to enter at this intrusion of collecting my biometrics.
It is unreal the lengths the government will go to, to obtain biometric information form innocent law abiding citizens particularly when the collection of biometrics was traditionally reserved for cataloguing criminals and suspected felons! 


  1. Let us refuse this bid by the government to control ! The problem is they only ask you at a point when you are hard pressed to refuse !!
    I think you should run for politics !
    We need a sensible voice.

  2. My Dad is a lawyer and he told me today that it takes about two hours for lawyers to see inmates in Zimbabwe I guess 30 minutes was not so bad after all!



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