Despite positive development on Victims and Prisoners Bill 14-year-old son turned away from visit to father on prison steps

Despite legislation progress on the Victims and Prisoners Bill in Parliament last month, a 14-year-old boy was turned away from seeing his father on prison steps at HMP Manchester in what would have been their second reunion in 12 years. 

Thomas White, who stole a mobile phone in 2012 and given a minimum two-year sentence, has still not been released. White was allowed to his 14-year-old son Kayden in April this year for the first time since his incarceration after the support of Lord Blunkett, but on June 20 Kayden White was turned away at the prison when he went to see his father. The visit had been blocked, but had since been overturned and Kayden White was promised that he would be reunited with his father. When Kayden and his grandmother Margaret White approached the prison steps at HMP Manchester they were turned away.

The prison has since admitted there had been an ‘error’ and issued an apology to the White family. Another visit has now been re-arranged.

Margaret White, mother of Thomas White and grandmother of Kayden White, said: “Once again, we have been let down by a broken system. In what world is it fair for a 14-year-old child to be turned away on the prison steps from seeing their dad? He was so excited for this visit. We are resilient but this is getting too much.”

Kayden White said: “It’s been nearly two months since I last saw my dad. We have so much lost time to catch up on. This whole thing is so cruel and unfair.”

Thomas’ family are urgently seeking his transfer to a psychiatric hospital where he can access appropriate mental health treatment. Lord David Blunkett and James Daly MP for Bury North have both pledged their support to this mission and to challenge the two hospitals in the Greater Manchester area which they claim ‘have rejected a bed for Thomas in the last six months, despite his worsening mental health’.

Thomas has now served in 12 prisons in 12 years, with ‘only a sheet for bedding’ according to reports and is ‘locked in his cell for 23 hours a day’.

Reports say that at HMP Manchester, prisoners are required to book prison visits themselves using a digital device. Thomas White, like many other prisoners serving a long time in prison, is reported to be digitally illiterate. He is also dyslexic, ‘which makes the booking process difficult and stressful for him’, according to campaigners.

Reports allege that there ‘wasn’t a dry eye in the room’ when father and son where first reunited in April after almost a decade. Kayden, who called his dad ‘the best hugger in the world’ stood and hugged him for many minutes according to onlookers. The pair spoke of life after Thomas’ release and going fishing together one day.

Last month, campaigners expressed ‘relief’ as parliament passed legislation allowing rights for prisoners serving ‘public protection’ or IPP sentences after a redaction of support from the Labour Party raised concerns around the Victims and Prisoners Bill. 

The legislation, which was passed on May 14, has ended what has been dubbed a ‘scandal’ by Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Initially thought to be ‘controversial’ critics accused the bill of being ‘hijacked’ by Dominic Raab after additional clauses included giving Mr Raab the power to veto prisoner releases and alter parole boards.

In April earlier this year, Kayden White was allowed to see his father for the first time since his incarceration after the now abolished IPP sentences were brought into practice to ‘keep victims safe and protect the public’. Thomas White is still languishing behind bars for petty crime despite Tom Wheatley, of the Prison Governors Association, has claimed jails will run out of space within weeks just a few days ago. The North West has been identified as a particular area of concern according to Wheatley.

The Express reported that Wheatley said: “We understand that we will no longer be able to receive prisoners from court in the second to third week of July. It is not an exact science – but it is very soon after the election. This position was projected some time ago. The outgoing government did not take the necessary action in a timely fashion to avoid this. If a new government arrives and says: ‘We want more people in,’ it would be challenged in court by the PGA because ministers would be placing our members at risk.”

The latest Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data has revealed the capacity in prisons across England and Wales is 88,815, while the population stands at 87,347. Many stuck in prison on IPPs today are low level offenders. Others include Wayne Bell, jailed aged 17 for an assault while attempting to steal a bike nearly 20 years ago in 2007, and Aaron Graham, given an IPP in 2005 for a GBH charge, who will have spent 19 years in prison in December this year.

Henry Rossi, Founder of The Institute of Now and IPP campaigner, said: “Everyone agrees that IPP was a bad idea. But successive governments have lacked the moral courage to resolve this toxic mess. A new government presents an opportunity for substantive change, and I urge them to consider a resentencing policy to uphold the basic standards of British justice and end the suffering of so many families affected by this torturous sentence.”

Campaigners now say that pressure is building on the new incoming government to resolve the IPP scandal, with a resentencing campaign deemed the only lasting solution. They have said ‘ A resentencing campaign could free up the equivalent of four prisons worth of prisoners at a time when prisons are bursting at the seams’.

Labour recently committed to ‘work at pace’ on IPP should they enter government, but there is no reference to resolving the IPP scandal in their recently released manifesto. 

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