Friday, 4 July 2014

Andy Coulson and D-cat

Following the sentencing of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson to 18-months for conspiracy to unlawfully intercept communications ('phone hacking') there has been much media speculation over how quickly the ex-Downing Street director of communications will progress through the system to reach D-cat (open prison). The reality is, probably pretty quickly. It is rare for professionals who aren't sex offenders to remain in the closed estate for long, unless they are serving heavy sentences for major fraud or importation/supply of illegal drugs.

Given his 18-month sentence, Coulson will only be down to serve nine months in custody (and will be eligible for Home Detention Curfew (HDC/'tagging') after about four and a half months inside). He may only serve 18 weeks in prison, as long as he keeps out of trouble. The calculation involved in this is a fairly standard one. He is a first-time offender who isn't statutorily excluded from HDC by reason of his offence (ie he isn't in for violent crime, sex offences or certain drugs offences) and his total sentence is far less than four years, so barring some major screw-up behind bars, our Andy is likely to serve a couple of weeks in HMP Belmarsh - a nasty experience by all accounts (I've not been there myself, but know quite a few prisoners who have and it doesn't get star ratings) - before being categorised by the Office for Categorisation and Allocation (OCA).

Once this process is complete, he'll be categorised as a D-cat and quietly shunted off to a suitable open prison that has a space available. As any prisoner who has served a serious sentence will confirm, four months or so inside really is the proverbial "shit and a shave". The Offender Management Unit (OMU) at Coulson's D-cat will very probably give him a quick interview, tick the boxes and sign him off as suitable for HDC, although the final decision will be the Number One Governor's. I really have no doubts that he'll get his tag on schedule and then go home with a curfew for the following four months or so.

Then he'll become the problem of the local Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) for the remainder of his sentence. CRCs now deal with low risk offenders in the community. Prior to the recent changes to the probation system, it's possible that he might have avoided having much contact with Probation, but like most of the rest he'll now start with a weekly appointment, quickly dropping down to periodic meetings, possibly monthly. Since I think we can assume he won't be homeless and has no drug or alcohol issues to address - gazing into my Insider's crystal ball - I can't really foresee a recall in his future. Of course, I can't predict anything about his forthcoming retrial...

So how will Mr Coulson find his first time in prison? Like everyone else, he'll be quite literally crapping himself in the Geoamey prison transport van. He'll have been searched downstairs under the court and had his personal property logged. Then he'll be given a cuppa and put in a holding cell until the time comes for his journey to Belmarsh. He'll no doubt see part of London he knows well as the van takes him to his temporary new home and he'll be frightened. We all were, first time and anyone who says they weren't are just lying.

Prison t-shirt
On arrival at Belmarsh, his details will be taken and checked, he'll get issued his prison number (A****XX) and be treated to a nice strip search by two surprisingly professional and decent reception screws. To be honest, it's all over in less than five minutes and there's no... how can I put this politely, intrusive searching.

'Ranby Reeboks'

Under Chris Grayling's new IEP rules, Andy will go straight onto Entry Level and will have to wear prison-issue kit for at least the first two weeks, probably a well-worn grey tracksuit, with a light blue t-shirt, light blue boxers and perhaps a pair of prison trainers (aka Ranby Reeboks). He'll also get issued with bedding (a pair of light green poly-cotton sheets, a pillow case, an orange blanket, two towels, white plastic knife, fork and spoon, a blue plastic mug, plate and bowl, and a complimentary toiletry pack: a plastic comb, a tooth brush, toothpaste, a bar of soap - no shower jokes, please - some shampoo sachets, maybe a Ice Blue roll-on deodorant and an orange, single blade disposable razor. No shaving gel... you just use the soap or shampoo). And, finally, he should get a white net laundry bag to carry it all in.

As used by cons
Then it will be into the Induction Wing, where everyone will be very nice to him... honestly. That really is how prison tends to be these days, at least for non-violent first timers. The staff will be polite and answer any questions, Andy will be introduced to an Insider (someone like my good self) who will give him various bits of good advice and he'll be shown to his cell on the induction wing. He might have to share, or he might not... that I can't predict. However, if he does share it will doubtless be with someone who has been specifically chosen not to be a complete numpty. Oh, and he'll get his first prison dinner. Induction meals are always better than you get on the wing, perhaps to break newbies in gently! I still remember every single first meal I ate in each new prison and that is so true.

Prison sink with mugs, plates etc

However, it will be once the door has slammed for his first night of 'bang-up' that Andy C will really have time to reflect on his change of circumstances. He will be a prisoner. A number. An inmate. A con.

By then, he'll have been made to undress in front of two male strangers in uniform and have had pretty much all his personal property taken away and put in stored prop boxes. He'll be wearing shabby clothing that maybe dozens of other men have worn many times before and sleeping on sheets and blankets with a similar history. There may be shouting from other cells or wings and I really doubt he'll get much sleep tonight, or perhaps for many nights.

Cell door from inside

No matter how humane or decent the reception and induction process has been made over the next few days, nothing will have prepared him for the realisation that - for some months at least - he has lost his liberty. Others now control his every move and he is totally dependant on them for anything he will need. And he'll be very scared. It's not a good feeling and no matter what any prisoner may have done, I really wouldn't wish those feelings on anyone, not even my worst enemy. I wish him well with doing his 'bird'.

1 comment:

  1. Andy shared a cell with Neville Thurlbeck and an unnamed other, probably Mr Edward Bear!