The price of maintaining innocence

During 2002 Siôn Jenkins made an application to study for a diploma in Theology at St. John’s College, Nottingham. This was blocked by the authorities at Wakefield prison because he continued to assert his innocence.

The principal of St. John’s confirmed that a place would be available; funding for the course had been arranged by Canon Stuart Bell, the Aberystwyth clergyman who has actively supported Siôn Jenkins from the outset.

The only barrier was created by the Prison Service.

This campaign welcomed the fact that this unjust restriction was exposed in the national press, in The Sunday Telegraph of 29 September 2002. At the same time we totally rejected the loaded and misleading language of the headline, which opened: “Killer who will not confess…”

Siôn Jenkins is not a killer. He has always asserted his innocence.

The Telegraph article gave the last word to a prison service spokesman who stated that if Jenkins had a grievance he should make a complaint. This outwardly reasonable position conflicted with the reality of the situation.

The prison’s education department and chaplaincy did not oppose Siôn Jenkins’ application. Yet a governor said to him that for as long as he refused to admit guilt (and consequently did not take part in offence-focussed courses) he would not be permitted to apply for higher level courses. He was explicitly told that there was no point in appealing against the decision.

As Siôn Jenkins himself said at the time : “This can achieve nothing more than the perpetuation of injustice”.

He duly lodged a complaint with the prison authorities. It was rejected.

On 3 November 2002 the item below — Playing by the Rules? — went online.

Playing by the rules?

The Parole Board for England and Wales makes the following statement :

“A myth has grown up that unless prisoners admit and express remorse for the crime that they have been sentenced for, they will not get parole. This is not true. It is important to get the facts right, not least for those in prison who do maintain their innocence and who may be unnecessarily affected by the myth…legal precedent has established that it would be unlawful for the Board to refuse parole solely on the grounds of denial of guilt or anything that flows from that (such as not being able to take part in offending behaviour programmes which focus on the crime committed.)”

This position contrasts worryingly with the line taken with Siôn Jenkins at Wakefield.

At a Sentence Planning and Review Board shortly before being refused permission to apply for the theology course, he was told that he would not progress through the system unless he did offence-focussed courses. Siôn Jenkins had earlier stated that he was willing to be assessed for any course provided that the prison psychology department acknowledged that he maintains his innocence. A prison psychologist present at the Board said that unless he took ‘full responsibility for the index offence’ (i.e. admitted guilt), he would not be considered for any courses. A very positive wing report about his work and behaviour evidently carried no weight.

There was an outcry about his treatment, with representations being made to the Governor of Wakefield Prison, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and the Home Secretary.

On 4 November 2002 Siôn Jenkins was told that he had, after all, been given permission to apply for the theology course previously denied him.

Siôn Jenkins was allowed to apply for the course in recognition of his peer support work in Wakefield , teaching literacy skills and supporting fellow prisoners with a variety of written tasks.

His efforts enabled others to develop their potential and prepare for a more hopeful future.

The parole Board states that it “is painfully conscious of the psychological pressure often experienced by those who maintain their innocence in prison.”

It is a disgrace that Siôn Jenkins was so unfairly subjected to that pressure in Wakefield.