1st September 2023

The Lucy Letby trial has made me think again about my experiences teaching Open University students in prison. For a long time I taught one or two each year in Horfield, Leyhill or Shepton Mallet prisons. All were on long sentences, mostly ‘lifers’. (Shepton Mallet took only men on a life sentence.) The men that I taught would all have had a minimum sentence before they could ask for parole which they might not get.

I once knew a psychiatrist who did reports requested by the courts to help the judge decide on the appropriate sentence for someone already convicted. He described his work as ‘trying to distinguish between the mad, the sad, and the bad’.

The lifers I taught included all three. One was unlikely to be released in the then foreseeable future (‘mad’). One was definitely bad. He bragged to me about what he had done. (Obviously one did not ask a student anything about his past.) Several seemed to me to be ‘sad’.  They were young and had been in the Army. They had been trained to kill and had killed, maybe in temper or in drink. But all had hope of release one day.

Last weekend the Sunday Times reported that the Government intends to extend mandatory whole life terms to a much wider range of murders. This means prison until death with no possibility of release.

If we believe that God offers redemption to all, is it right to decide that a person can never change and even if he/she does change, they must still die in prison?

I am undecided.

Margaret Clements