A Gordian knot of sentences

The interviews I am analysing just now are showing me how difficult it can be to escape the complexity and multiple layers of future and present sentences, which can interact, exacerbate each other and cancel each other out.

For example, one participant was recently doing well in the community, seeing her son every day, staying with her mother and was off drugs for this period. She then got indicted for an offence she admits she DID commit, but because witnesses did not turn up, for which she ended up getting admonished. By then, though, she had relapsed and started taking drugs again in prison. Then she was indicted for the offence she was  on remand for at the time of the interview. She admits committing this offence, but maintains it was self-defence. After that period of indictment she was released, again because witnesses did not attend, and was given a court date later, but did not turn up, so she was indicted again. At the same time (or this might be at the same time as the previous indictment – it is impossible for me, even reading back over the interview, to make complete sense of it all) she was serving a Community Payback Order. The judge had not wanted to give her one, given her record, but her lawyer had forced his hand by pointing out she had served significant time on remand already, so otherwise would not have been in prison much longer. She engaged well with this CPO and felt it was helping, but because she was indicted she was breached and given 15 months sentence for this breach. This means that, in effect, she has been punished quite severaly (lost a chance at rehabilitation, punished with 15 months imprisonment) for an offence of which she has not yet been proven guilty. However, she might serve these 15 months concurrently with her eventual sentence, so that, in effect, it disappears. In the meantime, however, she is back to being homeless because her mother does not want anything to return to her home because she is taking drugs again, and facing significant time in prison depending on the outcome of her trial. Furthermore, she is now recorded as having breached a CPO, making it less likely that she will receive one in the future.

It takes some wherewithal to make sense of such a situation, to keep track of all the possible and actual sentences at the same time. So many people just don’t bother, don’t think about the future, ‘take one day at a time’ and just do this until they are eventually released. However, even on the outside sentences still loom. As one participant said “even when I’m doing well, I’ve always got court cases hanging over me, from the past”. The ties that bind people to the justice system are knotted indeed.