Delays in prisoner rehabilitation did not breach Convention – Strasbourg Court

7 November 2014 by

man_in_prisonDillon v United Kingdom  (no. 32621/11)  – read judgment  and David Thomas v United Kingdom (no. 55863/11) – read judgment 

Two prisoners have failed in their human rights protest against prison rehabilitation courses in the United Kingdom.


The applicant Dillon, currently detained in HMP Whatton, had been given an indeterminate sentence following his conviction for sexual assault. He was given a tariff period of four years. His release after the expiry of this tariff period was subject to the approval of the Parole Board.

He completed the core Sex Offenders Treatment Programme (“SOTP”) in March 2009 and had been assessed as suitable for the extended SOTP in 2010. But then the  prison authorities concluded that he was insufficiently motivated to undertake the extended course.  He complained that the only way that he could address the risk he presented to the public was by completing the extended SOTP, but his access to this course had been delayed.  

The Court said in James, Wells and Lee v United Kingdom that in cases concerning indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for the protection of the public,

 a real opportunity for rehabilitation was a necessary element of any part of the detention which was to be justified solely by reference to public protection. This required reasonable opportunities to undertake courses aimed at helping prisoners to address their offending behaviour and the risks they posed.

Dillon’s case differed from the circumstance in Wells in that prompt steps had been taken to begin the applicant’s progression through the prison system, even before the expiry of his tariff. The nine-month delay between the expiry of his tariff and his reassessment for the SOTP was not unreasonable having regard to the access to other rehabilitation courses which he had enjoyed by that date, the continued efforts to ensure further progress through the prison system and his overall progression throughout the period of his detention.

The Court was therefore satisfied that a “real opportunity” for rehabilitation had been provided to the applicant and that there was no unreasonable delay in providing him access to assessments and courses. There had accordingly been no violation of  Article 5(1) of the Convention.

David Thomas

David Thomas, serving at HMP North Sea Camp, had been convicted of attempted kidnapping. He had also been given an indeterminate sentence with a tariff period of one year and 19 days. Relying in particular on Article 5(1), the applicant complained about the authorities’ failure to put in place the necessary resources to ensure his access to appropriate courses in prison to address his offending behaviour and the impact of this failure on his ability to show the Parole Board that he had been rehabilitated and could safely be released.

The Court found no violation of Article 5(1) in this case as well. Prior to the expiry of his short tariff in late January 2009, the CALM anger management programme had been identified as an appropriate course for him and a prison transfer took place in order to enable the course to be undertaken. The applicant commenced the course less than two months after his tariff had expired and completed it in May 2009. He also completed an Alcohol Awareness course as well as a course in assertiveness and decision-making. He was therefore in a position at his review in February 2010 to present the Parole Board with evidence of his risk reduction work. The Parole Board concluded, as it was entitled to do, that further risk reduction work was required.

While Article 5 (1) did not impose any absolute requirement for prisoners to have immediate access to all courses they might require, any restrictions or delays encountered as a result of resource considerations had to be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case, bearing in mind that whether a particular course was made available to a particular prisoner depended entirely on the actions of the authorities.

But, as the Court concluded, no unreasonable restrictions or delays had been encountered in the Thomas case; throughout the tariff period his case had been under active examination by the relevant professionals and relevant assessments were being identified and carried out. As with Dillon, a real opportunity for rehabilitation had been provided to the applicant and there had been no unreasonable delay in providing him access to assessments and courses. 

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