“Alan Turing Law” Comes Into Effect

Today has seen Royal Assent given to the Policing and Crime Bill, which contained what has become popularly known as the “Alan Turing Law.” As a result the law, which pardons thousands of men prosecuted for homosexual acts prior to their legalisation in the 1960s, have now received posthumous pardons.

The act takes its name from wartime codebreaker and computing pioneer Alan Turing (pictured above). Turing was homosexual, and was famously found guilty of gross indecency after being caught engaging in sexual acts with other men. He was subjected to chemical castration, believed to be a major contributing factor to his decision to commit suicide two years later.

After an official apology was given in 2009, Turing was pardoned of his “crimes” posthumously in 2013, almost six decades after his 1954 suicide, and while the decision to do so was welcomed many campaigners felt like a single pardon, however high-profile the case, was of limited use as a symbolic gesture when so many others were still on record as criminals. These concerns prompted calls for a more wide-reaching pardon, which is what the act which comes into force today provides. Turing’s own relatives played a prominent role in launching campaigns for such a pardon to be delivered.

The act provides a posthumous pardon to roughly 49,000 gay and bisexual men who were found guilty of offences that would not be considered criminal today. Men who were convicted in this way and are still living can also be cleared of their crimes, but they have to apply for their statutory pardon rather than receiving it automatically.

The act applies to men found guilty of committing consensual sex acts with members of the same sex, and the decision to issue the widespread pardon was first announced last year. However, like all laws the act had to make its way through the necessary processes before it could actually be enacted, and now the act has received Royal Assent the pardon is effective from today.

The enactment of the pardon was described as a “truly momentous day by Sam Gyimah. The justice minister went on to say that “We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs.”

LGBT rights activists also welcomed the pardon and its passing into law. Major gay rights organisation Stonewall said that it represented “Another important milestone of equality” and that “The more equality is enshrined into our law books, the stronger our equality becomes, and the stronger we as a community become.”

At-Risk Women Opting for Prison

Vulnerable and at-risk women are choosing prison over freedom because of fears about their safety or wellbeing, according to charitable bodies. Some women who have been released from prison are deliberately carrying out acts that will land them back in prison as they feel that they will be safer inside, or have better access to vital support.

There are a number of factors that may drive these women to feel a return to prison is preferable to life on the outside. Some have important needs, particularly mental health needs, that receive better support and treatment in prison than is afforded to them when on parole. Others fear for their safety, for example believing themselves to be in danger from an abusive partner or former partner, and still others are homeless and have nowhere to go except back inside. Roughly 60% of women leaving prison are homeless upon release, and their situation is often compounded by a shortage of both temporary and permanent accommodation, and by difficulty in accessing benefits.

For many of these women, effecting a return to prison simply involves breaching the terms of their parole. Others take more drastic action, committing new crimes in order to obtain a fresh sentence. A number of charities that work with women who are or have been in prison are reporting this phenomenon, and it is said that such vulnerable women are particularly likely to seek a return to prison in the period around Christmas.

The leader of one women’s centre in Birmingham, Joy Doal of the Anawim project, says that the Christmas period is “a really difficult time if they haven’t got a family… For some, prison is a place where they will feel safe. They get three meals and a bed for the night.”

Women in Prison‘s policy and campaign manager Claire Cain also spoke of the difficulties faced by many women upon release from prison. She said the organisation frequently encounters women who are in a situation where they have only three options: “to stay in an abusive and exploitative flat, surrounded by drugs and alcohol that they are trying to keep free from, end up on the streets, or reoffend and go back to prison.”

Many of the women in question have, at least initially, only served quite brief sentences. Most have committed non-violent crimes, and in a number of cases they have been pressured into crime in order to help fund the drug addiction of a partner.

According to campaigners, the situation reflects a lack of commitment to providing support services for vulnerable women. Others have claimed the fact women are choosing prison over life on the outside as an indictment of the lack of funding and resources allocated to the social support net that they must rely upon after release.