The family of a Cardiff prisoner jailed for stealing a mobile phone seven years ago have launched a bid to have him freed.
Leroy Douglas’ family believe his seven years behind bars is an excessive punishment for a crime that originally carried a two-and-a-half year tariff.
Seven years later, Leroy is still behind bars in a Category B prison 163 miles away from his Cardiff family home because he was given an IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentence for street robbery.
The IPP sentence was introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It was intended to protect the public against criminals whose crimes were not serious enough to merit a normal life sentence but who were regarded as too dangerous to be released into society when the terms of their original sentence had expired.
It was abolished in 2012 and campaigners have called for a review of those people who are still in prison on IPP sentences.
Leroy’s uncle Forrest Douglas said the 32-year-old has now completed 35 courses as ordered by the legal system during his time behind bars.
He said there are two courses now outstanding but that he is unable to complete these at HMP High Down in Surrey where he is currently being held.
Mr Douglas said his nephew has also been moved from prison to prison at least 10 times “through no fault of his own” and that he has been moved to a segregation unit and is on suicide watch.
He said they are now hoping Leroy’s parole hearing will be held in June as he claimed his last hearing was back in 2011.
Mr Douglas also claims that a pre-sentence report was never ordered and that Leroy was sentenced without this which meant his dependency on class A drugs at the time was not recorded.
Mr Douglas said this was “disappointing” and believes it could have influenced the sentence.
He said they would now like Leroy to appear before the parole board for an oral hearing and for his case to be reviewed to look at the legitimacy of the sentencing process that led him into prison in the first place.
He also said Leroy is a category C prisoner and has been at HMP High Down, which is a category B prison, for at least three months. Mr Douglas said Leroy now needs to be moved to a category D prison which would have open conditions and would allow him to visit home.
He said: “He’s been given an IPP and spent seven years in prison. But there’s murderers and paedophiles walking out.
“I don’t think I would be able to survive it.
“Leroy deserved to serve a sentence but surely this sentence is disproportionate.”
Leroy’s mother Gina Douglas, from Splott, said she hasn’t seen her son for six years and is worried about his health.
She said he has two children and that the whole family now want him home.
Gina said she speaks and writes to her son and that he keeps asking her why he’s still there.
She said: “He needs to go to an open jail. He says ‘I want to come home. I’m sick of jail. Why are they keeping me in here mum?’”
Gina said Leroy’s cousin recently died and they are hoping he will be allowed to attend the funeral.
She described her son as a “decent intelligent boy” and said he took the phone from a friend but that there was no violence and that he was under the influence of drugs at the time.
“He knows what he did was wrong. But why is he still in jail?,” she asked.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “The release of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences is entirely a matter for the independent Parole Board, who must be satisfied that an offender can be managed safely in the community.
“The Board considers a range of factors that are likely to contribute to a reduction in risk, including behaviour and progress in custody.”
Leroy’s family have received support from Shirley Debono who led a campaign for the release of her son Shaun Lloyd who served an IPP sentence before he was released earlier this year after eight years in jail.
Shirley, from Adamsdown, said she has been writing to Leroy for 18 months.
She said: “The likes of Leroy are never going to progress with the system. We’re in the position now that some IPP prisoners might not get out of prison.
“He’s a category C prisoner who by now should have progressed into open conditions.
“Leroy’s case is heart rendering. I don’t know how his family cope.
“He sees no light at the end of the tunnel. He needs to be moved to a category C prison as soon as possible.”
In a letter to Shirley on March 3 this year, Leroy wrote: “I’ve been rotting in jail for eight years now yet the judge only gave me two years six months IPP.”
He said the number of courses has made his release “impossible”, adding: “It’s a cruel, inhumane and sad existence.”
Shirley said she thinks IPP prisoners should be given determinate sentences and released on licence more suited to the crime they committed.
She said: “My fear for Shaun was if they held him much longer he could have become institutionalised.
“Hopefully Shaun can now be an example to the government that if you let these prisoners out they will prove they can be a good member of society and have the support of friends, family and the probation service. They just need that chance.”