Imprisoned by his disability?

A picture of a man wearing dark glasses, black trousers and a dark blue and black striped shirt being led by a guide dog through a shopping centre.
A blind man (not Nellies) with his guide dog in a shopping centre in Brazil.

Today a blind man in the UK who has been convicted of sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl some years ago in Cheshire was sentenced to seven years behind bars and told he could not take his guide dog into prison with him; the dog will instead be trained to guide someone else. Neil Nellies’s lawyer asked the judge to suspend any prison sentence (i.e. release him on condition that if he offends again, his sentence will be activated on top of any additional sentence) as he is already ‘imprisoned’ by his visual impairment and that “prison for him will have a devastating impact”. However, the judge refused.

I have a few friends who are blind and follow a few more on various online platforms (YouTube, Instagram etc). They get married, have children, write, travel, cook, work … all the things you can’t do if you are in prison, so it’s a bit insulting and inaccurate to suggest that his disability is already such a ‘prison’ that it makes sending him to a real one if he committed a serious crime unnecessary. It’s possible that this man was sighted (or less severely impaired) when he committed the crimes, but so what? Over the years I have heard of too many men and women who abused children when they were young or middle-aged and strong, and were only caught when they were old and infirm and their age and infirmity was used to plead for mercy they did not show to the children in their care when they were in their prime. It’s wrong, and it is good that the judge saw through it in this case. Don’t commit the crime if you cannot do the time.

A prison is really no place for a guide dog; there are too many people in the prison who would harm it. Some of them are there because of domestic cruelty or other violent crime that also included cruelty to animals. Unless a prison officer walks the dog, it will not get the exercise it needs to remain healthy. As Nellies has been sentenced to seven years, he is likely to be released in three and a half years at the earliest, by which time the guide dog will be near the end of its working life as it has already been working for five years according to this report. I know of a young lady who was able to take her guide dog into a psychiatric unit when hospitalised in her teens, but that was only for a year and she was able to go out with the dog again within months, which does not happen in a prison sentence this long. It’s only right that the dog will go to someone who will benefit from having it.

Image source: Antonio Cruz/Abr - Agência Brasil, via Wikimedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil licence.

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