Mark Leech FRSA

“Britain’s leading ex-offender expert on the policy and practice of the prison system” 
Edward Fitzgerald KC, Head of Doughty Street Chambers, London

“The sanest, best-informed, commentator on prison issues” 
Phil Wheatley CB, former Director General of the National Offender Management Service and former Director General of HM Prison Service

“I consider myself very lucky as Director General to have had you around, your place in penal reform is unparalleled, and I consider you not only as a colleague but also as a friend”
Sir Martin Narey, first CEO National Offender Management Service, former Director General of HM Prison Service, now adviser to the Secretary of State for Justice

“Focused, tenacious, committed, Mark’s experiences have given him answers to questions other experts can only guess at”
Baroness Scotland QC, Attorney General for England and Wales

ABSTRACT: Mark Leech is an ex-offender who served almost 20 years in 62 British prisons from Inverness in the north of Scotland to Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight – his prison career was characterised by riots, roof-top protests and over 40 successful legal cases against the prison authorities – including several landmark challenges in the Supreme Court that changed British prison law. Since his release almost 30 years ago in March 1995 he has become a prominent UK figure in the field of criminal justice and prison reform, making significant contributions to the understanding and improvement of the prison system. Leech is the founder and former CEO of the national award-winning charity Unlock, and he is the current Chief Executive of Prisons Org UK Ltd (POUK), which owns and operates (this) Prison Oracle website. POUK publishes (and Leech edits) The Prisons Handbook, the widely-respected, comprehensive 1,600-page annual reference book on the penal system of England and Wales; Converse, the largest circulation national monthly prisons newspaper; The Cell Companion, the #1 bestselling guide to serving and surviving a prison sentence; and Prison Law Index the definitive annual guide to prison law cases and materials. Leech is also the Director of The Institute of Prison Law, which delivers the critically acclaimed Certificate of Competency in Prison Law. Throughout the last 40 years Mark Leech has been a vocal advocate for prison reform and his work has been recognised by the Royal Society of Arts, which awarded him a Fellowship in 2009 for his contributions to the field.

Mark Leech was born in the City of Manchester, England, in October 1957.

At the age of eight, on the death of his mother, Mark was taken into ‘Care’ where for four years he, along with many others, suffered serious sexual abuse in what became known as the Cheshire Child Care Homes Scandal for which officials were later jailed; the abuse created in Mark an angry young man with a deep-rooted distrust of anyone in authority.

Like many Care-leavers he later became involved in crime serving almost 20 years in a prison career that was characterised by rooftop protests, riots, assaults, and over 40 successful legal battles against the prison authorities fought in every legal arena from the County Court all the way to the Supreme Court, where he changed British prison law in the process.

Mark’s disruptive behaviour saw him transferred to 62 of Britain’s prisons, from Inverness in the north of Scotland to Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight.

A two-week protest on the roof of Long Lartin maximum security prison saw him spend 11 months on The Ghost Train, moved at monthly intervals to maximum security prison segregation units around the country until, in 1989, having been taken to the ultimate in prison disciplinary measures and still remained defiant, he landed at Grendon Underwood prison in Buckinghamshire – Britain’s only ‘therapeutic prison’.

Based on Group Therapy, Grendon is often seen as ‘a soft option’ by those who misunderstand its concepts – but it was a prison that was destined to change his life.

“Of all the prisons I went to” Mark was later to write, “Grendon was the hardest prison of all, because there I was made to confront myself, not the prison authorities – it was two years of a painfully searching self-scrutiny and what I found was not a pleasant sight – things had to change and I was the only one who could do it.”

In another description of Grendon prison Mark was later to write “it was the prison that took my head off, and then screwed it back on the right way around.”

At Grendon Prison Mark discovered a talent for writing, and while at Grendon he wrote monthly feature articles on the prison system for The Guardian newspaper, for whom he still writes today.

Mark also wrote three award-winning plays – “The Facts Speak For Themselves“ Directed by Ned Chaillet was a 90-minute courtroom drama for BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Night Theatre, that won him the BBC Radio Drama Award.

Listen to the Play (90 minutes)

Mark’s exposure feature article of the HIV infection scandal inside Glenochil prison in central Scotland, won him the National Union of Journalists Award for the Best Feature by a non-health specialist.

Mark was released from prison in March 1995 and since then he has risen to become the country’s foremost ex-offender expert on the policy and practice of the penal system..

In 1998, with the Actor Stephen Fry, Mark founded and for the next four years was the Chief Executive of the award-winning (Charity of the Year) national charity for people with convictions UNLOCK.

In 2009 Mark was Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

In 2006 Mark founded Prisons Org UK Ltd (POUK) which now publishes the premier prison publications such as The Prisons Handbookdescribed as ‘the bible for anyone with a personal, professional or academic interest in prisons’ and which has become the definitive 1,600 page annual reference book on the penal system of England and Wales – the 2024 edition of which (published on 15th October 2023) is its 25th annual edition.

POUK also publishes, and Mark is the Editor of:

Converse; the largest circulation national monthly prisons newspaper, delivered in print to all prisons in England and Wales – Converse is available also in digital format on in-cell technology in both public and private prisons, and it is downloaded every month onto 2,500 prisoner laptops in 86 prisons;

The Cell Companion – the definitive annual guide to serving and surviving a prison sentence in England and Wales – the latest 2024 edition was published in December 2023;

Prison Law Index the critically acclaimed definitive annual A-Z index of over 400 prison law subjects – the latest 2024 edition was published in December 2023.

POUK also operate the trading style of The Institute of Prison Law, whose acclaimed eight-module Certificate of Competency in Prison Law (COCPL) course has been studied by over a thousand lawyers, prison governors, officers and prisoners too since it was first created in 2006.

The COCPL was continuously accredited as a 48-point CPD course by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for ten years until external accreditation was ceased nationally by the Law Society and, earlier, it was also accredited by the Bar Standards Board.

Mark is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX).

Today Mark spends his time between his homes in the UK and northern Thailand and, outside of work, his interests are in aviation; Mark is a qualified helicopter pilot.


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