Not a headline you read often unless you follow developments in Prison Policy and Population.
As of March 2016 there were 95,000 inmates at prisons in England and Wales. Top in Western Europe. Only Russia (671,000) and Turkey (152,000) have more prisoners.
This number of prisioners has increased dramatically over the last number of years far outstripping the number of beds. It comes as no surprise then the far reaching proposals to be outlined in the Queen’s Speech today. Biggest since Victorian times are how it is being billed which is ironic since most prisons were built in that era. What is envisaged that Prison Governors will get control over budgets and daily regimes. The thinking behind this is that the Governors at ground level are better equipped to make decisions about their prison rather that decisions being made at national level. This will make prisons ‘fit for purpose’, create an atmosphere where rehabilitation takes place and prisoners can be deprived of their liberty in a safe environment.
Prisons are being given Academy status. If that works then roll it out to schools!
This is a case of the Ministry of Justice addressing the symptoms, not the cause.
The causes of our failing prisons are manifold but when the prison budget has been cut by a third since 2010 and prison population has increased since that date, inevitably prisons are going to struggle to be ‘fit for purpose’. The Government has privatised some prisons with companies such as Serco being responsible. It does not seem correct on any level that an important function, prisons, be trusted to a profit making organisation.
‘Butlins on Speed’
I recently visited a prisoner at a Serco run prison in South Yorkshire. He enjoyed many privileges such as a television in his cell and a games console. This is how the authorities keep prisoners occupied, but what was remarkable was the number of tennis balls appearing over the fences daily, and his assessment that there was insufficient staff to deal with this. He used the phrase ‘Butlins on speed’. Not a lot of rehabilitation going on there. I hear these stories more in privately run prisons.
Failing Probation Service
The Probation service has been cut back to the bones and parts of it privatised. How can the Government outsource to the private sector such an important function in Society? Consequently offenders, offend again, end up in prison and the cycle begins again.
There are many other reasons that touch upon sentencing practice and the effectiveness of short sentences, the number of life prisoners (especially IPP prisoners) but ultimately prisons are failing due to lack of proper funding and lack of direction from the Ministry of Justice.
Despite all the pomp and ceremony of the Queen’s Speech today simply shifting the responsibility to Governors makes positive headlines but with no coherent effective Government strategy those headlines do no more than paper over the cracks.