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The State of our Prisons: England

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My general take on prisons are that they are warehouses for the vulnerable.

Whatever happens in society is transferred to prisons, so if there is a problem with drugs on the outside there will certainly be a drug problem in prison. High walls, barbed wire and security is no real barrier. Bullying through debt is rife and so is corruption.

If you mean state of prisons as the fabric of the prisons then many are in disrepair. Neglect has come from outsourcing the maintenance to private companies and backlog of jobs even minor ones have had a detrimental effect on those that reside and work within the prison walls. I have seen vermin, rubbish thrown out of cell windows and food left to rot there. I have seen fire doors that are rotten and would provide no safety in the case of a fire.

Prisons are badly maintained often outdated and can be a fire hazard. So why do we continually fill them up? We knowingly put people in conditions that are not fit for habitation.

Prisons create more homeless individuals, more poverty and more mental health issues and they breed criminality.

Prisons have been underfunded for years and with cut backs year on year situations are only going to get worse. But as we have seen recently in the government there is a constant change of Ministers responsible for our prisons. This movement does not bring stability.

I don’t believe the Government when they say that loss of liberty is the punishment. No, once in prison you are punished, crammed into a room with another for up to 22 hours or more, eating beside your toilet with often the bare necessities. Little or no contact with the outside world.

Slave labour, I witnessed dismantling of DVD’s and CD’s for hours on end (Whitemoor), sewing wash bags and towels (Norwich), assembling poppies (Ford) all mind numbing and boring. Lack of use of any skills that they already have or have acquired within is farcical.

Punishment in prisons was a physical punishment but now it has become a mental torture. Lack of purposeful activity has stripped many of any hope for the future. Short sightedness on behalf of the Government is bringing the whole prison estate to its knees. Benchmarking, loss of experienced staff, under-investment has all resulted in volatile prisons where safety and security for staff and inmates alike is compromised. It’s like a ticking time bomb.

Incidents in prisons are now almost common place, but are lessons being learnt?

Society puts people in prison and expects them to reintegrate after their sentence and not reoffend. But recidivism is high because often the root cause of offending is not addressed.

I saw many with mental health issues that were not dealt with, I saw young men frightened, I witnessed the bullying and intimidation. In various prisons, I sat in on SMT meetings, case meetings, adjudications, equality meetings, security meetings etc. I listened to the way some Governors and Custodial Managers spoke about those in their prisons and wondered how they got to their positions.

There is a lot of unrest

Prisoners complained about:

  • discrimination and equality
  • unhelpful staff with even the most basic request
  • not enough food, especially amongst the young men
  • boredom
  • too far away from their family for visits
  • restricted regimes
  • missing property when transferred from one prison to another (this is a very big issue)
  • being bullied and getting into debt
  • loss of hope

I want to try to bring some sort of balance

I have visited prisons with excellent initiatives for example I have been to Thameside prison twice, the first time with a former prisoner, now author and an actor from Eastenders. The second time was with Sir Lenny Henry. Both these events were organised by Neil Barclay a friend of mine who is the Librarian & Learning Lead and a Butler Trust winner. He plans these guests to help inspire the men.

I have been to HMP Oakwood and spent a day observing the Chrysalis Programme designed to provide a guide for change that goes beyond rehabilitation, and into engagement and re-integration. It is a Personal Leadership and Effectiveness Development Programme aiming to stimulate inmates thinking, attitude, social capability, and capacity.

Family days at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay were fantastic with staff providing food and activities for children and adults. Team games, craft and sports were all laid on bringing much needed family time.

~

 

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