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The latest debate is focused on the stopping of prisoners from receiving books from outside the prison estate. This is all part of the Incentives, Earnings and Privileges scheme which was revised in November 2013.
An on-line petition, through twitter has been initiated to call on the justice minister Chris Grayling to immediately reexamine the latest rules which restrict access to material possessions that are sent to prisoners.
This can be seen as a backward looking retributive action and far removed from the rehabilitation revolution.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, communicated that this is “… part of an increasingly irrational punishment regime orchestrated by Chris Grayling that grabs headlines but restricts education or rehabilitation”.
Surely books play a vital role in the education of prisoners and the rehabilitation process, there should be an increase not decrease in prisoners access to items that will aid rehabilitation. This debate leads to the problem of too much non-purposeful activity in prison and too much time locked up in cells. Even the Home Affairs Committee (2005) picked up on this many years ago and the inconsistency of provision from prison to prison. At this rate we will be looking at the rehabilitation of prisoners from the effects of imprisonment!
Prisoners are allowed up to 12 books in their cell; however access to prison libraries can be varied depending on prison, sentence and behaviour. Being locked up in a cell most of the day having a television is not always the best way to pass the time. However, due to the IEP scheme, books are seen as a privilege and are restricted, only books outside of the prison library have to be bought from their meagre wages. With all the cuts, prison libraries are not exempt and stock can be limited. But books are important when you realise that many prisoners have low literacy skills, so can the ban on books be justified? Education is not the same throughout the prison estate and access on online courses even more inconsistent.
According to Haywood (2006), “…lifelong education slows down the revolving door of incarceration and reincarceration”, so why bring in any reforms that will counteract this?
This is a form of punishment, but where is the proportionality or is that old hat?
The effects of the changes in the IEP’s are being tracked by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), but these may not be seen for some months to come.
There has to be a justification for the decisions made where prisoners are concerned and quite frankly they don’t seem to add up, is this going beyond punishment?
Haywood, D. (2006) ‘Higher barriers: ex-prisoners and university admissions’, in S. Taylor (ed) Prison (er) Education (2nd edn). London: Forum on Prisoner Education.
Home Affairs Committee (2005) Rehabilitation of Prisoners First Report of Session, 2004-5. Volume I. London: HMSO.
From 1st November there has been a change in the Incentives, Earnings and Privileges (IEP) system within the prison estate (Ministry of Justice, 2013a; 2013b). How individual prisons will be able to make sure all prisoners comply will be interesting to follow. The 3 categories of basic, standard and enhanced will from now on be stricter and for those not on enhanced ROTL will not be possible. Therefore, for open prisons where rehabilitation through outside work is the norm, if those on enhanced do not fulfil the criteria they will likely be downgraded to standard.
This potentially will leave many prisoners with nothing to do during the day and bored prisoners are not good for any prison. If there are large quantities of prisoners which should under the new rules be moved to standard then how can they be managed? Likewise if prisoners are downgraded to basic, suddenly they will not only have to wear prison clothing which believe me is something to be desired but will have their TV’s taken away.
Grayling has said that under the new policy, the lack of bad behaviour would not be enough to earn privileges; instead inmates would have to work actively towards rehabilitation and help other prisoners (No Offence, 2013)
But then some say why should they have a television? But where do you draw the line on punishment? Each prisoner is still a person and there should be a measure of consideration placed on each one. What has wearing a uniform, well jogging trousers and sweatshirts, got anything to do with punishment for an offence. It’s not like the city where suits are the normal attire. Next prisoners will be wearing striped outfits or ones with arrows on. Time for a change surely! Let’s stop wasting time money and energy in making prisoners look uniform and get down to addressing real issues such as reducing the prison population.
The Maidstone Prison incident this weekend (BBC, 2013; BSkyB 2013) shows that there is unrest within; let’s hope this will be the exception rather than the norm in the future. Can this be linked to the regime changes introduced by Mr Grayling?
No Offence (2013) Male prisoners to wear uniforms and be banned from watching television. [Online]. Available at <http://www.no-offence.org/entry.php/533-Male-prisoners-to-wear-uniforms-and-be-banned-from-watching-television> [accessed 02 November 2013].
When the crime rate is falling and the prison population is falling month by month, why has the titan prison building programme re-emerged. Yes it will bring much-needed jobs into an area, but are these prisons really necessary or is a punitive game that the Government is playing. Lets knock down an old one and build a bigger better one!
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The idea that big is beautiful with prisons is wrong. Not our words, but those of David Cameron before he became Prime Minister. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/north-wales-new-250m-super-4725395#.Uc1K5cuJ5h4.twitter
If prison is so ineffective when looking at re-offending statistics, then why build more? There are alternatives to prison so why not use this money to invest in methods that give more positive results?
According to Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust ” There is scope to close some outdated prisons and reinvest the money saved into effective community solutions to crime,”
Do prisons help to break the cycle of re-offending?
On Monday, 17 June 2013 a report was published by the Policy Exchange entitled “Future Prisons: A radical plan to reform the prison estate”
The report recommended:
- Closing more than 30 run down and dilapidated prisons and constructing 10-12 state of the art Hub Prisons.
- Locating the prisons on brownfield sites near to main transport routes and to hold more prisoners as close to home as possible.
- Constructing the prisons using cutting-edge architecture, with technologies such as biometric security systems. Halfway houses would be located inside the prison estate and the sites would include courts to cut the cost of transferring prisoners for trial.
- Allowing private providers to compete on a level playing field with the public sector to manage and run the new establishments.
This is reminiscent of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, could Foucault’s comment be translated to the idea of a “Hub” prison, would they be seen as a “mechanism of power”. We will have to wait and see!
Prison population figures continue to fluctuate. The latest figures show an increase of 80 in the last week, an increase of almost 800 since the beginning of the year yet a decrease of 3,159 in the last 12 months.
I have just read an interesting report recently published in France on ways to fight against prison overcrowding. Two important points mentioned were:
- Consider imprisonment as ultima ratio in criminal matters
- Use, if necessary, a system of numerus clausus to solve prison overcrowding until 2017, then prevent its reappearance
I wonder if Chris Grayling has any thoughts on this?
Raimbourg, D and Huyghe, S (2013) Ways to fight against prison overcrowding. Report of 23 January 2013. [Online]. Available at
http://www.cepprobation.org/uploaded_files/France_Report-on-Prison-Overcrowding-2013.pdf [accessed] 26 February 2013
According to the Guardian, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has admitted his plans for the wholesale outsourcing of the probation service will not lead to an overnight reduction in stubbornly high reoffending rates but said he hoped it would lead to a “steady year-by-year decline”. Is he implying that the problem lies with the Probation Service, or is he throwing out the baby with the bath water? If private companies and voluntary sector organisations are invited to bid for these services then would it be a free for all, or would it be a post code lottery? http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/09/chris-grayling-probation-privatisation-reoffending