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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.
Last year I presented a poster session to cohort and faculty at my local university. The poster was the most visible infographic in the room. It acted as a magnet for attendees. Its immediacy communicated right to the heart of the issue and triggered some substantive discussion. And so it should. Latest figures available from Ministry of Justice shows that over 86,000 people in England and Wales are currently serving custodial sentences.
Frances Crook (@FrancesCrook), Chief Executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform said that many of these people should not be in prison at all; many offenders, particularly those serving short sentences, would be move effectively punished using community sentences.
She has a point. If offenders can be more effectively punished using a sentencing strategy which not only costs around one tenth of the cost of a prison place, but also controls prison population at the same time as being in the better long term interests of the offender, then it deserves serious consideration.
“It isn’t crime that puts people in prison – it is policy that puts people in prison.”
In my experience dealing with a range of offenders, I can see that sentencing strategy, in some cases, causes “penal excess”. This phrase means different things depending on your standpoint. For example, to a probation officer it may mean a harsh sentence behind bars. To a politician, it may mean “…it is the sentencers not the Government who are responsible for the prison population as it stands today” (said Jeremy Wright MP, 21st Nov 2012, speaking on the occasion of the AGM of The Howard League for Penal Reform).
Don’t you think the person is more important than the policy?