Juliet Lyon CBE is chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) and visiting professor in the school of law at Birkbeck, University of London. She was formerly director of the Prison Reform Trust and secretary general of Penal Reform International
In many instances, making the changes suggested by people in prison does not require legislation - but, rather, operational adjustments and attitudinal shifts. Having been relegated in recent years, safer custody is back as a top priority for Ministers and remains so for managers. There is an overarching need for consistency and accountability. How much better to be wise before the event and keep people safe rather than to have to promise yet again to learn lessons from another tragic death in custody.
Over half of the 50 prisoners interviewed for the study reported three or more mental health problems including anxiety, depression, anger, difficulty in concentration, insomnia, and an increased risk of self-harm. Almost half of the 49 officers interviewed said that they would benefit from more mental health training and that further training should be offered.
To achieve the radical reform Michael Gove is considering, means not only putting prison right but also putting it in its place. The Justice Secretary must reserve imprisonment as a punishment of last resort for serious and violent offenders in a balanced justice system. That is the right thing to do.
Rocketing prison numbers, a shocking surge in assaults and deaths by suicide in custody, fewer staff, less constructive activity and unacceptably high reconviction rates are the flashing warning lights that Ministers must heed.
It is shaming to have so many people locked up in our prisons, not for what they have done but for what they might do in the future. This is not to mention the costs to the public purse of holding thousands of people in prison beyond their tariff expiry date.
Under pressure of budget cuts and economies of scale, prisons are getting fewer and larger, with a drive to close small community and open prisons, build larger jails and add additional capacity to existing establishments. Since 2010 there have been 13 prison closures and a further six still to come.
The government is currently embarking on one of the largest change programme of the criminal justice system in recent history...The impact assessment of the Bill reveals that around 13,000 offenders will be recalled or committed to custody as a result of the proposals, giving a prison places increase of around 600 additional places per year.
Prison is our least visible, most neglected, public service. Perhaps no surprise then, that when people in communities turn their attention to the state of our prisons and the state of people in them, many feel impelled to get involved in changing a flawed justice system.
Privatisation raises ethical questions about the nature and role of imprisonment in our society.
While privatisation could help curb any remaining restrictive practices, it is no panacea to the problems of our overcrowded, usually invisible and too often ineffective prison system.
21/02/2013 09:54 GMT
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