No doubt most of you will have had an earful of news this week, what with the Brexit verdict, the US Election and all those marvellous titbits in between. However, on Thursday 3rd November the Secretary of State for Justice the Right Honourable Elizabeth Truss MP released "her" white paper for Prison Safety & Reform and this marvellous tome is what I want to bring to your attention.
The paper said nothing new and that is the problem that affects you. Don't bother downloading it, it is 65 pages long and I can summarise it fairly easily for you and save your bandwidth for something much more exciting.
So here we go:
"Prisons are terrible places where bad things happen, we don't have the staff to man them and we will train eagles to fly over them"
If we continue to warehouse our prisoners and not offer them any type of rehabilitation then they will be released as the same people that entered and that is deplorable. Society sent these people to jail for breaking the rules but it is incumbent upon society to help rehabilitate them and have them released as better members of society. To do that you need to have the correct amount of staff who are able to affect this life changing event.
Ms. Truss's paper announced that she would be arranging the employment of a further 2,500 prison officers. That is welcomed, but wait...upon reading the paper it says that this will be in place sometime during 2018! It is not only the quantity that is important but the quality; I say that a training program of 6/8 weeks is hardly suitable for the type of employment these people will be engaging in. Added to that that the starting salary is @£20,000p/a I have to wonder about the quality.
I am NOT questioning the desire of the people wanting to join up but rather if they will be able to handle the stress they will be placed under during their new vocation. I recently gave a talk to some trainee officers and I thoroughly enjoyed it, indeed the Governor who invited me told me recently that some of the staff felt it was the most worthwhile part of their training. They had never talked to an ex prisoner before, they were wide eyed at what I told them would be their routine day. Perhaps instead of training them only how to deal with violence, drugs and phones they could spend a small part of their time getting trained in now to manage a prisoner. But wait, there's more, given the fact that 3,000 people leave the service every year what exactly will be the net gain of employing a further 2500?
Understaffed prisons leads to deaths. In the last 10 years over 750 people have taken their own lives in prison and over 36,000 people have self harmed. Now if one of those deaths or one of those incidents of self harm was the result of understaffing then who do we hold culpable?
The paper claims innovation as it talks about a new program of testing every inmate's English and Maths capability upon entrance into prison. It talks about every prisoner having an officer that they can relate to and who will monitor them throughout their time in custody. I wish I could say that these were groundbreaking reforms but in essence the personal officer scheme has been in Prisons since the Mountbatten report in 1966. The idea of testing basic literacy skills was implemented in the 1990's.
The paper says it will issue league table of how prisons are performing. So then a prisoner can then choose to go to a premier league prison? Actually, no, prisoners have no control over where they are sent. Some of them are sent hundreds of miles away from their families. So the point of the table would be? Here's the thing, the ONLY way to judge a prison on its success is to ascertain how many of its inmates return. That's it... nothing else!
The one thing that she said that rings true is that most of today's prisoners will be released back into society at some point in the future. Lock people up in a 12x10 room for 22 hours per day and release them back into society. Then don't be shocked when the recidivist rates stubbornly don't decrease.
Mr Truss's answer apparently is to build her way out of trouble. One new prison is due to open in Wales, with a capacity of over 1500 prisoners, next year and sites at Glen Parva and Wellingborough are earmarked for the next prison construction program. She has promised to close down some old prisons and replace them with over 10,000 new spaces. Some people will look at that as welcome news. I do not; I look at it as the government admitting failure in being able to decrease the prison population.
Until The Secretary of State (present or future) understands that they are the custodian of some of societies ignored souls and people are dying in their jails. Until they understand that it is their mandate to make society a better place to live then we might as well build 100,000 new prison places and install revolving doors in these marvellous new centres for reform!