The outgoing Chairwoman of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the appropriately named, Frances Crook, has written an excellent summary of what she is asking of Dominic Raab, the recently arrived Justice Secretary:
The Howard League has developed an outline plan and we will build on the ideas in a series of blog postings over the coming weeks:
- Stop the prison expansion programme, put legal limits on the population each prison can hold, and end the use of prisons for profit, so that we can reinvest in existing prisons within the public sector
- Reduce the prison population by at least a half and start planning for reintegration immediately with families and purposeful activities
- Stop the use of prison for people with serious mental ill-health and improve the health and well-being of people who are detained. Drive down self-injury and deaths in custody
- Reduce the number of Black and ethnic minority people in the penal system. Equality of outcomes should be rigorously monitored and pursued across the penal system
- Close the failed young offender institutions and secure training centres and use only local authority-run secure children’s homes for the very few children who require custody
- Close women’s prisons and introduce small local residential units for the tiny number of women who commit crimes serious enough to merit a custodial sentence
- Curtail the power to remand people to prison and introduce the possibility of individuals applying to court for compensation if found not guilty
- Abolish unfair and inconsistent practices, such as the imposition of additional days of imprisonment and arbitrary recalls
- Reform the prison officer role so that it is a profession with a proper career path, qualifications and training
- Introduce real work opportunities in prison for long-term prisoners, bringing businesses into prisons to train and employ prisoners and have them paying tax and national insurance.
I appreciate that this requires considerable change, but after more than a century of a failing system, it is time to take action.
I’m afraid she is quite right – prison is a completely failing system – it is infamously short staffed, overcrowded, warehouses rather than rehabilitates its inmates, fails to educate, and is a repository of many people with mental health problems – and those are just the difficulties that I used to encounter as a prison visitor many years ago.
It hasn’t changed much – but such changes as it has undergone are all, since austerity, very much for the worse.
It is true that ‘New’ Labour were supposed to be tough on crime and the causes of crime, but they still played to the Daily Mail concept that prison stops crime, when it patently doesn’t – and the Tories fell at the first hurdle because of course, reducing Police numbers means, by definition, that you catch fewer criminals.
The irony is, of course, that this austerity ‘saving’ is so additionally naïve that in fact it doesn’t save any public money – it incurs costs in health services, social services, probation, police, criminality both for victims and perpetrators and also at general cost to society in a perceived increased lack of general safety and care.
The irony is perhaps less a disastrous misunderstanding than a complete failure of government – yet again – to care.
There is a desire to play to the gutter press, rather than look at the evidence.
Tories might be happy with that.
The opposition should not be.