Penal Stupidity

My attention has been drawn to some appalling new statistics by the Howard League for Penal Reform:

….The number of people known to be of no fixed abode when they were received into the 51 prisons listed, increased from 18,493 in 2015 to 23,488 in 2018. This includes men and women but excludes children. The figures will include people remanded to prison by the courts and those who are sentenced.

And yet, even from this figure, 73 prisons were excluded – some of which are high security or training prisons so do not receive prisoners direct as it were, but some others were excluded, for reasons that are not clear – notably Wormwood Scrubs.

These figures demonstrate that prisons are, as the Howard League says ‘sweeping up the poor’, although some of them might be grateful to get somewhere fairly warm and dry.

People who are homeless are being swept into prison and then dumped back onto the streets. Prisons are a merry-go-round for the people too poor and too fragile to sort their lives out. But instead of providing support, we are spending billions every year policing them, criminalising them and incarcerating them.

I am at a loss to understand how a government can so call itself yet simultaneously preside over this disaster. It doesn’t even make sense in their own  terms of reducing spending at all costs. As they reduce spending in one area they incur extra spending in another. A unnecessary and futile game of ‘whack a mole’ is the result.

No self respecting capitalist would see this as efficient use of inanimate assets yet this is tolerated for people who are supposed somehow to abolish their own poverty without state assistance except where the state is prepared to imprison them at around about £38,000 per prisoner per annum. And then it dumps them again – without accommodation – on release. This is the very same state that oversees the common endeavour that is the economy.

I cannot work out whether government members are either so far removed from the plight of their fellow citizens that they cannot see, too stupid to realise the consequences of their actions or too ambitous to care.

No scenario inspires even the slightest confidence.



  1. Bill Hughes -

    The “too ambitious to care” scenario for senior politicians is probably the chief cause of the abysmal plight of the prisons with the mantra of “prison works” allowing no further thought on this matter. It will be interesting to see what the new prisons minister Robert Buckland will make of the job. Formerly Solicitor General Mr Buckland seems quite a reasonable and civilised man when I have spoken to him several times at election counts. Although a Tory he seems to agree with most of what I say, especially when I critiscise right-wing Tory politicians. Rory Stewart, outgoing prison minister said he would resign after a year if he had not made major improvements in the prison service. Lets see if Robert Buckland can do the same and make the radical changes that are so obviously needed.

  2. Andrew Dickie -

    And there’s always the danger we’ll contract the American disease of “for profit” prisons – the equivalent of the old enclosures evil, that saw the “commons” = the common land, stolen from the “commons” = the ordinary people who survived on the commons, but going one step worse, by battening on the people, rather than the land that supported them.

    For in the case of “for profit” prisons, there’s a need for a constant supply of “commodities” to process, which in the USA constitute the ordinary “commons” all of whom are poor, and the vast majority of whom are black or other ethnic minorities.

    In a word, “for profit” prisons are just the old slave economy in a different costume.


    1. Peter May -

      Agreed. We are not, I suppose there yet, but the more we privatise and encourage profit we absolutely risk the US disease as you indicate.

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