Does the UK need to reform its policy towards prisons? Prisons have always been left out of the political conversation. It is very easy to forget criminals as part of society. Most people have the common opinion of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. The only time you see criminals being talked about in the news is when they are offending. It is a topic that most media platforms and politicians push to the bottom of their agenda. Prison reform isn’t something more politicians want to have at the centre of their mandate as it won’t effect the public, especially when prisoners don’t get to vote.
However, in recent years, a slight change in attitude towards prisons has taken place. This trend was started by the most unlikely of places – prison officers. Towards the end of 2018, prison officers went on strike over concerns for their safety. This has caused many to listen to the issues they have raised, and with countries such as Norway trying new techniques to help improve prisons, the question has been asked does the UK need to change.
The UK prison system is split into four categories ranked from A-D. D category prisons are open prisons, which has minimal security and allow jobs and education to be taken place. Category C prisons are known as ‘resettlement prisons’ preparing criminals for life outside prison walls. Category B are training and local prisons, mainly used for prisoners preparing to go to court with Category A prisons being maximum security.
Category D prisoners are particularly interesting to look at. These prisoners are considered to offer little to no threat to society having usually spent time at previous higher security prisons and are where most white-collar prisoners spend their time. However, Category D prisons do raise the question of fairness ? Do elite classes deserve to have a pleasant prison experience while others do not? Or does the prison system only accept prisoners into Category D prison based on merit and good behaviour? Can a prisoner even in a Category D prison have a pleasant experience while incarcerated? This is what our editors look at this week.
Scrap prison time for sentences less than six months and Mr Johnson is back on track – A Conservative article
Prison reform means a lot for me and my family. After a terrible traffic incident whilst on holiday, my father received a two-year prison sentence serving one year in HMP Exeter and HMP Leyhill. This experience was devastating for all concerned and not a day goes by without my father thinking about this awful incident. So when my fellow writers and I agreed on this issue I really had to take a step back. For this piece I have thought about my father’s experiences, my experiences visiting him, and the stories I now know about life on the other side of the bars. So, this is how I feel.
On the issue of prison reform, I am not fully behind Mr Johnson’s plans. I object to certain parts of it and I will explain this later on however, I do believe that the Conservative party are the best party to lead and deliver prison reform. This party is able to be strong on crime as well as provide key measure that can decrease re-offending, make prisons safer, and truly punish those who commit horrendous crimes.
Being strong on crime is easier said than done but the Conservatives are clearly the party to do it. Mr Johnson has announced that automatic early release for the most seriously violent as well as sexual offenders will be abolished. “These criminals will be required to serve two-thirds of their sentence behind bars.” I support this measure as we must protect the victims of these vile crimes and must allow them that criminal justice system works for them. I echo the words of the new Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, “we owe it to victims to make this change.”
The Conservative party has also shown great intent to help prisons get better by announcing “an extra £100m will be spent on cracking down on crime within prisons.” Drugs are rife in UK prisons resulting in a horrendous environment of fear and intimidation. Not only this but drug use in prisons has lead to suicides and assaults on prison staff. It is vital that this government continues to fund prisons as it is. This extra £100 million will allow to prisons to adopt “Airport-style security such as X-ray scanners and metal detectors.” Cracking down on drugs and contraband with tighter security will stop drugs entering prisons as well as saving countless lives.
On a softer measure the government will give the public access to sentencing remarks in order to educate as well as “remove some of the mystery to help educate people and inform people better about criminal sentencing”. This has been welcomed by the Victims Right campaign and I do also believe that it can help support families who have suffered so much.
However, I am angry with Mr Johnson scrapping previous Justice Secretary David Gauke plans to scrap short prison sentences. It is vital that we punish are worst offenders yet for those sentenced for petty crime we must not allow them to join the vicious cycle of re-offending. “Over 300,000 sentences were for 12 months or less but nearly two-thirds of those offenders go on to commit a further crime within a year of being released.”
This is unacceptable and Mr Johnson must urgently re-consider his position. Mr Gauke also stated that offenders who engaged in community-based alcohol programs, 60% did not re-offend. In addition. “ Offenders given a community sentence including mental health treatment have also shown to be significantly less likely to reoffend.” For lesser crimes we must create a system of nurture and this is what Mr Gauke plans did. Mr Johnson, you must re-consider as it lets down positives steps made by this Conservative government.
Written by Chief Conservative Editor, Jack Kane.
Point of Information
Mr Kane’s finest moment with POI, but I worry about Mr Kane’s determination to ‘punish offenders’ – a Liberal response
Mr Kane standing up to Boris Johnson’s is something I never thought I would hear. He has realised there are some policies that Boris Johnson is undertaking that do not work. He then backs his criticisms of prisons by coming up with very strong suggestions of his own.
Mr Kane’s suggestion to be tougher on contraband and to remove sentences for those less than 12 is a very progressive plan produced by Mr Kane. I share his personal frustration with Boris Johnson and his attempt to cancel this policy.
The only thing I can note is that he thinks that airport style detectors will be enough. That is only one step of many that have to be taken. Life’s for prisoners have to better than just simply packing tea or refusing to do this mundane task. More classes like brick-laying, which only take 20 people in the whole prison, but is by far the most popular, needs to be offered to a wider audience. Better activities, better jobs, better motivation to prisoners so they want to make a change to their life. A child who has been out of school since 13 and on drugs until 20 in jail with no plan for the future is going to get no help from tea-packing and English and maths classes. They need a skill. Not just any skill, one they want to learn. Please do not forget this Mr Kane that this is needed as well, but your article other than this is one I cannot fault.
Written by Chief Liberal Editor, Max Anderson
Let’s get this ‘rehabilitation revolution’ going, privatisation has been a catastrophic distraction – a Labour response
Mr Kane’s openness is truly impressive, I am deeply touched by how he has opened up about his personal life to address this topic; it must be hard, and deeply intimate, so I have a lot of respect for him. I equally concede that he probably has a far greater understanding of the prison system, therefore I have read his article with this in mind.
Surprisingly, this week I have very few qualms with Mr Kane’s propositions. Like me, he is a supporter of reform to short sentencing, recognising the inefficacy of these custodial sentences. I am in total agreement that Johnson’s reversal on scrapping short sentences is a shame – the data is clear that they do not cut down on crime or reoffending, they simply create overcrowded prison environments.
I also support his view that many petty crimes are born out of other problems, for example alcohol and substance abuse. As such, it is clear that we need to rebuild our community support systems in order to help such people on the road to recovery; that is the only way to reintegrate offenders back into society.
My only worry with Mr Kane’s argument, is the Conservative party’s history with empty promises; they pledged to enact a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ back in 2003, and it has not materialised. Instead we have seen the devastating privatisation of prisons and probation services. Overall, I fully stand with Mr Kane’s arguments, and I hope that the Conservatives follow through this time.
Written by Chief Labour Editor, Isabella Jewell
Time to stop ignoring the cries from prisoners and take them and prison reform seriously – a Liberal article
Prison has two purposes; to remove a citizen who has broken the law out of society and to then provide rehabilitation to this individual. In terms of removing the individual from society, prisons do this perfectly. We remove offenders from society put them into ‘one of fear, bullying and intimidation’ where people feel like they ‘are going to get killed’.
Rehabilitation however, does not happen. In fact, the chances of reoffending is ‘almost 50% after one year’. Liberals would blame this extremely high reoffending rate down to this new society they have been moved into – one that causes mental health issues, a massive change in behaviour and a platform to reoffend.
Liberals believe a change is needed, and massive prisoner reform is required to no longer force citizens into these barbaric environments. So, what can we do to change it?
As I often do, I want to look over the North Sea to Norway and take note of what they are doing. They have put a huge amount of time and effort into the rehabilitation of its offenders, and in return have seen great success. Their aim here is not to destroy citizens in a horrible environment, but to ‘release neighbours’.
Norway provides a lot of different opportunities for prisoners to work on their mental health with such activities as yoga. They also provide a sense of ‘normality’ by providing them with a lot of freedom within jail and the opportunity to pick up new skills through a range of jobs offered to the inmates. Prisoners are released as ‘qualified mechanics, carpenters and chefs.’ Instead of realising them into public life again with nothing to go on their CV other than the fact they are an ex-convict, they can now leave prison and pursue a career, which also lowers the chance of them reoffending. They also then need the support outside of prison to help them get jobs and not just drop them off on the street.
It is offering activities that interest them and make them want to part take. Why would someone be interested in tea-packing in prison? Most refuse and do not take part.
Prison officers also prefer this method. In 2018, Prisoner officer’s in the UK went on strike, saying how ‘unsafe’ they were in their work environment. One case talks about ‘an inmate who slashed a prison officer’s throat with razor blades’. We need to care about the horrible conditions prison officers face, taking concern for their safety and their mental health.
Norway’s prison officers are more ‘cheerful’ in their work environment. ‘Guards and prisoners are together in activities all the time.’ They interact with each other, talk and become friends, removing the divide of ‘us versus them’ while also enjoying the benefits of such activities as yoga.
Who should receive this better treatment in prison? Judges should have the opportunity to decide this. I want to see as many as people as possible go through this improved rehabilitation, but I accept sometimes that just can’t be the case and judges assessing the individuals would be a good way to decide, far better than a simple cut off point.
Now it is expensive this program. Prisoner care would rise from £40,000 to £90,000. It is expensive, and does it work? Norway would say yes. Compared to the UK’s 50% reoffending rate, Norway’s ‘has fallen to 20% after 2 years’.
If you want prison to be a punishment, they are by being locked out of society. They can’t see their friends, family. They still lose time from their life. They are still being punished by being removed from society, something I personally think would be tough.
I think we have a moral responsibility to support this method being installed. Not only because I don’t think we should just forget about members of society, pretending that prisoners don’t exist, but because we already have a version of this that exists – white collar prisons.
Written by Chief Liberal Editor, Max Anderson
Point of Information
Education programmes may cost a lot in the short term, but the long term benefits are undeniable – a Labour response
It isn’t often that all three of us agree on a topic, but this week appears to be one of those exceptions! Whilst we love a debate at Point of Information, it gives me hope that our political representatives may one day find a compromise, and consider prison reform as a cross party issue.
Mr Anderson’s support of education programmes in prisons is inspired; the Nordic system of rehabilitating prisoners into ‘neighbours’ is exactly what the UK needs if we are ever to fight the soaring rates of reoffending. This is not only a case of battling statistics, but making society a safer place.
By teaching prisoners a skill, such as carpentry, we reduce one of the common factors behind crime; debt, and poverty. If an ex-prisoner is able to work following release, not only is it a way for the offender to give back to society, but it also creates a structure and an income, two things that when lacking, can easily lead to crime.
Mr Anderson is correct that we, as a society, often ignore the needs of prisoners, and he hints at ‘white collar prisons’. If I am correctly interpreting his argument, I believe Mr Anderson is proposing that social class is one of the many reasons we neglect the needs of prisoners. It is all too true that money and class can buy you a lot in the justice system; a better lawyer and representation, as well as greater sympathy… Time and time again our subconscious prejudices lead towards biased sentencing. If judges tend to be wealthy, white, and male, it is not surprising that the needs of those from different backgrounds are overlooked; an afterthought for another debate perhaps.
Written by Chief Labour Editor, Isabella Jewell.
Only one point of Information from me this week. Mr Anderson is writing with clarity – a Conservative response
It is very enjoyable to see Mr Anderson and I agree on this issue. His article is written with clarity and I highly enjoyed his article. He is right to say that the re-offending rate is too high and I could not agree more. This is why I was sad to see Boris Johnson scrap his previous Minister of Justice’s plans to not scrap six-month prison sentences which would have helped.
Mr Anderson also refers to Norway who have a very successful prison system where rehabilitation is at the core of its mission. The UK must strive for this but we must not forget the heinous crimes that some prisoners have done. We must punish those who commit these atrocities whilst towards the end of their sentences, get them ready for the real world. Courses such as carpentry, engineering and even cooking which my dad did during his final few months at HMP Leyhill are so vital in creating a system of rehabilitation.
However, my one point of information this week on Mr Anderson’s article is when he very openly states the price of the Norwegian system. Norway is able to deal with the the rise from £40,000 to £90,000 due to fewer than 4,000 people being incarcerated in Norwegian prisons. In the UK our prison population is twenty times larger and an increase in cash at the same level as Norway’s into the UK system would cause and staggering bill for the tax-payer.
We must invest in our prison system and scrap six month sentences allowing more money to spent on each prisoner rather than locking everyone up just because we can. Norway is what we can strive for but do not get to carried away by the figures.
Written by Chief Conservative Editor, Jack Kane.
REHABILITATION is the only route to reducing RE-OFFENDING – Labour article
“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” has been the Labour party approach to the prison system for many years. As a party, we believe that crime is born out of various aspects of society, one’s upbringing and personal situation, life experience, education… Crime is not something innate and therefore the justice system should address these aforementioned factors when seeking to create a safer society. This is why the Labour party places huge value upon rehabilitation of offenders, we want to enact the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ that the Conservative’s promised back in 2013, but have failed to achieve.
The prison population is steadily growing in the UK, to the point that prisons are running out of cell space – this has resulted in dangerous working conditions for prison attendants, but also for inmates. In 2015, for example, there were 590 incidents of self-harm a week and 360 assaults including around 90 on staff. To create an environment which effectively tackles crime, it is imperative that we regain discipline in our prisons; Labour proposes a rebalancing of the staff-inmate ratio, pushing for greater recruitment and training for prison staff.
Furthermore, the Labour party firmly believes that prison should be considered the last option for addressing crime, it seems that funding cuts to mental health services and drug treatment schemes have transformed prisons into ‘easy’ dumping grounds for those who have been let down by society. Under a Labour government, we would see a far greater investment in these services, in order to avoid the committal or recommittal of crime, in the long-run this measure would firstly alleviate the pressure placed on police officers to deal with members of the public who have mental health problems, but also it would ensure that inmates receive the mental support that they need.
Labour is committed to cutting down on ineffective short sentences for minor crimes, such as petty theft. It has been proven time and time again that these small custodial sentences do not reduce reoffending, they are simply an expensive short-term measure to remove people with issues such as drug and mental problems, or even those living in poverty, from the streets. In these cases, Labour proposes greater funding of social services to help support those who are vulnerable – the factor at the heart of certain crimes. This strategy is of upmost importance when considering the female prison population, shockingly nearly half of all women sent to prison are homeless, therefore it is clear that support services such as women’s centres are struggling. This needs to change.
A terrible modern trend has been the privatisation of prisons, under this mixed system – as has been revealed by several undercover investigations – prisons officers have lost control, giving way to rioting, criminal behaviour, and drug smuggling. It is Labour’s position that no prison should be private, they are a state affair, which should be run according to state guidelines. Labour also believes that there is no role for private companies in probation services; these changes have been pushed through by the Conservatives and have not succeeded in rehabilitating criminals. As mentioned above, the justice system is a state matter; Labour seeks to increase state prison workers, incentivising them by lifting the public sector pay gap.
A centralised justice delivered by the state is the only way to reduce crime in the long term, the focus must be on rehabilitation and education schemes both inside and out of prisons, as opposed to letting criminals live in the lawless lands of places like HMP Northumberland.
Written by Chief Labour Editor, Isabella Jewell
Point of Information
Happy to agree in scraping six month sentences, but leave the rest to the Conservatives – a Conservative response
I would like to start by saying that I could not agree more with Miss Jewell about her approach to “to cutting down on ineffective short sentences for minor crimes, such as petty theft.” The re-offending rate is a sad read for prisoners who receive these sentences and I stand with Miss Jewell on this issue. Scrapping six month sentences is vital to stop re-offending.
Re-habilitation is clearly at the fore-front of Labour’s prison policy and it should be the same for the Conservatives. This is why it was great to hear Boris Johnson say at HMP Leeds on the issue of rehabilitation, “I don’t want to see prisons just be factories to turn bad people worse. We need to be making sure that they are educated and there’s not a culture of gangsterism and drugs in the prison system.” I am hopeful that he can deliver this promise.
However, I can not fully agree with all Miss Jewell has written. “Labour proposes a rebalancing of the staff-inmate ratio, pushing for greater recruitment and training for prison staff.” With the Conservatives promising to build new prisons as well as recruiting more prison officers to deal with these inmates the Conservatives are on the right track to re-balance the system.
Finally, Miss Jewell guarantees that the Labour party will seek greater investment into mental health services and drug treatment schemes. The Conservative party has provided record amounts to the NHS as well as mental health services all due to its effective rescuing of the British economy after the disaster left by the Labour party. Easier said than done for the Labour party.
Written by Chief Conservative Editor, Jack Kane
Miss Jewell is right to be worried about private prison, but she doesn’t offer help to prison officers – a Liberal response
Miss Jewell has produced a typical Labour argument, and that is defiantly not a bad thing when tackling prison reform. She focuses heavily on prisoners and improving their way of life, but also accepting the dangers of private prisons.
Private prisons are used extensively in the US, and have shown to have a number of problems. There have been cases of extending prisoners jail time purely for money making purposes. The treatment of prisoners themselves is barbaric as well, from poor meals to cruel punishments such as weeks in isolation.
My only criticism this week is that I thing Miss Jewell doesn’t focus enough on prison officers. They are usually not trained to the right standards, which makes them unprepared for the task of looking after murders, are understaffed having to look after too many prisoners, open to constant harassment and physical abuse and are not receiving any of the therapy and mental health support they need.
Written by Chief Liberal Editor, Max Anderson