"Filthy, overcrowded and dilapidated prison". (Morning Star,03/09/14) No, not a quote from Dickens, but from another damning Inspectors` report in 21st century Britain, Your paper last month rightly highlighted the duplicitous Chris Grayling`s "disingenuous claims that unions were to blame for Britain`s prison crisis", and his Gove-like dismissal of empirical evidence,but omitted a number of issues. (Morning Star, 20/08/14)
Overcrowding and staff shortages, both the direct result of this government`s policies, are now important factors in the rising numbers of prisoners taking their own lives; this is the opinion of none other than Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector. The fact is that in the year up to March, there were 88 suicides in our prisons, a rise of 52 on the previous year, with self-harm cases increasing to 23,478 a year. Labour`s objective of reducing the number of prison inmates by limiting repeat offending is an admirable aim, but does little to solve the current problems requiring immediate solutions; they should be not just be complaining about the horrific conditions, they should be shouting from the rooftops, before the prisoners do!
Often prisoners are locked up in their shared cells for 23 hours a day, leaving next to no time for showers, exercise, education or work. The cells look nothing like the official wide-angled photographs; walls can almost be reached by two outstretched arms, table at one end, an unscreened toilet at the other, with a bunk bed at the side. It`s not difficult to imagine how degrading such conditions will be, or how there could be anything less conducive to rehabilitation.
Government policies have simply made matters worse: since 2010, 18 prisons have been closed, the numbers of prison staff have been cut by 30%, whilst the number of inmates has been allowed to rise to just under 86,000. A number of prisons have been handed over to private companies, including Serco, which has dubious records of performance, including the infamous involvement in overcharging for tagging criminals. G4S, the other security firm involved in the tagging scandal, and the one notorious for its botched Olympics` security contract, was barred from bidding for government contracts for six months. Since the ban was lifted in April, the company has had its contract renewed to run the Rainsbrook secure training centre for 12-17 year olds!
Labour must act quickly. Even at present rates, over 50 prisoners are likely to die by their own hands before there can be a change of government, so urgent action is vital. Judges and magistrates must be told that a prison sentence is not always the most suitable of punishments, and that in certain, obvious cases, it is the wrong one.
Cutting the cost of the prison service, like that of education or health, does not save the taxpayer money, even in the long run. Labour has to accept this, and devise its strategy accordingly. Fair-minded voters will accept this, and the others will vote Tory or Ukip anyway!