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More prison places are not the answer

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Monday, 19 October 2009 at 11:11 am
AMOL RAJAN

Prison works.  It is an effective deterrent to would-be criminals, and by ridding our streets of these people eradicates their ability to commit further crimes.  This minimises the harm caused to society by those with criminal intentions.  They can't cause trouble from behind bars.  It's obvious.

The foregoing assertion could appear without much challenge in almost any party manifesto of the past 30 years, and is sponsored on an almost daily basis by most media outlets in Britain.  That it is not true, that the evidence attesting exactly the opposite case grows by the day, and that the vast majority of people with experience of the prison system believe it to be woefully misguided, has been no impediment to its burgeoning popularity.

In its top leader today, The Times argues that "more prisoners require more prisons".  Though it does recognise that "minor criminals, mental health patients and drug addicts... could be better dealt with elsewhere", it argues that new cells need to be built to accommodate a growing number of criminals.

This view is wrong.   The leader doesn't so much provide the wrong answers as the right answers to the wrong question. The present number of prison places is sufficient.  The trouble is many of them are taken by non-violent offenders who should be doing sentences in their local community.  

Paul Tidball, president of the Prison Governor's Association, has long argued that building new prisons is a wrongheaded approach. He told me two years ago that "upto 20,000 prisoners in Britain [the current population stands at 84,711] should be moved out of jail". Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons (who really isn't a liberal softy), has said for years that it's precisely because justice should be served, and sentences enforced, that many more non-violent criminals ought to be doing their porridge on our streets.

These two together should discount the foolish assertion that belief in prison reform is some kind of woolly liberal tosh.  I am all for stiff sentences.  But if the state is to deprive citizens of liberty because they have crossed the law, it should get more out of them than it does by putting them behind bars.  If there is no evidence of their being violent, they should improve the condition of their local community.

The government has built a vast number of new prison places.  It hasn't worked.  Why would building more be effective?

Incidentally, Robert Verkaik's explainer in our paper last week is essential reading for people interested in the subject. 

Comments

Brian Haw.
ron_broxted wrote:
Monday, 19 October 2009 at 12:33 pm (UTC)
Many laws yet little justice. You'll find it easier to establish a police state than to dismantle one. Britain is a nation where one can be arrested (as Maya Evans was) for reading a list of war dead in Iraq outside of Downing Street.
Custodial or Non-custodial?
chris_c_d wrote:
Monday, 19 October 2009 at 03:53 pm (UTC)
So Mr Amol Rjan, are you suggesting that if a crime is not violent the punishment should be non-custodial. That suggest to me that you do not think any non-violent crime can be "serious".

Let me ask you a question, would you recommend a non custodial sentence for someone who, although did not personally use violence against a 14 year old girl, but kept here locked away and allowed others to abuse her? Whilst violent crimes are indeed worthy of custodial sentences, there are many serious crimes which are non-violent, but in my view, deserving of porridge. Hopefully, a few MP's will be having a taste of it in the not too distant future.
Stop spending money on stupid PC quangos and build some prisons, no TV, no magazines and gyms and a basic diet. You watch the crimes figures come down.
ehross wrote:
Monday, 19 October 2009 at 04:53 pm (UTC)
Agreed, most criminals should simply be put down. They simply drain resources from the needy.
prisons and mental health
publunch99 wrote:
Monday, 19 October 2009 at 04:57 pm (UTC)
I understand that a lot of people in prison have mental health problems. These may have started in prison, or may have been pre-existing in which case prison may lead to further mental
health deterioration.

Some people may not be able to cope with life outside of such total institutions as the army, prison, boarding schools or mental hospitals.

Is there a link to the rise in prisoner numbers and the rapid
implementation of the care-in-the-community policy? Would
an increase in the capacity of psychiatric hospitals, where people
are detained but not as a punishment, see a corresponding decrease
in the need for prison places?
Re: prisons and mental health
kodak321 wrote:
Monday, 19 October 2009 at 05:55 pm (UTC)
Publunch...so many questions??...I've got one for you...when were you first committed?
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