Friday, April 25, 2008

I Fought The Law And The Law Treated Me To A Holiday

When prisons started going wrong

Yes, we know Glyn Travis, assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association has a teensy axe. But when he says "people are breaking into prisons to bring in drugs and prostitutes but the prisoners are quite happy to stay inside", it certainly gets my attention.

"Drugs are coming into prisons at a rate that's so dramatic that drugs in prisons are actually cheaper than on the outside.

There's a classic case in Yorkshire where members of the public were climbing over the prison walls to take drugs into the prison. They put up ladders to climb over the walls, but prisoners were so comfortable in the environment they were living in that none of them tried to climb up the ladders and escape."

That can't be true.

Can it?

Alarmingly, it is - it happened at HMP Everthorpe (even if the main drugs suppliers in most prisons are reckoned to be the prison officers).

As it happens, a member of the Tyler family got banged up about 30 years ago (very distant since you ask, and in any case, there was always a question about his "provenance"). Anyway, despite the fact that he'd done something we'll describe as "wholly unacceptable", he was sent to an open prison. And everyone who visited him came back with the same shocked reaction: it wasn't anything like any prison they'd ever imagined. Instead of prison bars and breaking rocks, these guys just mooched about, watched a bit of telly, sunbathed, and popped down to the shops. WTF?

There seems to be a huge mismatch between what we simple folk out here think we're paying for in our prisons, and what actually gets delivered. We think we're getting San Quentin, when in truth we're getting a Travelodge, with on-demand drugs rather than tea-making facilities in the bedrooms.

Is it like that in all prisons? And should we care? I mean, what is prison actually for?

The Major is firmly of the view that prison should be a deterrent. Rock breaking in the hot sun, for sure - and worse, if he had his way. Once you've experienced prison, you should be a broken man: released back into the world as a dreadful testimony to the wages of sin, so that others will mend their ways.

But the Reverend Tollemache reckons prison is all about reform. We should teach the ways of righteousness, and maybe the 3Rs as well, and help these poor sinners find redemption. The Rev's representative on earth, ex-prison governor David Wilson, says:

"Let's acknowledge that what is actually going on at Everthorpe and in our other prisons is not about being "soft" or "cushy", but about rights, respect and how to gain access to those facilities or services that might just be able to help you. More's the pity, for what sort of society have we become when you have to be sent to prison before you can get an education, healthcare, or develop work skills?"

More's the pity, indeed.

Which makes us think there is A Third Way.

Clearly, Tollemache and Wilson are living in a fantasy world, since in reality nobody has a clue how to lead these sinners unto the light. But that doesn't mean the Major's Camp on Blood Island alternative is the only option.

Because the main priority is surely to keep us safe from known bad guys, which is why we are forever banging on about doubling the number of prison places. And as long as the doors are securely bolted, we don't give a PAC-style toss if the inmates then want to spend all day watching Trisha and getting smacked up.


We just want to be kept safe.

PS Talking of ahem "criminal justice", this week we've has two humdingers. First, the man who was convicted of leaving his bin lid open - a criminal record for disobeying the rubbish Gestapo. And second, the appalling case of the two thugs who drowned a man by means of a so-called "punishment swim", and were then sentenced to just five and a half years in jail (which actually means half that). What possible case is there for not locking up scum like that for good?

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