This Article first appeared in The Free Think Tank in November of 2016.
I write a lot of articles on what I, as an ex-prisoner, see wrong with the prison estate in the 21st century. I wail with despair when I read that over 750 people have taken their own lives in the last 10 years whilst in custody. I recoil with horror when I learn that this year alone there have been over 36,000 reported cases of self-harm in our prisons. I fear for the well-being of the prison staff when it is reported that there has been an increase of 40% in assaults on staff.
But this article is not for that. The state of British prisons has been in the news a lot recently and I thought I would take this wonderful opportunity to give you a view of my utopian prison. They should be centres for reform not places of punitive punishment. The punishment one is given is the loss of liberty. Society sends us to prison if we transgress the law so severely that the judiciary feels we need to be removed from it and be rehabilitated.
"It is my, perhaps rather, naive belief that no person is born bad."If I am that person, then I want to go to a place that will aid me in learning the error of my ways and help me become a better person. It is my, perhaps rather, naive belief that no person is born bad. Every child is innocent. Whatever happens along the way, to make them take the road less travelled, I believe that we all strive to be a better person. Prison, therefore, should help give me the tools to become that person. A sort of place where one can press the CTRL ALT DEL keys in one’s brain, if you will.
Staff IssuesMore staff in our prisons is needed, of that there can be no doubt. But it is needed now not in 2 years from now as is the current plan. They should be staffed by those types of people who want to affect that change. The staff needs to be trained on how to deal with some of society’s lost souls. Nothing can replace experience when it comes to this and I, personally, do not believe that an 8 week training period can cover that. Before they graduate from their prison academy they should meet and talk to ex-prisoners, not just learn how to tie them up in case there is a fight. Our prisons need to be staffed with ancillary staff that is trained in managing prisoner’s expectations. There are many in prison with mental health issues, our prisons need to spend money on hiring more specialists trained in trying to find out the root cause of a patient’s problem, rather than just awarding a healthcare contract to the cheapest bidder. Quality, not quantity would be the ethos of my utopian prison.
Obviously, officers need to be disciplinarians; every community needs its police force to maintain order. I doubt anyone would object to that. Make no mistake; prisons are just that, they are communities. However, the difference being that I have met very few people during my time in prison that actually want to be there, so tensions will run high. However, I found that if I behaved myself and was respectful to all then I never saw the disciplinary side of the prison estate.
My PrisonMy prison would not lock me in a cell 10x12ft for 23 hours per day. My prison would not expect me to eat my evening meal 2 ft away from an open toilet. My prison would not put me in a cell with 2 others when it was designed for one person. My prison would not allow me the choice of either bathing or telephoning my family; it would allow me to do both. My prison would not deny my progression through my sentence due to its errors of denying me access to the offending behaviour courses because of budgetary cuts. My prison’s management would understand that they are not there to judge me on my past; it would recognise that the judiciary has already done that and their mandate is to rehabilitate me.
"My prison would be staffed with the type of people who want to make a difference in my life."My prison would treat me the way that it would want to be treated. My prison would understand that the bedrock of family life is so very vital to me as I try and rehabilitate. It would be respectful and understanding of my family’s predicament of me being in prison and recognise that they are suffering as well. My prison would be staffed with the type of people who want to make a difference in my life. My prison’s staff would treat me as a human being and with respect and in turn, I would respect them. My prison would give me the opportunity to better myself by learning a trade or increasing my education level. After all, if I am to be released back into society a better person than entered and on the road to rehabilitation, then I need to be “au fait” with modern technology and be able to read and write to a decent level. My prison would release me at the half way point of my sentence but its contact with me would not stop there. My prison would keep in touch with me. After all, I have created a trust in my personal officer over my sentence and that officer knows me best. My personal officer would be there to help me when I need a comforting word or a kick up the backside.
When I left prison, there were many officers that impacted my life and I owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. These are the people that would staff my utopian prison and I would leave it a better person.