Monday, 25 November 2019

None of the Above

A little disclaimer here, this blog is really only concerned with prisons. I cannot comment on the criminal Justice sector as a whole as I would have even less of an idea as to what I was talking about than normal. I suggest that you follow the wonderful @BarristerSecret, the oracle that is @BarristerBlog (both on twitter) for a far more clearer understanding than I could ever give you.  As always; what follows is purely my opinion. I could be wrong. 

I have spent that last 3 minutes reading the part of  Conservative Party’s manifesto for the general election as it relates to my area of work; prisons. Oh!  And in that time, I have also read the Labour Party’s and the Liberal Democrats. I haven’t read the Green Party’s nor have I read the other party’s manifestos. Why? Because there are over 40 parties with multiple candidates running in the election along with over 20 parties with one candidate ( BBC News) and I have a will to live. Although in saying that; after reading the 3 above I think that The Universal Good Party might just get my vote if for no other reason than I love their name!

In a nutshell; 
·       The Conservatives 

Jail people for longer
We already jail people for extensive periods with long tariffs for those who commit the most heinous of crimes. This is not new.

Build new prisons. 
The Government has already agreed to new sites to be built at HMP Wellingborough, Glen Parva and possibly Full Sutton. These jails will be put out to tender to the private sector to operate. This is not new.

Cut the amount of foreign nationals in our jails. End automatic release for those who have committed serious offences. 
Presently, less than 10% of those serving a sentence are of Foreign citizenship. Cutting foreign national prisoners requires Prisoner Transfer Agreements between two countries. If one party does not want the prisoner received, then they won’t be. I can understand X country saying to the UK, “No!” we do not want the cost of housing a prisoner who has not committed any crime on our soil, you have him” UNLESS  of course the government is saying that if a foreign national commits a crime he is simply deported without serving any jail sentence. There is, ALREADY, two programs in place that deal with Foreign National Offenders. Those being FRS (Facilitated Removal Scheme) and ERS (Early Removal Scheme). Now here’s where it gets a bit complicated. FRS is for those Foreign Nationals who are of non-EU origin and ERS for those who are European. Both programs remove the prisoner UP TO 290 days before the end of their custodial sentence.  FRS has the added benefit for the prisoner as it involves releasing funds to that prisoner when they arrive back home. This is not new. 
Those who commit serious offences are given a tariff before being considered for parole and parole is not a given right, it must be earned. This is not new. 

Those who use a knife as a weapon should go to prison.” 
They already do. 

·       Labour 

Get prison officers back to the level they were in 2010.!! 
According to the almanac that is Russell Webster, there are 18,752 prison officers in 2019 and in 2010 there were 19,910. So Labour will hire 1,158 new prison officers (Prison Operational Staff). Or in simple terms @11 staff per prison (based on 104 public prisons). 

Bring back PFI prisons back in house and there will be no more private prisons.
The cost to cancel the existing contracts would be astronomical to the taxpayer. Additionally, one would have to question the sanity of doing this when, contrary to what  the national chair of the Prison Officer’s Association said recently in an interview,  NOT ONE of the private prisons in this country scored in the bottom half of the most violent jails in the country ( Prison Performance Ratings 2018-2019). Indeed, none of these jails is under an Urgent Notification as issued by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. The 3 new prisons I mention above are NOT being built under PFI, but they will be run by a private contractor. This, therefore, is a knee jerk reaction taken without proper consideration and can only have a detrimental effect on society as a whole.

Prison is not the best place to address the drug addictions, mental illnesses and debts that lead many people into crime. 
Hallelujah! Someone has eventually got it. Completely correct. Prison is not the place for those with mental illnesses and I recall meeting so many lost souls when I was serving my prison sentence. However, all secure hospitals have been closed, so where is the detail in how this will be funded and how it will be fixed? Political blurb I am afraid.

We will further consider the evidence for effective alternatives and rehabilitation of prolific offenders. 
Ok, err uhuh,  consider away or here’s a thought…….. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

·      Liberal Democrats-

Let’s all get stoned!
 – ok sorry for being flippant, but sometimes I can’t help myself. 

Transform prisons into places of rehabilitation and recovery by recruiting 2,000 more prison officers and improving the provision of training, education and work opportunities.
So, we are aware the length of time it took the current (you know what I mean) to recruit the 2500 officers they promised 4 Justice Secretaries ago. The attrition rate of prison staff meant that they needed to hire @ 4000 to get to the net 2,500. Added to that, that hiring 2000 staff will not all of a sudden turn these warehouses of despair into “places of rehabilitation.” To do that they will need to invest in Prison Education, PURPOSEFUL work (I once stuck balloons into bags for Clinton cards for 35 hours per week.

Ensure that all prison-leavers have a suitably timed release and are supported with suitable accommodation, a bank account and employment or training, and are registered with a local GP.
This would be welcome if it could work. The amount of people leaving prison today without accommodation is shocking. The simple fact of the matter is that local councils/ housing associations do not care for prisoners and we are usually that last ones on any list for housing. The Liberal Democrats will need to revamp the entire public housing programs prior to this happening. Employment? Well, the hiring of ex-prisoners is a social pariah. Until the liberal democrats make it attractive to employers to hire former prisoners then the status quo will remain. Bank accounts are already available to prisoners, so this is not new.

I could go on and on with these 3 “manifestos” but that will to live I mentioned above is slowly diminishing. 

It boils down to this. 

No political party wants to talk about prisons. Hell, the Conservative manifesto actually takes up the ink to state that prisoners will not be allowed to vote. Prisons are not vote winners. Lock us up and put us in mammoth prison in the back of nowhere and forget about us. What all parties seem to have forgotten is that over 90% of those serving sentences will be released at one point in their lives and therefore be allowed to vote…. Hmmm food for thought isn’t it? 
Not one of these pieces of tripe mention that they want to get to the root of crime, the reasons for it, the societal problems that often-put people on the road of crime. I fully believe that no one is born evil to this world and that something happens along the way to force that person down “the road less travelled.” There are wonderful organisations out there who work in this arena but until ALL of us do then our jails will remain overcrowded sausage factories. Putting damaged people in, locking them up for more than they are unlocked and churning them back out again. 

Those who know me, know that I am a fan of Oscar Wilde. Indeed his “De Profundis” turned my life around. In it, it says this:

Many men on their release carry their prison about with them into the air, and hide it as a secret disgrace in their hearts, and at length, like poor poisoned things, creep into some hole and die.  It is wretched that they should have to do so, and it is wrong, terribly wrong, of society that it should force them to do so.  Society takes upon itself the right to inflict appalling punishment on the individual, but it also has the supreme vice of shallowness, and fails to realise what it has done.  When the man’s punishment is over, it leaves him to himself; that is to say, it abandons him at the very moment when its highest duty towards him begins.  It is really ashamed of its own actions, and shuns those whom it has punished, as people shun a creditor whose debt they cannot pay, or one on whom they have inflicted an irreparable, an irremediable wrong.  I can claim on my side that if I realise what I have suffered, society should realise what it has inflicted on me; and that there should be no bitterness or hate on either side.

That sums it up for me ladies and gentlemen. Society is shallow. We are far too self-absorbed with ourselves and we care not a fig for those that we have spurned. That is sad. We have a moral obligation to help those who we are bringing back into our society. Yes, I broke the law. I was sent to jail AS a punishment (not to be punished) and I was released back into society. If it was not for the love of my immediate family, I would have had no support. As Wilde says, I have no bitterness towards society for inflicting that punishment on me, yet still society shuns me. I am an EX prisoner, you told me to go away for a number of years and then come back, “slate clean.” I returned but you went back on your word.

Look, I am not an abolitionist, I understand the need for jails. I even understand your retributionist ideal of prison. It makes you feel better. I am ok with that. 

This is your time, people. Every 5 years you have the chance to make your society better. You have the power to make a change. It isn’t, no scratch that, you mustn’t just make it about yourselves. I beg of you. 

Tell your candidate that they must improve the sheds that we put our prisoners in as these people may well be our neighbours one day. We must help these people on the road to being law abiding citizens if we expect them to live in our society. We can’t just be the nation of “locking people up” or punishing people because we can. We must be the nation that the rest of world looks to with envy. We must be the society that I believe all of us want.