Prisons Reforms – Part Three

In continuing this series of articles about the current state and failure of the UK prison system I have to admit to frustration not only with the Government – and by that I mean both the current and past Governments of all political persuasions – but also those who claim to represent Prison Reform who consistently make intentionally misleading statements and claims that serve only to further undermine those who work in prisons.

However to the purpose of this article which is to highlight some of the problems and issues that prison staff and all of those who work within the system to rehabilitate prisoners face every day.

I have already explained in previous blogs why cutting of prison staff numbers and privatisation of prisons is detrimental to rehabilitation and preventing reoffending.
Which brings me to a very common term namely “He/She was a model prisoner”

But what you might ask is a “model prisoner”?

Well the answer is very simple it is a prisoner who complies fully with the prison regime – or in other words get their head down do their time and cause no fuss.

The problem is however that being a “model prisoners” in no way reflects whether the prisoner has undergone rehabilitation which will stop them reoffending on release.

In fact – and I speak from personal knowledge and experience – I have worked with prisoners who were serving their second, third and even more custodial sentences who were pleasant, personable and model prisoners.

The problem is that prison regimes are designed not to avoid there being another victim by preventing reoffending but to ensure that prisons operate as peacefully as they can which is even more important when you are short staffed.

There is absolutely – and I say this with total confidence – no way the current prison regimes – timetables to the uninitiated – can deliver a rehabilitation agenda and /or prepare prisoners for life “on the outside”.

What needs to happen is for the politicians to decided what prisons are for and design a regime to deliver their objectives.

For many prisoners especially those with drug and alcohol related issues the demands from different sectors within the system for their time in order to meet “targets” quite simply means that none of the rehabilitation interventions are fully and successfully achieved.

Though looking at the prison data there are an awful lot of “target” boxes being ticked.
The first priority of prisons – disregarding the main priority which is to keep those committed by the courts in custody – for those who suffer drug, alcohol, health and mental health issues should be to ensure that at the very least on release they are “drug and alcohol free” and there is a structure in place to continue ongoing support.

What is the point in setting targets for academic and vocational qualifications when because of ongoing and underlying issues the prisoner on release has little or no chance of being employed.

Why would an employer take the risk?

Of course alongside addressing the underlying issues prisoners should be given the opportunity and encouraged to be involved in other rehabilitation activities but the priority has to be -using the current vernacular – on ‘getting them clean’.

The whole rehabilitation process is undermined if prisoners are having to take time off because they are on or have to go and receive their “maintenance dose” of drugs.

Why an earth does anyone think an employer is going to be happy to employ someone who is reliant on a “maintenance” of their habit.

And the prison service and politicians know this because it only applies to those prisoner who have “drug” related issues.

Those who have “alcohol” related issue aren’t given a twice duly “maintenance dose” of alcohol – not even an alcohol free dose.

And the politicians know about the impact of substance abuse because it is one of the major factors in the crimes and number of those given a custodial sentence which in turn means it is one of the major factors in the number of victims of crime.

Incidentally smoking is now banned on health grounds within UK prisons which makes issuing opiate substitute based drugs a nonsense.

It is time to radically change the target driven prison regimes and design one that puts the rehabilitation of individual prisoners as the focus of the prison aims and objectives.

They should start by prioritising and working with those prisoners who are serving a custodial sentence for the first time.

Of the current 82,000 in prison 21,000 are first time in custody.

At the current rate of almost 60% recidivism that means we can as a society expect just over 12,000 of them to reoffend and be sentenced to another custodial sentence in the future.

At a cost of almost £40,000 a year to keep a prisoner in custody – not to mention the crimes they have committed or the trauma to their victims – then the cost is enormous.
Where else would the cost of the failure of a Government tax payers paid organisation be considered acceptable?

If concentrated work with those first time in custody was prioritised and reoffending fell by only 50% the savings would amount to £240 million but more importantly there would be at least 6,000 fewer victims.

The other group I would prioritise would be those prisoners who are ex- military who currently make up 10% of those serving custodial sentences.

I should at this point say that when I say prioritise it excludes those who have been sentenced for serious crimes of violence, domestic abuse or murder who quite correctly should serve their time.

However a large number of ex- military personnel serving a custodial sentence have drug and alcohol related issues that are the result of mental health issues related to PTSD or/and not being able to cope outside of the military “family” structure.

Many find themselves sleeping on the streets so it is understandable that they actually may feel happier and more secure in prison living in a very well structured regime.
In fact they are in my experience the epitome of what a “model prisoner” is.

But what happens when they are released and find themselves homeless and back on the streets?

As an ex-military man myself I know what I would do.

Which is why they should be prioritised to help and support them in order to prevent them returning to prison in the future.

I fully believe that given the right calibre of staff – and it may be that they will be ex-military – working with ex-military prisoners the numbers could be dramatically reduced.

The problem as I see it is that successive Government have lacked the will – and to some extent intelligence through ignorance of the issue – to look at radically addressing the issues.

Which is why I am less than hopeful that anything will change and because of that there will continue to be avoidable victims of crime.

In my next blog I’ll address what is a very sensitive subject both in and outside of the prison services – namely what is the purpose and objectives of UK prisons with regard to those prisoners who are designated as Foreign Nationals.