Prison, riots and rehabilitation | Letters

We needed a serious analysis of violence and safety for staff and prisoners, say David Scott and Joe Sim, and new guidelines on the treatment of prisoners, says James Keeley

There is an alternative perspective regarding the prison officers’ industrial action and their concern for health and safety (Thousands of prison officers to protest over ‘unprecedented violence’, 14 September). Eight prison staff have been murdered since 1850, suggesting that prisons are not filled with dangerous psychopaths. In contrast, the charity Inquest notes that 4,640 prisoners have died in prison since 1990 – 2,075 of these deaths were self-inflicted.

According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), up to March 2018, there were 467 incidents of self-harm per 1,000 male prisoners, a rise of 14% over the year. In women’s prisons, the rate was 2,244 per 1,000 prisoners, a rise of 24%. So whose safety counts in prison?

The MoJ has noted there was a change in April 2017 that simplified how incidents involving staff were recorded. It also noted, “it is possible this has increased the recording of incidents”. Staff have been taking action on this issue since at least 1972. What is needed is a serious analysis of violence and health and safety for staff and prisoners, and for the media and politicians to stop uncritically parroting the Prison Officers Association’s line, which is not helping to defuse the prison crisis. In fact, it is making it worse.
Dr David Scott The Open University, Professor Joe Sim Liverpool John Moores University

• The possibility that Britain’s prisons could face a budgetary black hole of £70m a year by 2023 is depressing news (Report, 17 September). Conditions inside our prisons already make them unfit for human habitation. Violent incidents and suicides in prison are at a record high. Drugs are rife. Far too many prisoners are being kept in jail on indeterminate sentences. These factors, along with overcrowding, inadequate training and inexperience of prison officers, have created the perfect storm for riots rather than rehabilitation. The situation is worse than the conditions existing at the time of the Woolf report over a generation ago.

It makes no economic sense to spend £40,000 a year to incarcerate offenders only to set them up to become recidivists. The position is exacerbated by the responsibility for offender management being taken away from the probation service and given to private companies.

It is time for a further report on the prison system. An independent board comprising of the judiciary, the chief inspector of prisons, the police, the probation service, prison governors and charities should be given the task of formulating guidelines and recommendations as to how prisoners should be treated while incarcerated and how they should be prepared for release.
James Keeley

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