The interview Chris Grayling (the new and, in my opinion, terrible Justice Secretary) gave with the BBC this morning said Sky Sports subscriptions and 18 certificate DVDs are the biggest problems facing British jails. Well, Mr Justice Secretary, congratulations. You’ve managed to find the perfect way to inflame public sensibilities so the average DM reader will feel outraged and not focus on the real issues.
You see, it’s hard to focus on real issues given no one mentioned them. To avoid boring you all to tears I’m going to highlight the major flaw in Grayling’s proposal: privileges in prison must be earned. Which is all well and good. But the thing is, prisons are expensive. And because we insist on increasing prison populations year on year, we can’t actually afford to run educational courses. They’re sporadic, often cancelled and enormously over-subscribed.
Apparently, prison is for ‘punishment and rehabilitation’. So, the way to do that is to leave people in stark white boxes where they can spend 18 hours a day alone with their guilt. Oh come on. Prison is institutionally unsuited to rehabilitate people. You can’t teach people how to be free when they’re in a cage. Imprisonment removes all liberty. Prisoners are told when to eat, when to sleep, when to shower, when to call home, when to go outside. Their lives bare absolutely no resemblance to the overwhelming sensory stimulation of life outside the gates.
Prisons, then, are at an enormous disadvantage. We have taken the most vulnerable, unstable and criminally minded members of our society, thrown them all in a box and left them there to stew. In the last twenty years, successive governments have removed skills, training and education – partly in an effort to be seen as tough on crime and partly because we can’t afford it, and most people in society couldn’t give a rats ass on whether or not prisoners are bored. And I don’t blame them.
Prisoners have TVs in their cells because it’s one of the very few cheap ways of providing them with stimulation. Let’s remember the majority of prison inmates struggle to read and write. They have no education to their name, and their social time is frequently cut due to staff shortages. They have nothing to do but sit and watch television. All day, every day. Alone. In a shoebox. And there’s not much to go back to once they’re freed. They fall into the same pattern, whether they’re out or in.
Reality is just as much a prison as the bars that hold them.
The odd violent movie showing on A Wing is the least of your problems Mr Grayling, when all they have to learn is imitating the tricks of the trade from seasoned offenders. And don’t think, even for a second, that we are too stupid to notice.
What do you think? Should prisoners have to earn their privileges? Or do you believe they deserve perks others perhaps can’t afford? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.