Prisons: a reply to Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchen’s first item today is inspired by a touchy-feely recruitment poster for the prison service:

“… Pasted up in an Oxfordshire byway, I found extraordinary proof of what most of us have long suspected and what politicians always try to deny (above). We are now so soft on wrong-doing that the wicked must be laughing at us.

“It is a recruiting poster for prison officers. Beneath a picture of two smiling, kindly types in uniform sharing a jolly moment are the words: ‘Father figures. Agony Aunts. When you’re the closest to family anyone’s experienced in a long while, it becomes less of a job and more of a calling. Prison officers. People officers by nature.’

“It continues: ‘Gaining the respect of offenders isn’t a skill you can learn. It’s something you need to have in you already: that ability to build rapport with a broad range of characters and ultimately make a breakthrough.’

“The Ministry of Injustice, whose name and superscription are on the poster, have confirmed to me that it is really theirs. There you have it. For the worst people in the country, we hire ‘agony aunts’ and ‘father figures’ whose job is to ‘gain the respect’ of people who have repeatedly trampled on the rights and freedoms of their neighbours.

“For the rest of us, death and taxes, indifference, inefficiency, scorn and an array of decrepit, slovenly ‘services’, which grow worse the more we pay for them.

“Why, exactly, do you vote for the people who are responsible for this? I’d love to know.”

To which I comment:

For once, I have to disagree with Peter, in relation to the first item. We should look to deal with what caused so many people to be imprisoned – so many prisoners have previously been “in care” and/or have lower levels of literacy and/or have mental health problems.

I’m sure there are many who would be dissuaded from crime by a realistic expectation of conviction (for a first offence, or at least an early one in their series) and punishment, and the traditional approach could work for them.

But there are many others who are in a spiral of self-loathing and destructive behaviour because of a lack of loving care, and I think a higher proportion of them end up in the prison system because they have despaired and the connection between behaviour and sanctions has broken.

The prison system needs reforming – when did prisoner-on-prisoner bullying and violence begin? Not in the days when they were strictly segregated even in chapel. And forcible buggery is not a judicial punishment, despite the leering threats made by officials to young offenders in all those police movies.

Jail is a punishment in terms of deprivation of personal liberty and loss of daily contact with loved ones; it is a deterrent for those considering similar offences; and it is a protection for society, during the time that offenders are kept inside.

But unless we’re prepared to hang prisoners, or jail them for life, we need to do something about their addictions, their mental and emotional dysfunctions and their lack of employable skills.

And then we need to look at the dysfunctional society from which they come, and to which they will usually return: one that doesn’t do much to support families and marriage, and employment (especially of men, because of how they are when they have nothing constructive to do).

5 comments for “Prisons: a reply to Peter Hitchens

  1. ivan
    May 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    We need to do something to rectify the lack of acceptable social functions of prisoners but without a TOTAL REFORM of the dysfunctional society we have today any help given in prison is next to useless.

  2. Greg Tingey
    May 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    And examples are important.
    If you nick some trainers in Tottenham you will get 4 months )or whatever) jail.
    If you blow billions of peole’s savings you are told to take a golden handshake and retire.

    People notice these things

  3. Tattyfalarr
    May 14, 2012 at 12:54 am

    We should look to deal with what caused so many people to be imprisoned

    Fair point but do we not already have a massive, well funded and nationwide public service run by the government called “Social Services”…albeit shoddily staffed and uncontrolled/unaccountable at management levels… for that ?

    Teams of paid counsellors, mental health “experts” and their own families, even ? Christ on a bike, there’s even church and other charitable organisation who have their fingers already in that particular pie.

    They have more than enough shoulders to cry on.

    A prison officer’s remit should consist of no more than shepherding prisoners around the building 24 hrs a day making sure they get clothed, fed, washed and into bed on time. All preferably without killing themselves, each other or a prison officer in the process.

    • May 14, 2012 at 7:54 am

      Perhaps less Social Services and more Department of Trade and Industry.

  4. May 16, 2012 at 8:40 am

    The prison system needs reforming – when did prisoner-on-prisoner bullying and violence begin? Not in the days when they were strictly segregated even in chapel. And forcible buggery is not a judicial punishment, despite the leering threats made by officials to young offenders in all those police movies.

    Yes, this is the bit which frightens the hell out of a person. Give me time in solitary and I can keep myself amused [no comments of that nature please] but just keep me away from the poohjabbers.

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