LIZ TRUSS might attack proposals to reduce prison overcrowding as a “reckless quick fix,” but the real danger lies in her government’s shocking complacency.
Britain’s prisons are in meltdown. Violent incidents and riots are soaring. The last months of 2016 saw no fewer than four serious prisoner uprisings — with inmates seizing control of parts of facilities in Bedford, Lewes, Birmingham and Swaleside on the Isle of Sheppey.
Serious assaults on prison staff have skyrocketed too, up 146 per cent from 2011-16.
Suicides in prisons are more common than ever — with the 119 “self-inflicted deaths” of 2016 meaning twice as many prisoners are killing themselves as in 2012, when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s sweeping cuts to public spending began to bite.
Everyone — inmates, staff, prison inspectors, the Howard League for Penal Reform, even the government — accepts that our jails are overcrowded.
There are twice as many people behind bars now as in the 1990s, and the Prison Reform Trust estimates that around a quarter of prisoners are sharing cells designed for fewer occupants. Despite this, governments since 2010 have slashed prison officer numbers by a third. The result is, as the Prison Officers’ Association’s Steve Gillan points out, a “perfect storm” — and an entirely predictable one.
It is disingenuous to claim with the Justice Secretary that Britain’s jam-packed jails are full because of longer sentences for violent crimes and sex offences.
The reality is that tens of thousands of prisoners suffer from mental health issues requiring treatment in a hospital rather than dumping in a dungeon.
Nearly two-thirds of male prisoners and 57 per cent of female ones have a personality disorder, nearly half of women and a quarter of men suffer from anxiety and depression, a quarter of women and 16 per cent of men were treated for mental health issues in the year leading up to their incarceration and, shockingly, over a fifth of male prisoners and 46 per cent of women have attempted suicide.
The Tories have turned their backs on these vulnerable people, leaving them to rot in jail rather than providing proper funding for mental health treatment.
The old right-wing mantra — “prison works” — is demonstrably false when nearly half of offenders reoffend within a year.
Nor is there any point in calling for “earlier intervention” to rehabilitate prisoners if the resources to make it work are not forthcoming.
Britain is crying out for a joined-up approach to crime — one where the health service is given the resources to treat everyone who needs treatment, one where community and rehabilitative sentences are given where possible. And one where prisons are both a last resort for containing and reforming the most dangerous of criminals and are given the necessary space and staff to do this safely.
Met shreds the evidence
THE Pitchford Inquiry into state collusion in the illegal blacklisting of thousands of trade unionists cannot do its job if the police are able to destroy the evidence.
Trade unions are right to demand that documents relating to the inquiry are rapidly secured following the discovery that the Met has been shredding them.
Blacklisting is a crime and one which ruined too many lives for the police to be allowed to obstruct justice in this way. And with the state increasing its power to snoop on us all 24-7 we need clarity on how it has abused its powers in the past so we can stop it doing so again.
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