Friday, 7 March 2008

You wouldn't treat animals like this

Jenny Willott, who shadows what I still think of as the Home Office, has asked a series of parliamentary questions which reveal a 561% increase in prisoner-on-prisoner violence since 1996.

She writes: “It is completely unacceptable that over 200 inmates are attacking each other in our prisons every week.

“The Government’s addiction to criminal justice legislation has left our jails packed to the rafters. Prisoners are kept in ever-closer proximity, and prison officers are stretched even further with the inevitable result of increased violence.

“How can we expect offenders to be rehabilitated within the penal system if they are exposed to such high levels of violence? These figures suggest that there is a real risk they may become more dangerous criminals than when they went in.

“Ministers must realise that we cannot build our way out of the current prison crisis. The Government must take a more long-term view and move drug addicts and prisoners with mental health problems into more appropriate accommodation, as well as examining alternatives to short custodial sentences.”

I would go further: staffing of prisons needs to be increased. Apart from increasing the chance of defusing violence before it gets out of hand, it would allow supervision of activities which would get prisoners out of their cells.

If animals are crammed together artificially, they attack one another and/or self-mutilate. There are Europe-wide rules on animal husbandry as a result; why should we treat people any worse?

Prison should punish and restrain, not degrade.


Tory plans have come in for criticism from David Heath, LibDem MP for Somerton and Frome. He said:

“The Tories spend months working on a prisons policy and come up with three ideas that have already been thought of by someone else.

“The Liberal Democrats have long argued for fixed term sentences, with a maximum and minimum tariff announced by a judge in an open court, and for the creation of a Victims’ Compensation Fund paid for by prisoners doing productive work within our prison system.

“The Tories share their final idea, that we can somehow build our way out of the prison overcrowding crisis, with the Government, who have already started the process.

“This represents a fundamental misunderstanding based on the na├»ve assumption that 100,000 places will be enough. It will not if we continue to send ever increasing amounts of people to prison.

“There is no evidence that our extremely high incarceration rates are doing any good. Crime rates in Britain are similar to those in Denmark and yet our rate of incarceration is twice as high.”

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