What evidence is there to suggest that there is a crisis in the British Prison System
This essay is going to give evidence that suggests there is a crisis in our British Prison System. To do this it will define what the crisis is then examine aspects, which contribute to the crisis. Many would agree that the crisis in the British system is that of overcrowding. The rising population in prisons shows that the prison system does not work. This essay is going to give examples of how the increase in population and overcrowding are a problem.
It will then discuss other factors such as the high percentage of prisoners that re-offend, riots and the cost of sending someone to prison to the taxpayer. These factors provide the evidence needed to show the extent of the crisis within the British Prison System. “In the period between the end of the 2nd world war and the century’s end the prison population in England and Wales quadrupled from around 15,000 in 1946 to 60,000 in 1999” McLaughlin & Muncie (2002 pg212. ) There are several explanations for the mass rise in the prison population over this period of time.
The abrupt changes in sentencing, developments in detecting and solving crime, increases in population and increases in recording crimes are all important factors. However, one major issue relating to this huge increase argued by McLaughlin & Muncie (2002) would be that of the failure of the British Prison System. McLaughlin & Muncie (2002) would agree that the criminal justice system would rather take the offender out of the community (referring to the old saying out of sight out of mind) and lock criminals up to rehabilitate them.
Bottoms, A & Preston, R (1980) argue that the penal system is suffering from a material (resources) crisis caused by an ever-expanding prison population; and ideological (legitimacy) crisis caused by the failure of the ‘rehabilitive ideal. ‘ Cavadino, M & Dignan, J (1992) agree that the key factor in the British prison crisis is also the crisis of legitimacy (Cavadino M. & Dignan J. 1992. ) The Penal system needs to legitimate itself. The penal crisis will not be solved without an attempt to make the public, staff and prisoners seem more just.
Cavadino & Dignan are saying that to make the prison system work the public and staff need to view the system as just and the prisoners need to take the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. Over crowding is a major crisis in the British prison system. The worst is HMP Preston with 661 prisoners but space for only 356 (http://news. bbc. co. uk 28/8/2002. ) In some instances, prisons are holding almost double the number of recommended inmates, which strongly suggests that it contributes to the view that there is a crisis in our British Prison system.
On the 12th July 2002 overcrowding within prisons forced the Prison Service to house some inmates in police cells. The moving of inmates will mean that offenders will have no access to education or rehabilitation sessions and little chance to mix with other people. There are 1,000 police cells across England and Wales, which are available for use by the Prison Service, which will have to pay police forces for the use their facilities (http://news. bbc. co. uk).
Many would think that this aspect gives a clear sign that our Prison service is in crisis and too many offenders are being given a custodial sentence. Overcrowding has become so bad that many offenders have to be sent to prisons far away as all local prisons are full. This is bad for the prisoner as it restricts their visits from family and friends, which is an important privilege for prisoners and part of their rehabilitation. A spokesman for the Prison Service reports on this on the BBC News website (12/07/02) which is referenced in the bibliography.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said, “Our overcrowded prisons are less safe, less decent and less effective at protecting the public than they were a year ago and these are the same jails which, according to the home office can expect to house 50% more prisoners within the next seven years” (www. prisonreformtrust. org. uk. ) Juliet Lyon agrees that the prison population is much higher than it need be and if we reserve custody for serious and violent offenders only, the prison service could work effectively to prepare people for resettlement and so reduce the risk of re-offending.
To do this she explains how promoting the community penalties and other alternatives to prison then put prison firmly where it belongs as a place of absolute last resort. Mr. D Blunkett talked of changing the home detention curfew scheme to try and reduce the numbers being to sent to prison (www. observer. co. uk, 3/2/02. ) The government also planned new ways imprisoning people, for example bringing back the ship similar to that of HMP Wheare at Portland Harbour (http://society. guardian. co. uk, 9/5/02. ) These aspects all add to the fact that there is still a major crisis in the British Prison System.
The May Report 1979 (before riots of 1986 and 1990) shows a concern for jailing the socially inadequate (www. comp. lancs. ac. uk/sociology. ) Many would agree that prison does not work due to the high numbers of prisoners that re-offend, and yet still high numbers of criminals are being sentenced to prison instead of alternative means. The Prison Reform Trust website claims that 58% of all prisoners re-offend within two years of release. The rate for young offenders is 76% (aged between 12-17 www. homeoffice. gov. uk 31st August 1999). Re-offending by ex-prisoners costs the country £1 billion per year (www. prisonreformtrust. org. uk) The director of the Howard League, Frances Crook, commented on the state of our prisons when asked by the BBC; “The consequences of overcrowding are jeopardizing both the safe running of the prison and the rehabilitation of individual offenders” (http://news. bbc. co. uk 28/8/2002. ) Many would argue that prisoners have no chance of any kind of rehabilitation when sent to prison only to commit crime further and mix with other criminals creating a ‘toxic mix’, a term used to explain the 1986 riots in Hennessy’s report.
Hennessy claims, “It can perhaps be explained in terms of a chemical reaction. When a number of elements are brought together and a catalyst is added, an explosion may result” (www. comp. lancs. ac. uk/sociology. ) Fitzgerald and Simm (1982) agree that the British Prison system always seems to be in crisis, therefore, the question to be asked is, “Are prisoners actually benefiting from the rehabilitation schemes (prisons. )? They trace the crisis back to the Gladstone report in 1895, which asserts that conditions and overcrowding in prisons is not the right atmosphere for one to rehabilitate themselves. In 1968 Wheeler found that in the USA ‘progressive’ judges, that means those most convinced of rehabilitative ideals, had, in fact, been passing longer sentences than their more classicist colleagues, presumably on the basis that prison does not work and often used as an out of sight out of mind form of punishment (McLaughlin & Muncie 2002).
Davies, Croall & Tyrer (1998 pg236) explain the processes of sentencing and punishment and analyse whether imprisonment should “aim to punish or rehabilitate the individual offender or protect society from the risk posed by particular offenders? ” Therefore sentencing plays a big part in the Prison crisis as often it could be seen to be an easy option for those passing it. Riots are another aspect of prison crisis. Often riots are caused by overcrowding or bad conditions.
For example the Guardian reported “three prison riots in one week as overcrowding hits record level” (9th may 2002) where there were disturbances or riots at Doncaster, Dorset and Nottinghamshire prisons. The Strangeways riots were the most serious of prison disturbances in England and Wales in the 20th Century. Two people died and 200 were injured. Brendan Friel, governor of the prison at the time agrees that this is what it took to resolve the crisis in the prison at the time. He quotes “It led to a radical improvement of the service. ” Guardian (5 April, 2000. The riots and protests in the prisons have resulted in talks of reform in the prison system such as the ‘Fresh Start’ scheme in 1987 where they planned to have major staff changes (http://society. guardian. co. uk, 9/5/02. ) It seems the riots did not lead to a ‘radical improvement’ as the crisis still goes on. Cost is another reason for the British Prison System to be in crisis. It cost £2,000 a month in 1997/98 to house a prisoner in a British prison. This is twenty times more than a probation order or community service would cost.
This costs the taxpayer 1. 8 billion a year. McLaughlin & Muncie (2002) get these figures from the Home Office 1999. They show how much money could be put into alternative forms of punishment, which may prove to be more effective. The evidence suggests that the main aspects of crisis in our British Prison System are that of overcrowding and prisoners high re-offending rates. The essay has given more evidence that adds to this crisis such as costs of imprisoning a criminal and riots, which are disruptive, dangerous and costly.
Although the penal system has tried to amend these difficulties within the Prison System this essay has shown that there seems to be ways around imprisonment, which could solve the crisis. For example other means of punishment such as probation or community service are cheap and effective ways of rehabilitation for an offender. But we must ask the question of whether it is worth banishing the Prison System altogether as it shows to have minimal effect on offenders, or just promoting community penalties and having prison as an absolute resort. If the answer were easy then no doubt the crisis would be solved.
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