Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The interview that never was.
I'm reading the current issue of the Prison Service Journal - as you do - and I was annoyed before I'd even got past the contents. Usually only the Daily Mail can bug me that much, that fast.
The source of my discontent? The current PSJ is a Special Edition focusing upon "Where does the prison system go from here?" In a time of significant economic and political change, a worthy question to explore.
And explore it does, through a series of interviews. It has the Chief Executive of NOMS, the head of the Prison Reform Trust, the Inspector of Prisons, the head of the governor's union...you get the idea. It includes all the main players, except one rather important constituency - prisoners.
As the whole point of imprisonment is "prisoners", it may have been instructive to ask a prisoner to take part in these interviews. That it didn't occur to the Editorial Board to reach out to one of us speaks volumes.
What really astounded me was that every one of the 9 interviewees managed to answer the question, "How do you think the actual prisoner experience has shifted in recent years?" Only one of the interviewees had spent so much as an hour behind a locked door, and his view was instructive. But the others? How dare they claim to be able to understand the prisoner experience?
Reams are written about prisoners, our society, order, control, rehabilitation, security... We are the nexus of a vast industry, a huge socio-political effort - and yet we are ignored. Oh, there are nominal pronouncements that claim managers are interested in our views but honestly, they don't give a damn. They know it, and we know it.
And not for the first time, I pin my flag to this mast - that significant change within the prison system rests in the hands of prisoners. And the danger is, in ignoring us in this debate, then the methods of change prisoners adopt may not be ones acceptable in polite society.