Sunday, June 5, 2011
Opportunity and Change
The prison system must be one of the most intransigent, conservative and resistant organisations to change. This is not to deny change; only to suggest that prison is the nexus of many forces which resist it. The unions, both staff and management; the prisoners; various levels of the bureaucracy, from the prison through to the Ministry of Justice; specialist groups, such as Probation and Psychology...each comprises as anchor against significant movement.
The City had its Big Bang, industry had its Wapping...but the public services which escaped privatisation suffered no more change than that inflicted by the plague of managerialism. And the most conservative of the public services must be the prison service.
But, as every newbie revolutionary knows, change - especially crisis - is pregnant with possibility. The prison service is being forced to make savage cuts in costs, which is inherently destabilising. And change opens the door to possibility.
Of course, persuading my fellow prisoners of this is rarely simple. In a total institution based upon our being powerless, the potential for prisoners to effect any change seems remote. The "system" appears monolithic, impervious.
This is to overlook the obvious. As the Home Office Control Review Committee noted in 1984, prisons rely on the cooperation of the prisoners. The amount of latent power that we wield has never truly been realised - a matter of bitter regret.
That grand claim aside, the current financial crisis presents cracks in the monolith that prisoners can take advantage of. All Governors will be trying to both cut costs plus maintain their regime targets (time out of cell, purposeful activity, etc). And as we all know, Governors are not a particularly creative breed.
The opportunity presented by this situation of change offers prisoners the chance to scratch their heads and get stuck in, to get as involved as possible, use every avenue to management to pitch creative, positive ideas.