Monday, September 17, 2012

A Disreputable Discourse

There comes a time in every prison debate where the assertion is made, "If you can't do the time..." This, and its linguistic analogues, is often made in response to some prisoner's complaint. And it is a disgusting, cowardly response whose sole intent is to absolve all those involved in criminal justice - from the lowest screw to the highest policy maker - for any decision that they make.

Brutality in prison? Don't commit crime, then. Crap food? Then don't commit crime. Shocking resettlement services? Tough - don't commit crime. The trouble with this broad argument is that it attempts to blame every criminal for every malign, incompetent or plain malicious act or decision made by, for example, prison staff. Somehow, their limited vision and poorly delivered service is the fault of their charges. "If you can't do the time..."

This is truly contemptible. Most prisoners accept responsibility for their crime. Lifers, for instance, have a remarkably high rate of Guilty pleas. We accept the personal destruction and social damage that we caused. Those who parrot the "well don't go to prison, then" in response to any criticism of the penal system are adopting a completely converse stance.

Unlike prisoners, they refuse to accept any responsibility for their decisions or their actions. If they batter a con in Frankland block; if they serve a feeble diet; if they enforce policies which break up families; even if they follow practices which they know will increase the rats of reoffending - they blame the prisoners.

This is truly the argument of last resort for the dishonourable and dishonest, for those who take the taxpayer's shilling and then run a shoddy enterprise which they know full well produces future criminals. Whilst they bleat about caring about victims, they daily insist on running a prison system which is almost guaranteed to produce future social harm.

To blame the criminals and the prisoners for the decisions and practices springing from prison staff is repugnant. It is made worse by it being a mantra for those who then willfully refuse to examine their consciences or flex whatever neurons they posses.

Anybody who says, "don't commit the crime, then..." as an excuse for their own professional shortcomings is morally bankrupt and intellectually feeble. And they certainly should have no authority over other human beings.


  1. And more relevant, in your Case at least is this.

    You were sentenced to a tariff of 10 years. that was your "Time for the Crime"

    You finished that (the punitive) element years ago.

    All of the time you were doing following that was for a completely different reason...

    To all those who say "can't do the time" I suggest you try living a week behind a steel door, then see if you consider Prison to be a reasonable punishment.

  2. Hi Ben, I'm a journalist investigating the difference between the public and private arms of prison estate and would be very interested to hear about the relative positive and negatives - I understand you've spent time in both.

    I've sent you an email - not sure if you've received it yet? Either way please email me on and we can either correspond via email, skype or on the phone.

    Cheers, Daniel

  3. Hi first commenst on your blog. Great stuff though not always strictly virtually all lifers plead not guilty and have a trial. Also, having worked in two very different prisons I'm sometimes disappointed with your view of the frontline staff who in my experience (but with very marked exceptions) are caring and well meaning people. It is the system that lets everyone down and the dynamics of the Jobcentre indicate sthe chasm between what i sneeded and what outcomes are achieved. Your experience of them is unfortunately the norm, and imagine how disillusioned or dillusional the staff in their must be..

    1. Being a PO is a job with enormous potential to make a huge difference to society. Given the right support, training and career prospects it could be a very challenging and rewarding job. Unfortunately, as a society, we value the POs almost as little as we value prisoners. I have as much sympathy for the people trapped working for such a broken system as I do those within it: it must be a thankless task of massive proportions rolling that particular rock up that particular mountain. The few good POs that have managed to maintain their values in that background deserve knighthoods IMO.