Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dilemma and Change

We were wandering around the yard, wrapped up against the cold. It would have been difficult to tell which was the most bitter, the weather or our temperament. Such is the social life of Lifers.
Along the way, we were dissecting the current state of the prison, its facilities, opportunities and - most of all - the capabilities of its senior management.
Between us we hashed out a rough series of ideas which we persuaded ourselves could transform this backwater into a functioning and positive prison. I had to call a halt to this.
Even if we were right in our analysis and prescriptions, surely to try to build a better prison raises all sorts of moral dilemmas for a prisoner? Would a "better" prison (or prison system) be one which would be more enticing to Judges, and so more likely to be filled?
This is a perpetual dilemma for those involved in prison reform. Do too good a job and the risk is that prison becomes an ever greater attraction as a solution to social ills. This thinking has led the charity NACRO to jump into an unholy alliance with Group 4 to run private prisons. Prison reformers running prisons(!)raised an eyebrow when I heard the news, then I vented my spleen in a thousand words in Inside Times.
And yet the issue isn't as clear as I would like. Should people such as myself aim for reform, knowing the risks? Or should we aim for total abolition?
My present view is that we should continue to campaign for prison reform, but only on the understanding that this is a process and not a destination. I will advocate anything that increases the influence that prisoners have over their own lives. Where this leads is a matter for history and determination to reveal. Vive la resistance!


  1. What's your definition of a better prison, Ben?

  2. That's an interesting question. To the lay person like me it would appear that prison reform bodies would be the perfect people to run prisons because they are concerned with reforming the offender so they can re-join society as a productive member of it where possible. Group 4? Hmm...don't have the best track record do they?

    One thing is for sure, the current crop of dinosaurs we call judges wouldn't want to send anyone to an establishment that actually treats you like human beings and gives you the tools you need to become productive members of society again. It would also put a lot of people out of jobs if the criminal justice system actually WORKED and resulted in lower re-offending rates. That would not be good for 'business' from a private prison's point of view.

    Cynical? Moi? :P

  3. I say fine to campaign for better run prisons, and yes, i agree, we shouldn't have private ones. But some people NEED to be in jail, wheter you like it or not, no-one wants Ian Huntly/ Roy whiting types out her, plus it is a useful place for druggies to detox. (only people like amy winehouse can afford private) And what about people like peter suclife? the people who are mentaly ill, and dangerous ought to be locked up.


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