Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Roots of Change

My brief sojourn into a local prison highlighted one of the issues that I struggle with in my research - different prisons can have wildly different cultures.
Short-term prisoners tend not to be involved in "prison politics". As they are, literally, not staying around then their incentive for speaking up is vague. Why even try to prompt change, when one won't be around to enjoy the fruits?
But there can be a deeper malaise than this conscious indifference. The prison system can look overwhelming and impervious, especially to those with only sporadic experiences of it. And this easily fosters a mindset that "nothing changes, why bother trying?"
This is common enough amongst long-termers, and an attitude I am always ready to challenge. It is a false view, and it dismisses the suffering of those who have fought to bring change.
Recent experience makes me wonder whether a more formal, organised alliance between prisoners and their families in pushing for change could be fruitful? After all, prisoners families do have a greater moral standing, a useful platform from which to argue.


  1. You are so right Ben, I personally feel that unless this happens there is a much smaller chance that our voices are heard.
    Surely it is fundamentally wrong that prisoners families are subjected to the sort of nasty media attention that Peter Noonan, Gov. HMP Bristol organised a few weeks ago. Families are expected by this Government to "help reduce re-offending". How? The services families depend on, either dont work, or dont exist anymore. Most imporantly, families can vote where prisoners cant!!
    Stand together, shout out to be heard, 85,000 prisoners families CAN make a difference.

  2. You are right Ben, there is a difference in the perception of lifers and short term prisoners. There is much that needs to be done, but I did see an example of good practice today at my local prison; an opportunity for lifers to see their loved ones for four hours in a more relaxed environment than standard visits, with a buffet lunch provided. I was there to help provide play opportunities for the children. All prison staff I met today were extremely positive and recognised the importance of maintaining family bonds. We must all keep doing our little bit to encourage and support such initiatives where they do exist, and give credit where it's due. I certainly do think that well organised campaigns by an alliance of prisoners, their families and other interested parties could be very effective in certain areas.

    For families to help reduce re-offending they need to feel included in the process and valued; they can have such a vital role for their loved ones inside.