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.


  1. Whilst I'm sure this will make me unpopular, I think the current privatisation of some may be a major catalyst for change.

    This is not because private companies are inherently more competent, but because it introduces an alternative. The companies need to show that they are better than the prison service in order to keep their contracts. The Prison service needs to show it can do the job better than the private companies in order to keep their jobs. Rather than having a total monopoly, the people in the system are now faced with having to demonstrate their worth.

    I hope that some good will come of this.

  2. @tallguy

    You're half right, regarding the potential benefits of privatisation. But the differentiator between good and bad, must be what constitutes progress, or "show it can do the job better than the private companies".

    If 'showing', merely involves cramming in as many as possible, for as little expense, then I'm sure we would all agree that would be inhuman.

    If 'showing', was based on reduction of re-offending rates, then we have a universal winner.

  3. There is a very good letter about privatisation in the prison service and what it might mean in this months edition of 'Inside Time', its in the mailbag section and is called 'The Nature of the Beast' by Michael Boylan from HMP Kilmarnock.

  4. Indeed it is interesting. However, I'm not sure he considered the fact that the contracts for the newly privatised prison mean that 10% of the companies pay is based on re-offending rates, meaning that there is a strong incentive to spend at least 9% of prison funding on training and rehabilitation.

  5. Less staff, less training/education, cutting back on prison facilities. Increase costs of canteen, charge for visits, reduce medical access, charge for dentists and gym access, longer working hours for prisoners etc is the best option to save money in the prison system.

  6. @ Anon 1:45

    ... and less prisoners!

    Start by scrapping all the new laws introduced by ZanuLabour during their 13 year campaign to destroy Britain.

  7. Heard today about a plan to keep the womens prison population down by giving those with sentances less than a year rehab rather than hard time. What do you think?

  8. "Get stuck in", "pitch positive, creative ideas". I couldn't agree more, problem, as usual, is Management listening. Even then the general public will be baited by the likes of The Daily Mail. I can just see the headlines!!
    Murderers and rapists decide how our prisons are run.......but it is the only way forward.


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