Thursday, August 25, 2011

Community Spirit

One consequence of Erlestoke's restriction on movement is that is places a huge physical and perpetual barrier between prisoners and decision makers.

The freedom of movement I had at Shepton placed management within easy reach.  In extremis, any prisoner could park himself in the yard to collar governors as they left the Admin block.  This allowed prisoners to express their views, their needs, and it resolved many issues.  Such personal contact is far more important in building community and sustaining legitimacy that some dismissive response to a complaint form.

Here at Erlestoke, the combination of restricted movement and the place being divided into compounds means that managers are rarely visible let alone approachable.  Many cons don't even know the name of the main Governor. (Conversely, if he doesn't know my name with a week of arrival then I'm not doing my job properly...)

In other walks of life such a distance between the plebs and bosses need not be problematic.  Prison is different.  It is these nebulous managers who set the parameters by which every aspect of our lives are controlled and their invisibility raises the level of frustration borne of powerlessness.  The recent rooftop protest could have been avoided by the simple attention of a manager to the man's accommodation problem.

The detached nature of management is also bad for the governors themselves, though few would admit it.  Detached, invisible managers are left to gauge the temperature of their prison over regime monitoring statistics and so only see what the Inspectorate calls a "virtual prison", where all may appear fine and dandy.

Worse, it fosters an attitude that the lives and concerns of prisoners are irrelevant, that we are mere objects to be shaped by a constant flow of memos and notices.  In extremis, only drastic action shakes managers out of this complacency.


  1. I think you are underplaying the impact I suspect your arrival has at a prison Ben.

    'Conversely, if he doesn't know my name with a week of arrival then I'm not doing my job properly....'

    I suspect the governor knows long before 'you land' of your impending arrival.

  2. Hows you sandal protest going?


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