By David Breakspear

  1. Prison – noun – a building in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime they have committed or while awaiting trial.
  2. One of the Ministry of Justices’ four strategic priorities is “A prison and probation service that reforms offenders” (Ministry of Justice).

Number one is definitely the case, but what about number two? Well, based on the latest government figures in relation to self-harm, violence, and suicides, I would suggest that the Ministry of Justice is not delivering on one of its key strategic priorities.

There has been a lot in the media over the years regarding psychoactive substances being the main reason for the current trend in our prisons. Now, I would be ignorant to not accept that spice and the like have caused problems. However, I believe that the spice problem is a direct result of government policies, and it has been these policies which have led us to the state our prisons are in now.

Inspectors have highlighted the importance of both peer and family support to reduce supply and demand of drugs in prisons – however, many have inadequate peer support, and most offered no family support.*

Over the last ten years in our prisons, the first five years saw the rates of self-harm, violence and suicide stay static, and in some cases, we actually saw a decline. The second five years coincided with the staffing cuts made by Grayling, a lack of investment in our prisons, and the failure of prisons to follow through with recommendations made by the Inspectorate.

Lower rates of drug use were reported by people who spent more than ten hours a day out of their cells – 13% compared with 19%.*

*The Bromley Briefings, Autumn 2018, The Prison Reform Trust

The latest knee-jerk policy to be introduced is to have airport style body scanners put in prisons to stop the trafficking of drugs, and while I applaud any move to improve our prisons and make them safer environments, it’s another policy once again in relation to security measures that does nothing to deal with the problems on the ground. Millions of taxpayers’ money is being spent on a policy that will no doubt be successful in shutting down one route of entry into prison, thereby making it more difficult for drugs to enter, which in turn will only push up the price of illicit items – as happened when the smoking ban was introduced. However, it will only be a temporary solution until another way is found, as has been the case for years in the battle against drugs in prison.

I am not suggesting the government gives up the fight, though what I am suggesting is that it needs to be looked at differently. A lot more emphasis has to be placed on the demand side. It makes sense that if you cut down the need for demand, you will limit the need of supply.

Boredom and frustration are two of the main reasons people turn to drugs in prison, it’s what’s known as “having a night out.” Consider these next two statistics both published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons:

  • Nearly one in 10 people (9%) reported that they had been pressured to give away their prescribed medication whilst in prison (2015).
  • One in 10 men in prison reported that they had developed a problem with using prescription medication meant for other people whilst in prison (2018).

It is my suggestion that we will see a significant rise in these two statistics from HM Inspectorate of Prisons, once the effects of the introduction of airport-style body scanners are felt… unless more is done to make prisons places of opportunity for real reform and rehabilitation, and to stop placing the blame at the locked door of the prisoner while trying to hide the system’s inefficiencies behind a haze of psychoactive smoke.

Featured image: unknown author, licensed under Creative Commons via SA

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One thought on “WHAT IS PRISON?

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