Responding to today’s (23 October) Annual Report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

This damning report makes plain how hollow the government’s promise of a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ has been. Quite the contrary: more prisoners are being locked up all day with nothing to do.

Putting someone in a cell to lie on their bunk for hours on end will not see those with histories of substance misuse, mental health needs or other issues miraculously become law-abiding citizens. This puts public safety at risk and wastes vast sums of money.

If there is less money available for the Ministry of Justice then a truly tough response would be to reduce the prison population and focus resources on those who need it most. There are many people currently behind bars who have not committed serious or violent offences, whose reoffending would be better tackled in the community.

The ‘cracks’ that the Chief Inspector describes are the direct result of government ducking this challenge and instead simply cutting costs by reducing the quality of staffing, rehabilitation and training. This is no way to run an overcrowded prison system.

What Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, found:

Our judgements about the quantity and quality of purposeful activity in which prisoners are engaged plummeted over the year. Put simply, too many prisoners spend too long locked in their cells with nothing constructive to do, and when they are in classes or work, these are often of insufficient quality.” (p. 10)

In part, the lack of activity was a symptom of overcrowding and reflected a sometimes woefully inadequate number of activity places to meet the size of the population.” (p. 10)

We found that purposeful activity outcomes for prisoners were particularly weak this year. In 2012–13, we found that they were not sufficiently good or poor in over half of all prisons fully inspected, the worst outcome for six years. Most striking was the situation in local prisons, where we assessed 11 of the 12 as providing outcomes that were not sufficiently good or poor.” (p 40)

Prison Bars by Andrew bardwell via Wikimedia Commons

Prison Bars by Andrew bardwell via Wikimedia Commons

No one should fool themselves that these financial and organisational pressures do not create risks. In prisons, there are fewer staff on the wings supervising prisoners, there are fewer managers supervising staff and less support available to establishments from a diminished centre.” (p. 8)

Overcrowding is not simply an issue of how many prisoners can be crammed into the available cells but also affects whether the activities, staff and other resources are available to keep them purposefully occupied and reduce the likelihood they will reoffend. A prisoner who is unemployed because there is no activity available for him might spend 22 hours a day, and eat all his meals, with another prisoner in a small cell designed for one, perhaps eight foot by six foot, with an unscreened toilet.” (p. 9)

For many prisoners the most important ‘resettlement agency’ that helps them find a job, accommodation and other support on release is their family; the government’s proposals do not say enough about encouraging prisoners to maintain and develop their family links.” (p. 11)

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