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Comments

Denis Cooper

Yes, with caveats. The current state of our prisons is appalling, with the Times now editorialising about the corruption of prison officers by the drugs trade:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,542-2349381.html

"Corruption threatens the foundations of the criminal justice system"

Prisons are not safe: see eg this report only last week:

http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/2003/2003496/cellmate_given_sixhour_beating

"A VIOLENT young prisoner will spend an additional 20 months inside after subjecting his new cell-mate to a sadistic six-hour beating. Ben Harris, 20, was already serving a year-long sentence for wounding at Reading Young Offenders’ Institution when he launched the attack on June 19, Reading Crown Court heard on Monday. Victim Tom Washington was punched, kicked, beaten with a piece of furniture, had a cigarette stubbed out on his face and his cheek slashed with a plastic knife during the ordeal. His watch was also stolen."

It beggars belief that this could happen inside a prison - perhaps we have too many CCTV cameras outside, and not enough inside, prisons?

In my view we not only need many more prison places, we need many small prisons so that each prisoner can be put in one of many different categories and then held under a regime which is most suitable for his case. I doubt that it's possible to properly segregate different categories with the present large prisons. The question of whether it's better to hold a particular prisoner close to his family or friends, or to deliberately remove him to another part of the country, would then be just one factor among many which could be considered.

John Moss

Yes, and the "prisons" should be akin to budget hotels with fences, built at a much smaller scale so they can be many more prisons, local to the inmate's families.

Alongside the prisons should be a suite of classrooms, staffed by retired teachers, teaching the basics to those who don't have them and higher skills to those who do.

Alongside, nobody should be inside for less than a year and those on community sentences should also be spending more time in classrooms and less time cleaning grafitti off walls.

Mark Wadsworth

Yes...maybe not doubled, but certainly increased.

I also pretty much agree with DC and JM's additional comments.

Alan

Thanks for the support. If any of you want to write an article, or do some research on the idea of "small prisons", then you know where to contact us! It would be a useful addition to the website.

Yet Another Anon

Mandatory execution for many offences including various varieties of execution with torture to ensure that punishment was proportionate to the offences committed would reduce the number of extra places neccessary, if execution was mandatory for Murder, Rape, Manslaughter, Crimes under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Breaching National Security, Theft\Fraud and\or damage to property amounting to in excess of £1m, writing computer viruses and for attempting to without a licence sell alcohol or Hard Drugs and all convicted paedophiles then that would reduce numbers significantly and with a substantial increase in prison numbers allow for very strict dealing with what currently are classified as minor criminals such as muggers, burglars and people involved in shoplifting, vandalism and other immoral activities.

Prison should be made far harsher, all convicts should be held in solitary confinement in the dark or forced to work for their bed and board and fed on minimal rations, convicts should be charged for the costs of their upkeep and this shoudl be in the form of a low interest loan with what they are being supplied being more meagre than they would possibly get outside prison and any outstanding debt for costs of their maintainance for when they were in custody should be recouped by a spell in a debtors prison where they would be forced to work off their debt.

In addition no one convicted unless they have been found innocent should be released from prison until after the end of their sentence prison authorities decide that it is safe to do so and that they are penitent for their crimes.

Mental Illness and low intelligence should not be accepted as mitigating factors when determining if they are fit to stand trial or how they should be sentenced, there has to be equality of punishment in order to ensure that people are not able to excape punishment by falsely claiming conditions they do not have or using excuses of conditions that are either very minor or are not really pertinent - in other words it is neccessary to make obtaining convictions simpilar.

In addition those in society considered constituting a potential danger or nuisance to general society should be detained regardless of whether they have committed any offence or not (although it should be in reasonable comfort and they should only be punished for what they have actually done).

There needs to be elements of probability introduced into criminal law, people who were found to have more than likely (on a similar basis to that in Civil cases where it is based on probability) committed serious crimes need to be detained although not face the same punishment and charging for incarceration as they would otherwise unless they were later convicted of the offence - the case would remain open, in the case where someone was found probably innocent there would be a time period (could be anything up to 50 years) in which they could be reprosecuted if futher evidence became available but otherwise would be free, and then of course if someone had been prooved to be innocent then they could not be reprosecuted for that offence relating to that particular evidence and case.

And to achieve all this it is neccessary to withdraw from the Council of Europe, EU and European Convention on Human Rights and abolish the Human Rights Act.

Then of course there is the matter of actually catching people, there needs to be a doubling in budgets for Policing, Defence, Courts, Prisons and National Security and a National Biometric ID Database with all UK citizens on it and as many of the rest of the people in the world on it as possible, there needs to be an intensification of monitoring of communities and borders for possible criminal and terrorist activity.

Thomas Hobbes

"Alongside the prisons should be a suite of classrooms, staffed by retired teachers"

Nice idea John, but wild horses would not drag retired teachers to do this. Teaching the dregs of society to read is not the retirement people dream of.

Wat Tyler

Excellent policy proposal. And an excellent new site bringing together the facts in one place.

As David Green has pointed out many times, HO figures say half the crime in Britain is committed by just 100,000 repeat offenders. Of them, only 20,000 are in prison at any one time. So if we built another 80,000 places- a doubling from now- at a stroke we could cut cime by 50%. As simple as that. Plus of course, there'd be a much bigger deterrent effect on others.

Also I don't think it would cost as much as Alan suggests. HMP Parc is a PFI prison operated by Securicor, which costs taxpayers £38,000 per place pa all-in. So we could get 80,000 places for just £3bn- not £7bn (see eg http://burningourmoney.blogspot.com/2006/06/3bn-well-spent.html )

As for benefits, the HO said crime costs us £60bn pa, but that leaves out of account the £30bn we also spend on our criminal justice sytem. so the true cost is getting on for £100bn. (see eg http://burningourmoney.blogspot.com/2006/04/cost-of-crime.html )

David Banks

So many points to make....

When you say double prison places what you mean is lets build more prisons. Can't see this being an image DC would want to embrace - i mean once you've hugged a hoodie you can't then turn round and say you want to build lots more prisons.

Where are you going to build them? I hear Scotland is fairly empty but you may have to liase with local communities re: there's a tower block of sadistic bastards on your doorstep is that ok?

By what criteria does prison work? It may keep the public safer in the short term but as the criminals learn more criminal skills inside of other criminals , in the long term surely your increasing the risk of crime by concentrating offenders in situations where for instance the old lags can teach things to the greenhorns , (pardon the americanism.)

Finally , surely the prison population is too high? We need far fewer, better prisons not more , surely?

Bob B

The problem created by locking up repeat offenders permanently is that generates a perverse incentive for a repeating offender to murder witnesses or even for (psychotic) fun when a prospective life sentence looks inevitable after the next arrest and conviction.

We have an age-old saying: Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, presumably a legacy from those times when hanging was a legitimate optional sentence on conviction for a wide range of crimes, including petty theft. Our ancestors were often wiser than we credit them for they appreciated the associated risk of perverse incentives and devised a suitably more impressive deterrent than mere execution by hanging for especially horrendous crimes such as threats to life of the Sovereign or Treason against the state - hanging, drawing and quartering.

Sensitivities inhibit me from posting the excruciating details here - readers will need to google for enlightenment.

Guy Fawkes and fellow conspirators were sentenced to be executed by hanging, drawing and quartering following the unsuccessful attempt to blow up Parliament at the state opening on 5 November 1605:

"Guy Fawkes could have changed the face of London if his 1605 plot had not been foiled, explosion experts have said. His 2,500 kg of gunpowder could have caused chaos and devastation over a 490-metre radius, they have calculated. Fawkes' planned blast was powerful enough to destroy Westminster Hall and the Abbey, with streets as far as Whitehall suffering damage, they say."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3240135.stm

There is absolutely nothing new about either terrorism or the war against terrorism. The one thing we can be reasonably clear about is that the prospect of hanging, drawing and quartering was demonstrably an insufficiently draconian deterrent to inhibt Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators.

Martian

I am reminded of this quote (which appears on the Books section of ConsHome):

"If an Intelligence with no knowledge of earthly things came down from Outer-space and viewed the justice systems of the developed nations and saw how we gathered the vulnerable, those with poor social skills and little education but with some experience of delinquency and herded them together in institutions with other disadvantaged people and a sprinkling of serious criminals, then to release them at a later date, possibly to no home, probably to no job and definitely to be labeled by the outside world as jailbirds and criminals, the Intelligence might be forgiven for thinking we were actually trying to increase crime, rather than reduce it. He, she or it would not have to engage in very much serious research to demonstrate that this is exactly what we are doing."

Denis Cooper

I agree with that, Martian, which is why I entered some caveats about simply doubling the number of prison places. It should be done, but it should be just one element of a comprehensive package of prison reform. The insane should not be mixed with the sane, and insofar as there are degrees and types of insanity and the associated level of criminality the insane then need to be sub-divided further. Criminals who have had no previous experience of drugs should not be exposed to those who are addicted, or those who are prepared not just to traffick but to deliberately force addiction on their victims. The violent should be kept away from the non-violent, and the illiterate should be given a basic education while those who are already well-educated obviously need to be treated differently. Similarly career criminals should not be allowed the opportunity to educate first offenders. The reform package must cover remand as well as convicted prisoners.

Yet Another Anon

When you say double prison places what you mean is lets build more prisons.
Smaller cells would mean that more people could be stored - after all if they were about the size of a small stationery cupboard with no windows then a lot more could be fitted into existing prisons, lower ceilings and cells could be stacked on each level - specifications play quite a part.

Alan

Thanks to all that have commented. In response to some specific points:

David Banks:
When you say double prison places what you mean is lets build more prisons. Can't see this being an image DC would want to embrace - i mean once you've hugged a hoodie you can't then turn round and say you want to build lots more prisons.
Yes - build more, or extend current, prisons.

Where are you going to build them? I hear Scotland is fairly empty but you may have to liase with local communities re: there's a tower block of sadistic bastards on your doorstep is that ok?
Yes - Nimby's will be a problem, as they are a problem with all controversial government building projects. If DC and Blair think they can build a nuclear power station on people's doorsteps by changing the planning rules, then it could be extended to prisons. And if existing prisons were extended, it would considerably simplify matters.


By what criteria does prison work?
By reducing crime.

It may keep the public safer in the short term but as the criminals learn more criminal skills inside of other criminals , in the long term surely your increasing the risk of crime by concentrating offenders in situations where for instance the old lags can teach things to the greenhorns , (pardon the americanism.)
The statistics do not support this. For example, in the US every year since 1991 overall crime has gone down. At the same time, prison populations have been increasing, year on year. I would say that a 15 year trend is a long term one.

I have heard lots of people say that the old teach the new, but I have not sufficiently researched it. Would you like to write an article, or send some research. It may be a case for increased segregation in prisons..... and www.prisonworks.org is about prison reform as much as it is about putting more poeple in prison.

Finally , surely the prison population is too high? We need far fewer, better prisons not more , surely?
As a general rule, the liklihood of going to prison for a given crime, reduces crime. Ergo, more the prisons there are, the lower the crime rate. There is a small economic principle of deminishing returns, but this has not been reached yet. What would you replace the prisons with?

Bob B said:
Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb
That is very true, but I have not seen any hard statistics or research about it. Do you have any sources of information?

Martian:
How very true. However, there is no need that the 'prisons' be called 'prisons'. With a little reform, we could turn them into secure hospitals. This is the other goal of prisonworks.org - make the case for building prisons to reduce crime, but at the same time, work out why prisons don't work. e.g the large number of people with mental illness, the drug problems, the repeat offending.... How can we make prisons work - to reduce both crime and rehabilitation?

Alan

Note on my last sentence: " to reduce both crime and rehabilitation?"

Should read:

" to reduce both crime and increase rehabilitation?"

Matt Davis

So who's volunteering to have one of these proposed new smalll local prisons built next door to them then?

David Banks

Golly Alan,
Thanks for responding to my points , i'm not used to being taken this seriously!
OK , i must admit that my knowledge of the old educating the young is mainly second hand , having read up a few years ago on skinhead activity in Germany where young skins refered to the prisons as the 'Academy' as while they were there they were variously educated by older skins. In my experience of working in homeless shelters , people coming out tend not so much to have been taught by older cons but to have been immeresed in a world of criminal connections / fueds / drugs during their sentence which may lead to antisocial activity when they re enter wider society.
Much as i would love to write an article for you , i don't have vast amounts of chunky evidence, i think a lot of the intangibles in all this ( criminal society as sub culture, personal fueds leading to re arrest etc) could be the work of a life times research and its a crying shame that more time isn't spent dealing with these issues.

David Banks

Alan
One last thought( don't want to do too many posts at once, will be trouble with editor again!):
prison reform is very important. Am personally quite keen on prisoner segregation as would reintroduce more of an element of control ( would be able to make sure black people not sharing with racists / older prisoners with younger etc). Am always a bit surprised that such a fairly obvious idea isn't implemented more strictly.
As far as replacing prisons go:
1) Psychiatric hospitals for psychopaths / sociopaths etc
2) work farms in North Scotland and Wales for recidivists ( self supporting through agriculture so no tax burden) You no work you no eat.
3) Community work for the softer / stupider end of the spectrum

Matt Wright

Yes look at more prison places but needs to be part of an overall new approach. I strongly believe in re-introducing a form of national service for repeat offenders. Most crime is caused by young men and they tend to grow out of crime (plenty of evidence about this). They really need a structure and "family" and I would send them to boot camp and those that respond would be offered the chance to join the Army who are desperate for recruits.

Matt

Denis Cooper

Matt, well for example we still have a local police station here (just) with some empty land adjacent, and that would be a good place to put a small unit. Obviously the level of security needed in each unit would depend on the prisoners to be held there. So for example violent offenders who have shown no signs of reform should not be placed in a low security unit in a residential area. At the moment of course they tend to be released on licence because of the pressure on prison places.

Angelo Basu

At least the spirit of Swift lives on in Yet Another Anon's modest proposal!

The statistics used in the main piece look rather odd but I haven't had time to check the prisonworks site to see if they are considered properly there (eg are the changing differentials between crime rates in the US and UK due to ours increasing or theirs decreasing or both, how do we account for the higher absolute number of prisoners in the UK compared to all other EU states despite a lower chance of imprisonment- maybe the issue is that we criminalise too many things which should not be criminal and therefore reduce our ability to punish those who really undermine society?).

George Hinton

Yes please, more prisons and longer sentences for the recidivists.
Lets take the politics out of crime, lets have no more of this crying leftie dogma, that society is to blame for the ills it suffers from crime.
Criminals exist because they feel that they can get away with their enterprise and feel that a life of crime is more suitable and beneficial personally than going out and getting a job. Others are just thugs who love to prey on the weaker, who are not often wealthier, or just idle wasters and drug addicts.
Criminals having made a decision to break the mores of society should not then call upon those same mores for succour.
Put criminals in jail, give them an opportunity to reform, and provide aid and assistance on release to stay straight. Those that are drug addicts should be forcibly de-toxed. Those that have little education, educated.
After that any recidivist gets the long term sentence and a harsh prison regime. Prison is for penetence not luxury. No phone calls, hard labour, no TV, no papers, 6 day work weeks, 12 hour days, good food 3 times a day, and no social time.
There is also a need for the return of the specialised lock-up to deal with the pyschiatric cases that abound having been released into the community.
I fail to see how any government can get away with the near dreadful neglect of law and order than we have had for the last 9 years under NuLab. It's not more laws just a sensible application of the existing laws, and better direction to judges, who if they fail in their duty, should be sacked.

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