Styal Prison and remand Centre which replaced the notorious ‘grisly’ Risley and provides greater support for women offenders to help prevent re-offending
It’s not often that I approve of what this Government is doing these days as it bashes and blunders its way towards Brexit but I was heartened by what I heard on Radio 4 this morning about its proposals not to build 5 more women’s prisons but to move instead to more community-based training and support facilities.
I am not suggesting that we should abandon prisons wholesale. They are there for three reasons:
- To protect us both by locking up people who are menace to themselves and society and by holding out the threat of what happens if people will transgress our laws;
- To punish those who have done wrong; and
- To promote better education and life style choices amongst those who have offended to prevent re-offending.
There is considerable evidence that prison does not work in the long-term. Indeed 70% of women convicted reoffend and are subject to further prison or other sentences. The vast majority of women’s offences are very low grade. Prostitution; low level drugs; petty thefts and shop lifting. These offences must not be condoned but should be prevented by working with the offenders to stop further crime.
You can see this quite clearly with international comparisons with other developed Countries. The USA has the highest rates of incarceration per head of population and has the highest crime rates. The Nordic Countries have the lowest rates of incarceration and the lowest crime rates.
There are three reasons why prison does not work well:
- There is simply not enough rehabilitation and training in prison. Prisoners are too often locked up for large parts of the day and the ability for prisons to respond to the education and support needs of the prisoners have been massively reduced by overcrowding and a lack of resources;
- This means that prisoners spend much of their time talking to other prisoners and learning more about success in crime. They don’t graduate with a law degree but a crime degree!
- They go straight back to their old chaotic way of life often under the control of pimps or other inappropriate men in their lives.
This is bad for them; bad for crime and bad for the nation’s finances. Keeping someone in prison costs £40,000+ per year. Fighting more crime after release costs more money to police; judicial; prison and rehabilitation services.
There is also an extra long-term burden to the state in the form of childcare. For obvious reasons babies can only stay with their Mothers until they are 18 months old. Many of them then go to their own institutions in the form of children’s homes or fostering which may not be in the long-term interests of the child or mother.
So, it makes sense all round to put more effort in to helping petty criminals change their lifestyle through education and support rather than just locking them up.
Of course, much of what I have said here applies equally to men. Many of the people we bang up are also low-grade criminals but men have a greater propensity to use prisons as a crime college and graduate to harder stuff. But most criminals are not bad but sad. Victims of their own in adequacies or the way that they were brought up. In turn, without adequate support, they too often bring up another generation of criminals who live on the margins of the law or what most of us consider to be a satisfactory lifestyle for themselves, their families or the community in which they live.
So, as a self-confessed, soft hearted liberal I welcome today’s announcements and hope that they are only the start of the process of changing the way we deal with offenders. If the Police did not have to spend so much time dealing with the petty offenders they could spend more time dealing with the Mr Bigs of Crime (funny but you never hear of the Mrs Bigs!).
In some ways this announcement is continuing, albeit slowly, a pattern that has already been set. I well remember visiting ‘Grisly’ Risley the women’s prison which was closed after Styal opened. Styal is already moving, subject to resources, to some of the areas of activity announced today.
Of course, there two other ways as well. If we decriminalised but ‘controlled’ both prostitution and soft drugs such as marijuana, the crime rate would shoot down; the criminal and judicial systems would be released from a huge burden; our health service could reduce certain types of activity and devote the cash elsewhere and we could raise some extra taxes by bringing more transactions within the tax system.
So, doing the right thing by the individuals also does the right thing by society as a whole. What’s not to like!?