28 June 2009

I’ve been reading a daily paper since I was a child (yes, I was that sort of child!)  But sometimes I wonder why I bother because as I get older, it all seems just so repetitive.  I’ve read all the “Shock, Horror” tales before. 

There are the constant stories of abuse by Catholic priests, sports people taking drugs, MP’s fiddling their expenses (though I have to admit that the ingenious ways that British MPs have been doing this has made it a little more interesting to read!)

And the Sydney Daily Telegraph had as its headline story one day this week the “Exclusive revelation” that a prisoner had been allowed to go out shopping with a prison officer.  When all else fails, when there’s nothing “newsworthy” happening, the press turn to what they see as the cushy life of our prisoners.  And it makes my BLOOD BOIL!  

Being imprisoned is a punishment;  the curtailing of someone’s freedom is the ONLY punishment that is allowed in prisons under international law.  We aren’t allowed to humiliate, torture or starve prisoners – just lock them up.  But most prisoners (about 99% in the UK and Australia, I would think) will be released.  Very, very few get ‘natural life’ sentences but there are a few who’ll die in prison anyway, from old age or illness. 

The rest will be walking the streets again some day.  And it may be wishful thinking but I’d really like them to come out of prison and live useful lives.  Get jobs, care for their families, pay tax.  We can’t lock someone up for 10 years then just turf him out onto the street one day and expect that he’s become a model citizen.  He’ll be back.  Apart from the social aspects, this is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. 

Contrary to what most of the population (and the press apparently) believe, prisons aren’t full of evil wrongdoers.  It may sound very “pinko-liberal” but most prisoners are inadequate more than evil.  They’ve got mental health problems and/or drug and alcohol addictions.  About 30-45% of prisoners have a mental illness.  About 12% have an intellectual disability. On top of that, they’re highly likely to be illiterate.  Not easily employable, with or without a criminal record.

The least we can do for them (and us) while they’re in prison is to try to address the issues that got them there.  Teach them to read.  Teach them a trade and other skills useful for employment.  Improve their general education.  But there are no votes in Governments increasing the educational funding of prisoners.  And the press just tears them apart for “rewarding” criminals by providing them with useful ways to spend their time while incarcerated.   

I remember in the 1980’s when Margaret Thatcher got her fingers burned by appointing a judge with practically no criminal experience and who had never been inside a prison as her Chief Inspector of Prisons.  I presume she was expecting a report that all was well in the world.  But Stephen Tumim took on this role with great gusto – sleeping at the prisons and eating with the prisoners.  He was horrified.  I can’t find the actual figures he quoted but I believe one of his reports said that something like 75% of prisoners shouldn’t be there and 25% should never be let out. 

I do care about the 25%.  As a society I don’t think we should just lock people up and forget about them.  But it’s the 75% we should be devoting a great deal more energy and money to.  And if that means educating them, taking them out of prisons for the day, and giving them day release to work then whatever the press and the radio pundits say, we should be doing it.

For ALL our sakes.


  1. agree(1)

  2. guess whom I just read

  3. interesting (1) šŸ™‚

  4. Interesting and well-said.

  5. And what proportion of the 25% that scare us have come to that in part through previous years in prison?

    Totally with you here, as usual, Sally. Lets all be pinko as it comes!

  6. You have said it so well, Sally. Gradual reintegration into society is a must for longer term prisoners – the world changes very quickly and I wouldn’t like to be locked for years and then suddenly turfed out on the street with only a parole officer for guidance. I even noticed that after just over three weeks in hospital, my husband became “institutionalised” very quickly and his few few trips “outside” into the garden were very stressful.
    So many people shouldn’t be in jail to begin with – but “law and order” is such a vote winner that we have yet to find a government brave enough to devote the resources to address the problems that lead many into the long arms of the law.

  7. I remember some years ago meeting a prisoner who said that he had been absolutely terrified the first time he was taken out in a vehicle, as he hadn’t moved faster than walking pace for over 10 years. He’d even forgotten how, and lost his nerve, to cross a road safely.

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