If a hell was to exist, it wouldn’t look a great deal different to the state of our prison system.
A valid presumption it would be, in presuming not all readers frequently trapes around the deep dark cavities of the internet in search of the latest prison reform policies. Understandable, such ‘ought to be’ pressing issues for one reason or other, have taken up residence in the ‘attic’ of our political house, left to gather a shameful amount of dust, from the flesh of the offenders it deemed to serve.
Prison reform organisations over the past months, after decades of campaigning, have made major steps forward in liberating traditional penal populist perspectives, drawing serious gaze from political institutions. Opening the panel for debate in the House of Commons and catapulting a full fledged assault upon the phalanx of this very out-dated ‘justice’ model.
Following David Cameron’s recent speech on penal reform, the message appears to be taking some effect. As one delves a little deeper into the terminology taken within the speech for example, the phrase ‘human cost’ is now preferred, over the traditional technocratic term of purely talking in ‘recidivism rates’.
A recent piece by Paul Kirby, a former policy advisor for both the Labour and Conservative parties, provided readers of VolteFace this week with an article outlining for it’s readers how the new Prison Reform proposals would work in practice. A whole arsenal of new proposals lie in the waiting of a new reformed prison service, one policy being considered by the Ministry of Justice is that of the ‘Deferred Sentence‘ or ‘Flexi-Prison‘. Essentially, a ‘Flexi-Prison‘ model would seek to relieve the strain off the currently ‘85,000’ (GOV,2016) strong offender penitentiary, by providing more time to the offender and have intermittently scheduled custodial sentences. Giving the prison more time to prepare for incoming offenders, only housing the correct amount of offenders when possible. Good idea, however one that can be easily contested, as Andrew Neilson echoes the thoughts of many… ‘If someone is considered safe enough to be free in the community from Monday to Friday then why would we lock them up at weekends?’ (Neilson, 2016). Must be noted, if implemented however, this would be making some progress, moving more towards a Scandinavian model, housing offenders only when necessary, tackling overcrowding and leaving sufficient planning time for offenders to make necessary arrangements. Again, not an ideal model.
To assume that punishment needs to be ‘reinvented’ would be poor choice of words, perhaps more suitable is the word ‘re-appropriated’. Thirst for penal populist models are the result of the abolition of capital and corporal punishment models.What must occur in due course amongst penal systems is one readily known, formed on reparation. Not just focusing on methods of restorative justice, between victims and offenders, but fully fledged restorative ideologies and perspectives throughout each level of penal institutions. As stated by Andrew Neilson, we must create ‘an in-built tendency towards selecting the most reparative option wherever possible, rather than the most punitive, (this) could be a powerful basis for reform’ (Neilson, 2016).
In spite of the recent reform proposals and my interest within this field, as of this summer I shall be participating in a charitable event, cycling from the midlands down to London, all proceeds shall be going to The Howard League for Penal Reform. Shall keep you all updated closer to the time, thankyou for reading.