It is a tale and theory as old as the hills, but in the law, we are often asked, and often ask our students……what is the purpose of prison?
Fundamentally, it is a denial of liberty. People are held, generally against their will and are no longer able, for a set period of time, to engage in the activities they once did. This would apply equally to deriving pleasure spent with their friends, loved ones and family but also serves as a preventative ,measure against engaging in the sort of nefarious activity that gave rise to a custodial sentence in the first place.
But is a denial of liberty and therefore ‘punishment’ the sole purpose of imprisonment? If we take an individual and, after he/she exhausts their chance by taking advantage of society’s goodwill we finally send them to jail, can we expect them to simply serve their time and emerge reformed and stain-free with a shiny exemplary character in ‘x’ years time?
It seems an ambitious thought, I think. By ambitious, of course, I mean foolish. Don’t get me wrong – the vast majority of inmates, almost irrespective of their crime will be bellicose and belligerent in their way of thinking and even those few who enter timid and meek emerge, I suspect far from the same people having served their time. But whilst they are guests of Her Majesty, shouldn’t we, mustn’t we try to rehabilitate them?
People often confuse ‘rehabilitation’ with imagining a life where prisoners live in a commodious lifestyle with Sky and an iPad and eating round the clock. The advent of the Human Rights Act has a lot to answer for, admittedly, but if we take as a starting point the ‘denial of liberty’ issue discussed above, it means that rehabilitation is in itself intrinsically tough as there are no ‘options’ available to an inmate. A condition of their release should be a satisfactory attendance and completion of a course of rehabilitation. This is something that we must force our inmates to embrace and conquer. Repeat renegade drivers are now often forced to re-sit their driving test or attend courses run by the Police where ‘their actions and possible consequences’ are taught.
If not, re-offending, which is startling high in this country will continue. The ‘nut to crack’ is to dissuade an individual from :-
a) offending at all
c) avoiding jail
d) treating criminality as somehow a badge of honour
The answer mist be a mixture of punishment, I do not deny that at all, but ‘teaching’, ‘education’, ‘rehabilitation’.
Otherwise, the horrible hamster wheel which already exists for so many young people will continue and the situation will simply escalate.
Many have found laughable a Government report which only this week suggested that inmates who received visits from loved ones were apparently 39% more likely not to re-offend upon release. The report then suggests that for those unable to visit because of ill-health or cost, should be allowed ‘virtual’ visits by various forms of technology ( Skype etc.) . Lord Farmer, who was asked to commission the report in England & Wales last year scrutinised the importance of strengthening family ties. He says that they are fundamental to change prisoner behaviour.
Attacks upon prison staff, attacks between prisoners, contraband in jails and over-crowding are at an all time high in the UK so clearly something needs done. Perhaps less prison sentences and more ‘community-based’ work. There has always been a large band of people who think that sending an individual to jail merely punishes them by denying them their liberty and that the real punishment should include some form of ‘repayment to society’.
I find it odd that people should be pouring so much scorn on the idea of virtual visits. The report should be read first, which most critics fail to do. Lord Farmer suggested it would be applicable to a relatively small number of inmates like foreign nationals, those with very young children and those with little money. But it seems to me to be a sensible idea and worthy of implementing.
What is for sure is that the penal system is in urgent need of reform in the UK – it is not working and change is long overdue.
Interesting moot point and all comments and perspectives welcome.
Thanks for stopping by people and have a good day.