Prisons Need to be More Humane – Liberal Article
If a person is found guilty of a crime, then they must suffer the appropriate consequences. For most countries, this means prison time. However, the UK’s old-fashioned approach to crime and punishment is simply not working. It is time to place greater emphasis on rehabilitation, rather than retribution. The UK needs to make prisons more humane.
Over the years there has been little prison reform even though our prison system is proving increasingly unsuccessful. Recidivism rates are worryingly high. This means that those who end up in prison are likely to spend the rest of their life in and out of jail cells. In the UK, 75% of ex-convicts re-offend within 9 years of their release, and almost 40% within the first 12 months.
We are employing a prison system that ultimately sets people up to fail. It is unethical and inhumane to let this continue.
Although there are a myriad of reasons why re-offending rates in the UK are so high, I believe that ultimately it can be boiled down to two main reasons.
First, ex-convicts are met with a complete lack of opportunity upon release. Companies that are willing to employ previous offenders, no matter how trivial the felony, are few and far between. It is estimated that only around a quarter of prisoners enter employment after release.
Moreover, employment prospects are made worse by the fact that most convicts are first incarcerated when young. This means they often miss out on achieving the educational qualifications necessary for most jobs. Roughly half of all prisoners in the UK lack any kind of school qualifications. 32% are reported to have some kind of learning difficulty or disability. Therefore, the odds are stacked against them. It is this complete lack of opportunity and support that practically forces them into a life of crime in order to survive.
Imprisonment can also cause institutionalization, particularly if a prisoner’s sentence is long. Prisoners can face immense psychological and emotional challenges when returning to normal life. The Prison Reform Trust argues that, whilst prison provides a “short-term solution to the chaos” the loss of autonomy inside prisons leaves offenders “even less capable of taking on responsibilities for their lives upon release”. Therefore, if a prisoner has spent a considerable amount of their life behind bars, readjusting back to normal life verges on impossible.
Ultimately, the prospects that prisoners face once released are undeniably grim, calling into question the very effectiveness and humanity of our prison system. Even though crime deserves some form of punishment, very few crimes deserve the debilitating circumstances that all ex-offenders find themselves when re-joining everyday life.
Therefore, it is time to take a lesson from our Norwegian allies and take a more compassionate approach to crime. Halden Prison, just a two-hour drive away from Oslo, opened in 2010 and is championed for being the most humane prison in the world.
Halden is easy to differentiate from other prisons because the quality of life offered inside the prison walls is infinitely better. Despite being a high-security prison, convicts are able to roam freely from their dorm-style cells that are equipped with a TV and ensuite.
During the day, instead of wallowing in a cell, convicts can spend their time however they please. The ‘school building’ offers a place for prisoners to go and learn life skills. Therefore, unlike UK prisons, Halden actually allows prisoners to get a real education whilst behind bars, offering a real opportunity for self-improvement and development.
Much of Halden’s design has to do with Norway’s emphasis on the offenders’ life after prison. As the maximum prison sentence in Norway is 21 years, there is no question as to whether prisoners will be released. This is why Halden strives for self-improvement, as it wants its offenders to leave the institution as better people than when they arrived.
Norwegian prisoners are thus ‘treated’ to a life that better reflects the outside world. All in an attempt to increase rehabilitation and decrease the crippling effects of institutionalization.
As a result, Halden has very little to no cases of violence inside the prison walls, despite it housing some of Norway’s most violent criminals. Norway also has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, with reoffending rates at just 20%. Moreover, whilst reoffending rates are rising in the UK, Norway, by contrast, is continuing to witness a decrease.
Another key distinction worth noting is that prison guards, or ‘contact officers’ as they are called in Norway, require much more training compared to the UK. It takes 3 years to train to be a prison officer in Norway. It puts the UK’s 6-8 week training programme to shame. And this training covers a much broader array of topics, primarily focusing on psychology and counselling, emphasising the need for effective social care within prisons. The contact officers are also actually encouraged to forge meaningful relationships with prisoners and engage with them like human beings, not prisoners.
This is not only beneficial for the prisoners but for the prison officers too. A shocking number of prison officers in the UK reported suffering from anxiety and depression. But, in reality, is this really that surprising? The hostile prison culture in the UK practically breeds misery.
Arguably, therefore, the case for radical prison reform is difficult to deny because it just makes so much sense. To continue with our current system is frankly illogical and unethical. Of course, the only downside is that these humane prisons are more expensive to run because of the quality of care provided. But think of how much money the UK could save if reoffending rates dramatically reduced and the number of prisoners decreased. Furthermore, the failure of privatized prions clearly illustrates that we cannot and should never put a price on prisons.
Therefore, taking a compassionate approach to crime and making imprisonment more humane is worth every penny of investment.
After all, there is so much nuance to why people commit crimes. A more compassionate and more understanding approach is needed. Especially as ultimately, even if offenders are given a relatively short jail sentence, due to the grim prospects of life after imprisonment, they face a life sentence of hardship. It would be reprehensible to continue to ignore calls for radical prison reform.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Beccy Reeves
Point of Information
Tacumbu vs Schwalmstadt – A Labour Response
I honestly couldn’t agree with Beccy’s article more. In fact I was planning on writing something very similar to this but she beat me to it. I too believe that prisons urgently need to see reform. More humane conditions would undoubtedly prevent recidivism from reaching the numbers we have previously seen.
I can only echo Beccy’s points surrounding future employment, skill-training and the psychological impact of harsh prison conditions on offenders. I have very little of value to add to this.
Albeit, hopefully I can offer some useful insight through some alternative examples of existing prisons.
After unintentionally stumbling across Raphael Rowe’s Netflix documentary, ‘Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons’, I found myself particularly inquisitive about the varying levels of “punishment” around the world. The two prisons that struck me the most were Tacumbu in Paraguay and Schwalmstadt in Germany; two very different prisons, feeding perfectly into the two extremes of this debate.
Tacumbu, housing over 3000 inmates in cramped conditions, could not be further from Beccy’s example of Halden. Drugs, violence and riots essentially run the prison with no separation between offenders of different crimes. It is plain to see that there is no humane aspect to Tacumbu. This does nothing but aggravate prisoners, worsen recidivism rates, and leads to multiple deaths behind bars each year. It is shocking to witness the sights of Tacumbu in the 21st century.
Then there’s Schwalmstadt which isn’t dissimilar to Halden with a focus on rehabilitation and particularly on in-depth therapy. Offenders here appear more willing to learn both from their offences and new skills which will benefit them through employment upon their release. This is however very different from Tacumbu; it is almost a given that prisoners will re-offend and end up in that very same place.
For me, both therapy and a focus on rehabilitation are necessities in prison. Otherwise, the only way for prisoners to cope is to seek violence both in and outside of prison. Ultimately, they will end up reoffending and enter an endless spiral of crime that is detrimental to everyone.
There will be some readers that will not be as easily convinced as me. I am very aware that there is one side to this debate that believes prisoners should be violently punished and essentially locked up without a key. I also understand that not every offender will benefit from a more humane system; it may have no impact on their likelihood of reoffending. But this doesn’t mean we have to punish them with severities and violence. Just watch Rowe’s documentary to see how injurious this is.
Humans should be treated as humans. An eye for an eye is not always helpful. And, if there’s a chance for rehabilitation, surely this is better than the alternative?
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Pan-Party Agreement – A Conservative Response
Even as a conservative, I can’t help but agree. The point of a prison system, surely, is to decrease and prevent crime. As Beccy has pointed out, this is not strictly the case in Britain; that “75%” number is staggering. It seems as though prisons are merely a dumping ground, a stop-gap solution. Reform needs to be seriously looked at, and then trialled at progressively larger scales.
One will not be able to fix the system, by simply fixing what happens within these concrete and steel complexes, however. We have to look at why many are ending up in there in the first place. Over 80% of female inmates are locked-up for non-violent offences (granted, smaller population). What’s more, 15% of the entire system is for “drug offences” — much of which are issues of personal choice, in my mind. These are just a couple of examples.
For minor offences, for which we imprison many, I would much rather see an extension of the community service scheme than detention. These minor offenders are: (a) no threat to society; (b) can offer value in terms of labour rather than languish in a cell, and (c) they can avoid falling into a life of heavier crime that they might otherwise partake in if they were detained.
It is a natural instinct to wish to see those that do harm, harmed. Retribution, judgement, punishment, we have many a word for this impulse. Yet, it must be quietened. If we agree that the job of prisons is to stop crime, we must take a serious look at our decrepit system.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis