The purpose of prison?

My featured image contains the name Yinka ‘Lamboginny’ Lawanson. Lamboginny is a recording/performing artiste from Nigeria. He is also a humanitarian, in fact, here’s a YouTube clip of Lamboginny talking at the recent United Nations World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) conference in New York.

Figures in the latest Bromley Briefings, published by the Prison Reform Trust, show that in 2018 nearly 59,000 people in England and Wales were sent to prison to serve a sentence. Out of those 69% were for a non-violent offence and 46% were sentenced to serve six months or less. I’ll come back to those figures later.

It is suggested there are ‘five’ purposes of prison: deterrence, denunciation (disapproval of an act with the imposition of a punishment), incapacitation (the loss of liberty to prevent further crime and to ‘protect’ the public), rehabilitation (reform) and the one that most believe is thee purpose, retribution (the punishment).

Those are the ‘official’ purposes, so what is THE! actual purpose of prison, or at least my theory of what the purpose of prison is, by using circumstantial evidence, assumption and supposition, or hypothesis, if that is your preferred choice of word. I may even chuck in the odd case study here and there. What’s good for the goose and all that.

When it comes to the incapacitation ‘purpose’ because as far as preventing further crime goes, I am certain I would not have to remind many as to the crimes that are committed in prison, and not just by the residents. Which, bear in mind, still uses exactly the same resources that would be used in investigating and prosecuting any crime in society. I could probably put forward a good argument that a crime committed in prison is more expensive to get to trial. – the ones that ever get that far that is – I would go as far to suggest that any area which contains a prison, will see it’s crime rate inflated due to the prison being located within it’s catchment area. Again, using figures from the ‘Bromley Briefings’, they show that in just five years assaults on staff have nearly tripled from 3,266 in 2015 to 10,213 in 2018. Serious assaults have virtually matched that rate with 359 in 2015 and 995 in 2018. Allegedly, PAVA spray was trialled, and was then promised to prison officers. I have to admit, I can’t recall having seen it provided. If we are to accept that prison officers are also members of the public, far from protecting them, they are also being let down in protecting themselves. For balance, and to show it isn’t just the residents adding to the crime rates, it is staff as well. As can be seen in the story of  HMP Hull prison officer Mark Scott who was jailed after being found guilty on rape charges. Read the full story here. So, are the purposes of preventing further crime and protecting the public being achieved?

46% of approx. 59,000 were sentenced to serve six months or less in 2018. Technically, that equates to approx. 27,140. Yet, how many of those were individuals, because you can be assured that the same person would, appear more than once in those figures. Take in to account re-offending rates within a year of release are high (48% for adults), and for those with sentences of less than 12 months the rates are even higher (64%), you would be hard pressed to find an argument, not, to accept my assurances. Another failed purpose of prison?

Another purpose of prison I quoted was ‘rehabilitation’, or as I prefer to call it, ‘reform’. How is that purpose going? How do you think it’s going? Do we really understand the term? Is it the establishments duty to reform the individual? Or. Is that duty down to the individual alone? What about resources? It’s no coincidence that my first case study is on me. Hopefully, the reason will become apparent? Not only that, what’s better than genuine first-hand experience?

In 2015 I began an education journey with The Open University, as a distance learner.  One that begun with an access module. The reasons I embarked on this journey were numerous, with a goal of achieving a BSc hons degree in criminology and psychological studies (currently still studying). The access module was funded by Prisoners’ Education Trust, and I’m pleased to say I passed with a pretty decent score. Then I moved on to the degree part. This I self-funded by way of a student loan. I will be looking at an overall debt of over £20,000 by the time I finish my degree. I am not complaining about that whatsoever. I will be the one that benefits the most from it. Students in society have to pay so I fully accept and am happy to pay the same as everyone else, even though I am aware that there are external agencies linked to the system who finance degrees. However, or therefore, is it fair that in paying the same as everyone else that I only received a small fraction of what an Open University student has access to. Even the simple task of speaking to my assigned tutor meant that by the time it was organised, along with my fortunate position of being an education mentor with the ears of experience at hand, my question I had was somewhat pointless. The online student home account you receive as part of your studying is incredible, the resources it contains are immense. So much so, that upon signing up to the student home dashboard post-release, I became overwhelmed and have had to defer twice, not a cheap process either. Admittedly, only the first deferment was due to being overwhelmed, though it wasn’t too far away from my second deferment.

Access to Justice
Some people bring legal claims or appeals without the help of a solicitor. Doing this can take a lot of time and can be very difficult when you are in prison with restrictions on your access to information. If you are bringing a legal claim, you may be entitled to an Access to Justice (A2J) laptop. This is to help you complete the preparation for your case. The guidance does say that laptops should be given to people who could not prepare for their case properly without it, but should not be given if it would just make things more convenient. You might be entitled to an A2J laptop even if you do have a solicitor representing you, but you may be less likely to get one in these circumstances.

In the case of R (on the application of Ponting) v Governor of HM Prisons Whitemoor and Another [2002], the Court of Appeal decided that if a prison did not give all prisoners who were representing themselves a laptop it would still be possible for that person to have a fair trial under Article 6.The court said that prison staff are also allowed to make someone sign a compact before they might be allowed an A2J laptop. This compact will restrict when you are allowed the computer in your possession and what you are and aren’t allowed to do when you are using prison service equipment. Accessed 01/07/19

‘The guidance does say that laptops should be given to people who could not prepare for their case properly without it, but should not be given if it would just make things more convenient.’ I used this example to appeal against the decision not to allow me a laptop with read only access in order for me to prepare for my studies in the same way as everyone else, not merely for convenience. Not only was I told that I could not have access to a laptop, I was told – completely missing the point – to purchase a word processor. I admit it would have made things slightly more convenient, so it was an idea I seriously considered. Until I checked! The approved, preferred supplier to the prison I was serving in didn’t sell word processors.

Here’s some jobs I have been employed in over the years whilst in prison. Putting headsets for airline passengers in bags, along with the information folders. Holding a thin cooper ring and on one side, place 50 elasticated hairnets, spin it over and repeat. Putting a nut and bolt on a drainage bracket. Bars of a variety of different chocolate, not for individual resale wording covered with an ingredients sticker then packed up ready for selling. However! Screen printing GPO on mail bags at HMP Canterbury. Yes! The last one was a few years ago. Not that much has changed, over the years, in real tangible terms which have been to benefit the prisoner. It is difficult, sometimes, not to accuse prisons in England and Wales as guilty of providing cost-effective (ahem!) slave labour. Which, as everyone knows is illegal and couldn’t possibly be happening within the system designed to deter, prevent, protect and reform. FAILED on all accounts so far. We are now left with two purposes. Denunciation and retribution.

“Denunciation in the context of sentencing philosophy demonstrates the disapproval of an act by society expressed by the imposition of a punishment. The purpose of denunciation is not so much to punish the offender but to demonstrate to law-abiding citizens that the particular behaviour which is being punished, or denounced, is not acceptable.” (Ronald J. Rychlak. Society’s Moral Right to Punish: A Further Exploration of the Denunciation Theory of Punishment, Tulane Law Review, Vol. 65, No. 2, 1990)

“Punishment [Retribution] is the imposition of an undesirable or unpleasant outcome upon a group or individual, meted out by an authority—in contexts ranging from child discipline to criminal law—as a response and deterrent to a particular action or behaviour that is deemed undesirable or unacceptable. The reasoning may be to condition a child to avoid self-endangerment, to impose social conformity (in particular, in the contexts of compulsory education or military discipline), to defend norms, to protect against future harms (in particular, those from violent crime), and to maintain the law—and respect for rule of law—under which the social group is governed. (Hugo, Adam Bedau (February 19, 2010). “Punishment, Crime and the State”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 01/07/19)

I’d like to think you would agree these are definitely two purposes that the system excels in. Two out of 5. Not the best score. Worse still, it shows that the actual purpose of prison, by using evidence, albeit circumstantial, and one, regardless of the overall score, one it excels at. Punishment. No more, no less. But let’s look at things from another perspective.

In Scotland there is now a presumption against sentences of less than twelve months, this was only recently upped from the three months and under level in existence since 2011.

15th January 2019.

Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat
1. To ask the Scottish Government what its projections are for the prison population, in light of statistics showing that the majority are at or above capacity. (S5T-01435)

Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party
After a number of years of relative stability, the average prison population has increased over the past year. Scotland currently has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, with around 144 per 100,000 of the population incarcerated.

The most recent projections suggest that, over the next 12 months, population levels are likely to average around 8,000. Scottish Government officials are working with the Scottish Prison Service to consider the immediate issues that are associated with that. In addition, we have committed to take action to reduce the numbers of people entering prison for short-term periods. In the budget, we confirmed additional funding to local authorities to increase the availability of alternatives to remand. We have also increased funding over recent years to support the availability of community sentences.

Once provisions in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 come into force from April this year, we will also bring forward the necessary secondary legislation to extend the current presumption against short sentences from three months to 12 months.

Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for the candour of his response and for his confirmation that, as was the case back in June, the Government is

“committed to reducing the use of imprisonment”.—[

Written Answers

, 12 June 2018; S5W-16923.]

Fast forward six months from that parliamentary answer and the average prison population is up by around 300, meaning that the number of prisons operating at or over capacity has more than doubled. Prisons are jam packed and staff are warning of the impact that that is having.

The Scottish Government has said that it has acted on “almost all” the recommendations of the decade-old Scottish Prisons Commission, but the experts then were critical of a prison population of just over 7,000 and wanted to see a reduction to 5,000. As the cabinet secretary has confirmed, the number of prisoners is now 8,000. Can he therefore explain the reason for that failure?

Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party
Let me in turn thank Liam McArthur for the general tone of his question. I know that he takes the issue seriously.

Around the chamber there is quite a lot of consensus that we do not want the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe—it is not a statistic to be proud of.

There are complex reasons for the rise in the prison population—one relates to the types of offences that we see, for example. There are more and more sexual offences coming to our courts, and more people are being found guilty and going into our prisons. There are a number of reasons for that, which I will not go into. However, the behaviour of the judiciary must also be taken into account. For people who are given long sentences—particularly life sentences—the punishment part is now substantially longer than it was a decade ago. There are also more recent trends. At this morning’s meeting of the Justice Committee, we talked about the changes in home detention curfew. Of course, the less that that is used, the more the prison population rises.

There is a lot that we will do to tackle the issue. If it passes through Parliament—on which I will look to the Liberal Democrats for support—the presumption against short sentences of 12 months or less could be a significant tool to help us to reduce the prison population. Accessed 29/06/19.

This article is from the Scottish Legal News with the headline ‘Scotland has highest prison population rate per head in Western Europe’, dated 25th June 2019:

‘Scotland has the highest prison population rate per head in Western Europe, with 150 people held in prison for every 100,000 of the population, according to a new report.

Meanwhile, in England and Wales there were more than 140,000 admissions into prison in 2017—the highest number in western Europe, according to report Prison: the facts, which reveals that, despite the number falling in recent years, England and Wales still have over 40,000 more admissions to prison than Germany, the second-highest—which has a significantly larger national population.

The comparative figures are taken from the latest available Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics.

The rate of prison admissions, which accounts for the effects of differences in national populations, shows that England and Wales have a rate approximately three times that of Italy and Spain, and almost twice as high as Germany, with 238 prison admissions for every 100,000 people.

The UK as a whole continues to be an outlier in western Europe in its use of custody, with significantly higher prison populations than other countries. Scotland’s prison population rate per head, 150 per 100,000 of the population, is closely followed by England and Wales, with 139 per 100,000. Northern Ireland by contrast imprisons 76 per 100,000.

Scotland also has the highest proportion of probationers under supervision for “offences against persons” in all of Europe.

The number of people in prison is predicted by the Ministry of Justice to rise further, as sentence lengths and custody rates continue to increase. More than two and a half times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or more in 2018 than in 2006, despite levels of serious crime being substantially lower.

England and Wales also have the highest number of indeterminate prisoners (9,441) in western Europe by a significant margin—more than Germany, Russia, Italy, Poland, Netherlands and Scandinavia combined.

More than 7,000 people are currently in prison as a result of being recalled to prison from licence—in 1995 that figure was around 150.

The report also reveals that many British prisons remain overcrowded. Latest figures show that two-thirds (81 out of 120) of prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded and that we also choose to send people to prison for a long time, and this is a trend. More than two and a half times as many people were sentenced to serve 10 years or more in 2018 than in 2006.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “These figures show the scale of the challenge that we face in breaking our addiction to imprisonment. Planned measures to limit the use of short sentences, and correcting failed reforms to probation are both steps in the right direction.

“But our shamefully high prison population rates won’t be solved by these alone—a public debate about how we punish the most serious crime is overdue.” Accessed 28/06/19.

The Scottish presumption against 12 months and under doesn’t come into effect until those sentenced after July 4th 2019. However, with the presumption against sentences of three months being in force since 2011, the evidence points to the abolition or presumption of short-term sentences having no effect whatsoever on the prison population, in fact it may even make it worse, and if they are not careful the system could grind to a halt as places become more permanent and less available, unless of course something is done to rectify that possibility. Which leads me on to my own theory.

A, not so in my opinion, insignificant remark was made last year by, Michael Spurr, the former head of NOMS (HMPPS, OMU, PPO, IMB, NHS, IBM,P&O, B&Q or whatever acronym it is these days). He mentioned that the public purse will no longer be used in the bidding process of the building of new prisons. Of which, a plan of 10,500 new prison spaces has been committed to. Therefore, meaning any new prison will be private. I wonder how long the current HMP estate will remain under the guise of the government. I fear the dark cloud of prison that sits above the ministry will soon be blown from SW1 to EC1 and become a banker or stock broker issue. A road (or wind direction to stay within context) America went down (in) a few years back.

screenshot_20190701-140508_samsung-internetClick here to read the full story

It is apparently clear that the establishment are committed to the criminal justice system becoming privatised. Take a step back. Okay, Chris Grayling got ‘Transforming Rehabilitation wrong. However, it did lead to the probation service becoming part-privatised, with the National Probation Service only dealing with high risk and leaving low-medium risk to the CRC’s. No doubt, in the hope, for the near future to see the whole of probation privatised. They say it’s being re-nationalised once again. I say, check the small print, because that isn’t exactly true. Something to consider, when you remove the judiciary there really isn’t that much left when it comes to contracts not being under private management within the criminal justice system. Obviously the staff and buildings within HMP’s owned by the government, however, bearing in mind all other HMP services are private contracts, it’s a struggle to think of a contract that hasn’t been privatised.

I just get this feeling, in order to make the private industry profitable for the shareholders with the power to decide on contracts, a continuous supply, a conveyor belt if you will, of individuals will be needed, both in prison and in the community to make it a viable investment for their millions. They are fully aware that; there is no correlation between the crime rate and our rates of imprisonment, the removal of short-term sentences in favour of community sentences does nothing to reduce the numbers entering prisons, but everything for the profit margins of CRC’s struggling to see a return on their investment, the change in criteria in HDC was a dangerous risky decision putting the public at risk, however, once again, to an industry not provided with the numbers it was first promised, profit margins were on the up, in knowing that the removal of short-term sentences could possibly block up the system announce more spaces, whilst quietly announcing it will be done with someone else’s money, which will always ultimately be the tax-payer however it is packaged. Bail-out schemes seem the preferred option of the criminal justice system, just after awarding millions of pounds worth of contracts coincidentally on occasions it appears, or just very unfortunate financial planning from very expensive skilled, experienced financial planners.

Committed to reducing re-offending whilst being committed to a private build of 10,500 new prison spaces has never sat well with me. Although, a fantastic business plan for anyone that has invested. Who knows, the more money people make from our prisons floating on the stock market the easiest it will be for others to turn the other cheek? – How ironic that could lead to more prisons floating on the waters – Just a theory, don’t shoot me.

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