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Wrexham’s New Jail Under the Spotlight

This is a link to a blog post considering the potential impact of the proposed new ‘super’ prison in Wrexham, Wales. Wrexham prison is set to become the largest prison within England and Wales and will also be the second largest prison in Western Europe. However, since the announcement of this new prison, it has been plagued with strong opposition in the local area. The article in question considers some of the arguments against the prison, as well as some of the arguments for it.

Proposed Prison Reform – An Attempt At Change Or A Political Gimmick?

I have been reading a lot of things regarding Chris Grayling’s proposed changes to the prison system. The claim is that it is meant to help prisoners and while some agree that it may help, many feel that it will be a hindrance and cause more problems than resolve.

The proposed reform will tackle many different areas. On the one hand there is a pledge to aid rehabilitation of prisoners, but on the other there is a pledge to  become more tough on prisoners creating an immediate conflict of interest. Some of the proposals include:

  • A rehabilitation revolution with a shake up in probation and a pay by results system
  • A change in prisoner perks. 
  • Removing daytime television and freeview tv
  • Engaging prisoners in more purposeful activity, such as work or education

Rehabilitation is an interesting one. The main worry for me in the ‘shake up’ is the payment by results, and there are several reasons why. The first big one is that it is ethically not a good idea. If you motivate people through money then there is a risk that prisoners will not get the services that they need. Instead some companies may create ‘sticking plaster’ solutions, essentially fixing the visible surface problems but not dealing with the bigger underlying problems that may cause offending behaviour. In doing so companies would be able to get more individuals through their programmes seemingly doing a job in ‘correcting’ the behaviour and achieving set targets thus being able to collect money for their services. However, another issue relating to this is how do you measure success? For a start there is a prominent problem that many offenders are part of more than one programme to ensure that each need is supported and helped – thus how can you decide which programme resulted in a change of behaviour? Furthermore, when you look at individual re-offending, sometime offenders go on to commit an offence different to the one they were committed for. For example prisoner A could be arrested for a knife related crime but then be rearrested for stealing a jar of coffee – is that success? A further problem is that the pay by results method has not been fully tested yet. It was first put to the full test in 2010, and since then results have been mixed on whether they work or not.

However, the idea  is not bad in its entirety. In theory it could be an effective model. It could provide more value for taxpayers who, ultimately, will at least in part fun this. The method would enable those who have effective rehabilitation programmes to gain money for the services which they could then invest and make it even better, assuming that the extra money does not disapear into a pocket.  

The change in prisoner privileges I think is one of the more riskier changes. Under the current UK prison system there are three levels of privileges: basic, standard and enhanced. When inmates enter the prison system they automatically start at standard level which enables various privileges such as access to private money and being allowed to wear their own clothes. The changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, which are supposed to come into effect sometime this month, create a new level known as ‘entry’. This is a more austere version of the basic level of privileges (which is typically reserved for punishing bad behaviour). The new level will deny entering prisoners access to the typical entitlements for entering prison. After two weeks of being in prison, the prisoners behaviour will be reviewed and if they have cooperated with the prison regime and have actively engaged in rehabilitation they will progress to the standard level, if not they will be at basic. The theory behind this is controlling behaviour. There have been a lot of stories in the media surrounding bad prisoner behaviour. While it seems a good idea in theory, in practical terms it is a dangerous game to play.

The first month of imprisonment is the time period when prisoners are most at risk of self harm and/or suicide. If you then start prisoners on a punitive and austere regime, do you not risk higher rates of harm and suicide? A further issue that makes me feel very uncomfortable is the fact that it reminds me of Haney, Banks and Zimbardo’s (1973) Stanford Prison Experiment (click here to view a video of the Stanford Prison Experiment). The main reason for this is the depersonalisation of the prisoner upon entering the prison by removing access to their belongings. This was commented upon in the debriefing of Haney, Banks and ZImbardo’s (1973) study and it aided the prisoners becoming institutionalised. Now while this would in theory help with behaviour, it also creates a barrier to rehabilitation. Institutionalisation requires an individual to relinquish their freedom and autonomy to make choices and decisions thus removing the ability to be self-sufficient. This can result in individuals becoming reliant upon the institution that institutionalised. This creates a barrier in terms of rehabilitation by making re-integration into society more difficult. Those who become profoundly institutionalised can become harmful or self-destructive when given back freedoms and choices that were previously either denied or withheld (Travis and Waul, 2003).

Removing television is a difficult one. I am aware that there is a general public dissatisfaction around prisoners having access to television. However, when these prisoners are confined to their cell for the majority of their day they need something to do. At this many people cry out ‘but there are books! Why don’t they read?’. Well the main reason is that reading levels are so low among prisoners. 48% of prisoners have literacy skills at or below level 1, the expected reading level of an 11 year old (Home Office, 2004). If reading is at the age of an eleven year old, you are limited in terms of reading material. Furthermore, television is a way of staying in contact with the wider world. This is important particularly for reintegration into society, which is a major part of rehabilitation success.

Now I agree that engaging prisoners in work or education is a good idea. However, I think that education is more important in terms of engagement. 52% of male offenders and 71% of female offenders have no qualifications. This poses a problem in terms of getting a job, particularly when you consider that 49% of the UK go into university education (BBC, 2013).  

 

I think it is safe to say that prison has long been a political tool. It is a way for politicians to quickly gain favour by professing to reduce crime through either increasing the rehabilitative success of prison or through making prison conditions more punitive and harsh. I think that this is very much what has happened here. It seems that the Conservatives have used an easy target to gain more votes. However through doing so they have created a dilemma. Initially the claim was to improve rehabilitation in prison, but then later Chris Grayling claimed that the Conservatives planned to get rid of ‘cushy’ and ‘soft’ prisons. It seems to me, from these comments alone, that too much notice has been paid to the Daily Mail and the Sun newspapers. Routinely these papers project a (false) view that prison is an easy ride and is soft and pleasant. We must remember that these papers are out to make a profit and so will print stories that will encourage the reader to buy the paper in question. I am of the firm opinion that prison is not as soft as the media leads us to believe. Sykes (1958) argued that there are intrinsic pains of imprisonment built into the prison culture. These are: deprivation of liberty, deprivation of goods and services, deprivation of heterosexual relationships, deprivation of autonomy, and deprivation of personal security – all pains which I feel are very much present today. I think that the proposals are more of a political piece than an attempt to help prisoners ‘break the cycle’ of crime. The proposals feel rushed and unfounded in terms of evidence. I think that the time following the implementation of these proposals, more problems will arise than solutions.

 

References

BBC News (2013) ‘University entry levels reach 49%’ [online] <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22280939> [accessed 18 November 2013]

Haney, C., Banks, W.C., and Zimbardo, P. G. (1973) ‘A Study of Prisoners and Guards In A Simulated Prison’ Naval Research Review 30, 4-17.

Home Office (2004) Reducing Re-offending: National Action Plan. London: Home Office.

Sykes, G. (1958) The Society of Captives Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Travis, J. and Waul, M (2003) Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities. Washington: The Urban Institute.

A Return With Research – Prison Architecture and Public Opinion

After a long stint away from blogging, I thought that I would return with a post on what I have been doing with my time . My main activity has been researching and writing my dissertation. After achieving a decent grade for my work I thought I would share it for anyone who may be interested…

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Discovering Public Opinion of Prison Architecture

For a long time prison architecture has been an important part of the penal system, with the potential to either hinder or help the running of any type of prison system. Following a series of high profile objections from the general public of some prison regimes, Jack Straw stated that all things relating to the penal system must pass the public acceptability test. This, however, has not occurred in relation to proposed designs of prisons. My research therefore aimed to fill a gap in knowledge, attempting to discover the public’s opinions on prison architecture and design. This research is significant due to proposals for new prison designs often enter political discourse in an attempt to deal with the issue of prison overcrowding.

My study made use of a cross-sectional design, chosen due to its low cost and expedient nature. Participants were gathered using a snowball sampling method. Although typically criticised for a lack of representativeness and generalisability due to creating and elite sample, this was to some degree avoided. This was through sending the surveys to buisnesses and community groups as well as individuals that the researcher knew. Data was gathered using online surveys which made use of image methodology. Image methodology was used due to information emerging from the literature review that the majority of the general public have not come into contact with a prison and thus will not have seen the interior of a prison. So in order to gain participants opinions on the architecture and design of different prisons, images and photographs were required to illustrate what different types of prisons look like.

The research findings were similar to previous research on public opinion of other areas of the penal system.  Opinion on prison architecture and design when looking narrowly appeared to be punitive, yet when looking broadly at all of the responses, many of them were contradictory and unfixed.  When responses were looked at in relation to gender categories, the findings were rarely different.  However, when looked at in relation to age groups, not all groups gave punitive responses, with the 21-30 age group in particular providing a mixture of punitive and lenient responses.

It was concluded that opinions are rarely fixed and appear to be influenced by many other factors.

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So there is a brief entry of the results of many months of hard work. If you would like any more information regarding the research, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.