And of course there are other definitions along similar lines of thought but those will suffice for now. And it is precisely the loss of that liberty as a punishment in itself which is now one of the purposes of imprisonment. It wasn`t always so. Hard labour or penal servitude was not abolished in this country until 1948. The prison population of England & Wales quadrupled in size between 1900 and 2017 with around half of this increase taking place since 1990. There are currently around 80,000 convicts in England and Wales that number having reduced by around 6% since the onset of the pandemic. Treatment of those incarcerated has been a political and social hot potato since the days of Elizabeth Fry 1780-1845. Allied with arguments over sentencing, prison with all its ramifications, no topic is more fiercely debated inside and outside parliament. Prime ministers and home secretaries have seen their reputations rise and fall along their perceived road of squaring the circle of deterrence, punishment, redemption for criminal activity and the sometimes forgotten duty of a government to provide public protection to citizens from those who would harm them physically, financially or as is now a prevalent consideration emotionally. The failure in rehabilitation of those who have fallen by the criminal wayside seems to be endemic but this failure is more caused by government policies and underfunding than failures of individual probation officers of whom there are 14,000 employed in the UK having doubled in number from 2017 when many left or were made redundant as a result of a failed policy of part privatisation initiated by the most incompetent cabinet minister of modern times Chris (failing) Grayling when he was Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. It is obvious to all but the most hardened proponents of hang and flog on one side and prison is ineffective on the other that radical thinking is required but apparently unacceptable to politicians owing to perceived cost or their chances of re-election. During my time as an active magistrate I visited Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons. Aside from the obvious authority of the warders cf the governors the conditions were appalling and considering this was 20 and 10 years ago respectively when overcrowding was considerably less than at present the current position is a disgrace for a supposedly enlightened nation. Prisoners, especially those serving sentences of two to five years must be given the opportunity to learn a trade or to practise their existing skills whilst incarcerated. If they are addicts as so many are they must be weaned off their habit. They must be nourished so that their bodies and minds are as healthy as possible unlike the current situation where, according to a parliamentary question 5 March 2019, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) allocates food budgets to prisons based on £2.02 per prisoner per day which covers the daily prisoner food and beverage requirements. What an indictment for our supposed benevolent society; the aforesaid reformer Elizabeth Fry would turn in her grave at the situation two centuries since her own endeavours.
I have long posted here of the need for a 21st century form of the Victorian`s workhouse where the basic foundations as listed above could be available for those considered suitable either upon sentence or when it was thought any prisoner had become a suitable case for treatment. (use search box for previous posts) But of course that would require money; lots of money. Government spending for the foreseeable future will now be regarded in a different light as a result of the enormous sums being spent to soften the impact of the pandemic on our economy. When a former Tory prime minister is caught lobbying the current chancellor: David Cameron was an adviser to Greensill at the time and it is claimed that he had share options believed to be worth up to tens of millions of pounds, whilst his own chancellor during his premiership, George Osborne, secured millions in fees based on his inside information and influence after resignation from parliament and the deputy prime minister of the period became poacher turned gamekeeper for perhaps capitalism`s most egricious example of wealth over principle there is little hope for the current Conservative government or party being the vehicle to prioritise prison reform. Unfortunately whilst Her Majesty`s main opposition is still the home for antisemites and revolutionary Marxists it is equally obvious that with its current leadership hopes of its obtaining power are slim. And that is how populist opinion begets a populist leader who promises all manner of goodies to all except those minorities who are the cause of our supposed miseries. UKIP founded in 1993 became a slow burning destructive fuse lit when Nigel Farage became its leader. Its influence continues to this day under various aliases. It has led to greater acceptance of authoritarian thinking both within and without parliament than many thought possible. Prison reform used to be the cry of do gooders and wooly thinkers; not any more. It is the need for a people and its governors to look inwards into their very souls. It is a test for what kind of future society they wish for their children and grandchildren.