Prisoners to wear a uniform for two weeks – do we really care?

I do wonder about the “major shake up to prisoner incentives” published by the Ministry of Justice on 1 November.  Officially “significant” reforms to the Incentive and Earned Privileges (IEP) policy have been brought into force.  So what is the IEP – it is a national policy framework set out in Prison Service Order 4000 Incentives Earned Privileges, which gives prison governors authority to devise their own local scheme to meet the needs of the prison regime.  Yawn….. to you and me, this means that prisoners can have access to:

  • Extra and improved visits
  • Eligibility to earn higher rates of pay
  • Access to in-cell television (paid for by the prisoner)
  • Opportunity to wear own clothes
  • Access to private cash
  • Time out of cell for association

Round about this time of writing I gave up the will to live.  I began to question – what’s on my mind, what’s my beef with the change to this policy.  I researched the background of the IEP, discovered what the regulations covers.  And still was no closer to resolving my problem.  Then, it dawned on me.  It’s not the shakeup to the policy, which is fine and dandy, it’s the attitude of the policy maker – that all those serving a prison sentence are wastrels, are the lowest of the low, are scum living the life of Reilly in a prison cell.

For our Justice Minister to publicly make the statement “For too long the public has seen prisoners spending their days languishing in their cells watching TV, using illegal mobile phones to taunt their victims on Facebook or boasting about their supposedly easy life in prisons” is reprehensible.  What statistics has the Minister used when coming to this conclusion?  Or has he used no statistics but is just pandering to populist opinion?   It’s worth delving a little bit into his statement –  do the vast majority of prisoners have an actual “victim” to taunt – if you are inside for tax evasion, who are you going to taunt?  The poor, quaking Inland Revenue?  You’ve defrauded a company, who are you going to target?  Those fags you brought into the country without paying the tax on….. I could go on.  As I’ve said before, not everyone inside is a rapist, child molester or murderer.

And which of the changes to policy is going to stop “illegal mobile phones” entering the prison estate?  Why not just jam signals so that any phones that do make their way in are useless?

The actual changes, in case you are still with me are:

  • The introduction of a new IEP level – “Entry” – where privileges are restricted.
  • Certificate 18 DVDs and subscription channels banned from all prisons.
  • A national standardised list of items available for each level.
  • An automatic IEP review for bad behaviour, with a presumption of downgrading.
  • TVs turned off when prisoners should be engaged in work or other productive activity.
  • Prisoners who misbehave will lose their TV.

The change most reported on in our newspapers, are that prisoners are going to be required to wear a uniform in their first two weeks of sentence – that’s the “Entry” level.  A quick glance at the incredibly dense PSI 30/2013 document (Google it) asks all prisons to “identify the potential number of prisoners who will require prison issue clothing…..”.  Hang on, isn’t that more expense to the tax payer – we now have to supply grey jogging pants and tops to entry level offenders.  And what exactly is the purpose of two weeks of enforced lounging outfit?  You’ve committed a crime, we are now going to punish you by making you wear an unflattering pair of trackie bottoms….?   Why?  Is that really a punishment or a method of bringing about rehabilitation?  Can you imagine it striking fear into criminals – no, no, I’d better not rob that bank, I’d hate to have to wear a grey tracksuit for a fortnight.

The banning of 18 DVDs and subscription channels – subscription channels only operate in private prisons.  These are the minority of prison estates.  The vast majority of prisons do not supply subscription channels.  18 DVDs were never allowed when my husband was inside (not that he wanted them, he was more interested in watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

TVs turned off when prisoners should be engaged in work or other productive activity.  What work and what productive activity?  Prisoners in Category A or B prisons, or even C’s for that matter, often do not have the opportunity to work.  They certainly are not occupied 8 hours a day in meaningful activity.  Cleaning the toilets doesn’t take that long and serving pre-cooked food is over in a snip.  Do you think they still sew mail bags?  They don’t.  Many prisons do not have occupations like those you saw on episodes of Porridge.  Gone are the Prison farms and markets gardens, some are lucky enough to be able to work in an “open to the public” café like The Jailhouse Café on Portland but these are the absolute minority.  The flagship Latchmere House had almost its entire population out on work programmes, but was closed by the Government.  It’s not a myth about the length of time a prisoner can be shut up in a shared cell, it’s a fact.

So prisoners who misbehave and lose their TV – in a shared cell – how’s that going to operate?

I just cannot understand how the above actions are going to reduce offending?  Surely it’s just another round of chest thumping to make the Ministry of Justice sound like they are being “tough on crime”, but they still don’t appear to be actively engaged encouraging rehabilitation.  The above changes are further punishments for those already being punished.

And a footnote: I was interested to see that HMP Maidstone had a riot last night – is this being reported on to give the impression that prisoners are already “rebelling” against these introductions?  Question the media – how long would it take for a prisoner to lose the right to a TV?  They’d have to have an interview with a prison officer and given that these actions only came into being as of Friday 1 November, there really hasn’t been time to link these actions to the riot.  I would imagine that the riot was about something else entirely, but it suits our media to start sniffing around to see if they can perpetuate the myth of lounging prisoners cutting up rough at the withdrawal of their treats.  Please, please question what you read in the media.

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