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.

Tell us something new Mr Grayling

Seeing the headline on the BBC News website, I had to take a peak to see what Mr Grayling, our Justice Secretary, had to say when interviewed for The Mail Online:

With headline grabbing gusto, Mr G says “Criminals face new ‘spartan prisons’……plans tough regime with uniforms, no Sky TV and less pocket money”.  Oh.  Is that all?  What about the new mentoring scheme that was being discussed a couple of weeks ago in order to stop reoffending, where’s that policy gone?  Instead, The Daily Mail is happy to air it’s old chestnuts again describing Britain’s prisons as “holiday camp jails” and banging on about banning Sky TV.   Mr Grayling, unlike the vast majority of us, believes that “prisoners do not deserve the kind of lifestyle and “frills” that are beyond the reach of families on low wages”.  Sorry, just refresh my memory, you did say that Mr Grayling was Justice Secretary – is this England’s Justice Secretary or some other planet?

Prisoners are in prison, and just to enlighten anyone who does not realise it, in prison you have your freedom removed (yes, you deserve it, but that’s not what’s being discussed here).  I have been to a holiday camp and I have a husband who has been to prison.  When discussing both outings, we could not find a single thing that was the same, except the poor quality food.  I tend to find holiday camps allow you to come and go as you please, to allow you to bring whatever you want in with you and to leave with whatever you want.  You can stay in and use the amenities, or go out.  You’re only there for a brief time.  If you’ve been to a holiday camp that is like a prison, it is highly likely to be shut down as no one else would go on holiday there.

We do allow our prisoners to have television whilst inside – given that a lot of offenders can spend the majority of their time in their shared cells with nothing else to do, how about, rather than banning TV, we ensure prisoners are otherwise occupied.  How about, and this is a radical thought, instead of locking them up most of the day, we make them embark upon rehabilitating educational schemes, or maybe as part of their sentence, we make them train for work so that when they leave, rather than complain that they can’t keep up with their much loved Sky TV programmes, they can go and get jobs.

The Daily Mail describes “….. the biggest prison regime shake up for 60 years” as stopping Sky TV, enforcing the wearing of drab grey prison overalls, the use of “pocket money” to buy toiletries and sweets to be curbed and not allowing gay prisoners to share cells.  Oh please, is that all you can come up with.  Do you really think your average criminal is going to be quaking in his/her boots at the thought of having to do time wearing an overall?  And how exactly is that going to dissuade someone who has done time from reoffending?  Isn’t it better to rehabilitate?  To concentrate on why they leave and reoffend?  Prisons don’t work, but they don’t not work because of the outfit you wear or the tv programme you watch.  These people, and, I might say, the long term unemployed, need jobs.  They need to be out grafting, providing for their families.  They need a better training scheme that currently exists inside.  Don’t keep piffling away at the edges Mr Grayling, get in there and do something to make a difference – making Daily Mail readers red faced and angry at the thought of a prisoner watching Sky TV whilst floating on a lilo in the prison spa is not going to stop an ex-prisoner from committing another crime because they need money.

No ripped jeans in prison

We had to go to Matalan today to get some new jeans.  In my organisedness (is that a real word), I’d phoned the prison husband is most likely to go to, to find out what he was allowed to take in with him.  In amongst items such as shirts or t-shirts (5) no white t-shirts (maybe their washing powder can’t cope with getting whites whiter….?) he’s allowed jeans or trousers, but not ripped jeans.  Unfortunately, husband is very much attached to his jeans, and they are very, very ripped.  I regularly machine them together again, but we had to go out and get a new pair in readiness.