Saturday, 14 June 2014

An Inspector Calls

The death was reported today of actor Sam Kelly who played a relatively minor role in TV sitcom Porridge; (the slow and gullible “Bunny” Warren). The show may well have provided the great majority of people in my generation who have never been near a prison, an idea of what life inside is like. It’s misleading of course in all sorts of ways, not least in underplaying the pains of imprisonment – it is a comedy after all. But the sketchy knowledge that the public have about places of detention make it all the more important that we have access to a true and honest picture of the reality of what goes on inside them.

Fortunately we have such a picture in the detailed findings from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, currently Nick Hardwick, who regularly visits and reports on all of our prisons. And we are lucky too that we have a government, which according to its website at any rate attaches great importance to the Chief Inspector’s role “in order to provide the public, parliament and government with an objective and authoritative assessment of the conditions in prisons”.  

There our luck runs out. This morning, Radio 4 Today programme listeners were treated to a cavalier dismissal of Nick Hardwick’s views by the Justice Secretary. Chris Grayling went on to make highly misleading statements about the degree of overcrowding in the prison system and the extent to which it provides work opportunities for prisoners.   Grayling then sought to blame any shortfall in resources on prison governors and staff who he suggested happily offered up the cuts in staffing when faced with mass privatisation.

While there may be no votes in prisons, Grayling has a duty of care to prisoners and the very least we can expect from him is what he expects from us- honesty.  The truth is that he has been far too ready to make spending cuts without wanting to cut prison numbers. Thank goodness Nick Hardwick had the courage to say so and  let’s hope he sticks to his guns when he’s hauled in by Grayling on Monday morning and asked to clarify his remarks.

1 comment:

  1. It's not just a duty of care to prisoners (Grayling probably doesn't think they deserve care - does he recognise that they are human beings?) but even from his point of view his policy is counterproductive. You don't get people to behave well by treating them badly. And the president of the Prison Governors' Association, Eoin McLennan-Murray, has warned that the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme is leading to a 'tip[ping point' of instability in prisons (front page of 'Inside time', June 2014). Hardwick adds that 'the quantity and quality of purposeful activity in which prisoners are engaged has plummeted in 2012-13 the lowest standards in six years'. What Grayling has provided is purposeless inactivity for many prisoners much of the time. The only realistic way of tackling that, and therefore protecting the public, is shorter and/or fewer prison sentences