Friday, 23 December 2016

Torment and Corruption in British Jails

Specialist "Tornado" teams were sent into HMP Swaleside, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, after a disturbance at about 19:00 GMT on Thursday.
Meanwhile a prison spokeswoman said:
'The challenges in our prisons are longstanding and won’t be solved overnight but the justice secretary is committed to making sure our prisons are stable while we deliver wholesale reforms to the prison estate to help offenders turn their lives around and reduce reoffending.'
Meanwhile, a week ago rioting prisoners took over four wings of HMP Birmingham, setting fire to stairwells, destroying paper records and causing £2m in damage. It was the latest high-profile disturbance to break out in a jail, prompting Justice Secretary Liz Truss to warn that "long-standing" problems in the nation's prisons could take months to solve.

AN editorial in the Financial Times last Wednesday commenting on the state of British prison's being 'a national disgrace', quoted Fyodor Dostoyevsky as saying that 'the degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons'.

In 1971 or thereabouts, a prison officer in Brixton jail suggested to Stuart Christie then remanded in there of charges relating to the Angry Brigade, that he should write a comparative book about his experiences in Spanish and English prisons.  He was found not guilty when the case came to trial.  Later in his autobiography 'Granny made me an anarchist' Stuart Christie wrote:

'I discussed this with Miguel Garcia, my friend and former fellow prisoner, he agreed that it was the soullesness of British prisons that made them outstanding in the history of penology.  National characteristics come into it as well.  Cold cabbage, muddy fishcakes, soggy sponge lumpy custard and gnats' piss for tea would be considered a provocation diet in Spain.  The authorities offering it would be expecting a riot.  British prisoners have probably been conditioned by years of factory canteens, greasy spoon cafes and now Macdonalds. 

'But there was another striking difference between the two countries: British jails were run on a system of state socialism, where you get what your given ('Incentives' and 'earned privileges' are now the system).  Spanish jails in Franco'ws time were run along on much more humane lines inasmuch as there was some degree of choice involved.  You could work and earn more, or – and this is a punishment – not work and scrape by if you were prepared to do without things like fags and Serrano ham sandwiches.  You could have money sent in from outside and spend it in a fanteen or the prison restaurant.  Thus responsibility for the individual's quality of life in prison became his own, that of his family and his comrades.

'Like money everywhere, its circulation in jail leads to corruption, but it is also the one thing that eases tyranny.  Corruption certainly exists in English jails – albeit fitfully.  In Spain it was built into the system.  But for those who have illusions as to what can be achieved by the parliamentary system, a comparison of Spanish and English prisons would be interesting.'
As the prison spokeswoman said 'the challenges to our prisons are longstanding...'


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