Ever since Prison Consultants was formed we have been repeating the mantra that Prisons are not places of punishment, prison is the punishment.
We have also pointed out, ad nauseam, that whilst Prisons are fine at keeping wrong doers away from the rest of society, they also have a role in rehabilitating offenders and acting as a positive agent for helping offenders to mend their broken lives and become useful citizens.
Many people disagree with us. They point out that some prisoners are happy to follow a lifetime of crime. They favour longer sentences and harsher prison regimes.
But stiffer sentences served within antiquated and overcrowded prisons, many of them dating back to Queen Victoria’s time, have brought about a situation whereby our reoffending rates stand at a staggering 58% for those serving a year or less, and as much as 26% for those serving between 4 and 10 years.
That’s not the full picture.
Overcrowded prisons are leading to increased incidence of suicide, self harm, narcotics abuse, assaults, mental illness, bullying, depression and demoralised prison staff.
The cost of reoffending is estimated as being in excess of £13billion per year.
If a small percentage of this were to be invested into rehabilitative prison projects like vocational training and basic education, coupled with decent and humane treatment toward our offenders, this could save the country millions. And of course it would have other benefits.
It is what in other countries who have adopted this approach appreciate.
At the moment we have a system which institutionalizes our offenders and gives them up as lost causes. No other civilized country does this. We are sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.
But now we have received positive news. After three years of a hard line Minister of Justice the new man at the helm, Michael Gove, has spoken with perception and insight about some of the problems with the system, and has come up with some ideas to improve things.
At the heart of Mr Gove’s new broom approach is an acknowledgement that the standards of education offered to offenders are hopelessly inadequate.
He is to be congratulated. His predecessor banned offenders receiving books. Now Mr Gove will encourage them to start reading those books.
It is a very promising start.