Times have really changed and gone are the days when there was an unwritten code of conduct between criminals in prison. There was a hierarchy amongst prisoners and wings ran themselves. Bullying was not tolerated and disputes was settled man to man in the recess, baroning was moderate, reasonably controlled and theft from cells was unacceptable. It was always, ”Us & Them” when it came to prison staff. They lock us up and unlock us, every now and then you may get nicked for a trivial rule break. Every one was happy, you know where you stood and the prison officers knew where they stood. A real win, win that lasted for tens of years.
However, since the late 80s and early 90s, this has not been the case. This major upset within the system was caused by a few things that we will explore. This was a time when the new work to rule come in and a lot of the old prison staff didn’t want to work a 40 hour week. Back then, prison officers could take home huge wages from the overtime, now this was being cut. Therefore, the system that was working for decades started to disappear, staffing numbers were cut by a third and the ‘old school’ guard took early retirement. A new breed of prison officer started to enter the system. With so many ‘old school’ retiring, no one was there to show the new screws the way. New strategies, rules and regulations started to appear within the prison estates. Young university leavers started jumping into job positions that officers took years to be promoted before. Women started working in prisons and the strategy to start ‘Piss-Tests prisoners contributed to a massive change within the whole prison estates and the new drug culture was born.
New intelligence strategies was implemented after the Strangeways riot. The government decided that another Strangeways riot, would never happen again in a British prison. This is when they brought in the divide and conquer strategy. Basic, Standard and Enhanced Prisoners. They also implemented the ”friendly officer” some intelligence, psychologist decided that if a prison officer was on first name terms with a prisoner, the prisoner would be less likely to attack them… Necessity and a change of guard contributed to the chaos we have in our prisons today.
All this new strategy that was being introduced brought more interaction between prisoner and prison officer. The individual governors of prisons had cart-blanche on information gathering and intelligence led structures and were mainly led by the guise of Listeners, Peer Mentors, Insiders and Equality Reps. However, some prisoners and opportunists decided to conform to the idea of these job positions, it was an unspoken, tit for tat contract. The afore-mentioned gave information and then, they had the opportunity to move freely around the jails. For the lay-person to under-stand this, it meant a great deal, messages, drugs, phones and other paraphernalia was moving more robustly and efficiently in all areas of the prison estate.
Now for all those ex-prisoners that may have held one of these positions. Hold On! don’t go jumping on your soap boxes. Not everyone is an informer, however, some of the information that they divulged to an officer was not necessarily intentional. Most prisoners would take these kind of jobs for altruistic reasons. However, prison staff and security have become more inventive in their information gathering and interrogation techniques. This was expected from all staff. Every officer that works on a landing, has to put atleast two entries of information, (for security) in the wing observation book. This obviously is the ‘norm’. However, sadly some pathetic prisoners thought is was acceptable and necessary to volunteer information to staff implicating others.
Prison has become a place where it is, ”Every man for himself” and the petty adherence to rules deprives us of feeling like normal human-beings psychologist and Probation officers actually increase risks because they believe some of us are becoming institutionalised and is there any wonder when some pathetic rules are aimed at making us ”Good-Prisoners” but, not necessarily ”Good-People”.
I get it, I really do, protecting the vulnerable is important, reduction in violence is important but, have any of these new rules or, the introduction of these representatives impacted suicides or self-harm numbers, reduced violent incidents or even reduced reoffending…NO! Therefore, why make changes?
Prisons employ inmate councils to feedback constructive opportunities to improve, but, rarely do they actually listen and implement any suggestions, instead, they make bizarre decisions that have absolutely no benefit to prisoners.
Prisoners are fighting a losing battle, they are also losing their back-bone and governors are capitalising on this weakness to impose even more restrictions and operationally bizarre rules. The system is long-overdue, a wide-spread uproar and/or meltdown. Then. maybe then the self-important and supercilious governors will seriously start to engage with operational staff and prisoners that have to make these rules & regulations work on the prison landings.