40yrs experience: A rough outline for the lay-person on prison reform, prison system & prison life as a whole.

TO THE LAYPERSON. TO GET SOME IDEA OF JAIL.pexels-photo-1309902

WITH SOME UNDERSTANDING TO WHAT IS PRISON REFORM…

In simple terms, a real basic outline is all anybody could give you without having the real personal experience yourself. Therefore, I shall get as close to an understanding of prison, thus everyone involved in the system seems to have their own particular view of each and every situation. Therefore, we have so many different stories and versions of prison and their own personal experience. Somebody that has had no real life experience of the system seems to be completely misinformed, ill-informed or not given the whole atmosphere and details of how the story unfolds. Leaving the person to imagine a lot of the story. Moreover, giving a false sense of understanding of what prison is all about and the story that they have just heard. Confused? Now you get what I mean by living/feeling the story/experience and how so many people have a false understanding of prison life/system.
I have come to learn that, a lot of my followers don’t live or work within prison estates and therefore, I get asked this question a lot; ”Can you describe prison as I have never been in to visit or know anyone that works in one. I have also heard so many different stories of prison its hard to understand fact from fiction. Therefore, could you give an overview and some idea of what prison is, does? Maybe some basic foundation stuff that people don’t really seem to talk about in their stories on prison estates?
For myself, trying to give a balanced view of prison is quite easy for me, However, I find it’s really hard trying to break down the whole individual prison ethos in the UK. Especially to a lay-person. Sadly, 90% of the people that work within the prison system, have not got a clue what’s going on around them. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way but, it’s like any big company or corporation except a bit more unpredictable and chaotic. A lot of staff in a large majority of prisons today, really do not know what will unfold on each and every shift. Simply, the left hand really does not know what the right hand is doing…  There is not one prison that is the same as the one right next door to it. Every prison that I have unfortunately had the pleasure to spend some time in.  Which may have a basic umbrella/outline of similarities but, no two have ever been exactly the same.
Starting with the basic outline stuff where a large percentage of prisons have an umbrella of policies and procedures, more often than not no two individuals will be treated and/or answered the same. Unless it’s quick and easy for a Governor or Senior Officer to deal with an issue/incident or policy collectively. Pacifying the majority in any given situation and/or disturbance. I will just do a few short headings on topics. However, I will put links next to heading for further reading to my other posts on the relevant said topic.
Prisoner privileges and rights
Privileges is to big of a word for the few bits that your allowed as a prisoner but, it’s part of the culture. Prison language looks, sounds, spells exactly the same as any other English word in our English language. Except, prison is a world within it’s own world and the words may seem rational. The policies and procedures along with how they are delivered by people in authority seem to find it’s own meaning and/or understanding that suits the authority figure spitting it out.
Prisoners who follow rules can earn privileges. This is called the ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme’.(IEP) This is a national policy but, no two people get the same results. A prisoner may be able to: get more visits from family or friends, to be allowed to spend more money each week. More personal property etc. Privileges are different in each prison – staff can explain to the prisoner how the scheme is meant to work. However, if your face fits that particular officer, that particular day, then you may get a good result. Yet, the same can be said about the opposite. This will be strongly denied by the powers in situ. For obvious reasons.
Punishments
A prisoner who breaks prison rules is normally punished. They can be:
kept in their cell for up to 21 days, given up to 42 extra days in prison on top of their original sentence from a visiting judge. They usually come in once a month. The governor can give you fines and other petty punishments, like: take away privileges – eg removing a TV from a cell. No association.
Rights: Prisoners have rights, including protection from bullying, racial harassment along with being able to get in contact with a solicitor.  Healthcare including support for mental health conditions. Moreover, all prisoners should be able to spend between 30 minutes and an hour outside in the open air each day. However, this is not by law anymore. Weather permitting…
Arriving at prison
 When someone arrives at the prison, they have at least one interview and assessment so they: understand prison rules and procedures know what their rights are told of courses available get the right healthcare. The prisoner gets a prison number and their property is recorded and put somewhere safe until they’re released.
Security categories: Males Only.
Women’s categories are closed or open conditions. Male Prisoners are given a security category between A to E category. This is based on how likely they are to try to escape, their offence, their risk of causing harm to other prisoners and prison staff. A prisoner may be transferred to another prison with a different security category at any time, for any reason.
Healthcare in prison
Prisoners get the same healthcare and treatment as anyone outside of prison. Treatment is free but has to be approved by a prison doctor or member of the healthcare team. Prisons don’t have hospitals, but many have in-patient beds. Most problems are dealt with by the healthcare team. If they can’t, the prison may: get an expert to visit the prison arrange for treatment in an outside hospital The healthcare team can ask the prisoner’s family doctor for their records, but only if the prisoner agrees to it. Special help and support Prisoners can get specialist support – eg if they: have drug or alcohol problems have HIV or AIDS are disabled or have a learning difficulty. Refusing medical treatment A prisoner can refuse treatment. However, the healthcare team may choose to give treatment if the prisoner isn’t capable of making decisions themselves (eg they have a mental health condition). Wherever possible, the healthcare team will discuss this with the prisoner’s family first.
Vulnerable prisoners
Staff are trained to spot prisoners at risk of bullying, suicide or self-harm. The prisoner may get their own case manager who will make sure they: are asked about their mental health -eg if they’re feeling depressed get regular support from a health specialist. Most prisons also have ‘listener schemes’ that offer emotional support in confidence – normally from fellow prisoners. Sadly today a lot of this is missed due to over-crowding, lack of skilled staff and a whole collective of reasons why the system is failing these people every day.
Psychiatric hospitals
A prisoner can be moved to a secure psychiatric hospital for their own safety. This only happens if they meet certain conditions under the Mental Health Act. Once the prisoner gets better, they return to prison.If you’re worried about a prisoner tell  someone, member of prison staff when you visit
contact the prison’s ‘Safer Custody Team’ Some prisons run confidential Safer Custody hotlines where you can leave a message explaining your concerns.
Education and work in prison
Courses are normally available to help prisoners get new skills, eg learning to read and write, use computers and do basic maths. Most prisoners get an Individual Learning Plan listing courses and training.Qualifications and skills Most courses lead to qualifications that are recognised by employers outside the prison, eg GCSEs or NVQs. Prisoners may be able to do a distance learning course, eg Open University. A prisoner can learn skills eg woodwork, engineering or gardening. Working in prison Many prisoners get the chance to work while carrying out their sentence, eg making clothes and furniture or electrical engineering. This is done in prison workshops and is normally paid work. Prisoners can also work around the prison itself – eg in kitchens and laundries. A ‘low-risk’ prisoner may be allowed to work in the community.
WHAT IS PRISON REFORM?
Prison Reform is the attempt to improve conditions inside prisons, establish a much more effective penal system, or implement alternatives to incarceration. In modern times the idea of making living spaces safe and clean have spread from the civilian population to include prisons, on ethical grounds which honor that unsafe and unsanitary prisons violate constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. In recent times prison reform ideas include greater access to legal counsel and family, conjugal visits, proactive security against violence, & implementing house arrest with assisted technology. In a nutshell, to try and find a good system that works for everyone.
WHY PROMOTE PRISON REFORM.
Although prisons, in general, are an international problem and the majority of countries throughout the world don’t have the answer. There are a few European countries that intellectually beat Britain hands down on prison and prison reform.  In the UK, it really is a national problem for us. A national problem that has to be addressed within a very short space of time. Failure to address this could result in Britain becoming one of the most violent prison systems in the world. Central to the arguments to promote prison reforms is a human rights argument, I think a lot of the hierarchy within the British judicial system seems to be missing the obvious. The obvious being, how can we run a prison system without all the criminality, violence, failures and disruption embedded within the culture of our prisons. I’m not only talking about re-offending rates, overcrowding or under-staffed prisons. I am talking about the whole psychology and mentality form all sides of the criminal justice system. Treatment and respect will play a major part in the change, not just conditions. We are not a lot more humane and forward thinking with our prison system than most other countries. In Britain, we just do it differently, which is based on the premise on which many UN standards and norms have been developed. However, this argument is often insufficient to encourage prison reform programmes in countries with scarce human and financial resources. The detrimental impact of imprisonment, not only on individuals but, on families and communities, along with economic factors also need to be taken into account when considering the need for prison reforms.
HUMAN RIGHTS CONSIDERATIONS.
A sentence of imprisonment constitutes only a deprivation of the basic right to liberty. (removal from the norms that society offers.) Nothing else, it does not entail the restriction of other human rights, with the exception of those which are naturally restricted by the very fact of being in prison. Prison reform is necessary to ensure that this principle is respected, the human rights of prisoners protected and their prospects for social reintegration increased, in compliance with relevant international standards and norms. Yes, that sounds great but, that is the nonsense being spewed out by people who are trying to run with the hares and chase with the hounds. The politicians and the politically correct parade. Losing the real issues that are slapping people within the system and society as a whole, in the face.
IMPRISONMENT AND POVERTY.
Imprisonment disproportionately affects individuals and families living in poverty. When an income generating member of the family is imprisoned the rest of the family must adjust to this loss of income. The impact can be especially severe in poor, developing countries where the state does not provide financial assistance to the indigent and where it is not unusual for one breadwinner to financially support an extended family network. Thus the family experiences financial losses as a result of the imprisonment of one of its members, exacerbated by the new expenses that must be met – such as the cost of a lawyer, food for the imprisoned person, transport to prison for visits and so on. When released, often with no prospects for employment, former prisoners are generally subject to socio-economic exclusion and are thus vulnerable to an endless cycle of poverty, marginalisation, criminality and imprisonment. Thus, imprisonment contributes directly to the impoverishment of the prisoner, of his family (with a significant cross-generational effect) and of society by creating future victims and reducing future potential economic performance.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF IMPRISONMENT.
Prisons have very serious health implications. Prisoners are likely to have existing health problems on entry to prison, as they are predominantly from poorly educated and socio-economically deprived sectors of the general population, with minimal access to adequate health services. Their health conditions deteriorate in prisons which are overcrowded, where nutrition is poor, sanitation inadequate and access to fresh air and exercise often unavailable. Psychiatric disorders, HIV infection, tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C, sexually transmitted diseases, skin diseases, malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea and injuries including self-mutilation are the main causes of morbidity and mortality in prison. In countries with a high prevalence of TB in the outside community, prevalence of TB can be up to 100 times higher inside the prisons. In most countries, HIV infection in prisons is significantly higher than within the population outside the prison, especially where drug addiction and risk behaviours are prevalent. Prison staff are also vulnerable to most of the diseases of which prisoners are at risk. Prisons are not isolated from society and prison health is public health. The vast majority of people committed to prison eventually return to the wider society. Thus, it is not in vain that prisons have been referred to as reservoirs of disease in various contexts.
DETRIMENTAL SOCIAL IMPACT.
Imprisonment disrupts relationships and weakens social cohesion since the maintenance of such cohesion is based on long-term relationships. When a member of a family is imprisoned, the disruption of the family structure affects relationships between spouses, as well as between parents and children, reshaping the family and community across generations. Mass imprisonment produces a deep social transformation in families and communities.
THE COST OF IMPRISONMENT.
Not just financially on society. The pain, sadness, misery and turmoil it explodes within a family when the bread-winner could be imprisoned. The knock-on effect from all angles is huge. Furthermore, taking into account the above considerations, it is essential to note that, when considering the cost of imprisonment, account needs to be taken, not only of the actual funds spent on the upkeep of each prisoner, which is usually significantly higher than what is spent on a person sentenced to non-custodial sanctions, but, also of the indirect costs, such as the social, economic and healthcare related costs, which are difficult to measure, but which are immense and long-term.
In all the circumstances, I hope this post has given you some pause for thoughts? Please leave a comment on the blog. Maybe someone reading this could be in a position to change?

James McMullen.

barredtalk.com

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