Prison officers strike over safety and the Mail talks about steaks
‘WHAT IS GOING ON IN OUR JAILS?’ yelped the Daily Mail yesterday, splashing on social media photos of inmates taking drugs and enjoying contraband steaks in a Dorset prison.
For the Mail, the answer is pretty clear. It quotes Tory MP and men’s rights activist Philip Davies, who said:
“All those people who say that jail is not cushy ought to reflect on these pictures. What must the victims of the crimes these people committed think?
The government needs to clamp down and make sure prisons are a place of punishment – they should not be a holiday camp.”
But whatever the Mail, or Philip Davies, thinks, the real prison story yesterday was 10,000 prison officers going on strike over ‘chronic staff shortages’. Justice Secretary and lax defender of judicial independence Liz Truss had to go to the High Court to force them back to work.
There are 5,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010, down from 19,900 to 14,700 as of August 2016. Meanwhile, the prison population has been increasing steeply since the 1990s, to its current total of 85,975.
Prison officers have become desperate. A report by the Howard League for Penal Reform, released today, finds inmates are being slapped with extra days in prison in an attempt to keep them under control.
In England and Wales, 215,000 days were added last year for rule breakers, the equivalent of 590 years. Since 2010, it’s a million years. And things are getting worse, with the numbers up by 30 per cent on 2014.
At Guys Marsh in Dorset, the prison from the Mail story, the number of ‘discipline days’ added has trebled in the last year, from 1,189 in 2014 to 3,296 in 2015. The same prison (incidentally, a Category C, the lowest level of toughness before open prisons) saw two suicides in 2015.
As Howard League chief executive Frances Crook said:
“Instead of solving the problems, these punishments feed a vicious cycle, piling more pressure on the prison population and worsening overcrowding, which in turn creates conditions for drug abuse and violence.”
Since awarding these sanctions is often outsourced to a district judge, (a practice which has soared by 80 per cent since 2010), the already staggering cost of these extra days – estimated by the Howard League as £19 million for 2015 alone – is even more expensive for the taxpayer.
If the Daily Mail really cares what’s ‘going on’ in our prisons, it should look to the public spending cuts and ‘lock ’em up’ tough-on-crime policies it has for decades been a full-throated champion.
Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.