In 2014 the then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, proposed a ban on prisoners receiving parcels containing items such as books. This ban was revoked the year after, having been deemed ‘unlawful’. Of course people in prison have some of their rights taken away. But denying them access to books, which can engage them, help with education and give them something constructive to do whilst in prison seems several gargantuan steps too far. I don’t think books are a luxury. I think they are pretty much a necessity.
There is a constant debate in the UK about whether prisons are harsh enough places to ‘reform’ individuals and frighten them onto the straight and narrow. Some people advocate using prison as a blunt instrument to prevent reoffending. Others say there needs to be more of a focus on rehabilitation and on solving the problems prisoners will face on release before they encounter them.
In David Cameron’s speech on prison reform this February, he acknowledges this back-and-forth argument. He says that criminals should be discouraged from reoffending by a tough life in prison; but he also acknowledges that prisons are currently not ‘soft’ in the slightest, that they are ‘miserable, painful environments’. He also says that societal problems that lead to reoffending and criminal activity must be addressed, and that prisoners should be encouraged to be agents for change in their own lives. This seems like progress.
He then goes on to advocate the privatisation of prisons, citing the academy model for UK schools as an example. So, putting money from private companies into prisons, and asking prisons to rely on this for funding. Do we think this will lower the rate of reoffending and provide better rehabilitation for prisoners? Or will priorities change when private companies are relying on people being imprisoned for their income? I don’t know, but I have a feeling we’re going to find out.