Looking for solutions
Can prison ever work? What do you think could work? The experts give their view. Write in and tell us in no more than 300 words.
Director of the Prison Reform Trust
Invest in trust and carrot
“The solution is to invest in the people that we know are at risk of prison”
Most of the answers to the prison crisis can be found in what happens long before someone gets sent to prison. We send people to prison for too long. Average sentence length for serious crime has grown by over 50% in 10 years, and we have more than twice as many people serving indeterminate sentences as France, Germany and Italy combined. More than any other factor, that is what has meant that our system has stayed at around 25 % overcrowding for as long as anyone can remember.
The solution is to invest in the people that we know are at risk of prison. We’ve actually done this where children are concerned, and the number of children in prison is a quarter of what it was a few years ago. It’s time to take the same approach across the board.
In the short term recruiting more staff is certainly part of what’s needed, but prisoner numbers could be reduced quickly and safely by:
• Broadening eligibility for HDC;
• restricting recall for breaches that don’t involve committing another crime;
• changing the release test for IPP prisoners so that it’s the prison that has to make a case for why they shouldn’t be released on tariff expiry – not prisoners trying to prove that they are no longer a risk.
Inside prisons, we need:
• Some carrot alongside the stick. There is no reason why ROTL for employment, education and resettlement shouldn’t be a major part of all but the shortest sentences.
• Prisoners and staff talking together to solve problems. The Prison Reform Trust has been facilitating these conversations in a variety of prisons over the last two years. They always come up with practical ways to improve the way of life day to day. Prisoners are the huge wasted resource of ideas and talent in prisons – there has never been a more important time to put that right.
Former prisoner and Guardian contributor
Offend with the truth
“True justice is one that makes wider society better and safer in the short and long term”
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But what happens behind the razor-wire topped walls of
Britain’s 150 prisons is released into society every single day of the week.
Prison conditions have gone from ‘worst ever’ to ‘even worse’ to ‘how low can you go’
and that is emitted to the outside world – obviously by prisoners who are too often serving very short sentences for minor crimes – but also by friends and family on the outside serving their own sentence, and staff of the prison estate doing a very difficult job.
The prison crisis is a blip of bad news for the average person while they read the paper or scroll through their social media but for us, it’s a day-in day-out endurance of overdue release dates, depression, longing and frustrations.
""For the House of Commons though, it’s like one big game of prison policy ping-pong – avoiding truths and spinning the issue, with the media as the umpire."
The prison crisis has become so complex, so knee deep, that it all seems a long way from a state of criminal justice we can be proud of as a nation. But the truth is that fixing the ‘justice system’ is incredibly simple.
There are short term solutions – like increasing funding, actually making courses available, fixing the hole in the fence where drugs get thrown over every week. There are slightly longer term solutions – retaining quality members of staff, changing the law so that we only imprison people for really serious crimes.
And then there are proper fixes that require us to question what justice actually means – do we want revenge or should we actually talk about why these issues arise in the first place, we must treat offenders with humanity, how we can make prisons healthy places to work and spend time, and save ourselves a lot of taxpayers money in the meantime. If we really rationalise it, we will see that prisons and the current concept of justice is a true dark age of ignorance.
At all stages, we’ll need to offend the mainstream media with the truth.
‘Justice’ has become a childish revenge that the Daily Mail want served frozen cold, at least so they have a pantomime in order to sell papers. In the human world though justice is a dish best served hot and hearty with care and compassion. People are currently obsessed with a contradictory form of justice that creates more and more crime – true justice is one that makes wider society better and safer in the short and long term.
Maybe the Ministry of Justice should be renamed the Ministry of OK You Messed Up But I Understand Why And Let’s Talk About It So You Don’t Do It Again?
All jokes aside – the justice Dark Age must end. We 100% must avoid the American system where jail is a big money industry that gives people 25 year sentences for stealing a DVD and imprisons more black people than slavery ever did. Let’s move towards being more like a European system where they are closing jails, treating humans like humans, saving money and seeing fewer and fewer prison leavers reoffend.
Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform
Implement the three Rs
“The rules around incentives and earned privileges must be revised”
The first ‘R’ is Rules. Instead of solving problems, imposing additional days of imprisonment for the breaking of prison rules feeds a vicious cycle. It increases pressure on the prison population and worsens overcrowding, which in turn further enforces the conditions for drug abuse and violence.
At the same time, prisons have made rules to incentivise prisoners’ behaviour more punitive, which is also contributing to the poisonous atmosphere behind bars.
Solutions could include making the imposition of additional days an indicator of a poorly performing prison, suspending the imposition of additional days conditional on good behaviour, or removing the option of additional days entirely. The rules around incentives and earned privileges must also be revised.
The second ‘R’ is Release. Prisoners need more opportunities to earn their return to the community through temporary release and parole.
Use of temporary release has fallen by a third since 2013. This means that prisoners cannot demonstrate that they are ready to be released, and it leads to longer sentences.
The Parole Board ought to be resourced adequately, and ministers should adopt a recommendation made by its Chair, Nick Hardwick, that the test for release should change. This would involve the Prison Service having to demonstrate that a person still presents a risk, rather than a prisoner demonstrating that they do not.
The third ‘R’ is Recall. The number of people in prison due to recall has increased by 4,300 per cent in 20 years.
Sending someone back to prison for a technical breach of their licence conditions is unjustified. Breaches should be dealt with in the community.
Anonymous Can relate to this as I am feeling the same I see a light at the end of the tunnel wen I think of my son 39;s the same feeling I have when I think of my mum and sister who both passed away years ago how many of more lives will be taken before the people with the power end this nightmare I don want to leave my children and grandchildren but I;m not sure if I can carry on with the future full of disappointment .
Wayne: ‘I felt lost and scared, depressed and suicidal and trapped
Stewart Some common sense is required and massive reform.
Queen My son got 2 years don 11 years has a loving family and a job and a home to go to no still pissing in to the wind a probashon hostel in a town he dont no and had no benefit for 6 weeks wot is it all for the gravey train some one some wear must be geetin money for pain.
Ryan Hi Katherine I regularly review your website and the more I read the more I am absolutely appalled by the inhumane treatment of IPP prisoners of which my friend is also currently imprisoned under its recall. I have done my letter to Liz Truss and to the local MP and I will be following it up with the local MP if I don get a response by visiting the MPs surgery where you can meet face to face. The prison situation as well the indeterminate release of prisoners is diabolical and it is about time the government really took notice. Looking at the Prison Officers Association (POA) website there is unrest amongst them with the prison situation and I think that if we could also get the POA on board the campaign as a united front to support each others causes then maybe the government might finally take notice. Let face it the POA have taken strike action before. I cannot abide the pathetic excuses that are made by the government over IPP and Liz Truss.
Anonymous This should be faster why are they saying by 2017 and 2020 move your fingers and open the doors now...let them out and get it sorted they mess about too much and its already been 4 years since it was abolished...why are they still in stuck in 2016 sorry but it makes me mad that they don't rush them through...let some out now nobody would know....I bet we are still here in 2020 talking about it.
Nick Having read many IPP blogs and accounts, I am appalled that this is considered Justice in the UK. You do the crime, you do the time (preferably with re-education + positive self contemplation).. but trashing young lives indefinitly is torture for them and their families if the sentence has no forseeable end. No wonder prison suicides are on the increase. Put on end to this expensive tragedy NOW!
Jeremy My heart goes out to anyone suffering the injustice of an IPP sentence, the latest post, posted by Katherine Gleeson this morning goes to show how much SUFFERING is being caused. All I can say to that individual is please do not give up home. There are people out here who know your suffering and we are doing everything we can to help you. The longer the government ignore their duty to resolve this injustice, the louder our voices will shout. We will make sure they are held to account. Keep going, stay strong. Your voices are being heard.
Heart My boyfriend, my best friend has now been in 11 1/2 years &; 7 years over tariff. He just sat his parole board and got back his answer, which was a heartbreaking knock back of a further 2 years. And all of this what for because some independent person who worked with him briefly for a period of 7 hours said that he needed to do a further 8 hours of of 1 to 1 sessions. Somebody, tell me where is the justice in that, how can you confined a person for 2 more years in order to do 8 hours... there are 24 hours in a day....who is listening to this inhumane torture and is something going to be done on
Anonymouse On the 29 march 2017 we buried my brother Craig after serving 8 years on a ipp sentence with a 2 year tariff they left him in the ocean with no rubber ring and no sign off the shore RIP brother .
Jez The Prison Reform Trust and The Howard League have time and time again got to the heart of the problems but the government does nothing because it doesn't fit their agenda. We have a sleeping justice secretary who just gives lip service. She hasn't even got a legal qualification. If good change is to happen both the Prison Reform Trust and The Howard League need bigger voices to enable them to get the voice of common sense heard above the dribble of the current governments agenda.
I wanted to share this article. I know Flo she was an exceptional barrister. What she says about IPP is bang on in my opinion. I also share her view on our legal .system.
Flo Krause: Legal aid cuts have forced me out of my career at the bar .A barrister whose work for prisoners is legendary, spells out why she believes justice should be accessible for all, not just the wealthy
During her years at the bar, Flo Krause acquired a reputation for plain speaking and she remained true to form in the valedictory note she posted on her website when she hung up her wig in April.
“I am sick of the legal aid cuts, the lack of access to justice, the systemic delays for my clients, the deprivations of liberty that have become routine where nobody is outraged anymore. I am sick of the paternalistic and moralistic lifer system, the begging for release, the cruel and inhuman treatment of indeterminate sentence prisoners, the middle-class judging of people who end up in the system and the endless punishment of traumatised people. I am going to peddle my wares elsewhere.”
When that was posted, Krause, 55, was widely regarded as one of the leading practitioners of prison law. She has represented prisoners at some 5,000 Parole Board hearings and acted for them at around 1,000 applications seeking judicial review proceedings in her career as a barrister, making her something of a legend in penal circles.
She has acted for high profile prisoners, such as train robber Ronnie Biggs and serial killer Dennis Nilson., The former, to seek compassionate relief when he was very ill and for Nilson, the right to have the manuscript of his autobiography in his possession.
“I did not shy away from any case that made a legitimate point and gave voice to someone who would otherside have beeen voiceless. I didn’t take on any undeserving cases, only unpopular cases,” she says. Krause has scored notable victories at the highest level; in 2011, she persuaded the grand chamber of the European court of human rights to overturn the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting (even though successive governments have failed to act on the ruling). And, in 2009, the same panel ruled that, in some cases, the wives of prisoners had the right to conceive a child by artificial insemination using their partner’s sperm. In 2013, in the appeal court, she successfully argued that a severely disabled prisoner, Daniel Roque Hall,who suffered from a degenerative disease, should be released from prison because he could not receive adequate treatment.
We meet at her home, a converted milking barn, high on a hill overlooking Hebden Bridge, west Yorkshire, which Krause shares with her wife, who she has been with for 11 years (“I have been out since I was very young,” she says), two dogs and three sheep. Though born and brought up in Paris, Krause’s marked northern accent bears no trace of her French mother tongue.
The only child of a single mother, she never knew her father. Her mother, now deceased, was a director of photography, the first woman in France, she says, to hold such a post. A communist, she took the seven-year-old Flo to the protests that swept Paris in 1968.
Krause qualified as a solicitor in England in 1994. Out of the blue, she says, she was asked to represent a prisoner at a parole hearing. The man was a convicted murderer and rapist and she quailed at the thought of meeting him, thinking, “What if he comes for me?”
Her fears were groundless, the client was polite, grateful and felt terrible about what he had done. She won his freedom and, “all of a sudden, I became an expert in prison law,” she recalls.
She enjoyed meeting prisoners. “It was a different world. I have always wanted clients who had been dealt a bad hand in life to be heard, to be their voice, and so many prisoners fitted that criterion. There was also an aspect of ‘there but for the grace…’ When you delve into it, so many awful things have come about due to an accident of birth.”
Krause says that although she enjoyed her work
as a solicitor, the amount of paperwork required to practise increased and she wanted to conduct judicial reviews, so she studied to become a barrister.
Of the thousands of cases she has taken on, Krause says that in all but a handful she has been paid by legal aid. She is not interested in rich clients, who she says can look after themselves. “Given my political views, I couldn’t do anything other than legal aid work. I believe strongly that the law should protect the most vulnerable and without legal aid this is impossible.”
So what led to the message on her website? Krause says she is exhausted. The strain of driving some 30,000 miles a year, visiting prisoners in practically every jail in England has taken its toll. And fighting a losing battle against what she calls a cruel and unjust system has left scars. She talks in particular of indeterminate sentence prisoners, held years over their tariff. “Can you imagine what it’s like to have no release date? You cannot plan, cannot dream. Then, if and when you get a parole hearing date, you find you have no lawyer. It is brutal and disgusting.”
Their plight was highlighted last week by the Prison Reform Trust which reported that the rate of self-harm among these prisoners had risen almost 50% in four years and showed they were in “despair”. Although the sentence was abolished in 2012, there are more than 4,000 prisoners with no release date.
Krause says that at one time legal aid was well paid and enabled lawyers to earn a decent living. She says that some cuts would have been acceptable. “The recent cuts, however, have ensured that young lawyers will never be able to build a legal aid practice.” In the last three years, she says she has done huge amounts of pro bono work, because the money allocated for a case ran out early on, but the case continued.
“My choices were either to drop the client mid-case, which I would never do, or continue to the end of the case for free. That happened in about a third of cases. A lot of cases were so badly paid that it wasn’t unusual for me to end up with £150 to prepare a case, drive to the jail, see the client, do the hearing and drive home. And I was doing that three times a week. I simply could not carry on.”
What will she miss? “The rapport with the clients, most definitely”, she replies. As for her victories, she says the job was so pressurised, she could not enjoy the successes. “When John Hirst won on prisoner voting, it was something to celebrate, but I was already on the next case, and the next case was always the most important one.
” Likewise,Daniel Roque Hall. “He would have died in prison, but I had another job to go to, quickly. No time to celebrate.”
Krause says she won’t miss the judges she came across, especially at high court level. “The majority are so removed from reality, so steeped in preserving the status quo, they cannot begin to see the point you are making to them,” she says.
Krause is deeply pessimistic about the future for those reliant on state-funded legal advice.
“It is important for the law to be accessible to all. At the moment it is only accessible to the wealthy, who need it the least. If the law is there to right wrongs and highlight abuses of power, then it is those who are deprived of it who need it the most.” She adds: “It seems there is nothing anyone can do and nothing anybody cares to do.”
Nigel Newcomen Prisons and Probation Ombudsman .
"Behind the statistics are stories of avoidable tragedy,".