For young males prisoners, educational achievement and the work effort necessary to provide for oneself and / or the family is totally lacking. Younger prisoners should be segregated from the established career criminals in an attempt to reverse this and bring down the re-offending numbers. Prison Establishments should be re-modelled into places primarily of education and work / skill training.
The author recently worked within the Prison Education Sector, for Manchester College, in a Category B prison in the UK. The opinions are those of the author only and do not reflect the views or opinions of Manchester College or the prison establishment. Evidence gathered from interviews with staff and prisoners.
It has been recently recorded by the Inspectorate of Prisons and The Prison Reform Trust that 46% of adults are re-convicted within one year of release (1), many within a very short period of release, and, more troubling, that over a twenty year period the Prisons population has “more or less doubled”, to some 84,305 (2).
The various Governments directives for in-prison Education and Training (as published statistics demonstrate) have not been the answer to rehabilitation and clearly have failed significantly to amend the attitude of the 46% of adults and the 67% of under 18s who chose to re-offend (1).
This lack of effect on a significant core of malefactors (becoming ever younger), is because they are unable, for various sociological and in some cases, cultural reasons, to accept the standards (the socially accepted morals) of the majority – they are in effect 'feral' and appear (from the significant offences reported) to angrily resent any socio-legal restriction, or of any limitations by the Public Authorities, placed upon their activities.
An extreme and stark example of this acquired feral behaviour was the situation in Sierra Leone in the early 2000's when a gang (the West Side Boys) terrorised large parts of the country using child soldiers, some as young as 8 years of age, who murdered indiscriminately men, women and children, often mutilating them first by cutting off limbs. This terror was finally stopped by the forcible involvement of the British Army, with, subsequently, most of the children rescued.
The majority of the rescued children have subsequently received help and assistance by caring and very individual attention, from charity-run programmes, and they have been successfully re-educated to integrate them back into their society, notwithstanding that many of these children had been captured at an early age. Most, following the murder of their parents had been trained / brought-up (indoctrinated) in the culture of the gang family – they saw no wrong in murder as the means of acquiring what-ever they needed. Additionally extensive enforced drug use – principally cannabis derivatives - may well have attributed to the conditioning (brain-washing) of these young children.
Although this is an extreme example, the recent riots around the U.K. and the back-ground of many of those so far identified (the majority being young, repeat offenders), would also seem to indicate a lack (or loss) of acceptable moral guidance and training in their early upbringing – their important social formative years. The massive increase of recorded drug-use, even amongst juveniles as young as ten, in this group, has had, indisputably, a major impact upon their anti-social behaviour, both from its psychotic effects and the need to obtain funds by any means (invariably illegal) to purchase the drugs.
The long-term residual effects of psychotic behaviour (in some psychopathic) which I have personally and markedly observed within the Prison (and from my very personal contact with individuals, whilst working in Education), is often evidenced by the extremely rapid rise of an uncontrollable temper, and a resort to violence by young ethnic minority males, particularly those of North African, Asian-Pakistani (less so Bangladeshi) and West Indian descent. Even simply queuing for meals or toiletries is the cause of anger for some; that they should have to follow simple rules of courtesy to others, is a cause for resentment.
Although generally, those of West Indian and Pakistani descent, often second and third generations, British born, have been wholly brought up and educated in the U.K., whereas most North Africans (Somalis predominantly) are either of recent refugee status, immigrants or first generation, also with usually disrupted, or little consistent Schooling.
These new immigrants or first generation, often confusingly it appears, combine the indigenous values of their culture with the unacceptable or worst aspects of current western cultures; e.g. the gangster rap of America and further glamourised in Black music videos; drug and excessive alcohol use; and the carrying of weapons (guns being a status symbol) eulogised in the exploitative, violent content of many video games and current popular action films. Domination of, and violence against women, displayed as trophies and for sexual gratification, is also considered a social norm within this culture.
With the majority being of the Muslim faith, its precepts should though prohibit this criminally attractive culture following, and the apparent, almost slavish need and acquisition of its fashion trends and associated objet dart, especially with regard to Islams prohibition of intoxicants.
Concern is raised at the observed, extreme volatility and violent attitudes of the apparent significant majority of these indigenous, young male, observers of the Muslim faith, more particularly the converts (some being of ethnic, white, English origin) but the majority, it seems, of a West Indian ethnicity.
The rise in extremist propaganda by prominent Muslim celebrities, some claiming authority as scholars and promoting allegations of a deliberate policy (conspiracy) by Western Christian crusader Governments to attack and destroy, or enslave, all Muslims and their religion, are statements claimed as the truth, which I have often heard repeated by inmates, and causes grave concern. These extreme views are even aired by Muslim prisoners in letters to the in-prison circulated, newspapers and which encroach into the illegal realm of sectarian extreme prejudice and of course, inciting equally prejudicial responses from non-Muslims. Islam regrettably, has a substantial recorded history, and even takes pride, in its legacy of violence against non-believers, and including its equally aggravating, long established violent schism, (as of course have the other principal world religions) which appears to at-tract young, ethnic minority males and some white youth (converts) to its well publicised violent acts, often in the extreme.
Islam is an all-encompassing religious cult which used its beliefs both politically and legally, to create (and is) The all encompassing State. It prescribed rules as Laws (principally based upon the observance of the 116 chapters - The Surrahs - of the Holy Koran) for the individuals every need and guidance, the breaching of which results in severe penalties, many resulting in a death sentence. The ultimate and worst breach of observance is rejecting the religion by a Muslim, or the conversion to an alternative. This being perceived effectively as sedition or treason as used in secular states; it carries the death penalty and it is incumbent upon any Muslim to carry out this prescribed punishment, against a transgressor or converter, without fear of penalty.
The religions indisputable and admitted modus operandi (as with most religions) is to indoctrinate from the earliest age and Islam fundamentally looks back to its golden age long past. Likewise, it is a crusading / converting cult, which its Prophet stipulated that his Companions and followers should undertake, as a direct instruction from God; this revelation and others being the declared ultimate belief. As practised, it is unfortunately extremely intolerant, especially currently, and it follows punishment practises from a barbaric period of history which other religions, with equally murderous records, have purposely turned away from over the past 200 or so years with some recent exceptions though, i.e. indisputably sectarian conflicts in Northern Ireland and Serbia / Bosnia (the break-up of Yugoslavia) in the 20th Century.
The major deaths (often atrocities) of Muslims in the past few decades have been at the hands of their co-religionists (in some instances by the fundamental and violent Schism between the two sects - Sunni and Shia), notably the war (the first Persian Gulf War) in the 1980's between Iraq and Iran – causing some 500,000 deaths with 1-2 million casualties; and the war between West and East Pakistan, in 1971, between peoples of the same Sect (Sunni). The Army of West Pakistan, caused between 2-3 million deaths in East Pakistan, which subsequently became the independent Republic of Bangladesh, and has been repeatedly claimed within the United Nations as genocide. These facts are deliberately ignored, even refuted by Muslims, who concentrate solely on propagating the Islamist blatant propaganda, focused exclusively on actions / attacks upon Muslims and Islam by non-believers.
The Western attacks upon Islam propaganda has been very successful and clearly leads to a conditioning, even a paranoia, within the Prison environment, leading, it appears, of rejection by the individual of their Offence or even offending; indeed, that their imprisonment is a deliberate conspiracy / plot by the Authorities to lock-up Muslims. Therefore, this often repeated indoctrination that authority in any non Muslim form requires challenging, often leads to violent confrontation. The Police, the Courts and the Prison system are equally seen as part of this alleged conspiracy.
The Prison operational system that I have so far experienced, does not help to dispel this view by its almost arbitrary application of (but failing, blatantly, to abide by) the lawful and legally enforceable (emanating from the Prison Act ) Rules, P.S.O. s and P.S.I. s; although this failure to comply with its own rules, and the administrative abuses encountered by Inmates, seems though to be applied universally and indiscriminately, without noticeable racial prejudice, at least from my own observations, although this is alleged by ethnic minorities.
From very careful and discrete discussions and enquiries I have made, it appears that the Muslim religious services held in the Prisons have on occasions included examples of negative and anti-Islamic material, adding fuel to this significant and increasing sectarian problem in the U.K. (and Europe), and which is subsequently taken out of the prison and into the wider society.
The recorded low level of literacy amongst the Muslim (and converts) in-mates, who, as a distinct group and believe that they are unfairly oppressed, seems to make them eminently suitable, pliable and receptive for accepting the often clearly false (unsubstantiated) allegations and prejudices (particularly and virulently anti-Semitic and anti -Western) contained in the allegedly oppressed Muslim propaganda.
To be fair, and in comparison, young, white ethnic English inmates also appear typically to have a similar perception that they are also unfairly treated by a society which views them by their demeanor and dress (hoodies). They do not accept that their lack of literacy and numeracy skills (mainly due to disrupted schooling often caused by exclusion ), attitude and belligerent attitude and appearance makes them almost unemployable; a situation also afflicting many of the Muslim group. (3)
From my own observations and individual contact, whilst working in the Education Dept., it appears that a significant number of the younger in-mates suffer from Attention Deficit / Hyper-activity Disorder (A.D.H.D.) or basic Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) and some with Dyslexia, resulting in their frequent disruption / lack of concentration within a group lesson, unless receiving almost constant personal and individual atten-tion. This condition has clearly impacted severely upon their early years and has invariably disrupted their schooling and even the cohesion of their fragile family unit.
The obvious traits of this psychological / medical / physical disorder appear very much reduced in the older in-mates although there is often a concealed, violent, temper which can be triggered rapidly / instantly by a particular stress occurrence, but can subside rapidly also.
It is also apparent there is a profound lack of an acceptance that there is a moral or civil responsibility that to exist in society requires effort by the individual, and that this effort invariably means being employed, working to obtain earnings to support oneself (and dependants). To be employable means acquiring a minimum level of education but which is considered, it appears by many, to be too much of an effort.
The opportunity in prison to acquire necessary educational improvement is regarded as un-cool by many younger individuals (and embarrassing in a mixed group by older prisoners) who would prefer to spend their time in the Gym or undertaking menial (but paid for) work, as an example, packing balloons in plastic bags or shredding rags.
A situation of significant concern is the availability of unsuitable video games (X-Box etc.) to inmates especially the younger ethnic minorities. The popular titles include extreme violence and are allowed to be posted in, they are also available for loan from the Prison Library, but only contain a certificate of 15 and below.
Although these titles are available externally (and there is pressure from concerned parties that they should be licence rated, similar to public cinema films, and banned as appropriate) this proliferation of violence is detrimental to the moral re-education and orientation of those offenders of a low intellect, and with a proclivity to violence.
It is also apparent that there is a cultural need, promoted by their peers to have and display expensive possessions (cars, mobile phones etc.) which their cultural icons advertise, and even if they could find employment, their likely earnings would be insufficient to fund. These items are also allegedly needed to attract women, but once a girl is acquired many are often treated with little respect (as a conquest), treated to violence and rapidly discarded.
In the West Indian community this appears to be a cultural and inherited, common trait, with most offenders having absentee fathers and being brought-up in a mother only family, and regrettably, often due to financial pressures many children end up in Local Authority care. The break-up of the family group and a lack of a responsible and guiding father figure adds to the disturbance of the young child’s formative years.
As the figures confirm, many of these abandoned children remain in Local Authority care for most of their formative years, with substantial numbers becoming impossible to foster or adopt, due to their behaviour, and end up in the Prison System, which has woefully inadequate facilities with which to attempt to provide the support and treatments necessary to overcome and remedy the ingrained psychological damage.
Again, this situation is not exclusive to this particular ethnic group with similar traits displayed by certain groups of white, ethnic English youths in the Prison population, and increasing due to cultural immersion by disruptive individuals who view and find the gangsterism, as expounded by the violent, pseudo American / West Indian (illegal) drug based culture, attractive.
The recently published statistics (5) of the educational and social background of the Prison population indicate appallingly low standards compared to the population norms; an example:
Approximately 1 in 3 have been in-care as a child (a very destabilising family relationship). Fewer than 1% of all children in England are in care, but looked
after children make up 33% of boys and 61% of girls in custody.
25% of children in the youth justice system have identified special educational needs,
46% are rated as underachieving at school and 29% have difficulties with literacy and numeracy.
Most have reading and numeracy levels below that for an 11 year old, and most are likely to have been excluded from school for long periods. (6)
Three quarters suffer from varying mental disorders.
Most are abusers of alcohol and/or drugs. In 47% of violent crimes the victim believed the offender(s) to be under the influence of alcohol. (7)
Over half of prisoners (55%) report committing offences connected to their drug taking, with the need for money to buy drugs most commonly cited.
48% of women prisoners said they committed their offence to support the drug use of someone else, compared to 22% of men in prison. (9)
46% of female prisoners surveyed compared to 37% of men stated that they perceived their drinking to be a big problem. 58% of women (compared to 72% of men) saying that drinking contributed to their offending behaviour. (10)
Men and women prisoners who reported drinking daily drank an average of 20 units per day. This was equivalent to drinking four bottles of wine or ten pints of beer in a single day. (11)
Levels of drug use are high among offenders, with highest levels of use found among most prolific offenders. 64% of prisoners reported having used drugs in the four weeks before custody.
This apparent breakdown and lack of caring and moral parental authority, by setting a positive example for many/most of the current prison population in their most formative years requires the imposition (which is of course, politically subjective.) of mandatory education, and social re-training, undertaken by positive role model(s) in very small groups, and in some instances, initially, on a one-to-one basis. This of course requires very skilled mentors and trainers as role models and will attract considerable expense but I am of the opinion that current prison philosophy and practise is the equivalent of a failed prevention and that an alternative, a cure, should now be sought.
As the statistics demonstrate, incarceration incorporating the limited current education / training efforts, although protecting the public and society from the criminals activities for a period of time, thereby reducing crime during that period, it is clearly not the answer to rehabilitation nor for the prevention and /or significant reduction in re-offending.
[ As an aside; Imprisonment, it had been noted and remarked upon in studies by military psychologists, following the three major wars over the past century (most specifically following the 2nd. World War with the developments in psychiatry ) , of the effects on most prisoners-of-war, held for long periods in concentration camps. Those who exhibited behaviour tending towards the juvenile it was opinioned, was because they had been unwillingly placed in the position of captive children and their socio/psychological reaction was resentment, due to being unable to make their own decision.
Although some of this behaviour led to attempts to escape (an indoctrinated noble and patriotic aspiration, especially expected of the officer class) much, especially amongst the lower ranks, was determined to simply originate from the resentment to the controlling authority and the basic challenge to break the rules. Punishments used by the incarcerating authority also impacted considerably on the level of disobedience. There were more attempts at disruption and escapes from German camps than Japanese, although there were some limited instances of harsh treatments by the Gestapo (on Hitler’s instructions ). It was generally accepted by the civilised majority of the Ger-man Army, Navy and Air Force that a recognised military code existed, requiring prisoners to attempt escape.
The Japanese camps in contrast had negligible escapees and little disobedience, as punishments were extremely barbaric and invariably resulted in death. The Japanese aristocracies (being military elites) code of Bashido, a moral view of utter contempt for prisoners, was upheld universally by the Japanese people, which dictated the treatment handed out to all prisoners-of-war. A very similar situation occurred during the Korean War, of the treatment of United Nations troops held in North Korean or Chinese camps, with their utter contempt for prisoners, which was also probably due to an in-grained cultural legacy of the horrific punishments handed down for even minor criminal offences in the countries of China and S.E. Asia, especially during the various Chinese Empires, and even into the early 1900's, including be-heading.
Considering the wide range of social classes and intelligence levels within a conscripted army (British and Commonwealth) it is an amazing fact that education and educational improvement was undertaken massively within the Prisoner-of-War camps located in Germany, aided principally by the International Red Cross.
Some 120 British based educational bodies held examinations in the Camps, covering a vast array of subjects from trade skills to the professions, with a success rate of approximately 80%. It is clear that the pre-war generations had a very high regard for self improvement through education, which no longer exists. – why ? ]
Although the circumstances of a prisoner-of-war is extreme and not comparable to incarceration in a U.K. prison for a criminal activity, the removal of accepted freedoms and the compliance with strict rules imposed by an authoritarian regime is not so dissimilar. The inclination to rebel, especially when there is a group in similar circumstances, and by the creation of peer pressure, is intoxicating to many, regard-less of the outcome and the inevitable modest punishment handed out within the prison system which effects little deterrent.
The harshness of imprisonment demonstrably acts as a means of controlling the interned but in a system of democratic, lawfully prescribed, criminal punishment, the level of harshness used within a prison is strictly controlled and monitored – there are rules for both the managing (although significant breaches are recorded resulting ironically, in imprisonment for the custodians) and the managed. The use and lengths of imprisonment, set by a reasonably democratic, parliamentary authority, invariably errs in its use in a civilised society, principally as an assessed just punishment, as opposed to a harsh deterrent and thereby creating its weakness - it is not reducing crime. In reality, how can a punishment be quantified / measured in comparison to the stress (or worse) inflicted upon the victim(s) ; the most obvious is to lay down ferocious deterrents, as past practice, but unlikely to be acceptable in liberal democracies ?
There is an additional significant problem of disillusion and enmity by virtually all inmates, caused due to their lack of trust in being treated fairly and consistently by the Prisons Management. This contributes significantly to re offending and a lack of faith in the fairness of the system, extending to, of course, the Police and the Courts; even I have heard, to the legal professionals, i.e. Solicitors and Barristers. This all creates the illusion that the System is against them personally and therefore they have a need to get their own back, by abusing the system of Law Enforcement.
Regardless, most do have surprisingly a moral compass but it is limited to certain aspects of crime and injustice. The majority, it appears, do have a pronounced revulsion of rape and paedophilia and will take aggressive action against a prisoner who is identified with involvement in either of these types of crime, unless he is segregated. Homosexuality is also generally viewed with distaste, especially by ethnic minorities and traditional / fundamental religionists.
From the impact of the Prison Management regime (the Authority) upon the attitude of the inmate during incarceration, and retained upon release, it is readily apparent that the Management and their Staff are viewed, almost universally, by the prison population as the enemy, and despite the obvious resentment of being locked-up, the Managements, from my own limited experience (three different establishments) , significantly add to the problem by a demonstrated, blatant disregard and disdain for Prisoners Rights and in some well recorded and not infrequent instances, lives.
The statutory and legally enforceable Rules governing the management and running of a Prison Establishment appear, from my own experience, of much observation, and from third hand sources, are treated routinely as inconsequential by the senior management and appear to operate on the basis that the rules apply only to prisoners.
The most basic and reasonable requests through the General Application system are often ignored, lost or produce responses that do not answer the request or query, or are nonsensical. These responses answered by senior wing staff or middle management and often unanswered, are also often unreasonably delayed and seem almost deliberately to create frustration and anger by inmates many of whom are easily aroused due to their stressed psychological state.
Supervising Prison Staff at lower levels i.e. Wing Staff, are a very mixed collection, with some (a sizable minority in my experience so far) demonstrating little more interest in their charges than that of a gate keeper attempting to keep things as quiet as possible and very occasionally individual officers, who will go out of their way to be as obstructive as possible and to bully prisoners. There are also a proportion (my experience of younger, well educated staff) who appear to take an interest in the well-being of an individual and possibly view their own employment more as a profession rather than simply a job and consider that imprisonment is to be used to attempt to improve and rehabilitate inmates.
Invariably, legal challenges taken to the Courts due to breaches of the Prison Rules by the Prison Service result in findings for the Complainant, although for most Prisoners, access to the Courts and legal advice is extremely difficult, if not impossible (grossly so for those with literacy impediments) and a very slow process, and almost impossible, if lacking funds to pay legal expenses. The alternative acquisition of support from the Prison Ombudsman is again extremely difficult, more so for those with literacy limitations, and also in obtaining support from the Independent Monitoring Board; from my own experience.
That the Prison Service and its Senior Management are not-fit to manage a program-me of rehabilitation is amply demonstrated by the facilities and encouragement it provides for Gym training – note: training not just simple exercise. The apparent ignorance or their perceived view of providing recreation to pacify particularly awkward and disruptive individuals, in fact adds, it can be demonstrated, to the problem of failed rehabilitation and ever-increasing violent crime. Gym Training includes specifically, weight lifting and muscle / body strength enhancement, including the use of protein supplements to enhance body mass. There are substantial numbers of the younger, volatile prisoners who spend excessive amounts of time building up body mass and muscle strength, not with regard to simple fitness but it appears (from overheard conversations) to enable them to use their improved strength to bully and attack future victims, often within the prison system. This also includes staff who have to restrain them and now require extensive protective body protection.
The limitations of available Legal Aid and the recent Government cuts and restrictions has resulted in a substantial retraction of financially aided legal services to the detriment of upholding justice.
A final consideration of the effects of imprisonment on the ability to reform habitual of-fenders and reduce the prison population should also take into account the significant minority of ex. Services personnel within the system; currently approx. 12,000, equivalent to 15% of the whole. The majority being ex Army and most having originally entered the Service in their mid teens.
Many, as has been reported, are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and additionally, often other psychiatric disorders. It is a disgrace, morally repugnant and probably unlawful that ex. Servicemen clearly suffering a condition that requires professional medical care assistance have been discharged into the civilian environment where they are unable to cope. This inability can also be the results of institutionalisation due to early age entry and lengthy service within a strictly regulated organisation where the individual is trained, essentially, to respond to instructions given by superiors, where the refusal of which would result in authorised punishment. Servicemen clearly require to be de-trained / converted to a civilian environment by a sympathetic social and possibly psychiatrically monitored process.
The woefully small numbers of the Prisons population receiving expansive education, and further constrained by the limited facilities available, despite a well publicised record of significant low levels of literacy and numeracy among prisoners, must be the most logical and primary factor in the prevalence of re-offending and its continuing rise. This is abetted by the disproportionate number of ethnic minorities, many illegal immigrants, now jailed, lacking, for many, any previous education in their countries of origin.
With a substantial majority of inmates requiring basic literacy and numeracy to enable them to function in the outside world of work, this inability to release prisoners back into society able to undertake the most basic employment (invariably involving manual labour) , but which still requires in the current / modern environment, a minimum Skill Level 2 Literacy to function independently, must contribute massively to their inevitable return to crime.
The apparent lack of recognition by the Prison Authorities of socially disruptive psycho-logical traits which appear to affect a large proportion of the prison population such as A.D.H.D. / A.D.D. / Dyslexia (which is recognised within the State Education System, with children so affected being formally identified and usually receiving specialist in-school mentoring, with pro-active family involvement). There has also been much research into particular dietary substances being a significant cause of heightening the physical aspects of these disorders, and the adverse effects of which can be subdued and in some cases drastically reduced by a changed and strictly controlled diet, especially increasing substantially the consumption of Omega 3 oils and a significant reduction in fats and sugars.
Children suffering this condition, can easily, if not diagnosed and treated accordingly, and responsibly monitored, drop out of education in their early years, being labelled problematic and thereby failing to acquire social and employable skills. This lack invariably leads to becoming involved in petty crime, leading to a progressive seriousness of offences and ultimately imprisonment.
An equally serious concern within the prison population is the Islamic, extremist intolerance to non-Muslims (invariably leading to civil disturbances and other crime related offences of sectarian hatred including invariably the reaction by provoked opposition) which has / is becoming a significant problem, and appears to have matured within the Prison system, without suppression by the Authorities. This it appears, may be due to the apparent fear of being accused of religious prejudice (and the inevitable legal / compensatory challenge) and allows the distribution of flagrantly sectarian, racist and deliberately inflammatory propaganda, even expressed amazingly, in published Prisoner letters to the two circulated Prison Newspapers.
There is, it appears, even a view by some in this group that they are prisoners of war – a religious war against western democracy. There is, I have found, a hypocrisy and blinkered view (and denial) of the mass killings society (which are still crimes within a Muslim society) are therefore rejected as of no significance and in some instances see crime as a legitimate act of war (Jihad) and virtual genocide happening in many predominantly Muslim / Islamic / Arab states, both against non-Muslim minorities and minority Islamic sects (and even majorities , i.e. Syria currently and previously Iraq ).
It is clear that the Prison Policy is creating a potential (possibly actual) fifth column, which, upon release these disaffected Muslims disseminate and propagate anti-western, anti-democratic propaganda within the Muslim society (as claimed justification for their offending) but designed to inflame and cause civil agitation and disturbance.
The Asian ethnic group, principally Pakistani or Bangladeshi (being Muslim) in the majority, with a minority of Indian (Hindu) , seem less interested in overt violence.
For the ethnic West Indies group the Prison regime has also become in essence, a factory, producing the human equivalent of pit-bull dogs (an animal also chosen by many career criminals, not as a pet but a weapon) creating fear amongst many Prison Wing Staff who have to deal with any violent incidents but also outside for the Police, who have to deal repeatedly with these invariably career offenders. Injuries to Police are increasing when having to subsequently apprehend these individuals, especially if they are intoxicated with alcohol or more often drugs. Violence rather than subtlety appears to be the common feature of this group.
The disruption to and / or lack of schooling in their early teens, therefore an inadequate education and an acquired (cultural) disdain for education is probably the most important and common factor affecting the younger Inmates of all ethnicities and leads directly to re-offending upon release, due to their inability to find employment due to their unfitness.
Although I have so far concentrated my observations, remarks and thoughts upon the younger (up to late 20s age group) prisoners who I believe are more malleable to change but also due to their apparent need for violence (as the statistics indicate) induced by a targeted media culture of the dismissal of social responsibility, and aspirations of easy un-skilled celebrity status, bringing financial rewards.
By contrast, and I admit a generalism, the older (say 40 + years ), career and repeat offenders seem, by observation (and my personal contact), much less influenced by the media culture, which afflicts many of the younger group, and therefore their education and training requires a different approach. A substantial number of this group also have similar and significant very low literacy and numeracy skills (4) due to, usually, school exclusions (5), with little oversight or interest it appears by their Local Authority Education / Truancy Services; and this older group appear more amenable and interested in improving their education, especially those with families, but having poor literacy ability want / need to be able to correspond with their children – a significant motivation.
Surprisingly many, if not most, of these older prisoners seem also to have a definite understanding of right and wrong and a definite awareness of moral responsibility, even though the majority have low literacy and numeracy levels, on a par with the younger group but with exception, but do not seem to need to create an artificial image to promote themselves as gangsters, rebels etc and appear, in general, to be less susceptible to instant volatility – at least those of Cat. B or less.
Whether this less disruptive attitude of the older group (with exceptions) is due simply to age maturity and a lengthy subliminal exposure to societies inherent moral values or to a significant generational cultural difference requires lengthy further in-depth research.
My own observations and informal, casual conversations with numbers of inmates (principally the younger group) reinforces the published and media claims that, for a significant number of young males, educational achievement and the work effort necessary to provide for oneself and / or the family is totally lacking.
In addition to the lack of sufficient education places, the facilities I have encountered for the training of basic trade skills that are needed to fill vacancies that would be available in the outside workplace (upon release), are woefully inadequate or totally lacking. Prisoners of all ages often have had no work training or skills, but, even with limited literacy or numeracy, could be trained in core building trade competence e.g. brick-laying, carpentry, drain laying, roofing etc.; the motor trade e.g. tyre, brake shoes and exhaust fitting (possibly M.O.T. mechanical testing). It may also be possible to reach a higher skill level with technical engineering training, such as domestic electrics, heating and plumbing courses.
The Prison Service Management and the National Offender Management Service appear to have insufficient competency / skill to understand what is happening locally within jails. As the in-prison media regularly report, poor quality local prison staff not infrequently end up as inmates due to the temptations (monetary) of conniving with their charges by actions which breach the Prison Rules and the Law. Prison staffing levels have been cut by up to 30% and the recruiting of lower paid and inexperienced staff adds to the general air of discontent.
There is also a common action and attributable condemning attitude amongst senior management, to extend the prescribed offence punishment of imprisonment by causing additional unlawful and illegal restrictions and plainly punitive action upon the in-mates, wholly or individually. This can take many forms from the simple expedient of unreasonably delaying individual prisoner requests, loss of mail, to changes of prison activities affecting the whole i.e. early lock-ups due to staff shortages, unreasonable reductions in daily attendance allowance for education / employment.
Prisoner challenges to clear breaches of Prison Law and Regulations by the Authorities are dealt with initially, dismissively and when persisted with, even with the often reluctant involvement of the I.M.B., the inmate will be invariably viewed as a troublemaker and could / may suffer subsequent persecution in trivial ways within the daily regime.
Prison, its use as a punishment, and the inadequate and limited attempts at rehabilitation, are demonstrably failing for a majority in a rising prison population, and which therefore should indicate very clearly to the Government / Justice Ministry, that it requires totally new and radical approaches to the incarceration of offenders.
These alternatives should be based upon a very detailed and wide ranging non-political and fully independent investigation and inclusive review of why there is such a massive failure of current methods; and possibly, controversially, to include Public input of the remedy and approval, as the prime funders (and victims through failure) of the Justice system.
The Prison System should be re-titled and re-constituted as a reforming establishment dedicated to instilling self-improvement as the goal of all prisoners. Clearly there will be a minority (including Cat. A offenders) who for various reasons will never achieve even the minimum results and for whom incarceration will remain the ongoing necessity, but for a significant majority, the ability to enter the outside society and the world of work, with improved educational and intellectual levels, a useful skill / trade and with a moral motivation to maintain themselves and their dependants, would be a major improvement over the current and it appears ongoing and unacceptably failing status quo.
To support such a programme of improvement the quality of H.M.P.S. personnel from lowest to highest rankings requires a major upgrading of the abilities, attitudes and motivation of the individual – they are not merely gate-keepers (the Victorian term lock-key is still applicable to many) but mentors, tutors and trainers, role models and possibly confidants, requiring a far greater skill level than the current incumbents.
Clearly education and trade training staff would require to be massively increased, as well as the facilities of every prison – to be re-named as Reformatorys.
From my own very brief experience so far of the prison population (and my involvement of in-prison education), that the vast majority of Prison Establishments should be drastically re-modeled into places primarily of education and work / skill training. That sentencing for those prisoners with a demonstrably inadequate literary and numeracy competency (say, less than the intellectual level of an average 15 / 16 year old) insufficient to be able to exist / live in normal society and unable to undertake even low skill employment, should be linked to the successful improvement of their abilities before release. For those with medical and psychological disabilities, they should be transferred to specialist facilities designed to cope with needs and very specialist assessment and training as appropriate before release. This is undoubtedly a controversial and expensive approach but the problem is increasing and the current processes are demonstrably inadequate.
Younger prisoners should be targeted in a pro-active attempt to reverse and to bring down the re-offending numbers by cutting out the susceptible root. The younger prisoners should be segregated from the established career criminals (the old hands) and that a trained mentor, working on a one-to- one basis, should be appointed to investigate and to identify the social and educational needs of the individual; and further, to evaluate a bespoke re-education / training programme to be mandatorily undertaken. The moral principles of responsibility, fairness and equality and supporting your dependents and your immediate society should / must be inculcated into this younger generation.
These young prisoners require immediate identification / categorisation and put into a controlled and monitored programme of education upon the first entry into the Prison Establishment. This may appear onerous with regard to the current liberal views of state enforcement and the individuals claimed civil rights but this approach having failed ignominiously, more drastic (and perhaps controversial) approaches are needed to deal with current trends. This programme must be rigorously adhered to, to effect and enforce moral principles ultimately leading to rehabilitation within society.
Also from the apparent rising problem of Muslim sectarianism within prisons, it is clear that an approved and factual programme is required to counter this volume of, for the most part, gross and unsubstantiated sectarian fabrications and propaganda, deliberately designed to inflame. A concerted programme for the rejection of these oft repeated and further exaggerated lies needs to be introduced and delivered by responsible and respected Muslim, English born and educated clerics and the surreptitious introduction of sectarian extremist propaganda from all sects and sources must be closely monitored and blocked.
A positive approach of multi-culturalism should also be employed by positive desegregation of the nationalities as far as possible, both on the accommodation wings and within education and employment. Positive discrimination programmes should also be used to inform and integrate the wide diversity of races and to expose them to life in a European democracy and society upon their release, or to be useful to their countries of origin and their families if they are returned.
Government assessment is that the current cost of maintaining a prisoner is in the region of £37k per annum (11), and my proposal would require additional skilled educational staff, initially raising the cost per individual but a reduction in re-offender numbers may well balance the cost, or in due course could /should reduce, prison expenditure on the public purse.
To this alternative programme we should also include selected mandatory overseas service – again contentious, but could be beneficial (possibly even shock treatment) to demonstrate to our relatively well-off population that there are many millions of people who exist on a day-to-day basis, virtually on the brink of starvation, with a short life expectancy and having very few personal possessions, usually of negligible value.
This service would be co-ordinated with the Governments Overseas Development Agency and those chosen as suitable (mainly young, first time offenders) would undertake supervised improvement work on remote locations, living and sharing the indigenous peoples conditions. Being totally exposed and immersed in the harsh daily conditions existing in most Third World countries, it would provide I believe, a worthwhile and beneficial expansion of the, in many cases, very limited social exposure and the inadequate moral education of young offenders.
This practical and positive usage of prisoners could also benefit, more advantageously, the use of Overseas Aid by ensuring it is directed to specific Aid Projects, and in part subsidising and reducing the costs of the Prison System.
Further positive results from this programme could be that some offenders, indicating re-formed and re-habilitated behaviour by the lessons learned from their overseas service, could be groomed as continuing mentors / trainers, with a subsequent reduction in their sentence as a reward for their efforts.
The resultant objective of reduced re-offending, and of rehabilitation within society is assisted by the individuals induced motivation to help others much worse off than themselves;
· by gaining a wider social understanding of others needs;
· by accepting a responsibility;
· by aiding/assisting others by example and persuasion;
· by rejecting violence and cultivating a can do out-look to stabilise and improve their own lives in the long term;
· to receive and absorb an education and skills sufficient to set them on a path to sustainable effort of morally accepted and correct behaviour within society;
· to use every effort to undertake legal employment upon release.
The author recently worked in the Prison Education sector, for Manchester College, in a category B prison in the UK. The opinions are those of the author only and do not reflect the views or opinions of the college or prison establishment. Republished from 2014.
(1) Prison has a poor record for reducing reoffending – 46% of adults are reconvicted within one year of release. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 58% - 3.5% higher than in 2000. - Tables 18a and 19a, Ministry of Justice (2014) Proven re-offending statistics quarterly July 2011 to June 2012, London: Ministry of Justice. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 58%. Over two-thirds (67%) of under 18 year olds are reconvicted within a year of release. Tables 18a, 18b, 19a, Ministry of Justice (2014) Proven re-offending statistics quarterly July 2011 to June 2012, London: Ministry of Justice
(2) On 23 May 2014, the prison population in England and Wales was 84,305.1 Between June 1993 and June 2012 the prison population in England and Wales increased by 41,800 prisoners to over 86,000. Ministry of Justice (2013) Story of the prison population: 1993 – 2012 England and Wales, London: Ministry of Justice.
(3) 25% of children in the youth justice system have identified special educational needs, 46% are rated as underachieving at school and 29% have difficulties with literacy and numeracy. Youth Justice Board (2006) Barriers to engaging in education, training and employment, London: Youth Justice Board.
(4) 23% of young offenders have learning difficulties (IQs of below 70) and a further 36% have borderline learning difficulties (IQ 70-80).Harrington, R., and Bailey, S. (2005) Mental health needs and effectiveness of provision for young offenders in custody and in the community. London: Youth Justice Board. In 2012 47% of prisoners said that they had no qualifications. This compares to 15% of the working age general population in the UK.124 Ministry of Justice (2012) The pre-custody employment, training and education status of newly sentenced prisoners, London: Ministry of Justice.
(6) 41% of men, 30% of women and 52% of young offenders were permanently excluded from school. Stewart, D. (2008) The problems and needs of newly sentenced prisoners: results from a national survey, London: Ministry of Justice
In 2012 47% of prisoners said that they had no qualifications. This compares to 15% of the working age general population in the UK.
21% of prisoners reported needing help with reading and writing or ability with numbers, 41% with education, and 40% to improve work related skills. Ministry of Justice (2012) The pre-custody employment, training and education status of newly sentenced prisoners, London: Ministry of Justice
In 2012 47% of prisoners said that they had no qualifications. This compares to 15% of the working age general population in the UK.
21% of prisoners reported needing help with reading and writing or ability with numbers, 41% with education, and 40% to improve work related skills. Ministry of Justice (2012) The pre-custody employment, training and education status of newly sentenced prisoners, London: Ministry of Justice
(7) Kennedy, E. (2013) Children and Young People in Custody 2012–13, London: HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Youth Justice Board
(8) Youth Justice Board (2006) Barriers to engaging in education, training and employment, London: Youth Justice Board
(9) Ministry of Justice (2013) Gender differences in substance misuse and mental health amongst prisoners, Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) longitudinal cohort study of prisoners, London: Ministry of Justice 117 Ministry of Justice (2013) Gender differences in substance misuse and mental health amongst prisoners, London: Ministry of Justice.
(10) Table 7.10, Office for National Statistics (2012) Crime Statistics, Period Ending March 2012, London: ONS 122 Alcohol and Crime Commission (2014) The Alcohol and Crime Commission Report, London: Addaction.
(11) Ministry of Justice (2013) Gender differences in substance misuse and mental health amongst prisoners, London: Ministry of Justice.