UK: we are locked into failure and prisons are not working

Almost every week I get an email from the Howard League, the oldest prison reform charity in the land.

It is responding to the Government’s latest prison inspection and its verdicts are, without fail, brutal.

Nearly every email, like the stories we have featured in this paper, describes terrible conditions – overcrowding, drugs, no rehabilitation, violence and a lack of supervision.

But the one that arrived this week was particularly chilling.

It was a response to an inspection at Feltham, the prison that holds boys aged 18 years or younger. That’s boys. Not men. Not hardened criminals. Boys.

It mentioned a 16-year-old locked up for 23 hours a day. That’s seven hours a week to see other people, to get education, or any chance at rehabilitation.

Lack of staff means there’s no other choice. This is in a jail for children.

The adult ones are no better. Here are a few random verdicts by the league.

Liverpool: “Violence was so rife that men were too afraid to leave their cells. Self-injury was rising.”

Northumberland: “Six men had died by suicide. Violence had more than doubled since the last inspection.”

Wormwood Scrubs: “A ‘dramatic’ increase in violence against staff, with more than 90 assaults in six months.”

Leeds was inspected earlier this year. Inspectors found four men had killed themselves since their last visit. A fifth died when the inspection was going on.

The day after the inspection there was a murder in the jail and, a few days after that, another suicide. Why should law-abiding citizens be concerned? It’s that, as the adage goes:

The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

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