Sir, Richard Ford drew attention to what is happening in prisons across England and Wales (Crisis in Britain’s Jails 14th June). It is all too easy to be unaware of problems in this least visible, and most neglected, of our public services. As H M Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned, the prison service is currently facing serious challenges: rapidly rising numbers, massive budget cuts, significantly reduced staffing levels, major difficulties with recruitment and staff sickness and a disturbing increase both in serious assaults and deaths by suicide in custody.
Justice Ministers are reliant, it seems, on a few exceptional operational managers to make use of every inch of space and pull together a group of former prison staff ‘reservists’. To avert a crisis, the Justice Secretary must steady the unmanageable pace and scale of change he is driving in the penal system, eschew tough, punitive rhetoric and rein back inflation in sentencing. Ministers should avoid introducing any more vexatious measures in our prisons that inflame tensions such as the ban on parcels and books, more time in cell and reduced family visits. Instead they should determine to promote effective community solutions to crime where offenders must make amends to victims, expedite liaison and diversion services for people with mental health needs, learning disabilities or addictions and put prison back where it belongs as a constructive place of last resort in a balanced justice system.
Over-use of imprisonment while slashing prison budgets, introducing harsher regimes and warehousing ever greater numbers overseen by fewer staff is no way to transform rehabilitation, reduce reoffending or indeed to value a decent, civilised prison service.
Prison Reform Trust