The sinking of the Titans

April 24, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Posted in Prison Reform | 5 Comments

I first wrote about the foolishness of Labour’s ‘Titan Prisons’ policy almost a year ago, and have returned to it on several occasions since. Anyone with a passing interest in the state of the British prison system will recognise that many jails – particularly the larger ones – simply aren’t fit for the purpose of ensuring inmates don’t reoffend, and the idea of warehousing 2,500 convicts in the same place looked certain to ratchet-up a reoffending rate which is already unacceptably high. For many of us, building titans would’ve poured kerosene on a problem which the government was already failing to tackle, and so today’s news that the plans have been shelved feels very much like a dodged bullet.

Considering all the words I’ve typed and all the exasperation spent, you’d think I’d be jubilant that the titans have been sunk; alas, as Eric Allison points out, today’s announcement doesn’t easily lend itself to celebration. For one, nobody who considers themselves well-versed in prison policy believes this is a u-turn of principle; rather a reflection of the fiscal constraints which this government (and those to come) now operates under. If they had the money to build these wreckless warehouses, Labour would most certainly have done it, regardless of the near-unanimity from experts that it was a foolish endeavour.

Secondly, the reported alternative of building five new prisons, each with a capacity of 1,500, shows Labour is still committed to its fetish for incarceration and proves that the government wastes far more of its energy concocting new forms of imprisonment than it does expanding, broadening and deepening our efforts towards ensuring those who leave prison don’t go on to commit crimes. This alternative idea might not be as bad as Titans, but it’s certainly a replication of everything that’s wrong with the current consensus.

Above all, the news demonstrates that Labour’s policy-making might have been altered by the credit crunch, but its policy assumptions most certainly haven’t, and most likely won’t until at least the point when it’s out of power. Talk about wasting a good crisis…

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