Meet the prisoners

July 12, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Posted in Prison Reform | Leave a comment

Reading the Prison Reform Trust’s latest Factfile (PDF) this afternoon, this table really stuck out:

prisoners social characteristics

There are 83,000 people currently incarcerated in England & Wales. Of that number, I’d wager all the money in my pockets that not one of them grew up wanting to do this. Like us, they will have grown up dreaming impossible things; fantasising about future fame or heroics; quietly relishing the adventures of adulthood. Sure, few of us ever come close to achieving the dreams we had as children, but we can at least modify them: replace ‘Premiership footballer’ with ‘a nice house and a happy family’, or ‘astronaut’ with ‘earning just enough to live in comfort’. But for many of the people represented in this table, those hopes have long since disappeared: crushed by violence, abuse, broken homes, drugs, alcohol, poor education, mental disorders, homelessness. Of course inmates bear the ultimate responsibility for the crimes they commit, but the experiences & attitudes we encounter on our way to becoming adults are inevitably shaped by others. For better or worse, we all make each other what we are.

So the starting point for a belief in the need for prison reform is that whilst there are some irredeemably cruel, cynical, evil people in our jails, they are also in the minority. The rest may have lead tough lives or made bad choices (sometimes both), been controlled by a drug habit or hampered by a failure to read, write or offer qualifications in a crowded jobs market. But they are salvageable, and if we replace the tired old dichotomy of ‘tough’ & ‘soft’ (because true reform would require aspects of both) with something which simply seeks to provide a pathway out of crime, we’d not only have a much healthier society, but a reduced burden on the organs of the state.

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