British prisons are in urgent need of reform

26 Jan 2018


Britain is known as the 'crime-ridden country', and this is because the number of people who continue to re-offend is on a rise. This is not hyperbole; this is fact. In 2016, David Cameron stated that '46% of all prisoners will re-offend within a year of release. 60% of short-sentenced prisoners will re-offend within the same period.' 


We live in a vindictive society that aims to punish those who do wrong but the question that remains is: what can we do as a society to remove the title that Britain currently holds? 


In my opinion, the main reasons for re-offending are due to the lack of rehabilitation that is available in the UK, the minimal support that is given to offenders once they leave prison, and the way in which the prisons are designed. Of course, re-offending doesn’t solely occur within the United Kingdom but this is my main focus.


Psychologists have created theories that prove offending behavior can be learnt the same way as any other behavior, and that is through association. The 'college of crime' (prison) allows offenders of petty crime such as stealing to associate themselves with people on their 5th or 6th murder.  When a person socializes into a group, they will not only be exposed to the group's values and attitudes but they can also learn from them.


Many may disagree with this point but, if we assess the majority of society and the levels of conformity especially within the younger generations, it is not surprising that offenders may learn new 'tricks' and gain a darker mindset whilst associating with their peers.  Not only does sharing a cell change the attitudes of many minimal crime offenders but many men and women are abused in their cells, either sexually, physically, or emotionally. With the number of offenders increasing each year it is most likely that guards and officers do not notice every incident of psychological and physical abuse that occurs within the cell walls.


The Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) have reported that the prevalence of sexual abuse was 'a hidden issue in a hidden world,' adding that staff did not always take complaints of rape seriously which leaves the levels of abuse largely under-reported. This report, and many others, question why prisoners have not been given their own solitary cells. The things that occur within the cell can affect a prisoner when they go into the 'big world' possibly leaving some with mental illness because their abuse went either unnoticed or merely brushed aside.


It is easy to locate on UK Parliament’s website the shocking fact that ‘surveys carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that 31,328 prisoners (37% of the prison population) reported mental health or well-being issues.’ There could be a number of reasons for the cause of these illness but I believe that the abuse within the cells plays a part.



Having separate cells and still being able to have weekly visits from a counselor, tutor or therapist can avoid loneliness and help with any psychological or emotional issues that they may have. One might argue that leaving prisoners in solitary confinement can cause mental illness but I disagree.


I think it will, in fact, give them both privacy and time to reflect. Allowing the prisoners to have key visitors such as tutors or pastors allows them to realise this is an opportunity to change and become a better version of themselves, possibly resulting in changed attitudes and morals.  


Another factor to why offenders may have an increase in aggression, which can bleed into their release time, is their environment. The way in which the prisons here in London are designed differ massively from the ones in Norway: see the difference for yourself here. It is quite clear, based on the fact that Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates of 20%, that they are doing something right


Besides rehabilitation and counseling the environment in which you stay in is also a very important factor. A study based in a real life prison shows that painting a prison pink and playing calm music decreased the violence and aggression within the building, which helped reduce the amount of trouble each prisoner got into.


In fact, Bastoy Prisoner governor Arne Wilson has said that ‘in the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals.’


One member of the public took exception to this statement, stating, ‘don't let them out of jail and let them suffer for turning their backs on society. Once you commit a crime and in prison, you forfeit your rights so they can just stay there forever. Would certainly solve the problem.’


Whilst I agree that it is fair to punish offenders for their wrongdoing, are they not already suffering from not being able to have the freedom to go outside, visiting their families and staying isolated from the rest of society? In order for us to have a safer society we need to consider improving rehabilitation in the cells.


It is a simple fact that the aim of prison is to reform these criminals rather than constantly remind them of their wrongdoings because it is clear from various studies that doing this simply does nothing. Showing them that they’re bigger than their mistakes, and have the ability to change, is what we as a society should do. Prison has now become a holiday camp because many are more comfortable there than the real world.


Should this really be our aim?

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