Escape from paradise

Schools for crime

HOW SURPRISING that so many prisoners are escaping from prison when, according to the Home Secretary, lobster dinners and subsidised shopping trips are making life in prison like staying at the Ritz. Michael Howard wants us to believe that prison prevents crime. When it fails to do so he blames the prison staff for running a humane regime that treats prisoners as people. He wants to treat them like cattle.

The government claims the days of shitting in a bucket and sleeping three to a cell are gone. Prisons are now nice and comfy. Statistics indicate the opposite. Prisons have never been so overcrowded, sentences as long, suicides so common, prison populations so large.

Prisons are still breaking up families, dehumanising people, returning men and women to society as isolated institutionalised beings who find it hard to find and keep a job. Prisons are a school for crime: a revolving door taking in inexperienced offenders and ejecting them with a diploma in criminal studies.

Howard’s ideal already exists in the USA, which has the highest number of prisoners in the most brutal conditions anywhere in the advanced world. Last week a man was executed in Texas, not because he killed anybody (his sister committed the murder), but because he was a nasty person anyway. Still crime continues to grow: terror tactics are not working.

The US’s social policy is irresponsible. So many people, particularly the young, are alienated because they have no control over their lives. Only through crime can they hope to share in the riches that are so obviously available.

Criminals may be born, but so are goldfish. Humans learn from experience and if it is bad they are more likely to become ‘bad’. Ruthless punishment has not crushed crime in the US, but set up a mass production line. Howard wants to take us down the same competitive path.

Prison officers have responded to the Home Secretary’s call as a limb of the state’s repressive apparatus. They want more staff, more pay, so they can exercise absolute control over the inmates. And they call that trade unionism. I call it the Ancient Guild of Slave Overseers. Their badge of office should be a light whip with many lashes so they can dish out discipline without unduly exerting themselves.

I know that even in a civilised country some people will still have to be locked up. One counterrevolutionary useless shyster that comes to mind is Michael Howard. Not for revenge but for reform. If prison officers can turn him into a useful human being they really will be able to claim that their job is socially beneficial.

Prison statistics the government ignores

Average prison population
1992/3 - 43,913
1993/4 - 45,827
1994 (April-November) - 49,827

Prison suicides
1992/3 - 41
1993/4 - 46
1994 (April-November) - 61

Rate of growth in prison population
November 1993 = 250 per month
Average 1994 = 419 per month

Reconviction rate within 4 years, based on study of 65,000 discharges in 1987
Adults = 60%
15 to 20-year-olds = 82%

Prison costs 20 times more than other methods.

Phil Kent