The author of this article is a life-sentenced prisoner serving a minimum tariff of 13 years, who communicates with Urban Times via letters which are transcribed to be published online. He describes Notes From The Other Side of The Wall as a kind of ‘Blogumentary’, offering a unique and topical insight into prison as a microcosm of society. Danny Cash is a pseudonym.
Previously: The Path of Progress, pt.3
Well dear readers, I thought that the path of progress series had been concluded, but, evidently, I thought wrong.
You see, the excellent category-C lifer prison I had worked so hard to get to was recently announced for closure, along with five or six other prisons. These closures have meant the forced relocation of several thousand prisoners. In some cases these displaced prisoners have been moved hundreds of miles from home. Were it any other social group that was displaced in this fashion, there would be public uproar but, as we are continually reminded by the gutter press and the government itself, we are the Unworthy Ones. Our voice does not count.
I am one of the lucky ones. Firstly, I have a loving and loyal family and they would travel to the ends of the earth for me regardless of where I ended up. Secondly, I was lucky enough to get my ‘preferred choice’. I use the term cautiously because my ‘preferred choice’ would have been to stay put in the prison where I was.
I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t such a blatantly absurd decision. Please allow me to explain: the prison I was in is, or rather was, the oldest functional prison in Britain. Men and women have been incarcerated there for over four centuries – though, of course, not together at the same time, dear readers.
Over the course of those four centuries, the prison had evidently learned a thing or two about rehabilitation. In recent years the prison have been made exclusively for lifers and had built up a good reputation among lifers throughout the prisons of England and Wales. It was said that if a lifer could not progress from there to an open prison, he probably wasn’t ever getting out. Such was the faith in the lifer team there.
Nor was such faith misplaced. The prison had one of the best progression rates in the country. Men who struggled elsewhere with the uncertainty a life-sentence brings, knuckled down there and flourished in the laid-back but supportive regime. Men who, frankly, were unlikely to make it through the system elsewhere were given the opportunity to prove that they were worthy of a second chance. Staff there treated the men with dignity and respect, regardless of their crimes.
Now, none of this is the reason it was absurd to close that particular prison. I’m too long in the tooth to believe that the government is genuinely interested in rehabilitating people. That’s just PR spiel, behind the scenes it’s all about the money. We – the prisoners – are a commodity, nothing more, nothing less. But more about that in a future post.
No, the reason it was an absurdly short-sighted decision to close that particular prison is this: being over four-hundred years old, the prison is a bona fide listed building which, for international readers, means that the government is legally required to ensure the upkeep of the building. It’s part of our national heritage. Hence, long after the last prisoner leaves that building, the government will still be spending significant amounts of money fighting the ebb of time. No saving there then. I’m sure if they could get away with it, the government would have preferred to just bulldoze the place.
As if that wasn’t short-sighted enough, every member of staff at that prison was guaranteed their job somewhere else within the prison estate. That’s right, there are to be no forced redundancies and every member of staff in that prison has been guaranteed a job elsewhere…
Now, I’m no economist, but even I can see the flaw here. Upwards of eighty percent of the cost of imprisonment comes from staffing costs; so with such guarantees of job security, where are the real savings here? Of course, there are none. Especially not after you factor in the cost of maintaining a listed building ad infinitum.
Instead of closing the prison in a bid to warehouse prisoners elsewhere, the government should have, I believe, studied that particular prison and analysed its successful strategy for rehabilitating men. In corporate terms you might call it studying best practice. But, then, I don’t believe that the government are genuinely interested in the rehabilitation of offenders. If they were, then the system would look very different to the way it currently does.
In the coming decade I predict we will see even further consolidation of the prison estate in England and Wales. I envisage large social warehouses, like those found in the United States, where lucrative government contracts trade on the misery of those confined within those warehouses.
I think it was Winston Churchill who once said that the best way to judge a society was by the way it cares for its prisoners. On that basis, dear readers, what type of society are we becoming?