The riots at Ford Open Prison over the New Year form a salutory reminder that our prison system is simply not working and it is far too expensive in cash, resources and time.
The inmates who rioted were apparently drunk on alchol that it is so easy to get hold of while still serving a sentence for crimes against society. Even in more secure prisons, inmates are still able to obtain and take hard drugs. That sort of easy abuse of security makes a mockery of the concept of jail being of use to society in modifying the behaviour of those who are locked up or even protecting the populace from them.
The most concerning part of the reporting of the trouble was comments from Lord Brocket who has spent time as a prisoner at Ford when he was being punished for fraud. He explained that the main trouble comes not from those whose education and mental faculties are limited, but is the product of young people who have had the benefit of good education but have no work, for whatever reason, and they have no constraints on their behaviour. They essentially just do not have a single regret and see trouble as a ‘lark’ they will get away with.
The whole concept of an open prison is that it is a half way house and a chance to adapt to the patterns of normal life with prisoners able to go out to work (if they can find a job) during the day. The system relies on trust and the troublemakers will no doubt be back in more secure environments which will keep them off the dole queues but at a cost far greater than the most excessive of benefit payouts.
One first step towards sorting out our prison system might be to change its name, and so nudge (yes the government are well into that technique) the perception towards fresh purpose. Call it a ‘correction system’ and a whole different mind set comes into play. Yes, the Americans have toyed with the word but that does not remove validity from this proposal.
So how would the disorder at Ford be countered through correction ? If those who caused the damage were compelled to rebuild the devastated area or at least acquire a required level of competence in the skills that would be used in the renovation, and not allowed home till that was achieved, they would at least be up against the realities of their actions.
As with schemes to meet with victims, it starts to change the mental ground where anti-social offenders hold their morality. If it stops being a game of tag with the police and courts, the implication of their actions becomes clearer.
If we are not going to use the prison system to correct criminal and anti-social behaviour, it is a very poor social investment for taxpayers.