This piece (from the socialistworker.co.uk) is about the failure of prisons, from prisoners’ perspectives.
The problem with prisons is not just with reoffending rates (and the “revolving door”) but also with life inside prison, with what happens (or does not happen) when prisoners are released, and with the stigmatization that is involved in being an “ex-con”. Unsurprisingly, the argument of the piece is based on Marxian thinking that crime and punishment are embedded in societal inequality which, while undoubtedly valid, is problematic, not least because it is a perspective which offers little in terms of immediate or accessible options for reducing crime. Nonetheless, it is an important read.
As the crisis in the prison system grows, Julie Sherry shows how prisons do nothing to prevent crime and dehumanise those who end up there.
More than 1,100 people in UK prisons committed suicide between 1996 and 2009. By 2010 there were around 35 incidents of prisoners self-harming every day—and this rate has continued to rise. These horrifying statistics expose the hollow lie that prisons are there to rehabilitate offenders. Prisons are filled with people from backgrounds of extreme poverty and often abuse. Incarceration institutionalises violence and strips people of any control over their lives. The Prison Reform Trust surveyed prisoners’ experience. “They treat you like shit, a piece of dirt,” said one prisoner. “My dad is not an MP, my mum’s not clever, I’m just a nobody and people can do what they like.” Others talked about the climate of fear inside. One said, “Someone got raped in the shower by eight lads and then two days later he killed himself and that scared me”. Incidents of sexual assault in prisons are believed to be drastically under reported. Many describe sexual violence as a dominant daily feature of prison life. One woman prisoner spoke of how she would often have to choose between the violence outside her cell, or face her depression alone. She said, “Staff just say, ‘go behind your door’ but you don’t always want to be on your own because that’s when you get down, and start self harming again”. Overwhelmingly, prisoners have low levels of education. Two thirds have numeracy skills below the level expected of an 11 year old, and half have a reading ability of this level. Some 48 percent of prisoners have a history of debt. A quarter of prisoners were in care as children, compared to 2 percent of the general population.