Discussions on prisons are always a hot topic which is not surprising because everyone has an opinion on prison yet few understand what prison is for. The BSC forum discussion took place only several days after I had published an article in the conversation No wonder prisons are getting more violent about the rising prison population, violence and the government’s failure to implement recently promised prison reforms announced in the Queens speech earlier this year. I was pleased to see how popular such a discussion around prison could be and that I was able to create the right sort of questions that would ignite debate with comments being posted long after the discussion had closed.
Prison is a jungle where the survival of the fitness wins through and the weak are downtrodden. Because the responses came from fellow academics most of who support reform and rehabilitation – there wasn’t any resistance about the idea that people go to prison as punishment rather than to be punished. Unfortunately, the public by enlarge would disagree with most of us preferring life to mean life; that prisons are too soft and that prisoners go to prison to be punished in addition to losing their liberty.
Little knowledge of prison actually exists amongst the public and most who make claim that prisons are like holiday camps, have never actually been anywhere near a prison. The bulk of their knowledge comes from media reports that use low category prisons as a benchmark of what ‘prison’ is like. Rarely does the public see the physical harm that prisoners inflict on one another or indeed themselves. Never do they see the psychological harm that prison inflicts on prisoners. Most will never see inside a solitary confinement cell or feel the tensions that continually simmer within this pressure cooker environment.
Never will the media be able to photograph the pains of imprisonment or every day prison life.
My first question asking whether people are sent to prison as punishment or for punishment, created an immediate response that included answers such as prisons should be for both punishment and reform. My second question asked what the answer was to prison reform which received calls for more community focussed punishments including restorative justice whereby one person who has worked within this field argues that it is very affective. And there was an agreement that mental ill prisoners need mental health care as opposed to just punishment. Radical reforms for how women prisoners should be treated were called for including a ‘tailored approach that reflects the distinctiveness of their offending and their vulnerability’.
Finally I posed the question to the forum that if there was a possibility they may go to prison, what they would most fear. This was the most popular question and an ideal finale which created a lot of response. Surprisingly very few said they would fear possible backlash aimed towards their family members. This is a common oversight amongst offenders which shows how we go into survival mode when considering this bleak possibility. But most responses included fears of being away from family, violence, lack of control and space. All such responses confirm one of the most influential classic prison studies which was by Gresham Sykes in 1957. He talked about the pains of imprisonment all of which are still as relevant today.
Questions still remain when prison reforms will take place and what will happen to our prisons in the future.
Interested in this months talking points topic? The BSC PG committee are hosting a seminar on prison reform as part of their thinking differently series. details can be found below:
How can we understand the rise in prison violence? The first seminar of the new BSC Postgraduate Thinking Differently series, ‘Thinking Differently about Prison Reform’ 15 Nov in Liverpool http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-37698780
More details of the event, and call for papers, can be found on the events page: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/thinking-differently-about-p…