UK Prison Population Changes from:
I’ve suggested before, to a mixed response from readers, that if you read an English, slightly left-of-centre newspaper, you might get more fair coverage, even positive coverage, of Scottish Government actions. On January 22nd I reported the Guardian piece on the SNP plan for an independent Scottish Commission on Social Security which was entirely positive and enthusiastic with none of the ‘ah buts’ you’d get in the Scottish media. See:
Today, the Independent, wrote of the prison situation in England in these terms:
‘Life behind bars is a world of squalor and suicides, of desperation and drugs, of mentally-ill prisoners in dank cells, of fearful guards working amid violence. David Gauke, our sixth justice secretary in eight years, has been made to intervene over Nottingham prison after eight inmates killed themselves in two years, the chief inspector repeating charges that the prison was “fundamentally unsafe”. A prison officer claimed there were two suicide attempts each week amid an epidemic of self-harm. Then came a damning report into Liverpool prison exposing inhumane conditions with damp, dirty and blocked toilets, broken windows, freezing cells, cockroaches and rats in rubbish piles. Many inmates were locked in tiny cells for much of the day, the prison swamped with drugs, and a convicted killer managed to escape.’
The horrors outlined above are explained in the report as being, in the main, the result of politicians trying to satisfy ‘populist pressures’ by doubling the numbers incarcerated in the space of only two decades. Spending cuts and reduced staffing under Tory austerity policies have made the situation even worse. At first, the writer suggests looking to the Netherlands where incarceration rates have fallen from levels comparable to those in England but then remembers this idea:
‘Simply look over the border in Scotland, where a left-liberal alliance is stumbling (sic) its way towards a more progressive approach. This began eight years ago when the Scottish National Party government passed a presumption against prison for sentences under three months after two decades of rising jail populations. Such short terms are worse than useless, disrupting family and work ties with no chance of rehabilitation. So Scottish judges must justify in court why they wish to use a sentence under 12 weeks, especially if a suitable community scheme is available. There has been an eight per cent fall in prison numbers as crime and reconviction rates fell.’
Needless to say, our media have been more excited with Ruth Davidson’s call for life to mean life for the tiny handful of murderers in the system while ignoring her failure to engage with the wider issues.