There are many reasons why increasing numbers of people are angry about the extremist ways of our Tory government; the underfunding and privatisation of our prison system is yet another important reason to be furious.
Glen Parva Young Offenders Institute in Leicestershire provides a sickening demonstration of what is wrong with the prison system in Britain. Take for instance the preventable death of Jake Foxall, a 19-year-old prisoner at the Institute who sadly committed suicide last November. At the official inquest into his suicide it was determined that despite Jake’s history of self-harm the Young Offenders Institute had failed to help him or come to his aid when he reported that he was being bullied inside the prison.
Alison Clarke, Governor of Glen Parva Young Offenders Institute, told the jury a “lack of resources from the Ministry of Justice prevented [her] staff from being able to adequately protect prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm.”
This is a longstanding problem. In 2014, a report produced by the Howard League for Penal Reform “found that the number of prison officers in Glen Parva was cut by 36 per cent in three years – from 250 in September 2010 to 160 in September 2013.” More recent data for 2016 shows that Glen Parva is still massively understaffed with only has 147 frontline prison officers.
As Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, observed in 2014: “This is the perfect storm created by government policy, which has closed 18 prisons, increased prisoners by 1,600 and cut the number of staff by one-third.”
Writing in the wake of the Howard League’s disturbing 2014 report, Owen Jones explained:
“Under the John Major and Tony Blair administrations, the number of young people aged between 10 and 17 who are locked up trebled. For those who think prison works, the figures offer a frightening rendezvous with reality: over 70% of under-18s reoffend within 12 months of being released. Prison isn’t helping them, and it isn’t helping keep people safe either…
“Our prison system tells us a lot about our society. The law exists to clamp down on the misdemeanours of the poor, but the far more socially destructive behaviour of the rich is tolerated. Financiers did not end up imprisoned for helping to plunge the world into economic disaster, and yet the director of public prosecutions was last year talking about imposing prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who commit benefit fraud.”
It is class-based system of punishment that promotes prison for the poor and promotions for the rich, and of course promotes the ownership of highly private prisons for the rich as well. Thus up-to-date research on the national picture of prisons that was undertaken by the Howard League demonstrated…
“…that there were 14,689 frontline officers (full time equivalent) in England and Wales in June 2016, down from 15,110 a year earlier. This leaves prisons with barely more frontline staff than the lows of 2014, which prompted the Ministry of Justice to embark on a major recruitment exercise.
“Almost every region has seen frontline officer numbers fall in the last year, with the most significant reductions recorded in the East Midlands (8 per cent), the South West (7 per cent) and the West Midlands (7 per cent).”
Unfortunately in recent years the Tories’ red-hued ‘alternative’ New Labour oversaw a massive increase in the British prison population, from 100 people being incarcerated per 100,000 people in 1995, to 124 in 2000 to a peak of 153 in 2010. The rate of incarceration has actually slightly declined since then, to 146 imprisoned per 100,000, but the Tories commitment to cutting funding and privatising our prisons continues apace. This has meant increasing problems for both prisoners and staff such that…
“Hanging attempts have risen from 580 recorded in 2010 to 2,023 in 2015. Similarly, the number of recorded incidents of prisoners cutting themselves has risen from 15,159 in 2010 to 21,282 in 2015. Prison reform campaigners have raised concerns staff and budget cuts are pushing prisons past breaking point and creating an environment of chaos and violence.”
Thankfully under Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist leadership the Labour Party is promoting change in the prison system that place human need before profit. And much the same as with the NHS, Corbyn is promising to kick corporate profiteers out of the prison service. This is why the union for prison officers, the POA, which incidentally is not even affiliated to the Labour Party, backs Corbyn. Last month, Steve Gillan, the General Secretary of the POA stated:
“The Executive endorsed Jeremy Corbyn last year and see no need to alter that this time around. Jeremy Corbyn has always supported this trade union over the years in restoration of trade union rights, in being opposed to privatisation of prisons and reducing our pension age. He has been consistent with this union, that is why the NEC who would not normally get involved in leadership contests are content to endorse him.”
The stakes are high for us all, which is why supporting Corbyn in the current leadership contest is so critical. After all we should all be reminded of what lays in store for us if the Labour movement fails to be democratised under Corbyn’s leadership, as both the Tories and the Blairites would have us move towards a privatised prison system much like the American one, which boasts of having imprisoned a greater proportion of their citizens than any other country on Earth (693 per 100,000 people, or in real terms over 2.2 million people!).