Close all prisons

Why we should close all prisons

Prison population in England and Wales has almost doubled since 1991. The Tories started it, but Labour have taken to it like teens to masturbation.

In theory, we incarcerate people for three reasons. Incapacitation – remove the criminal from potential victims. Deterrence – show that crime doesn’t pay. Rehabilitation – teach Jonnie Burglar to be law-abiding. In practice, we put people away for two reasons. First, we’re vindictive fuckers who’d rather punish people than deal with why they offended. Secondly, our media-whore government shows it’s tough on crime by locking up more and more people who are too stupid and poor to complain collectively or elicit any sympathy.

Next time, however, that some red-faced idiot is ranting that people should be jailed for wearing Burberry caps or being black, tell them we should abolish prisons completely. Here’s why.


Most criminals are free.

Half of all crimes, it’s reckoned, are reported. Of these, 2% lead to conviction. So the police are shite, nobody’s afraid of them and the Deterrence idea is sunk. Criminologist and ex prison governor Professor David Wilson says he’s never met a prisoner who’d considered he might get caught.

And Incapacitation? If we’re only incapacitating 1% of criminals, why bother? Consider the usefulness of a condom that works 1% of the time.

Prison achieves nothing. Rehabilitation is prison’s most important function. On release day you’d like to see a reformed man bound through the gates, trained inside as a plumber, geography teacher or shop-keeper, determined to make an honest go of things.

In the real world, 59% are reconvicted within 2 years. This rises to 74% for under 21 year-olds. Remember that our muppet police only solve around 1% of crimes, and you can see there’s something very rotten in Belmarsh.


If fucks up the prisoner.

“Capital punishment turns the state into a murderer. But imprisonment turns the state into a gay dungeon-master.” (Jesse Jackson).

Prisons are draconian single-sex environments, full of disturbed and dim-witted people. UK wide, 5% of men and 2% of women suffer from mental disorders. In prison 72% and 70% do. Asylums being closed in the 1980s and never being replaced has not helped. UK wide, 23% of adults have the numeracy level expected of an 11 year old, scarily enough, but in prisons it’s 67%

Getting banged up with that mix won’t do much to enhance your sociability. As Health Minister Steven Ladyman (who would have been bullied at my school) says: “It is generally accepted that mental health will deteriorate in prison.”


It’s a school for criminals.

Mentally deteriorated people leave jail with an address book full of new criminal mates, having spent years discussing crime. You don’t need to be Carol Vorderman to work out what’s going to happen next. Prison also leaves parents unable to provide for and bring up kids, who in turn become much more likely to end up in jail themselves.


But what else is there?

Ok, it’s true – some people should be locked up to prevent them biting or dry-humping everyone they see. Either that or be executed, but we don’t want to do that. The immediately dangerous make up only a tiny proportion of an England and Wales prison population of 75,145. They have severe mental problems, so we’ll put them in secure hospitals. What about the rest?

A scheme being tried out in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, is Restorative Justice. It makes sure the victim’s ok, works out why the crime was committed and deals with that, while keeping communities intact. Say I hit you in a pub. We sit down with a mediator, discuss it, and I apologise. That might be enough, but you might want me to mow your lawn for a year, and the mediator might send me to anti-rage classes or help me get a job (other than mowing). We agree that justice is done, and it’s over. We, and all our dependents can get on with our lives.

On top of this we’ll use the old prison funds to attack crime before it happens. We’ll improve education, raise job prospects and tackle drug addiction. Police could take arse / elbow differentiation lessons. A prisoner costs us £37,305 a year (2002-2003 figure). Why not send young offenders to Eton for £22,380 instead? There aren’t many old Etonians mugging grannies to fund their glue sniffing.

To start this we, and the sell-copies-by-creating-monsters media, need to start seeing criminals as people like us who’ve fucked up, not as incurable weirdoes who deserve no sympathy. Once we do that, we begin to move out of medieval times, and crime becomes something for the history books.