This week is ‘Prisons Week’ and although you may never have heard of it, it is a regular annual event that seeks to draw attention to those who work in the prison system as well as prisoners themselves. However, it does not draw attention to the failures within the system. That, in the view of TheOpinionSite.org is the problem and it always has been the problem.
A spokesman for ‘Prisons Week’ described the event in the following terms
“Prison’s Week is an annual week of prayer for those involved in the Criminal Justice system and always starts on the third Sunday in November. It operates as a small Christian charity whose sole object is to encourage prayer for all those involved, especially those in prison. It encourages us to consider the global impact and damage that crime inflict on our society. By inviting prayer we recognise the value and importance of prayer in the living the life of faith, and seek only to raise issues and enable people to make their own decisions about suitable ways of getting involved themselves in seeking solutions and promoting rehabilitation.
Every year we produce a leaflet of prayers and readings which focus on different themes, and this year the theme is ” Can you see me – or are you just Looking” and it urges people to look more deeply into crime and punishment the reasons behind criminal behaviour and engage by prayer, and potentially voluntary action in looking for ways of encouraging desistence and rehabilitation.”
Anything that draws attention to prisons is a good thing as such places are a hidden world that most people never think about. However, when a medium for change comes along and it is not utilised to draw attention to the very real, often concealed problems faced by those in custody, it is both a tragedy and a betrayal of society.
Whilst prison chaplains are always Anglican, principally because the Church of England is the so called ‘established’ church and the Queen being the head of the same, it is usually the visiting Catholic and Muslim clerics who seem more concerned with the welfare of prisoners than the chaplain in charge of the department. You will never see the visiting staff wearing a utility belt with radio and handcuffs attached but, regrettably, this is not the case with some chaplains.
To be fair, it is also true that prisoners frequently report how chaplains will help them with family links, getting a radio or a thermos flask, etc. The one thing that chaplains will never do however is to criticise the prison system, the prison service or the justice system. Nor will you hear them asking for shorter sentences whereas visiting staff often will
Chaplains are prison staff – with all the prejudice and bias that brings – whereas visiting clerics and ministers are not. Many would say that Prisons Week should be about drawing attention to and correcting the problems that exist in prisons and the politics that create such problems in the first place. Yet full time, staff chaplains always seem very reluctant to get involved with such problems. The Pope and other senior figures often call for shorter prison sentences and more compassion but theirs seem to be voices that remains unheard by politicians, prison chiefs and those involved in the welfare of prisoners.
It would seem to TheOpinionSite.org that the real problem in our prisons is the presumption that all offenders – especially serious offenders serving long sentences – will reoffend as a matter of course. The facts that short term prisoners are often pushed into reoffending by the system itself and that long term prisoners have a very low level of reoffending are conveniently ignored by those in positions of authority.
Politicians in particular are always inclined to believe that everyone reoffends when in fact they do not. The level of ignorance shown by MPs is stunning and the same goes for many of those who work in prisons and who have themselves been manipulated into accepting the myth and ignoring the facts.
If those behind the well intentioned Prisons Week event want to do something useful, they should start by re-educating prison staff as to the real, rather than perceived rates of reoffending and, where prisoners do reoffend, the real reasons behind such reoffending. They should do the same with politicians and start supporting those who dare to criticise the Home Secretary when she starts exploiting prisoners every time she is in political difficulty. They should put governors and staff on the spot and ask why they ignore the truth instead of recognising the injustices within the prison system.
If you walk around a prison you will be struck by the number of ‘Policy Statements’ that adorn almost every spare inch of space on the walls of the corridors and landings. They frequently refer to ‘decency’ and ‘respect’, ‘humanity’ and ‘care’, etc. Yet prisoners still frequently die in prison, are often beaten up by other prisoners when staff are already aware, are sometimes victims of staff themselves and often fall foul of a particular member of staff who then makes it their life mission to make life as difficult as possible for the prisoner concerned. What does ‘Prisons Week’ do about these problems?
Many prison staff are sincere people who do a very difficult job. Some are not. Add to this the fact that all-powerful psychology staff are often inexperienced trainees who nevertheless still have enormous influence over the potential release of prisoners, that probation officers are almost always 100% ‘risk averse’ and frightened to death of being criticised, governors are interested only in serving their political masters, etc and one can quickly see that many of the real problems in prison are always kept hidden.
TheOpinionSite.org welcomes ‘Prisons Week’ but also urges those responsible for it, along with others, to change direction and to start to address the real, hidden problems that affect everyone held in custody. This would have the effect of enlightening those who work in prisons and would increase the possibility of improving circumstances for everyone. Those who run ‘Prisons Week’ should most certainly not be afraid to stick their neck out and criticise biased probation officers and renegade officers, errant governors and hopelessly inexperienced psychologists on a power-trip.
Many believe that this is the only way to achieve progress in a system that seems to do everything it possibly can to keep people inside for as long as possible rather than do the much more difficult thing and try to keep them out.