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Crime is a social act that violates the laws of our society. Within our society since 170, when capital punishment was permanently abolished, the ultimate sanction in English law has been an imprisonment sentence. For many people in our society, we expect people convicted of crimes to be sent to prison, and if this is not the case we usually say they “got off”. The true reality is, the convicts are locked up in our name, yet we know remarkably little about the life they lead. As there is currently around 65,500 people living behind bars in Britain, about the same number as live in Guildford, and eventually all but “highly dangerous inmates” will be released, the prison topic has been a very controversial issue for many years. It is a debate that has had many political members involved in, especially after Lord Woolfs landmark report on the state of our jails 11 years previous. The main question opposed to our prison system is “Does it work?” is all the money being invested into our prison system helping the prisons to do the job that they are there to do? Why do we send people repeatedly to prisons?

Firstly I feel it is important to establish why we react to the crimes committed and what the main principles are behind the way we treat offenders. One of human natures natural reactions is revenge; everybody has experienced it and it is an uncontrollable emotion. Therefore it seems very just that if a fellow member of society commits a crime to you personally or any other member of society, there will be a sense of retribution wanted. It is our courts that are to dispense this form of retribution to crimes that have been committed as a representative of our society. I feel very content with the idea of our courts setting out sentences to people who have broken the law, for the victims they have directly affected or for our society as a whole. If somebody committed an offence personally towards me I would want revenge on this person, punishment of the individual may be the only consolation I could get from the crime. In this way I would want this to be being carried out for every other member of society in the courts, as I personally would want revenge in their situation. The courts have maximum sentences for each offence laid down by statute, but it is up to the Magistrate or Judge in each case to apply an acceptable sentence due to the magnitude of the offence. We as a society must have a great amount of trust in our Magistrates and Judges as they decide the extent of the punishments handed down, along with guidance provided by the Criminal Division of the Court Of Appeal. This is something I am personally satisfied with and on the whole I feel is dealt with very well, and I believe many others share my view. There is no denying that at times sentencing may seem a little unjust or lenient for the crime committed, but the British tabloids are quick to make a headline of this and the situation is usually amended as result of the publicity. So perhaps the main principal for sending people to prison is simply revenge, we feel they need to be punished, something that I believe to be very fair. However, as I have already said an imprisonment sentence is the ultimate sanction in English law, and there are alternatives available, especially when dealing with offenders over 1 years old. I will deal with the alternatives to prison sentencing later. Punishment and revenge are not the only principals behind the treatment of offenders; it goes much deeper than that. Stepping away from solely the effect on the offenders themselves we also use prison and other forms of punishment as a deterrent to others. This stands in theory that, handing out sentences, perhaps tougher in some circumstances will stop the offender from re-committing crime and also others around them from following in the same way. If you can scare somebody with a sentence, then they are less likely to commit a crime for fear of the consequences if they are caught. However, this theory does hold some drawbacks. Deterrence relies upon the conjecture that crime is carried out with conscious thought; the offender contemplates their actions before proceeding with the crime. In reality this is only true to a certain extent. A rising percentage of crime is carried out under the influence of drugs or alcohol and that person will not be in a ‘normal’ state of mind, their judgement, inhibitions and confidence will always be affected. Also a lot of crime is committed at the spare of the moment, it is a mindless act. These factors weaken a seemingly very strong argument for its initial surface value. We also want to reform the characters that we send to prison, so that that person will not re-offend through their own personal choice. A major aspect of the principal of reforming characters is education. Therefore education must be offered within these prisons to give the offenders a better start to their life when they are let out. This is basically a form of rehabilitation in prisons. Another principal is denunciation, expressing a society’s tolerance. If certain crimes carry a severe sentence, such as life, then offenders of this crime are seen to be denounced by society once they commit the crime. This is very evident in our society with murder’s and rapists, and more recently the dramatic situation with paedophiles. This denunciation is emphasised with the treatment by other offenders within prisons towards paedophiles and rapists. With society in mind sending an offender to prison may be in the best interests of them and members of the community. Offenders may need to be sent away for the protection of others, it must be a priority to protect the innocent. When an offender is in prison, they are not committing crime for that period of time, leading to the question what are the prisons going to do to stop this person from re-offending once they are in prison? This goes hand in hand with a question I proposed earlier, what do we expect from our prisons?

I think it is also important to establish just what the prisons are expected to do in our society. It is all very well sending a convict to prison for a crime he has committed as a way of ‘punishing’ him, but we must look deeper into what we can do for this person once we have sent them to prison and for society when they are eventually let out. As a member of our society I have the view, which I believe I share with every person along side me, that I want there to be a cut in crime. This has been an issue that the government has been trying to rectify for many years, and has always played a key role in every political parties manifestos. I want to live in a safe environment where I am not scared of being mugged, robbed or beaten, as I do for my future generations. We send offenders too prison and they are not committing crime for that time period, and we, I feel as a society, expect them to never commit another crime when they are released from prison. Initially we expect them to have hated the experience of prison life so much that they never want to return, but in reality this is proving not be the case. There has been much media hype that prisons are more like “holiday camps” and being an ordinary member of society who has never spent time in any type of custody, I do not know whether to believe this. The fact is the people responsible for sending offenders to prison have no idea what it is actually like. We are lead to believe that prisons are the worst places imaginable on earth, but with the re-offending rate currently being 57% it seems, on the surface, very hard to believe. I understand there are many other factors leaving the re-offending rate at such a high number, which I will talk about later on, but this initially seems a very high percentage for people willing to return to a place that should put them off crime for life. We expect the prisons to offer rehabilitation for the offenders they will leave a morally changed person to what they entered as, a respectful member of society, instead of somebody who just put up with being in prison for the time they were in there never learning or changing, or even wanting too in any way.

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I believe it is important to understand the structure of the British prison system and the aims each serve to their detainees before deciding if they are working for the best. Around the country the age barriers for particular custodial institutes vary but in a majority of the country they follow a specific outline. For offenders of 1-14 years of age they are sent to a secure unit or secure training unit if a custodial sentence is appropriate. Offenders aged between 14-18 years of age are sent to a young offenders institute, along with 18-1 year olds, although the regime is tougher on them than the younger years of age. Then anyone of 1 years or older are sent to a full adults prison.

For teenage offenders who are sent to Young Offender Institutes (Y.O.I) the main aim is rehabilitation, as it follows the logical theory that the younger the offender is the greater the chance there is to reform that character. Many youngsters engage in delinquent behaviour while young but will not go on to become serious adult criminals. It is believed that custody has a major role to play in preparing them to appreciate that actions have consequences. I believe that young offenders learning that there current actions will end up with them being punished with a custodial sentence will deter them from proceeding down the same ‘path of crime again’. However, as you live through life learning from your mistakes, many youngsters will only offend the one time, mainly due to the punishment that they receive but sometimes maybe just from realising they made a stupid mistake. Due to this it is noticeable that it is at young ages when people are more likely to be directed towards a path that is socially correct. Along with these positive achievements from the Y.O.I there are some obvious disadvantages that the prisons ombudsmen acknowledged in one of his annual reports,

“A number of young people are very vulnerable when they enter custody. The incidence of mental health problems amongst young offenders is significant both before and during their time in prison. Rates of suicide, and self-injurious behaviors are high amongst young prisoners.”

We can deter from this that Y.O.I are a very hard-hitting matter of fact for the young offenders that enter them, as it is obvious from this acknowledgement that many young offenders cannot mentally deal with the strains that they face with a custodial sentence. The quote suggests many youngsters mental state becomes questionable perhaps due to the time they have to think and the shock of being thrown into an institute. It is made apparent that young offenders institutes are no easy ‘taster’ into the prison world, as some commit suicide, but this perhaps has to be the way it should be. The most effectual way to deter and reform these young offenders will be to scare them, if the fear is placed in them they will never want to return due to their own conscious decisions. However, if suicides are occurring certain questions must be raised into the toughness of the institute, and the point at which the institute goes too far must be found. We cannot convict young offenders to their death. Although we understand from the ombudsmen and others that the regimes in Y.O.I are very tough, the re-offending rate is still 76%. This seems very high. You are left wondering just what extent the institutions are going to too emphasize their rehabilitation schemes. The Young Offenders Institutes main aims are too have their offenders leave with more skills than they came with, so they can reenter society better equipped. Although it is not as easy to set up all the Institutes in this way, as it is to simply say, “this is our aim”. For instance Feltham is very overcrowded with virtually no projects running for rehabilitation, whereas Huntercombe has many schemes and projects running and has been referred to as more like a “secure school” than a young offenders institute. It seems that in this case the Y.O.I are not operating effectually as one would hope, but it is definitely the correct path to take these Y.O.I down in the direction of rehabilitation. We have to be realistic and accept that there are some who will never reform and will follow the same path again and end up in adult prisons. Education must be the key to introducing these offenders back into society, after the time the have already been excluded from it, if they have nothing to offer in life they are not going to go anywhere but into the life of crime.

There have been alternatives to Y.O.I set up in Britain such as ‘Boot Camps’, commonly referred to as High Intensive Training Centers. These each go through five-week phases that are divided into one-week phases that consist of fitness, education (although very basic), preparation for the work world, and work experience. These are hard to establish if they ‘work or not?’ because the offenders who are sent to them are selected because it is thought they are most likely to benefit anyway. In this way any figures of re-offending rates will be misleading.

For adults of 1 years of age or older, who have been given a custodial sentence, as with the Young Offenders, the main aim of prisons must be rehabilitation. There is a large amount of other punishments available to the courts when sentencing offenders, community service, a probation order, injunction, conditional discharge and fines being just a few of these. The alternatives to a custodial sentence also carry with them the question ‘do they work?’ If we look at probation for an example it has to be said it doesn’t. We currently have 000.000 offenders on probation and the reconviction rates are also very high. Less than 1 years of age 75%, 1-4 years old 6% and 5- years old 56%. Again, with the focus of rehabilitation in mind, within our prisons we must do everything we can to make sure the offender does not go out and re-act the same crimes again and again. When offenders are excluded from society they must be given the chance to reenter as easily as possible, it is a time to reform their character. The former Home Secretary David Waddington said,

“Prison is an expensive way of making bad people work”

It is inevitable that some offenders will become worse when placed in a prison environment, but it has to be made harder to follow this ‘route’ than to reform there character, and acquire some skills. Education is available in prisons but often has a waiting list, and we can’t expect re-offending rates to drop if the prisons are not supplying means for the offenders to rehabilitate themselves. At the moment available to offenders is the choice of seeking an education or working in a workshop. Basically all prisoners will opt for one of these as it gives them a chance to leave their cell and socialize a bit, whilst earning money. At the moment the higher wages are offered to those who work in the workshops as opposed to the educational option. I believe this is wrong, we cannot expect offenders to reform through “folding bags” or other such activities that they personally describe as “mind numbingly boring”, the more effectual option is the education. This should perhaps be focused on more than the workshops with the higher wage being offered for the education. It is understandable that many prisoners are school dropouts and of very poor reading and writing skills, but the educational field should be made of a wide range of activities, intellectual and practical. If many aspects are available a high percentage should find some thing they enjoy. The current re-offending rate is 57% this seems satisfactory to me, as you can understand the amount of money it would cost to make everything run perfect and the funds and institutions are just not readably available. As William Whitelaw said,

“Prison is not a cheap, or the most effectual, way of dealing with offenders”

As prison is not cheap I feel we should invest to make it as effectual and hard hitting as possible, so if the rates of re offending go down the cost of keeping them offenders in prison on another occasion will not be there. I understand this is very easy to say, and in reality very hard to achieve, but it must be the direction in which we are heading. A conservative Home Secretary by the name of Michael Howard said “prison works”. There are statistics that strongly suggest prisons are improving in such vital fields as education as the educational certificates achieved within prison are rising each year. The government must be doing something write in this field to have the numbers increasing and perhaps if they had the opportunity to expand on this, we would see a much more positive achievement from the prisons. Maybe in time things will become much better; maybe time is all the government needs.

The figures for offenders going to prison are rather worrying, with the prison population having risen by half since 1. The women prison has doubled in population and the juvenile tripled. This perhaps shows that the Y.O.I need the most correcting along with the women’s. It is also estimated that by 007 there will be 78,000 offenders in prison. With the estimate of a clear rise in prison population I am quite worried about the current effect prisons have on offenders. As prisons are already overcrowded this rise in population should be very worrying to the government. With the number of people estimated to be going to prison we must invest to make their stay there worthwhile. To a certain extent the prison system works but there is still a great deal of room for improvement. As I have said before it is easy to simply dictate the way to make the system better but the practical developments need to be looked upon as realistically as possible. First of all research must be done extensively into the prison life, everything that happens in prisons must be monitored so we can finally have hard facts to how the current prison system currently stands. Once this has been gained it will be much easier to see what changes are more urgent than others. We also need to find a way to deal with the overcrowding issues, building new institutions or stabilizing the prison levels. Courses will never help the full capacity they could perhaps reach in prisons if there is simply not enough room for all individuals. These courses then need to be made wider and better run. Perhaps sponsorships with companies who would offer employment to offenders who gained the required qualifications in prison would be one way of stepping forward the educational system and at the same time broadening it. I believe education and rehabilitation are always going to be the key factors in prisons, they are what need focusing in on. If more people leaving prisons could find employment the re-offending rate would dramatically drop, as many previous offenders return to crime, as they are unable to support themselves or families because they are finding it nearly impossible to find jobs.

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