Restorative Justice in the Prison Setting

Topics: Prison, Criminal justice, Penology Pages: 16 (5279 words) Published: July 30, 2013
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

IN THE PRISON SETTING

Dr Andrew Coyle

International Centre for Prison Studies
King’s College

University of London

United Kingdom

A Paper presented at
the conference of the
International Prison Chaplains Association (Europe)

Driebergen
The Netherlands

13 May 2001

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE IN THE PRISON SETTING

Dr Andrew Coyle

International Centre for Prison Studies
King’s College

University of London

United Kingdom

A Personal Context

I would like to begin by thanking you warmly for inviting me to join you today. I have watched with great interest and admiration the growth of the International Prison Chaplains’ Association since its birth in 1985 and the parallel expansion of its European regional section since 1988. I have, of course, had the pleasure of knowing and working with quite a number of you over the years. May I say in passing that in preparation for this presentation I visited your website and was most impressed by the extent of your activities and the manner in which they are displayed on the website in so many languages. Many congratulations.

I have been asked to talk this morning about the extent to which the principles of restorative justice might be applied in the prison setting. Before I do so, I would like to say a little about my experience of prisons in the present and in the past.

For 24 years I worked as a prison governor in Scotland and in England. During those years I saw the best and the worst of human behaviour in respect of how men could treat each other. Let me tell you very briefly about two of the prisons in which I worked. In Scotland in the late 1980s Peterhead Prison held those prisoners who had been assessed as the most disruptive and dangerous in the Scottish prison system. All of them had been involved in riots, in taking hostages or in escape attempts. When I went there as Governor in 1988 I walked into a world where the normal uniform for staff included a riot helmet, body armour and perspex shields; where prisoners were locked up in isolation for 23 hours each day and where some of them had covered themselves and their cells in their own excrement. The coercive nature of the prison was evident in the starkest possible terms. Clearly, this was a situation which was quite unacceptable in any decent prison system and had to be changed. With the help of the staff, of the prisoners themselves and of community agencies, that situation was changed. At that point the difficulties in Peterhead had become symbolic for the prison system in Scotland. Most prison systems have one prison with that sort of symbolism. It may be Kresty in St Petersburg, Russia, it may be Szeged in Hungary, it may be Kumla in Sweden, it may be Whitemoor in England. Somewhere there will be such a prison.

When I became Governor of Brixton Prison in London in 1991, I took on responsibility for almost 1200 prisoners and 600 staff. Brixton is the oldest prison in London. It was built in 1819. When I took command of the prison I found that one large wing held 300 mentally disturbed prisoners, almost all of whom were awaiting trial, having been remanded to prison for psychiatric reports. The atmosphere in that wing was one of bedlam. There was continual shouting, wailing and banging, with the all-pervading stench of stale food, urine and excrement. This was because the prison was being used quite inappropriately for these men who should have been in the care of the health service. In some respects, the situation was even worse than that which I had encountered at Peterhead. Once again, it was intolerable and had to change. And, with a great deal of commitment and effort from many people, it did change. One of the main lessons of Brixton was that large numbers of men had been sent to prison inappropriately by the courts, men who should have been dealt with in other settings, either in...
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