Discuss the current extent and associated problems of prison overcrowding in the UK.
The prison population of the UK has steadily been increasing every year since 1993 when the number was 41,000 to a current figure of 82,000 (office of national statistics). This essay will discuss this doubling of prison population in the last 17 years. It will examine the suggested reasons for this rise, a statistical breakdown of the structure of the inmate population, the financial and social effects also the implications on the effectiveness of prison as a useful means of crime control.
According to the ‘Prison Reform Trust’ one of the main reasons for the growth (as apposed to more crime which has remained stable or even fallen in the same period) is the extension of the use of prison for petty offenders also the increased length of sentences. This results in ever increasingly over crowded prisons. Despite the expenditure on more prison places our prisons have remained overcrowded for more than a decade. At the same time, the reoffending rate after prison has risen from 51% in 1992 to 67% at the present time. (Prison Reform Trust).
In order to analyse the effects of overcrowding, it is useful to firstly examine the intended roles of prison. The ‘mission statement’ which is publicised in all prison establishments’ states: “Her Majesty’s Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release” (Uglow.S. p. 268) Briefly there are a number of intentions in the use of incarceration, firstly in order to set an example to society which will act as a deterrent to crime; ‘Justice must be seen to be done’. Containment: while a criminal is removed from society he/she is no longer a threat and is unable to commit further criminal offences in the community. Rehabilitation: in order to enable an offender to fit back into society, this may involve such measures as an introduction or re-introduction to the work ethic. A large number of the prison population are given the opportunity to work and earn a small wage which can be used to buy extra necessities within the prison. Another role of the prison is to teach the inmates discipline or self-discipline in order that they may have more self control on re-introduction to the outside world. Overcrowding in many cases leads to a cell designed for one inmate often being occupied by two, most of these ‘Single’ cells have unscreened toilets, which does not provide even the most basic human dignity. In a search for empty places inmates are often moved to different prisons which can be anywhere in the country. In 2001, 37,000 prisoners were being held over 50 miles away from home, for 5,000 of these the distance was more than 150 miles (Howard League for Penal Reform). This relocation often leads to a displacement, not only physically, but also emotionally from society, friends and family and can directly bring about a breakdown of relationship, marriage, child bonding and more. All of the above could make re-integration into society much more difficult to achieve, thus leading to further exclusion for the offender. This is one marked effect of overcrowding in the British Prison system.
It is not unusual that an inmate in today’s prisons will spend 23 hours per day in a cell, usually multi-occupied (up to three persons in a cell designed for just one). Although there are opportunities available to prisoners to spend part of their day unlocked these are restricted by sheer volume of numbers. A prisoner is entitled to one hour exercise per day although this is subject to the Governors discretion and can be cancelled by factors such as staff shortage, weather conditions or security “Security referrers to the obligation of the prison service to prevent inmates escaping. Control is the obligation of the prison...
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McLaughlin Muncie (2001) Controlling Crime. 2nd Edition.
Newburn.T (2007) Criminology. Willan Publishing. Devon
Toch H. (1977) Living in Prison: The ecology of survival. The Oxford Free Press. London.
Uglow. S. (1995) Criminal Justice. Sweet and Maxwell Ltd. London.
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