Prison System in Crisis?

Topics: Prison, Punishment, Criminal justice Pages: 7 (2450 words) Published: July 16, 2013
The prison system in England and Wales could reasonably be described as being in crisis. Discuss.

The term crisis refers to an intense time of difficulty, trouble or danger, or a time when difficult decisions must be made. However, in the context of the prison system, it has to be looked at differently. This can be seen throughout the essay in how there have been times of danger, and difficult policy decisions made. In looking at whether these problems are important to the prison system, it has to be looked at whether it is hindering the purposes and objectives of prison. It is also worth noting that the prison system has been regarded in being in crisis for many years by the media and academics (Cavadino & Dignan, 2007). Thus it would appear the `crisis’ hasn’t been at one specific time its been gradually building year after year.

The purpose of prison in today’s society is to treat prisoners in a secure and safe facility, where they will be treated humanely, decently, and lawfully. This is as well as protecting the public, ensuring the prisoner is punished for the crimes committed, as well as also helping them rehabilitate themselves. These aims are issued by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). The way in which NOMS are able to do this is by their close relationship with the probation service, gathering of statistics and also the setting of key performance indicators. Key performance indicators can be targets such as reoffending rate going down by 10% from the previous year, no category A escapes, drug misuse rates and percentage of prisoners in overcrowded accommodation (Leech, 2009). The gathering of all this information means that officials can now monitor the performance of prisons and see if they are fulfilling their functions. If they are not then it is reasonable to suggest that the prison is in crisis and needs to address the issues, which are causing the problems.

In identifying whether there is a crisis in the prison system, different thoughts of criminology offer different explanations. One account that explains the crisis is the Orthodox. This account suggests that the crisis consists of many different components which all intertwine to combine to a crisis (Tredwell, 2006). It also suggests that the crisis itself is not one of the whole penal system but one just within the prison system itself (Cavadino & Dignan, 2007). The first factor that orthodox criminologists address is the effect the population of prisons have on the system. Through out the history of the prison system in particular the twentieth century it can be seen that the prison population has been steadily rising. For example in 1960 the average prison population was 26,198, in 1990 43,378, compare this to 2011 which was 81,763(Berman, 2012:18). As this evidence shows, through out the twentieth and twenty first century the prison population has been rising. This increases the demand on prisons and prison staff to be able to deal with the higher numbers. This is a major problem for the prison system if the trend is not altered, it will keep on increasing year by year as the evidence suggests. This problem directly leads on to fact that prisons are overcrowded.

Overcrowding in prisons according to orthodox account makes it much harder for prisons to be able to meet their purpose of rehabilitating offenders. Overcrowding takes place ‘when the number of prisoners held exceeds the establishments Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA)’ (Berman 2012:11). CNA ‘represents the good, decent standard of accommodation the service aspires to provide all prisoners. Any places above the CNA are referred to as overcrowding places’ (Jewkes & Bennett, 2008:38). In England and Wales in 2012 over sixty two per cent of the prison estate was overcrowded according to CNA statistics (Berman, 2012: 11). Looking at this, in relation to the aims of having humane conditions for prisoners to live in, the prison system is not meeting its...

References: * Cavadino, M. and Dignan, J. (2007) The Penal System: An Introduction 4th edition, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
* Cooney, F, insidetime (April, 2010) `Short sentences are not the answer’ (Internet) Available at: , Accessed: 28/11/12.
* Jewkes, Y. and Bennet, J. (2008) Dictionary of Prisons and Punishment, Devon: Willan Publishing.
* Leech, M. (2009) The Prisons Handbook 2009 11th edition, Manchester: Prisons.Org.Uk Ltd.
* Ministry of Justice (2012) `Criminal justice statistics’ (Internet) Available at:, Accessed: 28/11/12.
* Treadwell, J. (2006) Criminology, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
* Woolf, H. and Tumin, S. (1991) Prison Disturbances April 1990, Cm 1456. London: HMSO.
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