14:00, August 07 140 0 theguardian.com

2017-08-07 14:00:03
Justice system needs joined-up thinking

Andrea Albutt, the president of the Prison Governors Association, is correct to say that separating policy and operational control has been problematic (Prisons in crisis due to ‘perverse’ government overhaul, 2 August). However, even if policy and operational control were put back together, or staff numbers were increased, these changes will not solve the crisis in the long term. In 1978, the prison system experienced a profound crisis, despite high staff numbers with little binary divide between policy and operations. Like today, successive governments failed to face up to the depth of the crisis. What happened? It rumbled on through the 1980s before exploding at Strangeways in 1990. Simply tinkering with the system does not work. What is needed is a fundamental transformation, including sentencing policy. How can sentencing a vulnerable woman to 26 weeks in prison for begging for 50p be in any way politically or morally defensible? The crisis is not restricted to prisons, desperate though it is. It cuts through the whole of the criminal justice system in this country, which also needs to be fundamentally transformed including embedding structures of democratic accountability so that state servants are held to account. The complacency of ministers and the MoJ is breathtaking. Strangeways is a voice from the past that reminds us how dangerous such complacency can be.

Professor Joe Sim

School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University

Bob Neill, chair of the justice committee, does not agree with the Prison Governors Association that the decision to separate prison policy from operations “seems a perverse one and certainly not cost-effective”. This is odd, since his own committee recently reported: “It is not clear how the relationship between HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), responsible for operational management, and the ministry, responsible for policy and commissioning, will work in practice. This lack of clarity could make it harder to see what is going wrong in prisons and why, and confusion about who is responsible for what could make prisons less safe and effective.” No argument has ever been advanced for this bizarre arrangement, and no account for how it could be made work. With the ship nearly on the rocks, this does not seem quite the time for seeing if it sails better with two captains.

Julian Le Vay

Oxford

Five headlines in one day (2 August). “Met data shows disproportionate use of force on black people”, “Police officers investigated over two fatal shootings”, “Alarm at Birmingham knife crime”, “Violent crime by those on probation up since privatisation” and “Staffing issues blamed after disturbances at two prisons”. Law enforcement is a mess and some joined-up thinking wouldn’t go amiss.

Nik Wood

London

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters