15:02, November 02 331 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-02 15:02:03
Problems in prisons predate Tory rule

Undoubtedly, prisons are in crisis, and this is having a devastating impact on prisoners and their families (England’s prisons are war zones. Unless austerity ends, things will get worse, 27 October). However, placing the blame so firmly on austerity misses the key point that prisons have always been in crisis. In 1978, the Times argued that the crisis in prisons was “a crisis of faith as well as money”, while the Guardian talked about the “volcano behind the bars”. Overcrowding was first acknowledged officially in 1947.

When your piece discusses the stresses faced by prison officers, and their low morale in this “new, Conservative-led prison system”, the same arguments were being made in the 1970s under Labour. Between 1976 and 1978 prison officers took industrial action over pay, conditions and status on 190 occasions, thereby significantly contributing to the sense of penal meltdown at the time. Propagating a narrow historical view of the current crisis means that the solutions offered are narrow, in this case restore the prison budget to its pre-cuts level and things will change. In fact, the problems in the pre-cuts system were also acute. This history needs to be recognised and radical policies inside and outside implemented, otherwise history will continue to repeat itself, not as tragedy and farce, but, in terms of self-harm and self-inflicted deaths, as tragedy and tragedy.

Prof Joe Sim

Liverpool John Moores University

It would appear that this administration is – in the face of Strasbourg’s 12-year-old ruling – trying to get away with the very least it could conceivably proffer over prisoners’ voting rights (Report, 30 October). Scotland has long been compliant and we need seriously to question why we remain in unsplendid isolation throughout western Europe in clinging irrationally to a blanket ban. There is no importunate assault on our parliamentary sovereignty; rather should this be to do with a stark though important question: are we or are we not in earnest about the rehabilitation of offenders? Continuing to hold out smacks of a collective lack of maturity at best and of an unhealthy vengefulness at worst. Do let us grow up over this straightforward piece of emancipating housekeeping.

Malcolm Fowler

Solicitor and higher court advocate, Birmingham

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