12:16, March 07 481 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-07 12:16:06
Lamentable Tory rhetoric on prisons

The justice secretary David Gauke offers up more repackaging of stale news with his proposed “plan to recategorise prisoners into higher-security prisons based on their continuing risk of criminality in jail” (Tougher jails for more than 6,000 prisoners with crime gang links, 6 March). Security categorisation is already determined by assessment of the risks posed by a prisoner in terms of likelihood of escape or abscondment, the risk of harm to the public in the event of an escape or abscond, and any control issues that impact on the security and good order of the prison and the safety of those within it.

At present, prisons are to assign to the prisoner the lowest security category consistent with managing those risks. Gauke either appears to be planning to tear this up and deny gang-related prisoners the possibility of transfer to open conditions or to be planning no change at all. Already, information relevant to the categorisation decision may be withheld from the prisoner “for the prevention of crime or disorder, including information relevant to prison security or for the protection of a third party”. This is a prison informer’s charter, with prisoners stuck in high-security conditions without knowing or being able to challenge the reasons why.

What is clear is that Gauke’s and Rory Stewart’s “back to basics” rhetoric means a return to the years of “prison works”. £14m has been found for a purported “gang crackdown” but nothing for education, healthcare or rehabilitation. It is these, not “Eliot Ness” posturing, that will determine whether prisons become places of “hope, not despair”.

Nick Moss


David Gauke’s response to the prison crisis is lamentable. Given the recent, devastating reports from the chief inspector of prisons on Liverpool and Nottingham (Report, 19 January), here was a chance for Mr Gauke to make a radical break from the desperate failures of the past. Instead, he reduces the complex problems facing prisons to the headline-grabbing issue of gangs.

Is he really suggesting that the abject conditions, overcrowding, self-harm, self-inflicted deaths, the authoritarian culture of prison officers, the use of unofficial punishments by staff, the lack of democratic accountability and the punitive treatment of minority ethnic prisoners can be reduced to gang activities? Were recent demonstrations caused by gangs? Are the systemic problems in women’s prisons due to gangs, which are almost non-existent in these prisons? It is a plan from a politician who has no clear vision for the future while prisoners, and those staff trying to do a decent job in indecent circumstances, suffer daily under his watch.

Professor Joe Sim

School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University

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