At the end of April HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported on the state of the prison here in Lewes. Its findings were pretty shocking and indicative of the wider issues affecting our prison system.
The report highlighted overcrowding problems and widespread violence with 25 reported assaults on staff and 111 reported on prisoners in just six months prior to the report’s publication.
For too long successive governments tried to out-do one another on looking ‘tough on crime’ by criminalising more and more people stretching our prisons to breaking point. Rehabilitation and education have played second fiddle to ever ‘tougher’ sentencing which does not reduce re-offending or act as an effective deterrent.
We must move on from seeing criminal behaviour as being something that can be fixed by harsher punishment. Instead we must start to see it as a mental health issue that needs treatment.
According to the Prison Reform Trust, 62 per cent of male prisoners in the UK suffer from a personality disorder and 46 per cent of female prisoners have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
Our prisons should be there as a last resort for people who pose a threat to society and must therefore be removed from it, not as a place to stick people with mental health issues.
Unless we adopt a more liberal approach to prisons policy in the UK, we are simply going to criminalise more and more people to the point where prisons like Lewes are simply no longer able to cope.
Education and treatment must be the focus of inmates’ time in prison otherwise we will continue to see the current pattern of violence and re-offending continue.
St Nicholas Lane