The prison system in the UK is a complete mess. It’s too harsh in some cases, too lenient in others. There’s overcrowding, reoffending, and high crime rates behind bars. A combination of these factors makes it clear that something has to be done to aid a system that is failing. Although, the very concept of a prison is problematic in itself – taking the people who need to be punished for a variety of crimes, from speeding to murder, and locking them up together.
This is not a suggestion that no one should go to prison. Even if locking up prisoners together doesn’t sound like a perfect solution, it takes criminals and dangerous people off the street, stopping them from committing any further crimes. However, reform is urgently needed for prisons across the country.
Overcrowding and the conditions of prisons is one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is easy to forget that criminals still deserve basic human rights. This doesn’t mean that all of the UK’s serial killers should be given an Xbox and 24/7 room service, but sanitation, a bed, food and medical care should be consistently provided at a high standard, no matter the person or crime. Unfortunately, due to overcrowding and low staff rates, these basic amenities are often denied to prisoners. This isn’t a new crisis either. For over twenty years many prisons have been operating at capacity above the recommended amount. Not only is overcrowding a violation of the rights of prisoners, it also causes increased violence, suicide and other prison-related offences. Instead of cramming all of the UK’s prisoners into already overcrowded prisons, the government needs to take action before a criminal reaches the incarceration stage. Education is key in reducing crime rates, and there are plenty of other penalties for less serious crimes – community service, fines, electronic tagging – that can stop the huge influx of people serving time in prison.
A second urgent issue that needs addressing is the line between retribution and rehabilitation in prisons. On average, 46% of all prisoners, and 60% of those serving short sentences, reoffend within their first year of release. This shows that the current prison system simply does not work. Despite being designed to both penalise and reform criminals, as well as deterring them from committing an offence again, these statistics prove that it does neither of these things. With the current state of incarceration, someone who leaves custody begins their integration into society in a worse place than they were before they were sentenced. If there was more of an effort to focus on rehabilitating prisoners, by providing education and follow up aid after release, the reoffending rates would plummet. In Norway a prison sentence focuses on reforming its criminals and, as a result, Norway has one of the lowest reoffending rates in the world.
Fair treatment, education, alternative penalties and rehabilitation are all things that should be done to reform the prison system. There is evidence that it is massively failing, and yet nothing seems to be happening to fix the situation. This does not mean that criminals don’t deserve to be sentenced to prison, and there is no illusion that all criminals are victims in the system. However, regardless of the person or crime, human rights are vital and non-negotiable. The prison system needs to be fixed urgently.