Governments and the media like to use the term “reform” quite regularly, just to let the electorate know they are improving public services. We often hear, in Britain especially, “health care reforms”, “welfare reforms”, “policing reforms” and so on. It is, of course, patent nonsense. These words and other words are used in an entirely different context. For example take the phrase “in the national interest”, this, so it would seem appears to suggest, serves the interest of the public but this is untrue. The phrase serves the interests of wealthy business elites and satisfies private concentrated power, and there are other phrases that are repeated so often that the phrase and meaning comes to the forefront of our minds quite often. I will not continue in this fashion as this essay is about prison reform and it would be inappropriate to divert attention away from this very important issue.
The word “reform” according to the Collins English Dictionary, means “to improve (an existing institution, law, etc) by alteration or correction of abuses”. When the government, wealthy elites and media groups use this term it does not mean what the dictionary’s definition of the word is, on the contrary. The other definition of the word means to liquidate, annihilate, massacre, deconstruct, weaken, undermine, destroy and smash. This is the government’s idea of “reform”. This very issue is not only relevant at the present time, it will just be as relevant in a year’s time, five-years time, ten-years, thirty-years even, perhaps longer: that is the subject of prison reform.
Prisons were grotesquely “reformed” after the Strangeways riots in 1990 and unfortunately prisoners have benefitted from having televisions in their cells thus becoming pacified. Today, having a television in prison is seen as a luxury; it should not be. Draconian prison sentences were being handed out, as they still are for people who escape from the barbarian establishments or who attempt to escape, there were other “reforms” also. But we have reached another generation where a great number of people believe in “tough justice”.
This “tough justice” seems to suggest “punishment”. One would infer from this that it leaves no room for “rehabilitation”, the two words are oxymorons, certainly in this sense. Yet the very idea of punishment is an Anglo-American affair. That is what “prison-reform” is, in the government’s eyes, to punish more harshly than is necessary, in fact it is not necessary to punish anybody at all. “The worst crime”, write George Bernard Shaw, “is poverty”, and he is correct. There are not so many Roman Catholic priests, Cardinals and Bishops in prisons for rampant child abuse, neither do you get other members of the criminal class in prison. These consist of members of parliament, the monarchy, the police, the military, judges, business leaders and so forth. It is my estimation that well over ninety percent of the prison population are victims of persistent government criminalisation of classes, societies, and communities. People are not born evil, or bad, it is due to the nature of the environment to which they belong.
A government Minister will always commit crimes because it is part of their evolutionary history. But for them it is not a crime. It is, shall we say, the situation with Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov commits a murder because he feels he has the superiority to do so. So the people who wish to “reform” prisons are the worst animals out of all of us. Only in an Kafkaesque world of hell would such people be permitted to make “reforms”.
So this trend in Britain is what Ministers and the media alike like to call “tough justice”, to use the word justice in this context is quite perverse and few people in the media or otherwise seem indifferent in explaining the definition of the word “justice”. All justice amounts to is stern incarceration of the most barbaric kind, without this incarceration, justice has not been served. It is not enough to incarcerate but that incarceration must be “tough”. This means more draconian “prison reform” or as Ministers like to say “robust reforms”. These “reforms” amount to giving people longer prison sentences, longer periods on licence, less prison wages, less food, the removal of all “privileges” and so on.
But these liberal “reforms” have to be moderate, even though they are unjustly harsh by european standards because there is a protection (of a kind) from the Geneva Convention of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union, fortunately, Britain is in Europe. That automatically instills certain rights, principles and so on. It would be quite absurd to compare prison conditions in Europe to those in South America, South-East Asia, Africa and the Middle-East. People of all kinds do this to justify the conditions in prisons in which they propagate. It would be more appropriate to compare prison conditions in Europe, and in doing so would highlight the grotesque conditions and grievances in jails in Britain, which is why it is seldom done.
But why do it in the first place? It is fair to say throughout history the state has always discriminated against particular sections of society. They do it for different reasons of course but it is clear why this is done today. It has nothing to do with principles or deep-seated beliefs the criminal class peddle. It has everything to do with an insatiable love for power, because, based on people’s own prejudices, they vote. The current trend is to implement “reforms” in the form of “tough justice”. The more Orwellian prison laws become the more electable the ruling party become. It is largely engineered through the capitalist press-thus uttering the absurd fictitious fallacy that we have a “free press”.
Why is it though this “tough on justice” must be uttered as well as other diabolical platitudes? There is, in people’s minds, a perverse, irrational belief that the more hideous a prison is, the less chance there is of the prisoner committing more crimes, that is utterly irrational and the Norwegian model of short prison sentences and strenuous emphasis on rehabilitation has shown as much. British politics as a whole has a one policy ideology and bears the hallmark of a totalitarian state. Every major party in the country believes in this nonsense rhetoric of “tough justice”, and no other alternative is offered.
It is already clear the difference between the European prison conditions and Briton’s is akin to comparing the living conditions in the third world to the advanced industrial societies. These “reforms” in London have led to the biggest prison population in the continent, more lifers, a seven-year reign of terror which saw the introduction of the IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) system, the creation of hundreds of new offences, including thoughtcrime, and the shocking revelation that the prison industrial complex will only get worse, much worse. The outcome will be predictable.
11-18th January, 2014
For my previous prison essays check out my recent posts. Part four will be posted soon