Prisoners 'must work harder' for privileges

 

Chris Grayling: "Prison is about two things - punishment and rehabilitation"

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Male prisoners in England and Wales must work harder for privileges such as TVs in cells, the government has said.

Inmates will be made to wear a uniform during their first two weeks in jail and their access to private cash to call home will be restricted.

Satellite and cable TV channels, currently available in some private prisons, will be banned altogether.

The Prison Reform Trust said "getting rid of tellies" was not going to cut reconviction rates.

But Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "I want the arrival in prison for the first time to be an experience that is not one they'd want to repeat.

"That means an environment where they arrive [where] standards are pretty basic and then they start to gain extras by contributing... and if they won't do it, then they can't expect to start gaining those privileges."

Analysis

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says he's making these changes to refocus prisons on their twin aims of punishing and rehabilitating. He believes they offer privileges too easily and are too willing to settle for simply containing inmates. But it's also obvious that measures such as removing multi-channel TV are likely to be eye-catching to voters.

When asked, ministers couldn't provide concrete evidence that a tougher regime would increase rehabilitation though they insisted the plans had been properly thought out. The Prison Reform Trust said providing jobs behind bars was vital and there currently weren't enough. The government aims to increase them - but make good behaviour a condition of employment.

Ministers could have gone further - taking televisions in cells away completely, for example. But a Pentonville inmate told me the biggest perk for him was being able to earn enough money to call friends and family. He said more than anything, maintaining personal relationships would ensure he goes straight on the outside.

There are currently three levels of privileges available to prisoners - basic, standard and enhanced. Currently all inmates must be placed initially on the middle tier when they enter prison.

This allows them to wear own clothes, have a TV in their cell and gives them more family visits, access to private cash and potential to earn more from prison jobs than those who are moved to basic level for poor behaviour.

However, from November, all prisoners will spend their first two weeks on a new "entry" level, which more closely resembles the basic standard currently in place.

Their behaviour will be reviewed after two weeks and they will either stay at the basic level or move up to the standard level.

Other changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) schemes from November will include:

  • A longer working day for prisoners
  • A ban on films with an 18 certificate
  • Extra gym time being dependent "on active engagement with rehabilitation"

The Ministry of Justice said it would also strengthen prisons' powers to recover money from inmates who cause damage.

When the new system is introduced, existing prisoners will not lose the privileges they already have unless their status is reviewed - other than the loss of the cable and satellite TV service available in some private prisons.

Officials are still working on possible changes to the privilege scheme for female prisoners.

Ben Gunn, who spent 32 years in prison for murder, told the BBC Mr Grayling was putting newly incarcerated people at risk.

Prison Incentives and Earned Privilege

There are three levels of incentives.

  • Basic: The minimum entitlements in the prison rules. Includes visits, work, education, treatment programmes, religious services, access to the prison shop, exercise and associating with other prisoners but no TVs in cells
  • Standard: Allowed more visits than those on basic level, more time to socialise with other prisoners, higher rates of pay for work, higher allowance of private cash and in-cell TVs
  • Enhanced: Receive a greater volume of the standard level privileges. Includes extra visits, more time to socialise with other prisoners, more private cash allowance, priority consideration for jobs that pay more money

"To actually bring people into prison and in their first two weeks, when they are at their most vulnerable and prone to suicide and self-harm, to then throw them in uniform so they're marked out from the rest of the population and restrict the money they can spend to phone home to talk to friends, family and lawyers is just absurd.

"It's positively harmful."

Abdulla Choudhury, who was released in 2011 after serving 13 years in prison, agreed vulnerable prisoners could become targets for bullies.

He rejected the notion that prison life was easy and said those with less opportunity to earn money working in prison were more likely to sell drugs.

Mr Choudhury, who now works with young offenders for charity User Voice, also questioned the timing of the government's announcement, saying: "They should focus more on training so prisoners can get jobs when they leave prison."

Noel "Razor" Smith, who was in prison for 33 years and is now a writer, said putting TVs into prisoners' cells actually helped reduce violence in prisons, because it gave inmates who could not read or write a way to occupy their time.

"You would think he [Mr Grayling] would start on drugs if anything," Mr Smith said. "It's easier to buy heroin on prison landings than on the streets."

But Max Chambers, from the right-leaning Policy Exchange think tank, said the moves were "exactly what taxpayers would expect from our prison system" and would improve behaviour in jails.

Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said it was "perfectly reasonable" to remove subscription TV channels but there was no evidence to suggest that a "so-called tough approach" would improve rehabilitation.

"But, to be more effective, you have to focus on employment and skills training, on making sure people have safe housing to go to and that they have good contact with their family."

The Howard League for Penal Reform, meanwhile, said it was "bizarre" to introduce "new layers of red tape which will only add to the cost of prison and demands on staff time".

"It is also astounding that the justice secretary spends his time policing what prisoners watch on DVD, to the point that Scary Movie 2 or series three of The Inbetweeners will be banned," chief executive Frances Crook said.

Yvette Cooper: "You get a big announcement but the reality doesn't stack up"

"Instead, Chris Grayling should look at taking our prison population back to a manageable level - giving non-violent people community sentences so something productive can be done with those who remain in prison."

Last month, MSPs warned that prisoners in Scotland's jails were spending too much time watching TV instead of taking part in activities to cut reoffending.

 

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