Crisis in prisons in England and Wales

According to a report by Emma Disley published in Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, the UK prison service has been having a difficult time over the last few months. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published figures corresponding to prisons in England and Wales in 2016, some of which are compromising, like, for example, 119 deaths because of suicide, which amount to 29 more than in 2015 and are the highest since records began back in 1978.

Last year’s 37,784 self-inflicted injuries and 25,049 cases of assaults and brawls in prison centres are also noteworthy.

It must be added that, on 1 March 2017, prisons in England and Wales had 85,519 inmates, 81,559 of which were men and 3,960, women. Current maximum prison capacity would be 86,720 inmates, meaning that it is close to its limit.

Another added problem may be a shortage of staff, especially in a dozen penitentiary centres, which need prison officers from other centres to help to keep order.

In order to meet the goals faced by the British prison service, the Commission of Justice began an investigation into the UK government’s programme to apply reforms to penitentiary centres. RAND Europa was one of the organisations called upon to respond basing its work on prior investigations into the social impact (SIB) on Peterborough prison. The RAND Europa presentation focused on lessons of these studies involving prison programmes and their outcomes being assessed efficiently.

A first lesson would be to avoid focusing on the convicts within the penitentiary system who are easier to help in order to achieve performance objectives like, for example, measures aimed at reducing the number of inmates reoffending. This may make individuals forget those who are more difficult to commit –for example, those who have a long criminal record –, in favour of “easy objectives”.

A second lesson would be to try not to concentrate on short-term objectives during limited periods of time. It is more important to understand the impact in the long term rather than opt for rapid feedback and, therefore, it would be necessary to study more realistic and appropriate periods.

Finally, along with the implementation of any new benefits regime for prisons, there is a need for solid and independent assessment to understand the effects of programmes, whether they are positive or negative.

UK prisons are going through a difficult time. The way of assessing the application of prison programmes may have an important effect on its efficacy and its impact on convicts, as well as on professionals.

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