Penal reformers urge authorities to ignore UK’s ‘get tough’ plans

Penal reformers have urged Irish authorities not to go down the road of the new “get tough” approach to prisoners in England.

Under the plans, new committals to prison will have to wear a standard-issue prison uniform for a period and will have to earn their perks and privileges, rather than receive them as an automatic entitlement. This includes access to televisions in their room. In addition, all inmates in England and Wales, under plans announced by justice secretary Chris Grayling, will have to work one extra day a week.

“This is a real step back for UK policy and we don’t want to go down the same road,” said Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

He said there had been a lot of progress in Britain over the past 20 years in terms of conditions, but said this had been undermined by problems relating to increasing numbers and overpopulation.

“This is Grayling playing to populist feelings, being tough on prisoners, focusing on what films they watch and what channels, but it is not addressing the problem of overcrowding and cutbacks.”

Under the plans, new male committals would have to wear prison uniforms for the first two weeks of their sentence.

“Making prisons more harsh for the first two weeks in quite reckless,” said Mr Herrick. “The statistics show there is an increased risk to self-harm and suicide when people enter prison.”

He said access to televisions in cells had been shown to be beneficial: “TVs were introduced in Irish prisons as one method to reduce self- harm and suicide and had that effect in a very short time. The same [happened] in England.”

He said it was totally reasonable to make privileges dependent on work and pointed out that such an incentivised regime already existed in Ireland to a lesser degree.

“On the face of it, this is incentivised, which we’ve had for years, in that you earn certain privileges. That principle is sound. But you have to have the opportunities there for prisoners to avail of, such as education, workshops, etc. There is not enough work in the UK for that.”

He said the same challenge applied here with many prisons unable to provide the level of training and education necessary for a broader incentivised scheme.

An Irish Prison Service spokesman said its incentivised regime was set out in a policy document which provided for “a differentiation of privileges between prisoners according to their level of engagement with services and quality of behaviour”.

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