Her Majesty’s Prisons may become holiday camps


BRITONS are questioning the wisdom of their government in proposing the new Prisons and Court Bill excluding the word punishment in the definition of the purpose of jail. Introducing this new Bill, according to “The Telegraph Newspaper” the Justice Secretary Ms Liz Truss told prison governors that they must protect the public, reform and rehabilitate offenders; prepare prisoners for life outside to be safe and secure.

The legislation does not place any obligation on prisons to punish offenders, reigniting the row over so-called “holiday camp” jails. That means prisons are no longer places for punishment based on that wording excluded from the first legal definition of the purpose of jails.

The Bill says that prisons must protect the public, reform and rehabilitate offenders, prepare prisoners for life outside, be safe and secure, but not punish them. Ms Truss wants to bring down reoffending - which costs the economy £15 billion per year - by ensuring that prisons educate inmates and teach them skills that will enable them to get jobs once they are released.

However the Parliament has been dissolved and the Bill suspended until after this June’s General Elections if it may be allowed by the incoming government to proceed on.

In the past during the colonial period in Tanganyika we used to refer to our prisons as King George Hotels and later three star hotels but now the British citizens are forced to call them as ‘holiday camps’ jails.

This move must have angered the British subjects at this time when it is reported that the Scotland Yard has recently warned that Britain is experiencing a surge in violent crime and the prisons inspectors found that prison guards have “all but lost control” at a crisis-hit jails.

Ms Truss is already under mounting pressure with Cabinet colleagues calling for her to be stripped off her role as Lord Chancellor and for her department to be broken up. She is alleged to get soft to the crime!

The Conservative MPs have been in the process of tabling an amendment to the Bill to insert the word punishment in the mission statement for prisons. The purpose of prisons first and foremost should be punishment.

The Government should recognise that. One irate MP said, “All these liberal Lefties think that people having their freedom taken away is a punishment in itself.”

The House of Commons library, which carries out research for MPs, suggested the wording of the Bill reflects the view the offenders “come to prison as punishment and not for punishment”.

Ms Truss said earlier this year: “The Prisons and Courts Bill is clear that prisons are there to deliver the sentences of the court – depriving people of their liberty to punish them for their crimes.”

What do others say on this move? For correctional fraternity and on the professional point of view at this 21st century (most are still in the 19th in both correctional structure and attitude); it is the right approach though not a populist move.

There are variable faces of correctional ideologies in this fast changing world in comparison to the historical past. An ideology is a frame of reference that we can use to explain and understand some of the aspects of our culture, past or present.

According to John Winterdyk in a book “Adult Corrections – International Systems and Perspectives” he argues, that in Corrections there are three broad ideologies that apply in correctional practices: punishment, treatment and prevention.

Punishment is the oldest form of societal response to the wrongdoer. In the past it was divided mainly into two categories, death or wide range of corporal punishment, flogging, and mutilation with the intent of inflicting physical pain.

Traditionally, many forms of punishments were conducted in public so as to serve as a deterrent for other possible offenders, and in the case of corporal punishment the intent was often to add humiliation similar to “shaming”.

While today the severity of such punishments may have abated in most parts of the world punishment has been couched to specialised terminology and rationalised on the grounds of various theoretical models.

The three main rationales used to justify punishment include retribution, deterrence and incapacitation. Retribution has a long history from the days of “an eye for an eye”, that is when a harm is done to someone, he or she deserves compensation for having been wronged.

A modern variation of this is the notion in which the offender is given a punishment he or she “deserves” because it is proportionate to the gravity of the offence. For example, taking another person’s life may equate to the loss of the offender’s life in some countries or to life imprisonment in others.

Deterrence is premised on the notion that people have free will and that a threat of punishment, if proportionate to the crime, should be sufficient enough to deter a potential offender from offending.

The fear of going to prison or paying hefty fine is enough to deter possible offenders. And for incapacitation, its primary objective is to prevent the offender from committing any further offences by some form of imprisonment that removes him or her from society and temptations.

While these various forms have been used to maintain social order and control yet they have met with marginal to the minimal success thus the necessity of having treatment programmes for offenders for their eventual rehabilitation and social reintegration.

This scientifically worked out process is the kind of punishment that is supposed to be accomplished by offenders instead of what has been known as imprisonment with hard labour with possibility of solitary confinement that has been dealt away with the adaption of Nelson Mandela Prison Rules.

Should we treat offenders under our custody as second class citizens devoid of their basic human rights? Next week I will deal with the remaining ideologies related to Corrections which are Treatment and Prevention.

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +255754342711 Senior Citizen, Board Member Penal Reform International and National Parole Board.
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