Stripping prisoners of their privileges isn't courageousby Edward George / May 9, 2013 / Leave a comment
Last week the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, outlined changes to the rules regulating prisoners’ privileges. The changes, which include requiring all convicted prisoners to wear uniforms for the first two weeks of their sentences and restricting access to television, films and private cash, are designed to make prison more punitive.
Not many people will lose sleep about prisons ditching their Sky TV subscriptions, or inmates losing the ability to watch 18 certificate films, and rightly so. But other elements of the changes are misjudged to the point of danger. The move is especially depressing because it appears to have been conceived for political reasons, and because it is symptomatic of an unpleasant instinct within the Conservative party to prove its toughness by attacking easy targets.
There are currently three levels of privileges available to prisoners in UK jails: basic, standard and enhanced. When inmates enter prison they are automatically put on the “standard” level, which gives them various entitlements including access to private cash and permission to wear their own clothes. The changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, which come into effect in November, will create a new “entry” level which will be much closer to the austere “basic” level (the punishment for poor behaviour) by denying new inmates access to these entitlements at the beginning of their sentences. After two weeks the behaviour of the prisoners will be reviewed: if they have cooperated with the prison regime and engaged in rehabilitation they will progress to the standard level, and if not they will drop to basic.
Grayling justified the changes on the basis that they will contribute to the government’s “rehabilitation revolution” and reduce reoffending (a theme developed in the Queen’s speech yesterday with a new commitment to extend probation services to all offenders after release). He argues that prisoners are currently rewarded for the absence of bad behaviour (by being immediately placed on the standard level), whereas in the future they will have to earn these perks by positively engaging in activities which will support their rehabilitation. But if his priority is reducing reoffending, the changes are wrongheaded. Research indicates that maintaining contact with family during a prison sentence can reduce…