First-Hand: 'I know prison doesn't work' - Kathryn George-Harries says, from her experience, Michael Howard is wrong

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Indy Lifestyle Online
EVERYONE thought I'd have a really horrendous time in prison. I was supposed to be from the right side of the tracks, a 'brief' as the prisoners called lawyers (I am a trainee solicitor). People didn't think I'd take to the adolescent rules of prison life. I was convicted because I 'rearranged' the house of someone that I wasn't too pleased with at the time, causing damage amounting to about pounds 18,000. That was three years ago and I was 29 - a grandmother compared to most of the others in prison, who were all about 20.

I was in three prisons in all: Pucklechurch for a week, Holloway for a few days and Drake Hall - an open prison - for 10 weeks. (I served three months of a six-month sentence.) Pucklechurch was the worst - a cruise missile is too good for that place. Only two of the 20 in our corridor had actually been convicted; the rest were awaiting trial. There were hundreds of little rules designed to wind up the prisoners: you couldn't go to the loo when you wanted, you were only allowed one bath a week, no phone calls. I was always complaining about the conditions so they punished by making me clean the psychiatric wing. 'We've broken bigger and better than you' they used to say.

There was no form of therapy or rehabilitation; unless you called popping Valium, Lithium or Mogadon therapy. Everything is dealt with by a pill - they haven't got time for anything else.

During my time, I shared cells with two different girls. One was a prostitute, and one was done for fraud. The prostitute's been back inside twice since I saw her. She was a drug addict and was always saying 'I'm going to score as many rocks as I can when I walk out the door.' About 80 per cent of the people were on drugs.

They did a good job at Drake Hall. It sounds weird but I knew people who were planning to be back in that place for Christmas. Some would specially commit crimes on the outside so that they could get into prison with someone they liked. Most people there had been in prison five or six times, and there were a lot of lifers at Drake Hall. It's strange you know, but lifers never age. You can always tell the time when they got sentenced - it hangs around them like an aura.

People in prison think totally differently about crime to those on the outside. They treat it like a business, with prisons as the recruiting centre. Information is exchanged all day long.

I never met, among all the women I came across, a single one that expressed any remorse. Their only regrets were a) That they were caught, and b) That they didn't go for the big time. Their attitude is 'I wish I'd stolen 400 pairs of jeans, not just pounds 100.' The yuppie-Thatcherite ethos has filtered down.

Most prisoners are let out with pounds 39 and maybe a change of clothing. They go back to where they've come from and set up business again. How else are they to survive?

I dread to think what will happen if they turn the prisons over to security firms. It takes skill to be a prison officer - it's not just a question of turning a key. They know how drugs are passed, who's on heroin, and so on. Prisoners will be running the prisons before long.

The Government should start treating the cause of crime, not its symptoms. Building new prisons isn't going to solve the problem. You do learn lessons from prison, but the wrong ones. Few people shake off what they've learnt: prison merely reinforces existing lifestyles. Unless there's a change in attitude, and the will to create a more constructive and less primitive structure in society, crime will carry on

going up.

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