Inmates verdicts: 'Nothing to do except sink further into the system and depression'

A place to rehabilitate offenders? Or does prison breed more crime? Inmates give their verdicts
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Nigel

Serving prisoner in HMP The Verne

"There's nothing to do here all morning except drink tea, read, write letters and watch telly, watch the clouds go by and sink further into the system and depression.

"Highlight of the day is collecting the post. Letters are so important and get read over and over again, a precious link to the outside world and my sanity.

"This is my first experience of prison, and I hate each and every day. It is degrading, inhumane and soul destroying. The system does next to nothing to turn out better people. In this place resettlement is a joke. The whole prison regime is about containment and punishment - it's no wonder there is such a high reoffending rate.

"I despise what prison is doing to me, making me cynical and hard, making my family suffer the same.

"I am lucky. I have a supportive family, a job to go out to, a loving wife and son who are behind me 100 per cent.

"The prison does nothing to help; shows little or no regard for me as a person of worth. My experience is that prison breeds crime. I now know more about crime than I thought possible. I sit and listen to jobs being organised for after people's release, how to beat confiscation orders, where to obtain drugs, arms, etc. I can't believe what I am told.

"There are lads who want to go straight but the prisons do not help them, or trust them so they return."

Mike

Serving prisoner in HMP Wayland

"I work as a cleaner on the wing. At least I'm doing something to occupy my mind. It would drive me mad if I was doing nothing with my time in prison.

"I have felt a bit down, but I can cope a lot better now. Looking back I think I have done really well with myself and I haven't self-harmed for nearly a year now.

"This jail can be so boring. There isn't a lot going on, but you have to make do with what's on offer.

"I haven't seen my mum for two years, she can't travel this far, nor can my wife who I have only seen twice in 14 months. I think it's out of order that we're stuck out in the middle of nowhere. I used to see my wife every week before I came here."

Chris Streeks

Former prisoner, now a campaigner for Smart Justice

"I dropped out of education at 13 and began shoplifting and ended up in a detention centre at 14, borstal at 15, and I was arrested for murder at 16 even though I didn't do it and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"As far as prison life goes, it did not make me better at all. I had to do it all myself. They end up moving you around a lot because of the overcrowding so I had to wait for years to get to a prison that could address my drug problem. Prison is not the right place to address problems because you don't feel safe. It's such a hostile environment. I was assaulted in prison.

"They give you a letter when you leave which basically suggests you're unemployable, so the system's setting you up to fail. Fortunately, I came out and got a scholarship to a summer course in drama, because of my passion for acting. I've also written a book called Letters to a Young Person and I do work with youngsters so they get the help that I didn't."

Frank

Serving prisoner in HMP Birmingham

"I find prison a prison of the mind mostly. I was afraid of being beaten up and treated like shit by the guards, but... the staff on the wing have been excellent. I find the mental stress the most difficult. Television is a big problem for me. I wouldn't normally watch much and I find it gets to me - builds up tensions that I cannot get rid of."

Yvonne Scholes

Son, Joseph, 16, found hanged in Stoke Heath YOI in 2002

"Joseph is one of 28 children to die in custody since 1990. Three, aged 14, 15 and 16, have died. If this had been a death in social services there would be an outcry. The fact that my son died at the hands of a different state body should make no difference. Everybody involved in Joseph's care, all the authorities, believed he should not have received a custodial sentence. He was a wonderful child. I loved him dearly, but he was very disturbed with mental health problems and he required a safe environment."

Pauline Campbell

Daughter, Sarah, 18, died of an overdose in HMP Styal in 2003

"Warehousing mentally ill people in prisons is indefensible. Severely depressed, [Sarah] died the day after arriving at Styal prison. It may not be madness, but it is symptomatic of a government devoid of compassion. It is worrying when the madness leads to bizarre decision-making and an obsession with the need to appear 'tough'."

'Marjorie'

Serving prisoner in HMP Peterborough

"I've been in prison for five weeks and this coming weekend my daughter is coming to visit. It will be the first time I have seen anyone from the outside and I am very apprehensive. Part of me doesn't want visits.

"I get locked up all day. I was working on a previous wing but got badly bullied and had to be moved for my own safety - those girls are still working and I'm not. Today I was able to chat to some of my neighbours on the upstairs landing. We discussed visits, going grey and grandchildren.

"I spend a lot of time looking at the photos of my grandchildren which are stuck on the wall with toothpaste. There is also a photo of my dad, my significant other and my last dog. Oh, and a copy of the prayer of St Francis."

Anne Brown

Married to Aaron, a serving prisoner in HMP Stafford

"The worst thing is the distance. I have two children, a son and a daughter, and it's so difficult to go and see him.

"It's such a nightmare visiting him, travelling up there from London and back takes 12 to 13 hours, I have to get four trains and taxis, and it costs well over £100. At one point, I couldn't see him for 16 months. He has applied to move prison 12 times. We are not as close as we used to be even though he tries to phone home twice a week, but sometimes gets cut off half way through because calls are expensive."

Geoff Ikpoku-Johnson

Former prisoner, now runs a company driving families to see prisoners

"Prison is like a human zoo. You are in this cell and the officers come and lock and unlock you. They are supposed to be these figures you can approach with your problems but they don't care about you.

"I went in at the age of 18. I found it a bullying atmosphere at that age. When I came out, I realised I had learnt nothing inside. I felt like 'wow, I've been in prison - I've got street cred!'.

"You come out of prison and you are so angry. You come out with the same problems you walked in with and you want to do something a lot of damage."

The alternatives to prison

Fines

The use of fines declined in the late 1990s, as courts opted for community sentences or even prison instead. The National Audit last year reported little more than half (52%) of a sample of 600 offenders paid in full within six months of conviction.

Community Service

Almost everyone agrees these should be imposed on more minor offenders, but the problem is convincing courts of their effectiveness. Research on the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme discovered a 91% reoffending rate. The Home Office countered that the number of offences committed by its "graduates" fell from 11 to seven.

Tagging

More than 2,500 offenders are currently on release on electronic tags under the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme.

Supporters argue tags facilitate rehabilitation, but last month the Home Office admitted 1,021 serious offences had been committed by prisoners freed early since the HDC launch in 1999.

Mental Health Treatment

John Reid has acknowledged there are people inside prison who should not be there. Providing alternative treatment would require extra investment in community mental health, healthcare places and halfway houses.

Hostels For Women

A total of 4,445 women are in jail in England and Wales, most for petty offences such as shoplifting, fraud or drug use. One third have no previous convictions. Women-only bail hostels would enable mothers to keep in touch with their children.

Nigel Morris