i Editor's Letter: The prison system isn't working

In light of the shocking new revelations published in today's i, we need to seriously rethink the way we punish — and rehabilitate — criminals

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The Independent Online

During the past dozen years in this newsroom, I’ve read hundreds of accounts from people working in prisons saying that the system is in crisis, pleading for politicians to listen to them. Yet we all hear ministers say quite regularly that we need to lock up more people because prison works. (Most famously Michael Howard in 1993.)

Today we run an interview with the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, which is shocking for his damnation of prisons policy and the conditions he has discovered inside. Mr Hardwick is no woolly liberal (and nor am I). He speaks of inmates locked up for 23 hours a day  in overcrowded cells because of chronic staff shortages. The system is running at 99 per cent capacity.

Criminals should be punished and reformed, to reduce reoffending. But we place too much blind trust in the idea that jail rehabilitates the character. The latest evidence suggests our prison system is not working. So why does our Justice Secretary Chris Grayling refuse to accept that there is a problem?


Some of your responses to my letter yesterday on Tony Blair and Iraq are,  I regret to say, difficult to publish in a family title – even Mr Blair has feelings. Other readers point out the myriad factors at play, not least the sectarianism of the Iraqi PM, who refuses to relinquish office (page 6). We make an open offer to Mr Blair to write for i readers about the jihadists’ advance through Iraq.


We have tweaked the back page of Sport today, following feedback from readers. The aim is to focus on  three key stories – as with News on the front – with the familiar matrix of smaller items tucked just over the page, on 53. Please, as ever, let us know what you think.