Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is set to introduce a series of proposals that will seek to make British prisons slightly less comfortable for inmates – starting by taking away prisoners’ access to video game consoles and Sky TV. Oddly enough, the plans have already drawn criticism.
Peter McParlin, national chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, said taking these privileges away from prisoners may lead to unrest – the concern being that the move will lead to inmates being locked in their cells for longer, increasing tension amongst prisoners. If anything, wouldn’t taking away access to video games get prisoners out of their cells and force them to interact more?
Whether or not video games stunt social interaction is completely debatable; however, they are undeniably a much-needed distraction from what should be the task at hand.
Rehabilitation needs to be the number one priority of the UK’s prison services. After all, the average inmate only serves a sentence of 14.9 months – and last year the Ministry of Justice conceded that almost 90% of those sentenced in England and Wales had offended before. Consequently, the government needs to spend those 14.9 months ensuring that prisoners undergo intensive rehabilitation programmes that will effectively prevent said inmates from reoffending three months down the road. How can they do that?
Above all else, successful rehabilitation must entail educational and vocational training that will help offenders learn a set of skills they can use after prison. According to the Centre for Mental Health, two in three inmates leave prison without a job prospect; therefore, it’s no wonder such a high percentage end up reoffending. Moreover, prison organisers must ensure that inmates take part in regular group activity that can serve to improve social interaction, as well as psychological rehabilitation programmes that will help inmates prepare for the various issues they may face after their incarceration.
Meanwhile, you know what won’t prepare prisoners for life on the outside? Sky TV and an Xbox. Make no mistake, those inmates are human beings, and they need the occasional distraction; after all, we can hardly expect offenders to emerge from prison with their mental health intact without providing them with a way to switch off. That being said, I’m a free man working full-time, and I can’t even afford new video games or the cheapest Sky TV package. Is it responsible to convince a prisoner that such A/V luxuries should be a part of every day life?
There are plenty of alternative outlets with which the government can provide prisoners as a means of switching off – from painting and music to simply encouraging them to read a book. It’s also worth taking a look at the work of groups such as the Royal Horticultural Society, who have helped to provide prisoners with a means of escape by sponsoring competitions for the nation’s best prison garden. Call me crazy, but encouraging a group of offenders to work as a team in order to grow something beautiful seems like a healthier way of spending an hour every day than playing Gran Turismo together in silence.
Make no mistake: prison should not become some sort of cruel gulag where we send social undesirables to die – indeed, it should be a place of healing. Yet in order to help prisoners heal, we need to give them a major reality check. Life after prison will be a case of sink or swim – and unless they can bag that coveted post-prison job as a professional videogame tester, it's hard to say how videogames will teach offenders to swim.