Leading article: Crime and pernicious punishment


The tragic story of the Bates family, which we outline today, is further proof of the inhumane conditions that exist in our prisons. Yesterday an inquest jury condemned Brockhill prison for a series of failings that resulted in the suicide of 19-year-old Anne-Marie Bates. Ms Bates, who had just given birth to her third child, was remanded in custody in late July 2001 on a robbery charge. The jury was told that the judge recommended that she be put in a bail hostel; instead she was placed in an adult jail. A month later Ms Bates was found hanged in her cell. The jury condemned the fact that no care plan was made for her, despite the fact that she was identified as being a suicide risk.

But we have since learned that Ms Bates' older brother had previously attempted to hang himself at a young offender's institution, and been left in a vegetative state. Her younger brother subsequently committed suicide out of grief. Has ever one family been so let down by our prison system?

Yet the pernicious idea that "prison works" shows no signs of loosening its grip on government policy. Last week, the Home Secretary, John Reid, announced 8,000 extra prison places. This was presented as part of a wider effort to deal with overcrowding. Mr Reid also proclaimed his desire to cut the number of vulnerable women and mentally ill people in prison. But where this Government is concerned, one should pay attention to what ministers do, not what they say. And more jail places - that will swell our already bulging prison population even further - should cause alarm bells to sound.

Mr Reid, like his predecessors at the Home Office, still fails to understand that urgent action needs to be taken to reduce the overall numbers being held in our jails. Ms Bates was a victim of our overstretched, unreformed prison culture. She is by no means alone. In the past four years, 36 women have killed themselves in prisons. Nor is she likely to be the last. The number of female inmates has almost trebled in the past decade.

Indeed, prison cramming has taken on its own momentum for both sexes. Nowhere in Western Europe jails more of its population than England and Wales. Since 1993 the prison population has risen 85 per cent to 77,000 (even before Mr Reid's 8,000 extra places). Most of these inmates are not violent or hardened criminals, but petty thieves, drug addicts and the mentally ill. A spell in prison does nothing to reform them. Almost 60 per cent of them will be reconvicted within two years of release.

What they require are non-custodial public punishment sentences and mental health treatment. What they - and we, the public - are getting are the discredited penal methods of the past. And they are not working.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?