Leading article: Crime and pernicious punishment

Share

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: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Recruitment Genius: Water Jetting / HGV Driver - Industrial Services

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Skilled Labouring staff with id...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Executive - OTE £30,000

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Salary: £16k - £20k Dependant o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The five reasons why I vote

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Daily catch-up: the gap between rich and poor has narrowed (a little) since the banking crisis

John Rentoul
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot