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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect