LETTER: Wrong model for UK prisons

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The Independent Online
From Professor Justin Brooks

Sir: For the past two months I have been in the UK researching the correctional system. I have visited many correctional facilities and have spent many hours speaking to correctional administrators. As a result of my research, I am convinced that the British correctional system is headed in the wrong direction.

Although I am proud to be an American, I am not proud of the US correctional system. Policies formulated at the whim of politicians, focused only on security and punishment - and not rehabilitation - have created the most unsuccessful correctional system in the world. The US incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other country and has the highest recidivism rate: there is very little correction occurring in the correctional system.

Even though the US provides clear examples of failed punitive correctional policies, there seems to be a desire in the UK to model these policies. Over the past decade, the US has attempted to build its way out of its correctional crisis while alleged tough-on-crime policies have filled every new available cell. Instead of allocating resources so that inmates will not recidivate, resources have been allocated to make sure there will be a cell for them when they return. I see the British correctional system moving in the same direction, because I have consistently heard over the past two months about the prison service cutting back programmes that will keep prisoners from coming back to prison, while allocating large amounts of money to security and new prisons.

Locking inmates up without proper treatment, educational programmes, vocational training, support for their families, and concern for their transition back into the community is clearly the quickest route to a violent crime-ridden society, and an outrageously expensive correctional system. One need not be altruistic to believe that offering inmates opportunities is a good idea. It is much cheaper to pay for inmate programmes than it is to pay for a population of individuals who spend their lives shuffling in and out of the criminal justice system, while the taxpayers are probably also supporting their families.

I believe that the British correctional system can turn itself around before it becomes as failed as the US system. I have met many excellent civil and progressive administrators who, given the resources, clearly have the ability. It is time now to formulate policies from the top that allow the operation of true "correctional" facilities, not just prisons.

Yours sincerely,

Justin Brooks

Sheffield, Yorkshire

20 December

The writer is an associate professor at the Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan.