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Treatment of prisoners during lockdown

(104 Posts)
Luckygirl Sun 31-May-20 17:25:31

There is a saying that you can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners.

A young relative of mine is in prison. He committed a crime and has done wrong - but the cause of that crime was his mental health problems (foetal alcohol and drug syndromes - he is adopted and his parents were addicts - , and autism). He should be in a mental health facility, as should many of his fellow prisoners.

This is what is happening in prison during coronavirus. Every prisoner is in their cell alone for 23.5 hours per day - no-one to speak to. In their half hour out they have to get a shower and hope to find a moment to ring home. That is it for the day. His young cell neighbour committed suicide last night; as did another young man several weeks ago.

These are damaged young men who are enduring what is virtually solitary confinement.

I know that many will think that other people are more deserving of our concern during this pandemic. But I feel the need to try and press for more humane treatment.

There is no reason why prisons should not be treated like schools with "bubbles" consisting of groups of prisoners able to socialise or take part in classes on a rota basis.

Locking down in this way is just brewing up more problems. I am sure that I would not be able to cope with it.

NotSpaghetti Sun 31-May-20 17:35:25

There is no interest in properly funding prisons here in the UK.
I was once reliably informed that "prisons don't win votes".

If only people realised what a waste prison is. Putting more money in elsewhere - education, mental health, youth services etc is a good start but we should really be ramping up rehabilitation, education etc in the prisons.

Maybe then we won't be such a "lock them up and forget about them" culture and probably won't spend any more in the long run.

MadCatWoman1 Sun 31-May-20 19:31:29

What crime did that young man commit? Robbery? Assault? Rape? Whatever it was, why hadn't he sought help for his mental problems before?

Also, prisoners these days have televisions, DVD players, ipads, mobile 'phones, as well as often being able to get drugs whilst in there. I, for one, couldn't care less about people who only get half an hour a day to be out of their cell. They are there as a punishment.

Luckygirl Sun 31-May-20 19:38:50

You must believe me - every attempt had been made over many years to get the help he needed. One of the mental health services to which he was referred had no staff - just a secretary telling people there were no staff - seriously.

Preventive and supportive care for people with such problems was wiped out by austerity and vulnerable young people are bearing the brunt of this - and society as a whole.

I accept that you do not care - I expected as much from some - but if we cease caring then the problem will continue and we are all diminished.

There is no question that the majority of prisoners have mental health problems and are in the wrong place. The prison system is trying to pick up the fallout from the under funding of mental health services.

FarNorth Sun 31-May-20 19:46:04

That is a terrible situation, Luckygirl.
Even those who say they don't care about prisoners should be interested in having those prisoners re-enter society in a better state than they left it, meaning they might be less likely to commit crime.

Nannytrace Sun 31-May-20 19:48:43

A lot of people have mental health issues but do not commit crimes. Let alone crimes serious enough to be locked up. I have suffered with mental health issues for Over 30 years but never hurt anyone or did anything dishonest.

TrendyNannie6 Sun 31-May-20 19:54:04

Agree with you Madcatwoman1,

Nannytrace Sun 31-May-20 19:54:44

Sorry, that sounds very judgemental and wasn’t meant to be.

Jane10 Sun 31-May-20 19:57:04

A scarily high number of prison inmates have been found to have learning disabilities, mental ill health or autism. A large number of young prisoners have specific language disorders hence can't process emotions internally and can become violent as a result. These often marginalised young men can end up in a toxic subculture with inevitable negative consequences.
It's not all like the TV prison dramas.

Jomarie Sun 31-May-20 20:04:33

Luckygirl I agree with you 100 per cent - prisons, hospitals, police stations are full of people needing help for MH problems - it is as big a problem as the Covid pandemic but without the acknowlegement and, therefore, the resources thrown at it. sad

FlexibleFriend Sun 31-May-20 20:30:13

I know someone who's been in prison for 10 years now, he's currently in open conditions and has been for about 18 months. He's had several home visits and is waiting his parole hearing to be allowed home, Lockdown has put a hold on that. He's not locked up all day as he can pretty much wander around as he pleases and spends a lot of time outside in the grounds. So he's not suffering in the way Luckygirls relative is and he doesn't have mental health issues.
They are still human beings and will one day be home and living amongst us and you won't know because you can't tell by looking at them.
They may have Tv's and Dvd players which they contribute towards, they certainly do not have iPads or mobile phones or anyway of accessing the internet. The reason they have Tv's etc is so they are easier to control, it makes the Prison officers job easier as the ratio of Officers to Prisoners isn't favourable to the Officers. They can also wear their own clothes and can no doubt access drugs should they want to, all credit to them that avoid drugs because it might make life easier inside but won't help once they are out and would most likely lead them to reoffend.
They may be in Prison as punishment but they are also supposed to be Rehabilitated which doesn't happen. Prisons are just Warehousing for criminals of all levels. They know apart from the people that know them nobody cares about them and they don't blame you. They just want to be treated like human beings and whether you like it or not it's in all our interests that we do so. Nothing will be gained by treating them as irrelevant and a waste of space.

Luckygirl Sun 31-May-20 21:06:54

Drugs enter prisons from the same drug rings that operate outside prison.

And - just as happens outside prison - inmates are forced into buying them on pain of beating up - and if they refuse they are beaten up - my relative has been beaten to the floor and had his hair shaved off. The drug baron inmates also extort money from relatives outside the prison under threat of violence to the targeted inmate.

The drugs arrive in prison in extraordinary ways - letter paper infused with a drug which the inmate then rolls up and smokes for instance. And, sad to say, some staff are complicit in all of this, either because they make money from it, or because the presence of drugs makes the prisoners easier to manage, or because they are themselves addicted.

Prisons are inhuman jungles, and any mentally ill person who finds themselves sucked in cannot escape, inside and out.

Nannytrace - I am sorry about your mental health problems. I hope that you have been fortunate with the treatment that you have received. The fact that the majority of prisoners have mental health problems is highly significant and implies a failure of services for treating their mental health problems. Young males with untreated mental health problems are at particular risk of exploitation by drug gangs with a result that they get sucked into crime.

Daisymae Sun 31-May-20 21:18:26

Sounds inhumane, surely prison should aim to rehabilitate. I did wonder at the start of all this whether people who were imprisoned for less serious crimes could be released early. However the conditions you are describing sound very damaging to a young person who has already gone through a lot. I don't know what the answer is, perhaps you could write to your MP?

sodapop Sun 31-May-20 21:22:39

There are different issues at play here. We don't have anywhere near enough treatment facilities for people with mental ill health and certainly not for those who go on to commit crimes.
We could learn a lot from the way other countries deal with law breakers, particularly the Scandinavian countries. The emphasis should be on rehabilitation, I understand of course that the public has to be protected as well. Our current system is clearly failing.

MerylStreep Sun 31-May-20 21:31:53

I suggest Some people here come into the 21st century and read up on what's going on in our prisons and what's not being done for people with mental health problems.

the presence of drugs makes the prisoners easier to manage
Do you remember the prison riots at Chelmsford in 1978?
Prior to the riots most of the prisoners were payed back and chilled with the amount of cannabis being smuggled in.
Then a new governor took over and there was a massive clampdown on drugs coming in.
What happened? The prisoners woke up to the conditions and all hell was let loose 🙁

vegansrock Sun 31-May-20 21:41:41

Some people have said that people are sent to prison as punishment. Yes, the loss of liberty is the punishment, it’s not the same as being sent to prison for punishment. A humane society should treat others humanely. The key is staffing, with cutbacks in experienced officers and cheaper and fewer well trained staff conditions inside have definitely got worse. Fewer opportunities for education and training, little psychiatric help cannot be a good thing surely?

MadCatWoman1 Sun 31-May-20 22:17:29


"A humane society should treat others humanely" - but many prisoners hadn't offered that same humanity to their victims - the men who rape women or children, the ones who shoot or stab someone, or who torture animals, beat up old people, rob from people.

What about the rights of the victims of crime?

The OP hasn't said what crime her relative has committed, I see.

Luckygirl Sun 31-May-20 22:41:30

Victims do indeed have rights and I am in no way defending crime or minimising the effects of those crimes on the victims and their families.

I am talking about how we as a society can deal with the problems that criminality causes to us all, and highlighting the level of mental illness in the prison population. The conclusion one might draw from that is not that all people with mental health problems are inclined towards crime - clearly this is absolutely not so. But it certainly seems that a failure to properly treat mental ill health is relevant to criminality, often because that ill person (in the absence of proper treatment) is vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by criminals; and also that prison is not an appropriate place for a mentally unwell person.

JenniferEccles Sun 31-May-20 22:46:27

I’m not sure how long your relative has been in prison or what crime he committed but we can assume it was serious because as we all know very few criminals these days receive custodial sentences.

If you are looking for sympathy you won’t get it from me.

I save my sympathy for the victims of crime.

May7 Sun 31-May-20 23:18:54

You'll get sympathy from me though luckygirl although I realise that's not why you posted. You were just trying to highlight the conditions in prisons for human beings during this difficult time.
Thanks for posting

Doodledog Sun 31-May-20 23:39:02

Sympathy is not a finite resource. It is perfectly possible to by sympathetic to victims of crime and also sympathetic to people who are suffering more than they would otherwise be in jail.

Those who trot out the 'but they have DVD players' etc lines are missing the point, I think. It would take a lot more than a DVD player to make me feel anything but wretched in a prison. Sharing a cell with a stranger, not having privacy to shower or use the loo, the constant threat of violence - even relatively small things like having the lights put out at a given time - all of that would be unbearable, and that's without not being with family and friends for so long. I'm sure that it's absolutely horrible, and no amount of TV would make me feel otherwise.

The thing is - none of that is the reason that I don't commit crime - how many people are genuinely deterred by thinking about prison? I, like most people, don't commit crime because I have a legitimate way to make a living, I have been lucky enough to move in non-criminal circles, I was brought up to be be law-abiding, I am neurotypical, I can read, etc etc. I don't need to commit crime, and I don't want to. I don't even consider it, so there is no logical process where I think about it then decide against because of the thought of being locked up.

A lot of people in jail probably wouldn't have done it either if they had been born in a different set of circumstances. I'm not saying that there should be no prisons, but there is no need to make them any worse than they already are.

I don't know how prisoners can best be protected from the virus, though. They are probably safer staying in their cells, but I completely understand the impact that this will have on mental health that is already, for many, compromised.

Hetty58 Sun 31-May-20 23:45:21

Even those who 'don't care' about prisoners should be concerned that prisons don't work. They don't stop (but actually increase) reoffending - oh and they cost an absolute fortune to run. What a waste!

mumofmadboys Mon 01-Jun-20 07:41:32

I feel so sad that some posters have hardened hearts where prisoners are concerned. I agree we can judge a society by how we treat it's most vulnerable members. Prisoners are someone's sons, brothers, fathers. We need to put much, much more money into rehabilitation and education in prisons. The recidivism rate is alarming.

vegansrock Mon 01-Jun-20 07:51:03

A very high % of prisoners are a product of the care system, have low literacy levels, have psychiatric or addiction problems. Treating them badly does not in the end help victims or protect others. I do know someone who spent time inside for a non violent offence, (a financial offence) , which deserved punishment, yes, but being locked up 23 hours a day was not the best use of someone who could have paid his debt to society in a much more productive way.

Iam64 Mon 01-Jun-20 08:02:40

Support and sympathy for your relative and his loved ones Luckygirl. The increased stress levels for inmates and staff in our prisons during this covid crisis are unimaginable to people who have not worked or been involved in that environment.

Prisons are ineffective, hugely expensive and in the case of many offenders, compound existing mental health and problems with social isolation. Those of us who would like to see a more humane, effective approach to dealing with crime and the causes of crime don't "not care" about the victims. We have a good understanding of the criminal justice system and want to improve it.