Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In prison.

I went to prison yesterday - of my own free will, I should add. A friend, who is a High Sheriff had told me that there was a dynamic free thinking Governor at Her Majesty's Prison Shrewsbury, so I invited myself along. I'd never visited a prison before and learned more about prison life in two hours than I ever expected to. I cannot write too much because it would be letting Governor Hendry down.

First thing that surprised me was that it was quite difficult to get in. By the time I'd shown identification, been photographed, handed over my mobile and been escorted in with heavy gates and doors being unlocked in front of me and locked behind me, I had a sense of what it must feel like to be an unwilling visitor. And it does disorientate.

When I entered the Governor's room, his PA said "Would you like a drink Sir". It could have been straight out of 'The Bill'. I answered weakly, "A cup of tea please". And then a very strange thing happened. A woman that I have known from my school days walked in. She works in a senior position in the prison. I know her well - but the last time we met, she was a schoolteacher in Newtown. I thought she still was. One part of my brain was telling me that I knew this woman, while another part was telling me this wasn't possible. Ridiculously, I had to ask her who she was. When she told me, I felt quite dumbfounded. She must have thought I was losing it.

Now what did I expect. An MP friend of mine had been there and had expected it to be rather chaotic. I'd expected there to be an atmosphere of resentment and sullenness. Both of us were wrong. There was an amazing atmosphere of normality. 300ish young men (mostly) locked up, with no access to women, or the drink or drugs that many had 'enjoyed' too much before their 'long stay visit' - and they all seemed totally nonthreatening and normal. They were reading, playing table tennis, learning various skills and working at producing things. I thought to myself "What a dreadful waste of human beings".

I was also surprised when the Governor told me that many prisoners arrive, totaal y shocked to have been given a custodial sentence. It seems that criminals are just about the most optimistic people when they appear before the judge or jury. They always think they are going to 'get off'. So they arrive in deep distress, wondering who is going to meet the kids from school, or look after aged parents, or feed the dog etc. etc. I'd never thought of this.

I've been asking several questions of myself ever since - and the biggest question is whether 'Prison Works'. Of course it works in that criminals cannot commit crimes (easily anyway) when they are locked up. But it only really works if the prisoners make a go of it after being released. I don't think I'm breaking any confidences when I say that this aspect of the job matters a lot to Governor Hendry. In the short run, equipping a prisoner to manage after release is hugely expensive, but if this greatly reduces the level of re-offending, it saves money and discord in society in the longer term. The potential for debate about how to deal with prisoners is huge - and as the governor reminded me, it was Churchill who said that it is possible to judge the state of a nation by the state of its prisons. After yesterday afternoon's experience, the issue of how we rehabilitate criminals is bound to become a consuming issue for me if I were ever to become a Member of Parliament.


Anonymous said...

The assumption that the inmates have no access to drugs may be a little naive.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

That you let you out????

I will be writing to ... too somebody!

Glyn Davies said...

anon - Good point. I learned quite a lot about this issue. The biggest surprise to me was that 'mules' are sometimes used to smuggle drugs into prisons. I'd heard of 'mules' being used to smuggle drugs into the country - and there have been some high profile deaths when the containers broke within the carrier's body. It seems that the 'mule' swallows the packages of drugs, and then 'arranges' to be imprisoned for a sufficient period to allow the drugs to pass through. There must be a constant battle to control drugs - as there is outside of prison. The desperate determination and ingenuity of the drug takers must be extremely difficult to control. Weaning prisoners from drugs must be central to any rehab programme.

Christopher - only because I promised to be good.

Anonymous said...

you are building up a large portfolio of interests for when (not if) you are elected. bringing some order to the prison system would be a fulltime job on its own.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

So, what's your 'gen' on the Hain resignation?

Glyn Davies said...

chris - coming up later.

Anonymous said...

Clearly Lembit's support of Hain proved the kiss of death, once again. At least PH was pro devolution, so not sure it's a good thing for Wales. Your take Glyn?

Glyn Davies said...

anon - Its not possible to call the impact that Paul Murphy will have on devolution. I have the highest regard for Paul, and he will try to make sense of the current Government of Wales Act. But we all know that he was deeply opposed to the Labour/Plaid coalition - and less than supportive of devolution in general. But, rather like me, he has to adjust his opinion to where we are rather than where we would like to be. So its an open question.