As Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Downing Street for the first time as Prime Minister, he listed the many aims of his government. With the EU referendum debate at the forefront of British politics, the big surprise in that speech was the number of desired achievements which were non-Brexit related.
As the end of austerity is on its way, the new prime minister has planned to pour money into the public sector, which has struggled in recent years. Last month, as part of this plan, Johnson promised to create 10,000 new prison places for criminals.
A report from The Guardian stated that more people in England and Wales are being sent to prison every year than anywhere else in Europe. In this same report, it was found that 81 out of 120 prisons in these two countries were overcrowded. Although the plan to create new prison places is likely to go ahead, the government needs to come up with other viable solutions to keep prison numbers down in the long-term.
If we are to reduce the number of re-offenders in the UK, the balance between punishment and rehabilitation for inmates in prison needs to be spot on. How can we combine the two? Full-time work seems like an effective way to do this.
Broadcasted in 2012, Channel 4’s Gordon Behind Bars showed celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay going in HM Prison Brixton with the aim of setting up a food organisation. Although a few of the inmates dropped out of Gordon’s team because of bad behaviour, the majority of prisoners were committed to working for the chef. From there the “Bad Boy’s Bakery” was created.
Despite Gordon having to contend with these team of ‘criminals’ to secure a deal with a major coffee chain, the quality of their product meant that it was given a chance to shine in several Café Nero stores across the UK. To this day, the company still seems to be doing well.
Giving a large proportion of inmates in prison the chance to take on full-time work can give them the chance to see the brighter future that they could have if they knuckle down. Although these inmates may not be paid the same rate as people on the outside, if they are even paid at all, it can show them how legitimate money could be made to buy the essentials they need when they get out of prison. It can also allow prisoners to build their CVs and practise interview skills with volunteers or paid professionals, so they are more likely to get a job upon release.
More people are less likely to reoffend if they’re given a chance to have a better working career. This doesn’t only benefit the offenders themselves, but also the government who are struggling with overpopulation in prisons.
There isn’t a simple short-term solution for this overpopulation, so focusing on the long-term may be the wisest option for the prime minister. When the less serious offenders are released with better career prospects, we can then focus on giving longer sentences to those who commit more severe crimes and deserve every day of that sentence.
In my opinion, such full-time work should only be available to those who have commit a reasonably low-level crime. Those who have been found guilty of murder should never be let out of prison, and those guilty of other serious crimes including rape should be kept in jail for a very, very long time. These are the people we should be using prison spaces for.
Punishing low-level criminals too harshly could encourage rebellion, however, giving them an easy life in prison will provide no deterrent to those who are tempted to re-offend and commit another crime. It’s all about that balance.
If we can achieve the right mix, crime levels could noticeably drop. It’s down to the government to provide the right environment inside of prisons to be able to change these crime statistics for the better.