Yesterday I wrote about the crisis in the CJS (here). It is a crisis that the boss, Chris Grayling, is turning a Nelsonian eye to. There is no crisis in our prisons, there is no problem in our criminal justice system.
The boss and I share one thing in common. We are baldies. We could be Britain’s foremost Mitchell brother look-a-likes. Whenever my baldness is remarked upon I respond by saying that I have “an even covering of hair”. It is just that every hair is about an inch away from one of its colleagues.
So it is time Chris and I faced the truth. We are balder than Right Said Fred and we both work in a system that is on its knees.
I have a client that I have been representing in the same case for some considerable time. He is now serving a very long sentence. The case is now wending its way through the confiscation process.
I recently had a conference with said client. He is not a left wing campaigning charity. He is a man at the receiving end of our penal system. The boss would probably call him a customer. Or a stakeholder. Or a unit.
So we were having a bit of general chitchat. He was not in the least bit concerned about the book ban. That is for left wing do-gooders. What he was bothered about was the fact that his family could no longer send him protein powder.
So what? Why should we allow some bodybuilding criminal protein powder? What next? Steroids?
Save for the fact he is not a bodybuilder. He is a middle aged, slightly soft around the middle, bloke. He used to have protein powder sent to him because the quality of the food was so poor. I felt a bit ashamed. I can understand the concerns that prisons should not be hotels but they should not be Victorian workhouses.
He told me lots of prisoners had protein powder sent to them. Then, he told me, that he could still buy protein powders from the mail order system. So I was able to dampen my left wing hysteria. Apparently, coincidental to the ban on him receiving such things from his family, the price from the internal shop rocketed. Prisons do make good business.
Then he went on to tell me about the rehabilitation work he was doing. That roughly equated to the hairs on my head. There were simply insufficient staff for the prisoners to do anything constructive. In fact, he told me, all it takes is a couple of prison officers to be absent and the whole wing shut down.
How often did that happen? Well, all it took was two people to ring in sick on their wing. Or a few wing staff across the whole prison to ring in sick so that the staff had to be reorganised across a few wings. Or for a relatively unplanned prisoner escort to be required to a hospital or some such.
And the result? He was locked in his cell. Discipline on the wing, he said, was non-existent. This was not a prison looking to rehabilitate. This was a warehouse of humanity. A storage facility of criminals. All just waiting to return to their former life.
So Chris Grayling is right when he says that there is no crisis in the prison system. If by no crisis he means that there are still beds available for new faces or that the rooftops of every prison are not awash with bare chested protesters.
However prisons are not producing the results society needs. Locking prisoners up for 23 hours with food so poor even they recognise its lack of nutritional content is going to reform precisely zero souls. That is not a crisis. That is a national scandal.