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A Reform Man by David Breakspear

As I am an avid prison reform campaigner it should not be difficult to imagine there are many aspects of the criminal justice system of which I am unhappy or disappointed with. One such aspect which leaves me utterly frustrated, is the constant search from some quarters for the utopia of blame! WHY?

David Breakspear
David Breakspear

I cannot see the value of spending time chasing answers to questions that either no one cares about anymore or are totally irrelevant to the needs and necessities of now. An over used phrase within the system is “lessons will be learned”. Of course, they never are, and everyone involved knows this, so what chance do we have of finding who! is to blame?

Surely, it makes more sense to influence change in the process or the system? To hopefully, ensure that it matters not, if lessons are learned. This is achieved, and being achieved, by those at the coal face, working together to fix the problem, rather than paper over the cracks or create knee jerk policies.

There are so many more worthwhile subjects that need answering, such as; what can be done to give hope back to the families and loved ones of IPP’s? and to the prisoner? Why are good practices not shared between prisons? Why is PAVA spray being rolled out after some questionable feedback from the recent 12-month trial at four prisons.

Why are we still only marking the nature of the offence with pointless custody time? To which the government’s own figures show that community punishments are not only more cost-effective to the tax payer but are also more effective as well at reducing re-offending. Overcrowding?

I first entered our prison system, in 1985 as a 15-year-old, at that time there was approx.: 44,000 – 47,000 prisoners in the system. Two years later, May ’87, I was placed on remand on B4 landing of HMP Canterbury (closed now) in Kent. B4 landing was known as the YP’s landing. The rest of the prison were adults. – My job at Canterbury was to stamp the mail bags with GPO, I say stamp, it was more a mini-roller, a cardboard cut-out of the letters and the paint. – I digressed somewhat there, of which the point was going to be…

In 1987 we had over-crowding, worse than it is now. We used to be three to a cell designed for one. You’d have a bunk bed on one side and a single bed the other, not forgetting in-cell sanitation back then consisted of a bucket, and the pelvic floor muscles of the world pelvic floor muscle champion, if, of course, there is such a thing, these days nothing would shock me.

The problem wasn’t lack of staff, we had plenty, there was just too many prisoners. I spent half my remand time at police stations on what’s known as a lock out from the jail, operation ‘Safeguard’ I think it was called. The local remand jails would only allow back in, the same amount it let out, plus you had prisoners waiting in police stations for spaces.

So, if your day in court over-ran you would most likely be at a police station for the night, unless of course it was a Friday, then you’d get comfortable for the weekend. In all honesty though, the lock outs were great, most police stations would get fish and chips for everyone’s tea, they used to lock off the corridor and leave our cells open so we could mingle, you even had exercise back then, I can’t remember, after those days, the last time I had exercise in a police station yard.

Overcrowding has always, and will always, be an issue for our jails. There is only one answer to that, stop the flow and assist those who are a little bit stuck in life, who maybe just need that one bit of empathy in order to turn their lives around, it’s what happened to me. Want to know who’s responsible for our criminal justice system, and can help change it? Do you have a mirror?

 

A Reformed Man

David Breakspear

 

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