Last month the government announced plans to build 10,000 new prisons places, increase the police’s use of stop and search, lengthen prison sentences for violent offences and abandon efforts to reduce the use of ineffective short sentences, all as part of a new ‘crackdown on crime’.
The UK already sends more people to prison than anywhere in western Europe. Switchback’s experience and the overwhelming body of international evidence suggests that increasing the prison population and increasing sentence lengths will do nothing to reduce crime, violence or reoffending. The solutions lie in investing in early intervention to address the drivers of crime, radically reducing the use of prison and providing those in the system with meaningful support to find a path out. That means skilled, relationship-centred support lasting for as long as it takes.
No one understands the true impact of the UK’s criminal justice system better than people with experience of that system. So rather than issue our own statement, we asked members of our Experts by Experience board for their views. In the words of one of those members, rather than locking even more people up for longer, people need to be given “the option to change their life”. Read on to see what James, Kevin and Eshan had to say.
“The wider population don’t look at the evidence, they just see the headlines. But more prison places is not an actual plan or solution. There’s nothing for rehabilitation.
What about the staff running the prisons? They should make sure there’s enough good staff the prisons we already have first because they’re not being run properly as it is.
When you’re inside it’s rare to have a conversation about your future, no one from the prison even talks to you. And when you get out, there’s no use just handing me a list of conditions of what I can’t do, giving me £46 and saying ‘off you pop’. You just think: ‘what do I do now?’ So most people call their boys and go back to whatever they were doing before.
One-on-one support is key, especially starting in prison. The majority of people in prison aren’t ready to work, they need the support and confidence to get there. Mental health is a big issue, there are people in prison with issues that don’t even know it, and they’re not getting the support. At probation there’s no help, there’s nothing. Probation should be linked with every youth group, every community project like Switchback, and all the training courses like Change Please and Bounce Back. I don’t understand why probation isn’t flooded with these, why they’re not giving us these opportunities.”
“They don’t realise that all these people in prison are going to come out again one day. They should focus on helping people to turn away from crime, not opening up new prisons. We’ve already increased the number of people in prison and what difference has that made? Violent crime has got worse.
Prisons are so full of violence. Opening up more prisons is just going to mean more violence. They think the only way to make this stop is to add more prisons, they don’t want to focus on opening doors for people to get out of crime.”
“The most important thing is to give someone the option to change their life. There are not enough options right now. You need more community solutions, more jobs for the youth.
Rather than spending money on new prisons, they should spend some of it on making sure every area has local charities and youth workers because at the moment there’s no one to tell you that you’re doing wrong. They’re spending billions but they haven’t built one youth club, they’ve been taking them away.
People need help to access opportunities. I thought people literally had to pay cash to go to university before you went, I would have loved to go. Instead, I spent three years in prison. Even then I could have come out with a degree and could have felt so much better, but I was spending 23 hours in a cell doing nothing.
Mental health is never looked at. If someone actually spoke to people and asked why they’re committing crimes, they might just say the reason. No one is even asked that simple question. A lot of prisoners have mental health issues that aren’t looked at.”