In a piece for OhDearism in June, I criticised ITV’s documentary on life in Strangeways prison, Manchester, for its failure to engage with the politics and sociology of criminal justice and detention in this country. We commonly describe prisoners as having been removed from society, as if prison is a place that is somehow outside of normal life. The fact is, the structure of prison (or you could call it, ‘Prison’) as an institution has profound implications for what happens in our society at large.
Here’s a statistic I never heard from the narrator in ITV’s take on the matter. Forty percent of British prisoners reoffend within 12 months of their release from prison; as many as three quarters of prisoners will do the same within nine years of release. Prison rarely functions as the ‘short sharp shock’ for which Margaret Thatcher famously hoped – it is something that works its way into the patterns and structures of life of those who spend time there. Never mind police cuts, or water cannons, or spying on BBM – breaking this cycle is the most important issue in criminal justice today.
A rare piece of good news, then. Alongside the work that is already done with prisoners to try to give them skills they can use outside, a new Jobcentre Plus is set to open in Strangeways, as reported on 22nd September in the Manchester Evening News.
Opening up the minds of prisoners to the possibilities of employment by giving them the opportunity to work inside, can make a real difference, and a Jobcentre is a logical next step. One inmate who has been working in the prison’s waste management team told the Evening News: “I’ve been here for 16 months and I’m due out soon. I never want to end up back here and I think coming to work has showed me there’s more to life, that I can do a job and I’m not worthless.”