Sputnik: Birmingham Prison is being taken over by the government from the private firm G4S, after inspectors said it had fallen into a "state of crisis". Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke described it as the worst prison he had ever been to. How significant is this?
Dr David Scott: We need to recognize that this is a hugely significant event. What the HMCIP have done, is they’ve recommended the start of the urgent notification process, indicating that Birmingham prison is no longer a safe institution. In so doing, they’ve taken away for the first time a prison from the private sector and put it back in public. This came from a damming inspection report, which effectively uncovered that the prison was in a state of total crisis; there we massive problems in terms of filthy conditions, there were rats, cockroaches, the place was stained by blood and vomit, and whole wings were without window panes or where window panes were broken. Staff themselves were either characterized by a sense of moral indifference towards the actual prisoners, or in fact even hiding. There was a considerable fear of violence from prisoners by other prisoners, and of course alongside that a prison rife with drugs. It’s a precedent that’s been set now about the crisis that prison system is in and private prisons all together.
Dr David Scott: I think that’s a very important point and I think the prison minister has to some extent escape from some of the current definitions of the problem right now. I think you mentioned it right there that we have a very long history of the problems associated with the prison. In truth, putting ten million pounds into the ten prisons with biggest problems is not going to actually solve the problem. It’s a bit like putting a plaster on a broken leg, it really is not going to be sufficient to deal with the massive problem prisons have and I think when we talk about the changes that need to be made, I think the first thing that we need to recognize that we are sending to many people to prison in the first place and I think that’s where the heart of the problem lies. If we really want to fix this problem and if the ministers really want to be courageous, it’s not about tying themselves to resigning in a years’ time if certain figures can’t be improved at 10 prisons, it’s to actually make a commitment of reducing deaths and self-harm in prisons and reduce our reliance on the prison system. That would mean that the money that we do have in the system can be more equably distributed because there will be less people and less prisoners to actually deal with than in the system itself.
Dr David Scott: I’m afraid it’s more of the same. If the government continues to run prisons in the way it’s doing right now, we’re going to see more deaths, more self-harm, more violence drug use, and more situations of people living in squalid and dehumanizing conditions. We’re going to have more forms of interpersonal conflicts within prisons and more and more disease and more and more problems. The way in which the prisons are being dealt with right now is actually a road where the path leads to hell. It’s basically leading to institutions, which are so painful and damaging that this is going to have terrible impacts on everyone who is involved in prisons – that includes both prisoners and prison staff. The government must recognize that they are on the wrong pathway and radically change course as soon as possible.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.