Photo of the inside of a British prison.

Photo of the inside of a British prison.

By Richard Shrubb

The Mirror screamed the other day: “’Posh turf war’ thugs walk free from court ‘because they wouldn’t “cope in jail“, adding, “Four thugs who battered a teenager in a “posh turf war” have been spared jail after their lawyers said they wouldn’t be able to cope in prison.”

The lock ‘em up brigade shat itself and ranted how these guys should have 10-year sentences. You could almost believe a 2016 Daily Mail article about Guy’s Marsh prison in Dorset that railed, “They’re having a great time, messing about and that. Prison can’t be that much of a punishment – they look more like they’re having a right laugh like students.”

A class thing?

The judge apparently gave suspended sentences to the kids as they couldn’t cope in prison. I’m not sure he was privately educated (unlike me) as prison and public school are very similar. I was once told by a kid doing time in a borstal visiting the Royal Hospital School that he was shocked we had nowhere private and he could at least lock himself in his cell and get away from the nut jobs outside. We were in badly heated dorms, subject to a Royal Navy military regime, and weren’t even allowed our own duvets at the time.

If you were a reject like me you were a hunted animal, 24/7. The idea I could lock myself away in a cell was quite appealing I must say, though not enough for me to find out by taking a cricket bat to someone’s head as they often deserved.

Equally, it isn’t really good form that the working classes should be chucked in prison while the middle classes look after themselves. In my experience, the middle-class kids should be subjected to prison rather than kids who could do with a better education and a re-start in their lives.

Not ‘student halls’

Prisons are blatantly hellholes. In the Guy’s Marsh case it is a Victorian prison that is overcrowded and in the case where the prisoners were having fish & chips and steaks was where the understaffed prison was in an effective riot situation where the staff had lost control. The big cheeses of the social pile were having their cake and eating it – you can bet those at the bottom of the same pile were eating shit and worse.

In March the Guardian reported of Guy’s Marsh, “Staff at HMP Guys Marsh in Dorset discovered three rodents that had been stitched up across their stomachs. Subsequent investigation revealed the animals had been stuffed with phones and chargers, sim cards and drugs.” That’s a marginally better example of prison life – shoving phones and drugs up dead rats’ arses and throwing the rodents over the wall.

Better than walking in there with a phone and drugs up your own arse as so many kids end up doing. Yes, kids get deliberately arrested for custodial offences to smuggle drugs and phones in, inserted up their arses. That’s part of becoming a big cheese criminal these days. How do YOU get promoted?!

Winchester Prison riots

I am confronted with the privations of a Tory-run society daily and wonder why we aren’t smashing down the gates of Downing Street and kicking the shit out of Boris Johnson. It takes a lot to make people riot – in this country, I wonder just how much.

Dutch PM Johan de Wit with caption 'In 1672 an angry mob of Dutch citizens killed and ate their Prime Minister … options, just saying’

The Dutch killed and ate their treacherous PM in 1672 … roasted gammon anyone?

The same applies in Winchester Prison. Staff cuts leading to the inability for the regime to provide rehabilitation services to those inside, and a breakdown in relations between inmates and staff take things down. Severe overcrowding just readied the tinderbox. Violence goes up, and a lack of control by the staff leads to drugs getting in. Sooner or later the bomb goes off.

That’s what happened in Winchester in August. The BBC reported, “Inmates have been filmed knocking through weak cell walls and rioting inside a prison. Police and specialist prison officers were called to the disturbance involving 19 inmates at HMP Winchester in Hampshire on Tuesday night. Footage shows prisoners dancing and running around the walkways, with some holding batons and one squirting a water hose.”

Scary is an understatement. The prisoners were rioting as for a large part of the day they were banged up and were sat there fuming – or making plans on how to have some fun. That is how the ‘fun’ emerged. Do you want 18-year-old boys in there?

Punishment reform

Here’s an excerpt from a London School of Economic blog published last year, based on research at the top end uni: “there is scope to tackle violent crime more efficiently with less costly suspended sentences (that are often combined with community orders) and less reliance on immediate custody.”

The same blog showed just why: “Incapacitation can prevent offenders from accessing legitimate sources of employment, education, and supportive social structures such as their families. This can make them less likely to reintegrate successfully at the end of a sentence. The social experience of punishment may actively bolster their ‘deviant’ identity. Offenders may also learn new skills that allow them to avoid detection when they commit future crimes.”

This isn’t the first such call to cut back on custodial sentences. Ahead of a new crime bill that would be dropped thanks to Theresa May’s ill-judged general election in 2017, David Scott

Senior Lecturer Criminology at The Open University argued, “the historical and contemporary evidence overwhelmingly shows that we cannot build our way out of the humanitarian disaster unfolding in our prisons. Prisons create crime; they do not reduce it. Paradoxically, if we want to reduce crime we must first reduce prison populations.”

UK prison population doubles in 20 years

Under Prime Ministers Blair, Brown, May and Cameron, the prison population doubled in 30 years. A House of Commons Library briefing from July this year stated, “The prison population of England & Wales quadrupled in size between 1900 and 2018, with around half of this increase taking place since 1990.”

The nutty Minister for Justice announced this week, according to the Guardian, “Violent and sex offenders in England and Wales will no longer be automatically released halfway through their jail sentence under government plans that will increase the prison population by about 3,000.”

A 2018 Ministry of Justice report put the cost per prisoner at £37,543 per prisoner per year. Those 3,000 are going to cost the government £122.63 million a year. This cost rises to £210,000 per year for prisoners in a Young Offenders Institution. That’s a lot of money to make crime worse in the UK! Why not just sack a few policemen? Oh… wait…

Our criminal justice system is a fucking mess. The only people needing locking up are the Cabinet and a long succession of former politicians for causing this mess. Let’s reform things and make society safer instead!

Priti Patel, Conservative Home Secretary with caption: 'Priti Patel tells the Tory conference she’s coming after criminals ... Well she’s in the right place!

Priti Patel MP, Britsh Home Secretary says she is coming after criminals – better look in a mirror then.

Richard Shrubb

Richard is a marijuana, water sports and electric vehicles writer based in Dorchester, Dorset. Living in Prince Charles model housing estate, Poundbury, he is an avowed republican, community and Labour Party activist. Visit his website at for more about what he does.

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