The link above gives access to an FT article about HMP Berwyn which was supposed to be the first of a type of new super prisons. There is much to read about prison life, which is valuable but there is an assumption about accommodation which needs immediate correction.
However, let me first make a glaringly obvious point. It should not be necessary to state that family visits are a fundamental part, not just of the rehabilitative process, but also peaceful prison life. No prisoner from the South East, for example, that gets visits is going to volunteer to move to North Wales. That means that they will either be forced to move there as a punishment – probably for violent or drug-related behaviour – or they get no visits. Prisoners who get no visits are, in general, of a very specific type who will need more attention than the average prisoner because they have no external support. That means that the whole principle was going to attract difficulties apart from those prisoners that live locally.
Now, to come to my main point. Only thirty per cent of the cells are for single occupancy! That demonstrates a level of ignorance that is beyond belief, a desire for vengeance or a “couldn’t care less” attitude which is totally counterproductive. The article states that “…30 per cent of the cells were designed for one person; the rest were doubles. Many prisons were already putting two men in a cell out of desperation, but this was a deliberate choice. There will always be some prisoners who prefer to share a cell — they may benefit from company if they are at risk of suicide, for example. But most people struggle without personal space.”
In my experience, 99% of all compliant prisoners want their own cell and all prisons have physical or logical waiting lists for single cells. A small number of non-compliant prisoners prefer to be locked up with their mates for various nefarious reasons.
1. The idea of putting a prisoner likely to commit suicide in with another is an abhorrent abnegation of responsibility.
2. Trying to discipline a prisoner who shares a cell, automatically inflicts any punishment on the innocent sharing party.
3. The quest for “Dignity”, which is supposed to be a guiding principle, is undermined by forcing prisoners to share open toilet and washing facilities.
4. The quest for “Safety”, which is supposed also to be another guiding principle, is undermined by forcing prisoners to share cells.
5. For working prisoners, that period of time between lock up – let’s say at 1900 in C Cat – and unlock at 0800 should be a time when they can choose to read, write and reflect – study or sleep – unhindered by the desire of a cellmate to watch television or play music throughout the night.
6. The benefits of in-cell telephones are undermined when prisoners are forced to share cells. There can be no privacy nor intimacy.
I am all in favour of creating the physical conditions required to rehabilitate and keep prisoners and staff safe and secure. I am all in favour of closing down our Victorian prisons and the Portakabin environments that are totally insalubrious. Building new prisons is essential but building them with double cells is just plain stupid.