Prisons - Time for a Change

by Christian Barabutu

The prison service and government are always banging on about rehabilitation and changing prisoner’s lives, but what is actually happening is the opposite. The reality is, prisoners are being used as a form of ‘slave’ labour to carry out lucrative contracted work for the prison service for peanuts, while the government benefits and reaps most of the financial rewards. The contracted works I refer to are from big companies like Tesco and Sainsbury’s, who pay the prison service to use prisoners and make them sit in workshops 5 days a week placing stickers and barcodes onto fruit pots etc. Other workshops include inmates cutting rags and clothings, and there’s even one I witnessed in another prison where inmates are paid to break unwanted brand new CD’s/DVD’s from major retailers. A waste and big contribution to climate pollution, as those CD’s/DVD’s can be given to charities and less fortunate people. The work is repetitive with inmates getting into trouble and given warnings on their prison records that could affect them in the future, if they fail to meet targets for the contracts that enable the prison service to get paid.

Gone are the days of inmates learning trades like painting and decorating and bricklaying. Most vocational studies departments and instructors through the prison service have been made redundant throughout the prison estate. My question is, how are inmates expected to be rehabilitated and transformed when the things that were in place to give them a better chance of employment on release, are being stripped away? If I spent however many years in prison simply putting stickers on the back of hundreds of fruit pots every week, how then will that benefit me in joining employment on release? Not everybody is academically smart, and some would benefit more from vocational studies and work. Even the academic education in prison is lagging, as more effort is put into getting inmates into those “slave labour” workshops.

Overall, I believe prisons should centre around education, both academic and vocational, and equipping those that have found themselves in these situations with the tools and skills that enable change. Education is the key to better futures and the prison service needs to find and adopt ways to change the way inmates view themselves in the world. For most, it’s not the fact they are stupid, but uneducated. You change the way people view themselves, you change the world, and it all starts with education. Education is the only tool that renders a man unfit to be a slave, and it’s the lack of education that makes most of us ignorant. As human beings we are all different, and therefore the way we learn and process information is different. Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to clim a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” More time should be spent on identifying and nurturing each inmate’s individual skills and inner genius. For example, the skills a successful drug dealer possesses in running such a lucrative, but illegal empire can be transferred into running a successful legitimate corporation.

Also, one method of learning for one inmate, might not necessarily work for another. Some will work and develop more in a one to one setting or very small group, and others can progress in large classes without distraction. Some might need and benefit from someone keeping tabs on their work and learning and staying on top of them, where others can take care of their own learning without support and monitoring. All officers coming into the role should have some sort of social and interaction skills training that will enable them to better communicate with inmates. Sometimes a lot of confrontations can be avoided and defused just by the way staff and inmates interact and understand each other. The prison estate needs to adopt a mission statement of ‘Building better lives and future’ and everyone employed by the prison service should be working towards this on a daily basis. Their drive getting up everyday and coming into work should be to make a change and help inmates be better members of society. A lot of inmates have experienced nothing, but people letting them down, giving up on them and telling them they’re not good. The prison service should be dedicated in helping every inmate believe in themselves and showing them that they are better than their current situation, and the world and their families need them as good contributing members of society.

by Christian Barabutu