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Sunday, 9 July 2017

Penal Economy

It is increasingly well-recognised that prisons in the United Kingdom are at, or very close to, a crisis point. The Cameron-Clegg-Osborne austerity programme has reduced prison officer numbers below the level at which health and safety requirements for the inmates can properly be maintained, and though some recruitment is now taking place it is probable that the new staffing levels will be enough.

Meanwhile health fetishists are arguing for a complete ban on smoking in prisons. This indicates the tip of a huge iceberg of trouble. It is notorious that many thousands of prisoners are addicted to tobacco [and very many to other addictive substances, including cannabis], and that there is a massive underground economy to supply the prisoners with their 'need': backed-up by a brutal system of enforcement among the inmates. Today the BBC placed a report that massive amounts of tobacco and other addicts' supplies had been found in prisons over the past year: together with thousands of illicitly-held mobile phones [and, presumably, the related charging devices]. The use of drones to carry some of this contraband into prison has been reported extensively; and means to prevent their use have been implemented in some prisons to modest effect.

But it is clear that the historic routes for illicit commodities into prison are via visitors and by the use of corruption or intimidation on prison officers. To impose mandatory vaginal and anal examination of 'innocent' visitors to prisoners would be considered outrageous; so that route for contraband remains open. Given the operation of human nature, activities like threatening an officers' family will always find a way of influencing individuals. There are historic ways of mitigating this problem, but it will never be eradicated. As was indicated in Ronnie Barker's brilliantly-scripted series of TV scripts about life in prison, there is a stand-off, a compromise, between inmates and management that can usually be kept in balance. To overset that balance by having too few staff, or unacceptable strains placed on prisoners [such as a smoking ban would cause], would be calamitous. The attempt both at once would be catastrophic.

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