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UK British Prison System


The philosophical reasons behind the building, everywhere in the world, of the multitude of prison facilities; were the expectation that they would somehow deter crime. At times this succeeded and at other times it did not. The assumption that crime is something that can be quickly avoided is wrong to assume and in fact it takes much more than putting people in jail to correct the problematic behaviours. Here is where the relative variations between British Prison Systems, Japanese Prison Systems, and many other prison institutions around the world come in. Although there is a lower level of imprisonment in Japan and elsewhere, there are many explanations for this and not all of them associative with lower crime rates. In the last decade, British crime has also been decreased and this has been done by various alternatives, some of which Japan uses but a good percentage of which are solely utilized by Britain. The work would demonstrate the various similarities between British Prisons, Japanese Prisons and other Intercontinental Prisons. There is already a well founded conception on how Japanese prisons treat inmates and foreign prisoners and also on what course of penal punishments are normally used. However, the comparison of Japanese Prisons in relation to British Prisons is rather vague and there is not sufficient information to base a fair contrast or comparison of the two. This is the intent of this research, to attempt to resolve the inadequate present information between these two penal systems and others, shedding some light on the exact differences, in a truer way than was conveyed in the past.  In order to do this, a number of issues will be discussed; one being how British prisoners have performed in international prisons compared to whether they had been confined to a British Prison. The perception of how the treatment of foreign prisoners is carried out is very sporadic and based on personal opinions but the relative differences between foreign treatments of prisoners it will be made quite obvious when compared with the British technique. Some parallels will be included along with the literary differences which will be addressed in this report. The main points to be explored more closely are how well the prison systems in each country actually deter crime and what approaches are used by each country to keep repetitive criminal actions from reoccurring. Another strong focus will be on the jail environment variations. While prison shouldn’t be a place someone wants to go, it shouldn’t be an atmosphere that is almost uninhabitable for citizens if in fact any form of humane treatment is going to be considered. In the end, the prison is used as a last resort, especially in Japan and other foreign nations. The goal of this research is to bring evidence that jail actually works to reduce crime in any society.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Common Differences Between Japanese and British Prisons
  2. Variations Found Within the Environment of Japanese and British Prisons
  3. British Prison System from Predeceasing Years to Modern Day, including UK
  4. Historical Treatment of Female Prisoners in the British Prison System
  5. Portrayal of the Media and Television Broadcasting of British Prisons and International Prisons
  6. How the Environment of a Prison Effects Inmates Behaviour and Reform
  7. Prisoners Rights to Rehabilitation and Fair Treatment
  8. Penal Punishments and Treatment of Prisoners in the UK
  9. Percentage of Crime Today Internationally
  10. Conclusion

UK British Prison System

Common Differences between Japanese and British Prisons

The British and Japanese prison systems have different sociological disparities between them. There are also high variations between these two countries in the processes involving disciplinary actions and routine care and treatment of prisoners. There are some criminologists who would claim that the differences are basically in the areas of punishments and how humane these various penalties really are. In Britain, capital punishment is no where as intense as it use to be where as in Japan there has been no such leniency in utilizing capital punishment. Logically, it appears that the judicial processes in Britain favour reform, and have had a number of moral debates in the last decade over how punishments for crime should be handled (Barer, et al 1963, p.1). This is not to say that prisons in Britain are not meant to deter crime for that is the goal, but in order to control crime and try and prevent it 100% officials within the legal system in Britain claim it is imperative to insure that all prison inmates should have an opportunity to go through counselling sessions and psychotherapy in order to curb the possibility of repetitive criminal acts.

Japanese prisons use similar standards, however, it is historically known that the treatments prisoners receive in a Japanese prison are rather crude and barbaric, and these methods have not evolved much at all through the ages.  Even Britain itself used to utilize a harsher form of penal punishments so therefore, historians would claim that this country is not all that innocent in it’s treatment of inmates either, although there have been great strides in more humane treatment being received. Obviously, anyone who has studied varying penitentiary’s penal systems, should be familiar with how in the early 19th century, Britain included the gallows as the main method to deter crime, however as modernization occurred the tactics changed, but in Japan these various methods have remained rather violent and non-tolerant of crime at any level.

The purpose of the British penal system has always been to try and construct and implement more humane ways to prevent crime from occurring, such as the transportation area of the prison system. The popular belief again is that if the prisoners are placed in the most efficient penal environment, it just might deter many offenders from returning to their previous criminal lifestyle, upon their release date (Barer, et al 1963, p.161). However, every prisoner has their own perception of prison and how it affects them psychologically. Where one type of treatment or punishment might prove effective for deterring criminal behaviour with some inmates, it is not going to be as efficient for others. This has been an obvious area of concern for prisons in Britain as well as Japan, and therein lays the reasoning for continuously searching for alternative approaches to deterring crime.

Criminologists classify Japan as having a lower crime rate as well as a relatively low incarceration rate. It is assumed by many sociological theorists that this is due to the fact that the people in Japan are in a more homogeneity type of classification. The Japanese are viewed in many different geographical areas as being: extremely group oriented culture wise, belong to groups which follow traditional informal controls, have strong family ties, extremely high job opportunities, and citizens have a strong trust in their local authorities; as well as a strong faith in the effectiveness of their judicial system. All of these positive attributes combined in fact benefit law enforcement in their desire and drive to minimize crime in Japan (Akatsuka 2002). The treatment of political prisoners, however, is very different from the care that ordinary offenders receive; in fact, if they are in jail, it is 10 times worse.  Even though the system in Japan might seem more able to deter crime, the fact is that there are underlying concerns and other issues that are responsible for this. There are problems within the penal system of Japan just as there are in any other country. One specific area that definitely needs to seek out an alternative course is in the way juvenile crime is handled. There are those that feel the legal system is way too lenient with the youth. The concern is that crime allowed to go unreprimanded will ultimately lead to more serious deviant acts later in life.  One example to substantiate this worry is the case where a 14 year old Japanese boy was found to be guilty of a series of murders. Perhaps this could have been due to prior criminal behaviour going unpunished but many state the juvenile law as the cause of the continuation in the youth’s behaviour. Also, due to the youth’s age, he still can’t be charged as an adult so there really is no precise way to deter youth crime in Japan with the current Juvenile Law (Akatsuka 2002). Furthermore, another explanation for the lower incarceration rate in Japan could be due to the concept that not all of those charged with a crime go to prison. Surprisingly, only 7% have been found to be imprisoned in Japan, while others face criminal punishment through alternative means in the judiciary such as Suspension of indictment, fine, suspended sentence, execution with or without probation (Akatsuka 2002), in particular for juvenile cases. These are relatively common differences in the workings of the legal and incarceration areas between Britain and Japan.

While Japan does not send those who commit crimes to jail between 14 and 20 years of age, they go to or to schools for boys or girls probationary services, depending upon their crime. Also, there are some that are sent back to their families without any type of punishment what so ever but this is sometimes due to it being their first offence or some other logical reason.

British legal systems also have various means of dealing with juvenile crime and the penalties associated with such criminal activity. The difference between Japan and Britain is that, simply because an offender is underage, the British legal system does not dissuade young people from being prosecuted and retained them in a juvenile facility.  In fact, if the offense is of a very serious nature, such as murder, theft or rape, then the perpetrator will often be kept in an institution specially designed for that purpose youths who commit crime. Once they reach the age that is considered to be that of an adult they will be prosecuted in a manner that follows the statutes set out to sentence adult offenders. They then would be transferred to an adult prison if found guilty. So, in Britain, age does not excuse any form of crime where as in Japan there is more leeway in this area.

Consequently, there are a myriad of differences in these two very distinct, culturally opposite countries systems. However, there are certain similarities to be found as well, especially in regards to foreign people who might face imprisonment in either of these countries, although British treatment is far less severe than in Japan. Although the Japanese are more apse to impose violent punishments, the British are more inclined to use psychological measures such as: solitary confinement, no free time, no visitation, extra labour activities, no correspondence with relatives, etc. The next phase of this research is to emphasize the range of differences in the environment between these two countries.

Variations inside the Japanese Prison Compared to the British Prison

            The environment within Japanese prisons and concentration camps is much the same in modern times as it was during the period of World War II. Prisoners are not placed in cells inside a secure institution all the time. Rather, they are faced with crawling across jagged, rocky floors while being shackled to a post or other implemented structure. They also don’t have to be concerned with a lack of sunlight for more times than not they can be found restrained to a post while being placed in direct sunlight in over 110 degree temperatures (Amnesty International 2005). The conditions of a majority of these prisons and camps is so severe that there have been over 300 prisoners die due to the harsh environment and inhumane treatment that is received. In fact, prisoners have been reported to be forced to have to work as slaves to those in the Japanese military and have received treatment worse than even a dog could expect.

Insein Prison happens to be one of the cruellest and most barbaric out of other penitentiaries in Japan. This could be because of how many political prisoners are housed there which has been documented to be well over 800. There are also those being imprisoned there that have committed criminal acts and been found guilty. A very marked difference of this Japanese prison compared to British ones is how the Japanese military actually has a good amount of control over the workings and treatment of the inmates, especially those in prison for political reasons. Because many prisoners are again, political ones, the Japanese constantly conduct interrogations of these prisoners even though they have already been found guilty of whatever crime the Japanese ruling was. The interrogation procedure takes place in a room that is very similar to buildings the Kampetei used during World War II (Amnesty International 2005). Also, there are areas in the prison that are termed ‘Dog Cells’ and are infested with fleas. At times, the political prisoners are enclosed in these cells, becoming susceptible to many forms of disease. The reasons for this type of treatment could be as simple as a political prisoner having a piece of paper for they aren’t allowed any form of paper, reading materials, pencils or pens. There is no respect, privacy, no specific type of considerations are given unless a person is lucky enough to be able to monetarily bribe a prison official. The over crowding is severe and this in itself alone could be considered to be a severe form of treatment. Also, the size of the cells are very small, normally ranging from 8 by 12 feet, with three or four prisoners confined in the once cell for possibly 20 hours a day.

Obviously, those held in Japanese prisons for political reasons face some of the crudest type of conditions. Medical care is non-existent unless it comes down to a dire emergency and many times by then, medical intervention is far too late. For one individual who was found guilty of a political crime, his time in the Insein prison was a horrid experience. He is shown to have made the following statement which is duly noted in this research. This was supposedly done right after his release and transport from the prison.

I was not allowed to see my family while in prison. If the family sent food, the prison warden would take it all. All the inmates were taken onto the road to work …

Prison, I was forced to dig a body discharge underground hole (Amnesty International 2005).

This is simply one example of what the environment was like in this one specific prison but it details enough information to gain a clear comprehension of how abhorrent the conditions must have been for this person.

British Prison Environment from Predeceasing Years to Modern Day including UK

            As times have changed with each passing decade so has how the British prison system operates as well.  As Britain was the first industrial society, this brought a wave of crime along with it.  As a modern society, now looking back to how British authorities’ deterred crime in the mid 1700’s to 1850, it is not surprising that the strategies utilized then were rather crude and extremely violent, almost always resulting in a death sentence for any criminal act that was committed. Often hanging criminals was thought to be the easiest and most logical way to deter crime since then prisons were not readily available like they are now (Constitutional Rights Foundation 2000). Another alternative that Britain implemented was that of transporting criminals to foreign countries for punishments. This was much more civilized than hanging but it also depended on where the prisoners were being transported too. The idea that law officials were trying to impress on convicts then was the fact that their crime had caused them to be banished from their own country, possibly to never return.  In present day, this would make many cringe because the thought of being taken to a land that they know nothing about and facing unknown treatment for their crimes would undoubtedly lower the crime rate tremendously. In fact, there has been discussion that due to the overcrowding in the prisons now this alternative should be readapted into the legal structure of the British prison systems as it would alleviate so many other problems within the prison system. Also, this punishment in years past put a fear in many convicted inmates minds as they considered this type of penalty for their acts to be the most severe because they were aware they more than likely would never see family or friends again. It also made those who were contemplating committing a crime second guess themselves, which is what the local authorities had hoped it would do. This in turn helped to reduce the crime rate during that period of time.

Now, in the current decade, British jails are overflowing with people who did or did not commit a crime. The manner in which the British system and many prison systems operate in the United Kingdom explains that people are actually held in prisons before their offences are for certain until the evidence passes before the district attorney and judges and then a verdict is given. Unlike American, Japanese, and many other prison systems, bail is hardly ever considered within any area of the UK, so therefore there really is no recourse widely available besides being placed in jail until a proper hearing (Poudel 2003). The prison process begins with the arrest of the suspect and then being held in custody in the police jail until the district attorney reaches a decision on whether or not to charge the suspect or discharge him or her. There are some lawyers that argue against the way the prison and jail system is set up and claim it to be legally incorrect as well as against the constitutional rights of even those suspected of a crime. One lawyer stated the following in defence of many of his past clients and current ones:

It is a violation of the constitution to put a person behind bars even before the completion of the investigation.  In the name of control of corruption and abuse of authority, the CIAA is misusing their vast power, which goes completely against the constitutional guaranteed fundamental freedoms of every person (Poudel 2003).

Another issue that seems to be unfair is the fact that civilians are placed in jail before any close scrutiny to any reliable evidence or documentation that has been obtained has been reviewed. Perhaps this is the way the system has been instructed to work in order to properly deter crime but in a way it is insulting UK citizens by denying them the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt and their fundamental rights. Even though the treatment is seemingly harsh and non-considerate of the suspected violators of the law, the general perception of the public agrees with how the law enforcement handles the legal concerns.  The majority of people’s opinions on the prisons and prisoners are still a relatively conservative one.  Basically, the whole of society does not seem to care too much about the problems of convicts and prefers to see a harsh punishment under taken rather than risk an escalation in crime. This type of tactic of dealing with the large area of crime is a known cause as to the prison systems in Britain and the UK being overcrowded. In 2004, the population among the prisons in England and Wales alone totalled around 75,273 incarcerated persons, which shows a high increase in the past two years that, is considerably over 5% (Roberts et al, 2005, p. 2). The overcrowding problem is not the only concern that inmates have to be plagued with. Because of so many bodies in such confined areas it is very easy to become ill or for contagious diseases to be prevalent. Also, though the public does not seem to stop to consider the conditions prisoners must be living in, in the penitentiary’s, that does not change the existing problem; although it can be said British prisons are preferred to be in to serve a prison term rather than a Japanese prison, they still leave a distasteful impression on the mind, yet they weren’t meant for recreational thoughts to begin with so they serve their purpose well. The elevated risks in British prisons are extreme with occurrences of health problems, assault, sexual assault, homicide, self harm, and suicide being among the more serious of problems surrounding prisoners (Roberts et al, 2005, p. 5). What the general public fails to realize is the other people that are affected by the family member going to prison, the hardships incurred can be devastating but yet there is no sympathy given because the perception is that if a crime would not have been committed then the family would not have to be suffering from the prisoners actions. The citizens in Britain and the UK firmly believe in penal punishments and in fact tend to believe they are too lenient. Yet, it is hard and unfair for someone to say the penal punishment of prison is to easy going when they have never been inside a prison before.

The public’s idea that they get from news accounts and articles is totally different from that of an inmate’s view of the prison system.  Society assumes too much and this has always been an aged old problem.  Simply because computers, televisions, and stereo’s can be seen in prisons does not mean prisoners have access to these recreational items without having to pay something to use them, which they regularly do pay.  Prison is not an easy ride, not when you are worried all the time about a possible fight or other violent outburst from other prisoners.  The public is not aware of what actually happens in the prisons though and honestly they don’t really care.  Furthermore, it is the public itself that has the most influential impact on how the UK prison systems work.  Since many feel the sentencing has become too simple, judges have taken these views into consideration by passing longer sentences for crimes that are relatively minor.  Also, because of the mind set of the public perceiving many inmates as having an easy go of it, many politicians and correctional officials have strictly reduced the amenities that use to be available to prisoners. This was done to make prison life harder and show those in society that prison is not a very pleasant place to be and is meant for punishment and not playing checkers or smoking a cigarette in a solidary cell.  Politicians claim that taking additional amenities away is not just proving something to society about prison but it’s also to make the experience as unpleasant as possible for offenders, to hopefully reduce repeat criminal actions after they complete their time served.  Even though prison is a much harsher environment than what the public thinks, the British Crime Survey shows that only 38% of people who completed the survey felt the prison system carry’s out its job responsibilities well.  However, this small percentage has been being shown that it is declining to a point of almost total dissatisfaction in the functions of the prisons. The generalized opinion is that these penal institutions should be working to reform the offenders and deter criminal actions but the over all perception is that it is not doing a very appropriate job in either of these responsibilities.  This is the publics’ opinion and again they do not visit these prisons so they do not have an appropriate perception of what it is actually like or what takes place but those inside do and those running the prisons can portray a better idea of them as well.

Historical Treatment of Female Prisoners in the British Prison System

            Prisons in Britain and the UK in general might appear lenient and not very harsh in the publics’ eye but from the point of view of someone incarcerated behind those prison walls, it’s a whole other perspective.  Female prisoners are found to have an even tougher time than their male counterparts but not only that, there seems to be more of an issue of concern in containing riots among women in prison and keeping them in line.  Present day penitentiaries for women convicts have changed comparatively from a historically concept.  In the nineteenth century, women were imprisoned with male convicts, not separately and history shows that it wasn’t until 1896 when a female prison was finally constructed (Dodge 1999). Once a female prison was established, the brutality that women had been subjected to in the male prisons was erased but there still remained harsh penal punishments for any in fractures of women convicts.  Back in this time era it was evident that prison reformers were not so much concerned with providing humane treatment to the inmates as they were in keeping a firm grasp on maintaining social order and cruel disciplining procedures.  The main objectives of prisons then was totally humiliate prisoners by any means necessary, rather than to consider any humane type of rehabilitation to possibly conform them to law abiding citizens. The humiliation and the strict disciplinary methods were what rehabilitation procedures consisted of, there was not the psychological theorizations or counselling the inmates that there is today. If you committed a crime you were punished by being locked away and stripped of any dignity you might have had. This was the concrete philosophy of prison officials and those in legal positions in general. Females were not considered to be any different from male prisoners and therefore there was no variable difference in the treatment that they received. In fact, women who committed crimes in this era were severely punished simply due to the conforms that were in place in society during the 1900’s. The reason for this lies in the fact that much more was expected out of women than men in a moral sense, so when they stepped outside of the limits that the law had set forth then they were met with extreme punishment and were regarded as those who were, “the most degraded of their sex, if not humanity” (Dodge 1999).  This of course was all due to controlling crime and attempting to deter women away from it but it was carried out with no regard to gender and absolutely no exception in treatment practice of prisoners, regardless if the offender was male or female. The conditions which women were placed in during this era were beyond deplorable as many historic reports describe them in the following manner:

To be a male prisoner in this prison would be quite tolerable; but to be a female convict, for any protracted period, would be worse than death. Prison officials rarely acknowledged the needs of women convicts and instead complained bitterly and repeatedly over the great difficulties they experienced in managing and disciplining their female charges. Female prisoners were typically blamed for any and all disruptions that their presence created within the masculine world of the penitentiary. The environment was overcrowded, lacked supervision, neglect, enforced illness, and sexual exploitation and abuse were evident

(Dodge 1999).

 Present Day Conditions

            Prisons in Britain still hold some of these same characteristics for women and men and the truth of the matter is, again, prison is for the application of deterring crime so therefore, of course there are going to be many incidents of sporadic violence because there is a vast array of problems and prison reformers have to enforce order and correct deviant behaviour. Also, the offenders have to be aware that their crime is going to be punished and to some degree they also have to realize that they should not expect prison to be a place where they will not be up against severe conditions. If a person is going to commit a crime they should have to suffer, according to the majority of the British civilians. Prison life in this era might not be a bitterly cold but it still is not a joy ride. Society really has no clear realistic picture of what prison is actually like, from the past, not in the present so it really is not fair to judge these institutions, as has been previously mentioned. Only a person that is incarcerated within them has visited someone, or works within the confines of one can definitely say for sure what it is truly like and how effective they are. Each environment within various prisons differs but they all have the trademarks of being, “dank and drab, walls without colour, little light, incessant chatter, loud dins, the sharp clang of metal locking into metal, the stale institutional smell, dense air, barking of commands, rattling of keys, wise cracks and jeers, aura of despair, omnipresent sense of fear, and an elusive glimmer of hope” (DeRosia 1998, p. 17).

These are the tell-tale signs of those confined to imprisonment. The vision details that crime does not pay, not when you have to face demoralization and degradation on a daily basis. This is especially true when everyday a window of bars is there to greet a person.  It would seem these attributes of prison would be enough to keep anyone from a life of crime but prison officials in Britain and the surrounding UK are shocked to see repeat offenders returning again and again. Supposedly for some, a life of crime is simply all they know. This leaves legal law officials questioning what will work if not prison.  Would incorporating transportation back into the prison life work better?  Perhaps the idea of going into a foreign land, like back in historic times, would change prisoners’ way of thinking and deter them from ever contemplating a criminal act again. This is a tactic that was utilized before and it worked well but then many of those who were transported away from their homeland did not return. Still, law reformers have been raising this technique up for a possible avenue to deter crime more proficiently. The opinion is that the foreign prisons would make the British ones appear to be a cat walk compared to the mistreatment and cruel conditions offenders would have greeting them in other countries such as Asia, Japan, Korea, and China. Perhaps this is the only means that will actually keep crime contained but then again, the opinion on this is split down the middle. The pertinent point is that crime must be kept to a minimal amount and repetitive criminal offenders must be deterred from continuing their criminal actions.  If society feels the prisons aren’t doing this then a new methodology needs to be found and introduced. This also leaves the UK and Britain wondering how countries such as Japan keep crime so low. How do their prisons structures differ from a British one in controlling crime and keeping it minimal? Or, are these international institutions facing similar problems with the issue of crime, the same as the UK and Britain in particular?

Portrayal of the Media and Television Broadcasts of British and International Prisons Systems:  What is really happening?

As television shows prison life it is shown to be a wild world of violence and brutality.  For any jail this is obvious, anywhere in the world. The syndication of ‘ Why am I Here ‘ and ‘ I am a chain gang inmate ‘ are just a few examples of how harrowing prison life really is and actually is not very far off from the truth no matter how exaggerated they might appear (Mason 2000, pp. 33-44).  It also emphasizes how even though escape from the prison itself might be logically possible, this really is no freedom fro the charged crime. This details how if crime is committed in Britain or internationally for that matter, you will be punished and do your time. Crime is not ignored or over looked for if it was there would be no way to efficiently deter it. What this shows or what movies do is give a generalized perception to the public of what prison really is like.  Some would also say it is an inconspicuous way of letting it be know that crime does not pay so don’t get involved with it.  For some who watch movies demonstrating the violence and environment of prison, it gives them the mind set ton ever do any law breaking and in that respect it actually works as a deterrent. For others, they would rather risk their freedom and see if they can actually commit a crime and get away with it rather than live their life on the straight and narrow as law abiding citizens. In this respect, documentaries and movie portrayals of convicts in prison seems to effectively deter criminal actions 50%/50%; some will never commit crime due to what they see and for some it has no obvious effect.

In England, there was a documentary done titled, ‘HMP Manchester in England’ which gave an inside look into what prisons in England actually looked like on the inside and what punishments and activities were carried out (Mason 2000, pp. 33-44). Some of the real life issues of the prisons in England and Wales were initiated along with discussion on what reforms should be taking place. UK citizens got an in depth view of how thorough law officials really were in looking for ways to make prison life so horrible that the thought of continuing crime in anyway would be deterred. Some of the different issues that demonstrated what the government felt the England penal system needed to work on in the 80s and 90s were in the areas of:

  • Toughening and lengthening of prison sentences and ‘short, sharp, shock’ in the early 80’s
  • The early release of short and medium term prisoners coupled with minimum tariff periods for long term prisoners in the mid 80’s
  • A ‘prison works’ policy adopted by Home Secretary Michael Howard in the late 80’s and early 90’s

(Mason 2000, pp. 33-44).

Political figures and prison officials felt by reaching reformations such as these the English prisons would prove more capable of effectively controlling crime and deterring it. What has been realized though is that no matter how though the sentencing is or how strict the penal codes are, there are still going to be those who are deviant and will commit crime no matter what the consequences or outcome is. However, by implementing these policies it is effective in lowering the amount of crime and does somewhat detract previous offenders from breaking the law and going to prison again. Also, during this time the media was allowed access to actually enter into the prisons and interview inmates on their crimes and what they had been experiencing in prison. The main thing that the public was brought to attention on was how violent prison life really is and what the reality of being there is actually like. Again, the main objective for this, (especially Britain’s) was to get the images of what the real life scenarios in prison truly are to dissuade others from breaking the law.  This philosophy was the start to a number of real life programs going public in the early 80’s. Some of the more renowned shows were:

  • Law and Order: A prisoners tale
  • Panorama: The Sentence of the Court
  • World in Action: A difficult Prisoner
  • 40 minutes: Mr. Perk
  • ITV: A Sense of Freedom

(Mason 2000, pp. 33-44).

The final presentation that is listed detailed exactly what can be evidenced in a real life prison explicitly in Britain. It depicted Jimmy Boyle’s history in a UK prison and it emphasized the mistreatment and violence he was exposed to, not only by other inmates, but by prison officials as well. This film alone shows how the physical brutality by prison officials is evident in real life but also it relates to how inmates reform their behaviour to meet for survival in prison and also how the strictness of the structure of the penal system itself works to try and sway prisoners from deviant acts. Even though violence is vindictive of prison life sometimes it is seen as the only way to correct the problem of crime. All of these previous programs are consistent with the real life interpretations of prison existence by all those who find themselves incarcerated. The same activities are still very much prevalent in British, European, and American penitentiaries today. In 1983, channel four news expressed to the public that the various programmes they had access to where not or could not be perceived as fiction but rather as actual accounts as to what anyone could expect in a real life prison. The following paragraph expresses this concept by the media:

Whether it is told as fiction or presented ad documented fact, the world the prisoner occupies have a stereo-type picture in our imagination. The very success of ‘Strange Ways series’, especially its visual impact ironically has helped constrict the meaning to that particular prisons interior.  To the public eye, prison means strange ways.

(Mason 2000, pp. 33-44).

     What this passage is insinuating is that what the media itself presents to the general public and what television portrays is what the public is going to acknowledge to be accurate and similar to real life experiences, especially the documentaries on the prison systems. What television shows (such as the prison series) actually do is promote an awareness and establish a fear into the public of what will happen to them if they break the law. Though some of the visual depictions are fictionalized they work well in implementing the idea into the publics mind that crime won’t be forgotten and justice, no matter how harsh, will be served.

People need to know it not only, they need to see with their own eyes. Since we have to be made to fear; but also because they have to be witnesses To the guarantors of justice, and to some degree, because they must take part in it (Mason 2000, pp. 33-44).

Fear was definitely something that was brought to the forefront of more than one British citizen during this period of time. Concurrently, inmates themselves had many fears and concerns; they worry of claustrophobia being one of them. Even in the mid 80’s the prison system was dealing with over crowding issues which seems to be a prevalent concern since when the first British prison institution was built it didn’t take long for accounts of the issue of over crowding to become apparent.  Now some would feel this is a sign crime in Britain and the UK is very high if prisons are constantly over crowded but then this is a problem many penal systems around the world are dealing with.  For Britain, in the period of 85 to 87 the figures of those incarcerated were initially at 43,295 inmates and then suddenly in 87 that figure shot up to 51,000.  This lead the government to begin critically evaluating why such a problem existed and to analyze the processes and purposes of prisons, searching for alternate means of punishment for the more minor of crimes to lessen the burden of the over crowding issue.  However, even today the same concern exists so are prisons really deterring crime or rather keeping the offenders locked away and is this an existing dilemma in other parts of the world as well?  One country that currently does have the same significant problem is Japan, as this research is certain other countries are facing this worry as well.  Japan use to be presumed to be ‘the safest country in the world’ but this simply is an over statement and their constricted prison system is evidence for that.  Their over abundance of inmates, in the overflowing prison systems is a fact and clearly shows that crime is not as low in this country as was initially thought (The Japan Times 2004, p. 1). Also, crime rates for deviant acts such as, robbery and homicide have increased in the past two years.  Although public order in Japan in 1973 was well in deterring crime, the occurrence of it now is rising and there is the belief this is directly relative to the overcrowding issue. When inmates are confined in small cells with 4 other offenders the chances of proper rehabilitation, and improvements in behaviour are almost impossible to achieve, (Britain facing the same problem). Therefore, without question, Japan is fighting the same dilemma as Britain is. So how can reforms be done for both of these countries or any country in a similar circumstance?  What alternatives can be reached is the question and how can prisons become more effective because obviously they aren’t doing the best job at the moment or there would not be such a full capacity in so many of them.

How the Environment of a Prison Affects Inmate Behaviour and Reform

            People end up in prison obviously due to their own deviant back ground and criminal analogies they believe in. The reason prison is the chosen form of penal punishment for many of them is not always so simple to answer compared to how simplistic it is to ascertain how they got there. Prison is suppose to support a strict structured environment, beneficial to rehabilitating inmates so that when they are released they can lead law abiding and productive lives. However, prisons are known to be violent and not ideal places for behavioural reforms to take place. They have an evident affect on an inmate’s personality and actions but are these considered to be positive or negative, as many assumptions have yet to prove whether it is a good percentage either way but rather half and half. There are three verifiable factors that have a direct impact on inmates and thee are depictions that are relevant in any prison environment which are listed below.

  • The initial influence is in how much criminal propensity inmates enter into prison with
  • Then ext pertinent point is directly coinciding with the culture found within a prison. It plays a big part in the character the inmate will exhibit over time
  • The final influence is found to be the prison regime. This includes what rehabilitative programs are available and what the interactions and guidelines are among prison officials and inmates

(Camp et al; 2005, pp. 425-426).

Empirical evidence shows that the prison environment itself has a crucial role in deciphering what the conduct of prison inmates will turn out to be. The structure of the prison system needs to have an organization about it to allow for prison officials to have superior control over the inmates.  In this regard, rehabilitation of the offenders can be properly established to hopefully provide effective reformation of their adverse behaviours but it takes significant time. The obvious problem the majority of prisons have is over crowding, and this has been mentioned previously. There can be alternative measures found to solve the current over crowding issue. Offenders who have been noted to have minor criminal offences would be better rehabilitated outside of the jail/prison system so that behaviours could be better monitored and there would not be an influence from other inmates. Some alternatives that could be offered to minimize over population in prisons are: probation, community service, and in home arrest. Often the conduct of offenders in prison is much different from those who are under legal restrictions such as probation outside of prison. Their conduct can also be a factor in determining whether or not they can be rehabilitated and prevented from becoming repeat offenders.  In prison this is a serious problem because there is such violence and inmates are bound to have deviant behaviours about them while in this type of environment. The over crowding only complicates the prisons ability to properly deter crime so therefore the only logical answer to correct this concern is to correctly implement the alternatives that are found to be available.

Some of the ways that prison officials have found to try and deter incorrect behaviours is in the way they discipline the prisoners. Some of these have to do with how often they are allowed phone privileges and for how long, the distribution of mail, and how they maintain their living environment and personal property (Camp et al; 2005, p.427). There are four different categorizations that determine the conduct and behaviours of prisoners and these are listed in the following outline.

  • If the inmate is found with staff or other personal belongings that don’t belong to them, this is considered to be a negative strict against them
  • Failing to follow the rules and follow a work routine as instructed to do so is considered deviant
  • Being unsanitary, messy, lending personal items to other inmates for profit, and self mutilation activities are considered to be adverse behaviours as well
  • Drug usage and distribution
  • Offending another inmate either verbally or physically

(Camp et al; 2005, p.427).

It appears that if prison officials can not restrict these types of behaviour issues, before they are released, then they are highly likely to become repeat offenders and the prison will be found as ineffective and not proficient in deterring crime. This is why there are such strict regimens in prison and heavy punishments for inmates’ misconduct and inappropriate actions. These rules and disciplines can be perceived as necessary steps in rehabilitating prisoners and also those not in prisons. Prison officials normally classify specific inmates by their criminal record before they entered prison and what their conduct is found to be while incarcerated.  In this way, there can be a determination on what prisoners are more apse to break the rules and create more problems and those who do what they are told and show positive signs in the possibility of being rehabilitated. Once this specific area has been assessed prison officials can try and keep the more easily controlled prisoners away from those who are solely intent on initiating criminal behaviours of others by their own adverse behaviour. Gaining control is the first step in prison of containing and diminishing violence and unfavourable activities.

In recent years prison regimes have been tweaked to better maintain appropriate prisoner behaviour. Some of the safeguards and security measures that have been put in place to better assist British prison guards, with a proper regime include:

  • Security measures to control inmates
  • Prison programs for rehabilitative treatment
  • Sophistication of prison management
  • Monitoring characteristics of staff members interactions with inmates
  • Diminishing problem areas such as- overcrowding, lack of good medical care, and the quality of food

(Camp et al; 2005, p.430)

This British regimen is supposed to implement a sturdy and stable prison environment so that additional measures for reform of the inmates’ aggressive tendencies will be accomplished. Without these protocols the institutions would definitely be crippled and weak in providing determent from subsequent criminal actions. Although this does not solve the problem of crime, its effective in diminishing it and teaching offenders that it won’t be tolerated inside of prison and most definitely not outside of prison walls.

Prisoners Rights to Rehabilitation and Fair Treatment

            It’s quite fair to say that the British society at large doesn’t seem to see any valid point in examining and giving pause to offender’s rights. After all, when the crime was being committed the criminal didn’t give the slightest consideration for the victim of their actions.  However, there are morals that have to be kept in mind to keep humanity intact even in the case of punishing offenders to better dissuade others from following in the same footsteps. The point remains, criminals are people with rights and they must be recognized or the legal system would be committing a crime and coveting injustice itself, so justice could not really be served.

Within the past twenty years or so, many countries have been opting to contain those who commit heinous acts in behind bars instead of choosing an alternate path. Even those committing more minor offences are sometimes placed in high security prisons, complication the over populated issue. The alternate paths aren’t being looked into sufficiently enough so that the prison systems can better deter the crimes being committed. When over crowding is prevalent there is simply no logical way to properly perform rehabilitative treatment.  The over use of the prisons has lead to 1.8 million people being incarcerated around the world, placing terrible burdens on the penitentiary’s.  Because of so many criminals to contend with, there are sufficient prisoners who have their personal rights over looked. This is another issue that can not be ignored if the prison structure is going to provide the correct treatment to prisoners and continue to be the superior way of keeping crime somewhat minimal. It is not just Britain that has this concern but countries such as the United States and Japan as well. These countries are quick to put questionable offenders imprison before recognizing any reasonable doubt; thus the issue with over crowding and prisoners rights being ignored.

  • In most countries inmates face psychological or psychological days, months and years the physical degradation caused by their confining conditions.
  • These conditions include over crowding, poor quality food, inadequate medical care, improper ventilation, physical or sexual violence directed at them, scant privacy, isolation from friends and family, and the absence of meaningful work (Lippike 2002, p.122).

Some would claim that they don’t see the controversy in this debate on the prisons, but it exists. How can reform be carried out if prisoners feel inadequate attention is being given to their needs or if violence is in abundance around them? How can the prisons be described as being effective deterrents of crime and changing behaviours if this is the interior environment that is being dealt with? It is also perceived that because of the legal punishments placed on inmates, they are psychologically impaired afterwards and do not have the ability to form any type of meaningful relationship, once released from prison. They also have a difficult time finding adequate employment upon their release which complicates matters more. If prison is meant to establish a new attitude and respectful mindset of offenders then society needs to be ready to let them make amends and give them a second chance. If this can’t be achieved then previous convicts are going to be found to still feel restricted as if they were remaining in prison. This is not ethically right and it is also a shadow of a problem over the prisons as well because if a previous prisoner feels they have no recognizable rights and are being discriminated against to the point of not being able to get work then they will possibly be left with no recourse other than to repeat crime again due to a lack of normalcy after paying for their crime. This isn’t just an issue outside of prison but inside as well.

If prisoners are not treated in the correct moral manner then how can they be expected to change t heir ways and how can a prison environment, with such adversities, be considered to be the logical way to deal with crime, when in some ways, it seems to be instigating it?  However, even though there is validity found in the idea that criminals have rights as well, law officials have the authority to waive those rights as what is referred to as, “waves of duty” (Lippike 2002, p.126). This is done because prisons and any body of law first have a direct responsibility in guaranteeing the safety of law abiding citizens in society by performing civil duties such as:

  • The bodily duty to protect persons from assault
  • Assisting victims of assault in collecting compensation from their attackers
  • Apprehending and punishing those who assault others
  • Preventing repeat crimes by subsequent surveillance and prosecution of offenders

(Lippike 2002, p. 126).

So, although there is a need to ensure prisoners are getting their needs adequately met and receiving proper rehabilitative treatment, there is a higher need to protect the public and guarantee their rights. However, what of the treatment of prisoners? Does not how they are treated and the punishments utilized affect how well the prison system can reform society?  Can the treatment they receive lead to repeat offending? Of course it does and although there is a lot of negativity in prison life there is also an acknowledgement by prison officials that necessary programs must be readily available for inmates to keep an equal balance between morality, rights, and punishments of offenders. Some of the services that are arranged for prisoners and for those who are soon to be released or have been and are on probation are:

  • Education
  • Job training
  • Work experience
  • Mental health (including substance abuse treatment)
  • Anger management therapy
  • Social skills
  • Readjustment to society and the expectations of the law

(Lippike 2002, p.137).

Some of these programs are mandatory for inmates and released convicts and some are by personal choice. The main point is they prove to be well organized and invaluable in reforming prisoners’ attitudes and criminal behaviour regardless of how society reacts upon their release. In this regard, the neglect of prisoners’ rights can be contradicted because the programs that take place reinforce correct behaviours and attitudes, hopefully preventing any prior convicts from becoming repeat offenders.

Penal Punishments and Treatment of Prisoners in the UK Prisons and the affect it has on Deterring Crime

            In the UK, prison as penal punishment seems to be really working towards minimizing crime.  In 1997, within the confines of Britain crime has noticeably decreased to a certain extent but at the same time the problem with over crowding in prisons has increased. This could be surmised by saying that Britain does not tolerate crime and potentially has the ability to lock anyone away who poses the slightest threat or who attempts to break the law. On the other hand it could be said that this country is too quick to throw people in jail and prison and therefore the reason for the over crowding problem.  It has been stated by the home office over the prison systems that over 20,000 inmates are in prison currently that should not even be there and who should have received an alternate form of penal punishment rather than being subjected to prison. This is just another technicality of the prison system that needs improvements and hopefully those will come soon. However, there are still other officials over the legal system that see the program of the prison system in both views, in the positive aspect and also in the negative and they try to determine how to bring equality to an in between median in order to do the moral thing and keep justice intact in the correct way. There are also reform groups who argue that it is Tony Blair’s promises to be, “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” that has lead to a fluctuation of prison standards all across Britain (Batty 2001).  Also, although some forms of crime have been minimized, others have been shown to be increasing, such as crimes associated with racist activities that borderline on atrocious and crimes that are instigated by bullying of others (more in the youth environment than the adult). Both of these acts have been becoming more pronounced over the years yet nothing has been done about it to correct the issue.

The prison system has become extremely strict in some areas though, and especially in the current century. Sentencing is longer than it ever has been before, but this is a lot in lieu of the fact that there have been issues of re-offending at high percentage rates. The government eels the best way to reach a resolution with this problem is by imposing a more rigid prison regimen and extending sentencing to allow the offender to realize that he or she will not keep receiving leniency and they will break their criminal behaviour patterns or stay in behind bards indefinitely (Batty 2001).

The penal programme that is in effect in Britain now has several goals that it is intended to assist the prison systems in achieving. Firstly, the over crowding issue takes precedence over many of the other concerns; because it is so extreme. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw publicly announced the changes in the penal system that the public could be expected to see taking place during the next several years. One aspect in particular that will reduce prison population, affects those with shorter term sentences and minimal offences. Instead of having the offenders serve the whole duration of their sentence in prison, the proposal being implemented will place them in community work release programmes but there will be obvious restrictions. However, prison officials feel that the new strategic elements might lead to more violence because some of the penal punishments are being removed; yet this theory remains to be seen. Offenders are not allowed to have full freedom as they are monitored closely by the use of an electronic tag that keeps track of their location and activities (Batty 2001). So far, the new system seems to be bringing a positive influence and re convictions are being found to be declining which is a definite improvement.

The treatment and the environment prisoners are subjected to is yet another area that requires a definite over haul. For far too many decades, the inhumane treatment that has gone on has been uncalled for and definitely not the type of treatment that could be rehabilitative; rather it has created more violence in some areas of Britain’s’ prisons. Martin Narey, who is the current director general over the prison service, is currently working to absolve the prison system of keeping on any guards who seem to be corrupt or abusive in their treatment of prisoners (Batty 2001). There are 100 prison officials who have been suspended due to their brutal actions or deviant intentions, pending a more thorough investigation into the matter. Even so, the conditions of British prisons are alarming and need extensive work but at the same time many inmates state that they’d rather be imprisoned in British institutions rather than foreign ones who are renowned for their barbaric customs and unsanitary conditions. Even so, the UK prison systems are not much better than many of the foreign penitentiaries as any prison is found to have unfavourable conditions.

There is one exception prison that stands out in Britain and it is, ‘Grendon’, which many consider to be the only prison in Britain that provides the most effective rehabilitative treatment for reforming negative behaviours, yet it does this in a respectful and humane form of treatment for the prisoners (Wealy 2001). The atmosphere of this prison is totally opposite the many others in Britain because the respect for authority by the prisoners, to the prison officials, and the guards’ attitudes to the prisoners’ needs, and respect of their rights is a quite natural perception at Grendon. This has been shown to create the best possible outcomes when it comes down to releasing previous convicts who were former criminals but after their release from Grendon, ex-convicts have a wholly different attitude and a respect for authority that they did not have before (Wealy 2001). The question is, if Grendon can do such an excellent job in reforming character, why can’t other British prisons work just as well?  What the difference is is that the Grendon penal institute is associative with ‘forgiving justice strategies’ which is what makes it stand out so affluently from other prison systems (Newell 2000). If other penal facilities would adopt this same philosophy in the treatment of prisoners, rather than focusing on how harsh they can make penal punishment in prison, then perhaps there would be a rise in support for how well the prison systems actually work in deterring crime, minimizing repeat offences, and ensuring public safety after ex-convicts are returned back into society. This is definitely a mentality that should be utilized in all of the prisons to increase their effectiveness.

Percentage of Crime Today Internationally

            The Home Office, in the UK, has publicly announced that there is a definite reduction in criminal acts currently, than in years past (M2Presswire 1999).  In the latter part of 1999, there was a significant decrease in the crime rate which in itself emphasizes that the prison systems, local and regional law enforcement, and the community as well are working together to keep crime down and reduce the possibility of repeat crimes.  This is a very positive attribute and one that is hoped will continue.

While the UK seems to be enjoying a lower crime percentage, other countries are not as optimistic on containing lower statistics of crime. Japan has had an extremely high incident rate of crime since the beginning of 2002, and the reasons for these occurrences are variant with what is happening in the Japanese economy (AP Worldstream 2002). The specific types of deviant activities the country is having trouble with are in juvenile delinquency, drug cartels, violent acts, and robbery (AP Worldstream 2002). However, these statistics are showing that the more serious of crimes such as rape, murder, and assault and robbery are on a low scale and have not been increasing in the past few years.  When a comparison is done between these two countries to decipher what the cause might be, it is determined that by Japan showing more leniency to juvenile offenders, it has lead to many more crimes being committed by the youth, yet Japan is doing nothing to rectify this problem. The UK is no where as lenient on youth crime as Japan is and this is the precise reason for the differing crime rate. Although Japanese prisons are effective enough the youth offenders have yet to be sentenced to one, so perhaps, since they perceive they won’t receive a sufficient punishment they keep breaking the law. Even though there is a specific problem with youth crime in Japan, their legal system is stable and proficient in deterring adverse activities and minimizing crime if it were used effectively against all age groups that break the law. The United States is not doing much better fairing although it does more effectively control the crime issue committed by youth than do Japanese legal officials. The US is also struggling with a question of overcrowding and lack of consideration about how they treat their prisoners. Also, the parole system is almost entirely ineffective since there are not enough officers to keep track of how many people are actually on probation and what their movements are. There is also a problem with repetitive crime in America which new policies are underway to try and weed out what the cause of this is and put an end to it.

China appears to have the strictest penal system out of Britain, Japan, United States, and other countries as well.  Also, their crime rate is moderately lower as well but this is quite possibly due to the public’s knowledge of what will happen to them if they break the law.  This lower crime rate also has a great deal to do with the fact that China still condones the death penalty in the most brutal of fashions. They prefer to end a criminal’s life rather than them take up space in a prison cell, especially if the offenders are murderers and rapists.  They don’t hesitate in these cases and the prisoners on death row do not sit and wait for their sentence to be passed down indefinitely either. It takes place sooner than in other countries (Borge 2004). This philosophy evolved due to issues China had been dealing with regarding youth crime, much like Japan. Because of China’s mentality on processing criminal offenders, without regard to age discrimination, and their use of the death penalty, they have the lowest crime rate in the world, although it does fluctuate like any countries criminal occurrences do. Though their prisons are harsh, and many of their tactics might seem crude and outright distasteful, it doesn’t change the fact that the country of China is considered one of the safest parts of the world, compared to other countries. This is not to say that Britain or Japan should follow along the penal system of China, for every country has its own belief system and how crime should be handled but perhaps a better understanding could be gained of how people in society value one another’s rights and are mutually respectful to one another, especially respectful to those in authority. These are just some examples to compare to Britain on what the statistics of crime are in other parts of the world, although it’s a small insight it still validates the literature presented into how effective Britain’s prison system really is.

In concluding, it is evident that looking back through past years up to present day the British prison system has gone through some very radical changes and it still is the fairness in which the officials treat prisoners is taking a turn and the various program strategies that once seemed fruitless in offering positive reform is now working effectively to minimize adverse behaviours and to correctly implement the right attitudes to function correctly in society. Of course there is still crime but then it is always going to exist. What is well understood is the prison system is becoming more precise in how they determine the correct rehabilitative treatment programmes for individuals so that the best possible methods will be found for individual cases since all offenders are not the same and are not facing the same problem areas in their live’s. Hopefully this present trend will continue and the future will hold even more improvements in the prison system within Britain and the surrounding UK. Even more noticeable is the publics’ perception of the prison system. If this type of optimism can continue and ex-convicts are given the second chances they need then the penal system will have met is objective in correctly restructuring its way of fighting and punishing crime.

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