It’s easy to care about vulnerable, sick or dying people, innocent children or helpless animals. It’s a lot harder to care about criminals – they broke the law, they suffer the consequences.
Gandhi spoke about forgiveness: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Whether or not you feel those in prison deserve forgiveness, many people would argue they need help.
In the UK the male prison population is approximately 85,000 and the female prison population is around 4000.
The following facts were provided by the UK Ministry of Justice in a report published in July 2013, to read the full report please follow this line: http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn04334.pdf
- 24% of prisoners had lived with foster parents or in an institution, or had been taken into care at some point when they were a child.
- 29% of prisoners had experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child. With women (53%) more likely to have experienced such abuse than men (27%).
- 41% of prisoners had observed violence at home as a child.
- Over one-third of prisoners (37%) had a family member that had been found guilty of a criminal offence (non-motoring). 30% of prisoners had a family member that had spent time in custody.
- 59% of prisoners reported regularly playing truant. 63% had been temporarily excluded from school, and 42% permanently excluded.
- 61% of prisoners stated that they were single when they came into custody, while 24% were living with a partner and 8% married.
- One-third (32%) of prisoners reported being in paid employment in the four weeks before custody. However, 13% of SPCR prisoners reported never having had a job.
- Almost two-thirds (64%) of prisoners had been in receipt of benefits at some point in the 12 months prior to coming into custody.
- 47% of the prisoner sample held no academic qualifications. In 2003, the proportion of the population of working age in the UK holding no qualifications was 15%.
- Approximately 5% of prisoners were educated to a level higher than A levels, including 3% who held university degrees. In 2003 around 16% of the UK working age population held a degree.
- 34% – 36% of prisoners are likely to be disabled, depending on the measure used, which is higher than similar estimates of the general population.
- 15% of prisoners reported being homeless before custody, including 9% who were sleeping rough.
It’s hard to know how to start tackling a problem of such immense proportions, I decided to begin by finding out more about the problems. If you want to do the same you may want to try looking at the website for the Prison Reform Trust.
These statistics suggest the solution is changing society, rather than prisons.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in prison… I hope I never find out.
What about people whose convictions are in any way unsound or whose treatment in prison falls well below acceptable standards? Prison is intended to be a punishment (which for some may not even be deserved), but it shouldn’t ever be torture.
One case I stumbled across was that of Australian Jock Palfreeman, Jock has been imprisoned in Sofia Prison in Bulgaria since the end of 2007. There is a website dedicated to his case in which you can find out the full details http://www.freejock.com/, however the events that led to his arrest can be summarised as follows:
In December 2007, 21 year-old Jock and a couple of friends were in Sofia for a night out when Jock witnessed an attack on a young Roma man by a large group. Jock went to help the victim and was then surrounded and attacked. Subsequently two of the group were wounded, one fatally, with a knife that Jock had been carrying when he went out that evening.
Obviously it’s never a good idea to carry a large knife around and why would you if you had no intention of using it? But there is an argument of self-defence in this case and discrepancies in the way the trial was conducted. CCTV evidence and eye witness statements support that the man who was killed was perpetrating a violent attack when he received his fatal injury. Jock received a sentence of 20 years.
So whilst in the long term I plan to take more of an interest in the judicial system, in the short term I wrote a letter to Jock. No matter why someone is in prison they must feel incredibly isolated, especially in a foreign prison.