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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 September 2011

The riots, Clarke and the "broken penal system"

'Justice' Secretary Kenneth Clarke has added to the Tories' reaction to the riots by blaming them on a "broken penal system" that has failed to rehabilitate the "criminal classes". He has defended the heavy sentences handed out. Before Clarke wrote his article, Glyn Travis and Joe Simpson, assistant secretaries of the prison workers' union POA set out some of the key issues in prisons following the riots.

Special magistrates courts stayed opened night and day as the police arrested hundreds of suspects. Magistrates remanded around 75% more people into custody than they normally would and handed down custodial sentences, sending the prison population to a record high.

No one questioned whether the sentencing was just and fair, if it would be effective, or if prisons would simply become warehouses. Has this country witnessed a new policy on criminality, as the coalition government and the majority of MPs appeared to accept summary justice?

In all our time working in prisons, we have very rarely known people to be sent to prison without some form of pre-sentence or psychiatric report, as is happening now. It seems that this decision was made to enhance the coalition government's image of being 'tough on law and order'. No thought can have gone into the impact on the offender or frontline services.

Every day prison staff have to manage, support and care for the people society no longer trusts. They have to ensure they do not self-harm or take their own life, protect them from other prisoners and more importantly, prepare them to lead law-abiding lives upon release. They have to ensure their human and statutory rights are adhered to.

The long-term impact of the summary justice that was handed down following the riots will have to be assessed as it is clear that a divide has arisen between magistrates and Crown Court judges, due to the interference of politicians in the judiciary.

Every prison will feel the effects of the aftermath of the riots for months to come. Staff must deal with prisoners' families and other organisations as they aim to achieve the Prison Service vision of keeping those in custody safe.

All of this has to be managed against the backdrop of more serious staff assaults and at a time when the budget to run prisons is being slashed and prisons are being handed over to private companies to run for profit.

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In The Socialist 7 September 2011:


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