Thursday, January 13, 2005

More Women In Prison

In the words of Mrs Tony Blair, there are too many women in prison.

Ms Booth pointed to the rapid rise in the female prison population, up 115% between 1993 and 2000, compared with a rise of 42% among men. "That is a hell of an increase," she said.

Isn't that just progress towards equality ? I keep hearing that the over-representation of black people in prison is a function of our racist criminal justice system, and that only when the proportion of prisoners is even between ethnic groups will equality be achieved.

If this is so, why should women be grossly under-represented ? At 52% of the population, surely they should make up 52% of prisoners ?

The great Dalrymple has a tale of one such pioneer for equality, a young murderess who seems to have had a better experience of prison than the late Sarah Campbell.

She said that prison had done her much good; it was the first place in which she had ever felt truly settled. She was going to classes to improve her English and math. She had been treated well and fairly, and felt much better both physically and mentally. I checked with the staff: she was noted for her politeness and pleasant manner. This was just as I had found her.

Although she was distressed when, at my prompting, she recounted her life to me, she never attempted in the slightest degree to insinuate that her experiences were responsible for or explained her crime (although she was still only 18, they were surely far more than any person should ever have to experience). She said, “It’s terrible that it had to come to this for me to take my own life seriously.” She meant it, if anyone ever meant anything; and hers were not the words of someone with a serious personality disorder but on the contrary of someone with a surprisingly robust and decent character.

Back in the liberal world, Youth Justice Board Chair Ellie Roy has complained that children who breach ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) are being jailed. I must confess I thought that was the whole point of the ASBO - that breaching it meant prison.

Ms Roy conceded Asbos had given relief from antisocial behaviour, but said the "naming and shaming" of young offenders "caused real problems" for some families.

Whereas not imprisoning them causes real problems for the innocent neighbouring families. But we know which side Ms Roy is on.

"Once you give a dog a bad name it becomes more difficult to rehabilitate," she said.

Good to see youth justice in the charge of such a hard-headed realist. Can you guess what Ellie Roy used to do for a living ?

No comments: