By Hannah Newberry
More than 41,000 incidents in England and Wales alone have been reported in 2017 for self harming that occurs in prisons. 2017 has led to a 12% rise in these types of prisoner incidents, with hospitals having to intervene due to the serious nature around 2800 times. Could this be a result of the government’s drastic neglect of our national prisons? We routinely underfund prisons due to many believing that tax should be spent elsewhere, but at what cost, especially when we’re sometimes looking at people who weren’t even charged for indictable offences ending up in hospital from self-inflicted acts? Notoriously overcrowded with simply not enough people employed to properly survey those who spend their days in cells, this is an epidemic that has been a long time coming. When public opinion hardens against those who are put away, it often goes without ramifications when the authorities also turn their backs in favour of cutting costs and looking good on their next manifesto.
Impoverished conditions are only expected to worsen with projected increase in numbers, and the news will only come as a temporary shock for many readers as no one can expect an improvement without government intervention and political empathy. An emphatic message needs to be evoked that when the most poignant problem right now is self injury, weaponry and more rigid authority is simply not a cost-effective solution. A prisoner dies by suicide every five days.
An MP for the Liberal Democrats, Davey, deemed short term sentences a ‘useless’ expenditure and that reform and rehabilitation should be the primary aim of all prisons and not indefinite confinement. This year, a Wrexham ‘super-prison’ was opened that aimed to house over 2000 prisoners – a controversial move as overcrowding and using prisons as experiments as to how far cost-effectiveness goes may encourage such epidemics to soar. The pragmatic movement to prisoners being just numbers is certainly not a healthy way to address a situation where many are struggling in the environment they’re in. We are only as good as how we treat those who are at the biggest disadvantage in our society.
Furthermore, proposing a prison in Port Talbot is not reasonable to rectify the current chaos of prisoner coping mechanisms. The larger the prison, the less likely they are to succeed in rehabilitation or reformation of prisoners in need of help. Westminster has yet to realise that prisons are not industrial opportunities, and solutions need to be sought. Many Welsh MPs have met these proposals with disgust as lack of devolved justice leaves their opinion in the bleak minority as more land is taken up with failing penitentiaries.
Economically inept institutions that are rid of the notion of moralistic justice cannot keep trying to rectify a psychological catastrophe by looking at budgets and new places to remind society where people have ventured down the wrong path. Mental health should always be a priority with prisoners’ wellbeing, but the issue has become far too abstract and politicised to be taken at face value with effective, righteous solutions.