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40-time convict slam’s today’s ‘cushy’ and ‘stupid’ prisons

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: May 01, 2013

Dovegate Prison Feature

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A FORMER prisoner who has served around 40 spells behind bars has slammed modern clinks as ‘cushy’ and ‘stupid’.

The ex-convict, speaking to the Mail after the Government announced plans to make prisons tougher, said jails today were much easier places to live than in the 1970s when he first did time.

The former inmate said: “Prisons are very cushy now. It’s stupid nowadays. You can have Sky TV and your own cell.

“There are more chances of people committing offences in there while it’s so cushy.”

Ministers have announced plans to change the rules so prisoners have to earn many of the perks they currently enjoy as a matter of course, such as televisions in cells and access to gym equipment.

The Mail today debates whether modern prisons are too soft.

A Conservative MP, a campaigner for prison reform and the ex-convict all have their say inside.

PRISONERS could be made to work harder to earn perks such as televisions in their cells and access to gyms under new Government proposals.

Certain 18-rated films would also be banned and new prisoners could be forced to wear uniforms if proposed changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme are made.

Ministers want inmates to have to work harder to earn perks instead of simply avoiding trouble.

South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler, whose constituency includes Sudbury Prison and Foston Hall Prison, said: “It is absolutely right that, during the first couple of weeks in prison, prisoners really understand the regime, why they are in there and that prison is a punishment but also about rehabilitation.

“I am convinced this is the right way forward. None of us want people to carry on re-offending. We want prisoners to understand that prison is not a cushy life, it is about turning their lives around and getting support.

“We need to protect prison officers from unruly behaviour and attacks by really laying down the rules.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who announced the proposals, said perks were seen in many prisons as an ‘automatic right’, rather than being the preserve of the few best-behaved and hardest-working inmates.

One former jailbird, who lives in Burton and has served an estimated 40 prison terms since 1970, told the Mail modern jails were too ‘cushy’ but warned of the risks of attempting to remove benefits from prisoners.

The ex-convict, who asked not to be named, said: “Prisons are very cushy now. It’s stupid nowadays.

“You can have Sky TV and your own cell. There are more chances of people committing offences in there while it’s so cushy.

“I remember when there were 26 prisoners to one dorm. You never used to be able to call the officers by their first names, you had to stand to attention first thing in the morning, you had to slop out and meals were regimented.”

Asked what effect the proposed reforms would have on modern prisons, the former inmate said: “They (inmates) would probably put up a fight and cause hassle and grief.

“You would end up with more riots. The lifers (those serving life sentences) are already not happy about some restrictions that have been put on 18-plus films.”

The current proposals also include restrictions on inmates’ rights to spend private cash. They will also be encouraged to take part in more work and education programmes.

The Justice Secretary said: “All prisoners could find themselves working a longer day and will not be allowed to watch television when they should be working.”

Critics of the Government’s plans, which have been dismissed by some as a sop to appease hard-line voters, have accused detractors of painting a distorted picture of the prison system.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said jails ‘should be about doing time rather than wasting time’.

She said: “Tough political talk, budget cuts and reduced staffing levels are all piling pressure on prisons and prisoners. New proposals to focus on the first two weeks in custody, the riskiest time for vulnerable people, are an opportunity to ensure proper induction and enable prisoners to make best use of their time behind bars.

“Research shows that the first two weeks in prison can be hardest for prisoners when they are at greatest risk of suicide and self-harm. High numbers of people in prison with learning disabilities, mental health problems and drug and alcohol addictions need information and support to comply with prison rules and regimes.

“Prisons should be about doing time rather than wasting time. No-one wants people locked in their cells all day watching TV. It’s important not to confuse toughness with effectiveness.

“Harsh words may catch headlines, but will do nothing to reduce unacceptably high re-offending rates.

“In a bleak prison environment, privilege is such a misleading word.”

Prisons in Britain are at bursting point and, clearly, something needs to change. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the current proposals will lead to real change or prove to be just political rhetoric.

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