Some people may assume that criminal barristers have some special insight into what goes on in our prisons. Yet although we spend a great deal of time and effort trying, as cheerfully as possible, either to put people into prison or to keep them out, most of us have little idea of what prisons are really like. We may visit prisons from time to time for conferences, or, less often perhaps, for disciplinary or Parole Board hearings. But neither an hour or two chatting optimistically to a client in a stuffy conference room, nor three hours supping the befuddling soup of parolespeak acronyms – NOMS, OASYS, MAPPA – that washes over byzantine Parole procedures give much idea of what months or years of incarceration would actually be like.
We get some impressions. People are often surprised to find that prisons differ from each other almost as much as schools. The campus-like Ford Open Prison, with its well-kept lawns (though it might be stretching it to call them “manicured”) and public school style cricket pitch has a very different atmosphere from a glowering inner city gaol such as (to name one I happen to be familiar with) Bristol. One suspects that the inmates of Ford, with a high proportion of fraudsters and three-quarters-rehabilitated murderers are also, on the whole and give or take the odd riot, a bit less rumbustious than the bruisers and low level drug dealers to be found in your bog standard local gaol. Continue reading “Our Prisons are disgusting and getting worse. Mr Grayling is responsible.”