The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, has instituted a new regime in our prisons. Prisoners will have to 'earn' privileges. In the new regime they'll start off with very few 'perks' and work their way up. For the first two weeks male prisoners will wear uniforms.
I always feel there is something rather fetishistic about Tory approaches to crime and punishment. Remember the "short, sharp shock" of the boot camp days? But this is rather more a pandering to public perception, and the need to be assured that prisoners are 'punished'. It is not enough that they are deprived of their freedom; no we must be sure they are humiliated as much as possible. We must see them beg for mercy, pay for their crimes. Perhaps, no certainly, when they are in the prison yard they should not only have a uniform with spots on but also be in leg-irons. Their exercise should be pacing up and down like caged bears.
I suspect there are a few, perhaps many, who would love to bring back the stocks and throw eggs and rotten vegetables at wrong-doers in the town square. I confess to thinking that would be good, but not very civilised. I also have no doubt there are a few 'floggers' too who yearn for a few public floggings.
Grayling defends his changes by saying: "For too long the public has seen prisoners spending their days languishing in their cells watching TV, using illegal mobile phones to taunt their victims on Facebook or boasting about their supposedly easy life in prisons. This is not right and it cannot continue."
Personally I have never seen prisoners spending their time doing any of these things, although I am sure they do. It would be like watching paint dry spending days watching prisoners do such things. I really wonder how many people have spent such time. Clearly Mr Grayling does have such a past time. I suppose that is what justice secretaries are meant to do, watch prisoners languishing in jail.
I asked my neighbour how many times she had seen prisoners watching TV. "What?" she responded incredulously. "What do you mean?" she continued, somewhat suspiciously, as if I had accused her of something rather dreadful. Anyway, the upshot is she hadn't seen any prisoner doing such a thing, ever, although she did confess to having seen prisoners watching TV on TV.
So what did she think about it? I asked her. "Think about what?" She replied. Prisoners watching TV, I pressed on. "Oh, well I haven't really thought about it at all." She said. "Why are you asking?" Again rather suspiciously. She didn't know anyone in prison she went on to say, rather suspicious that I was 'accusing' her of doing so. "Anyway, Ray, I imagine they watch an awful lot of TV." Why is that? I asked. "Well what else is there for them to do?"
The new regime is all a bit of ill-thought through nonsense. But it is also dangerous nonsense. It is more likely than not to create boredom and frustration, increased tension and violence. It is plain stupidity.