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May 01 2013

SSA May Day Mayhem – Prison Architect IRL

For those who are not aware of Introversion Software’s rather cutesy but serious game, it puts you in charge of a Prison. While you control the way it works you don’t control the staff and running the prison is down to how skilled you are at balancing the books.

One of the most contentious parts of running a prison is “perks”. As in what perks do you “give” a prisoner. And there is none as contentious as the TV. Whenever people hear that prisoners have TVs they respond with “TV! They Are Criminals!”. Or worse “TV! Food? Board? Why! That will just encourage people to commit crime!”. The people who say this have no idea about prisons or indeed “what freedom means”.

These are the sort of people who see jail as punishment alone. And I fear that the Justice Secretary of the UK; Chris Grayling is one of those people.

Under Mr Grayling’s proposals to be published today:

* All newly convicted adult male prisoners required to wear prison uniform for at least two weeks.

* At the end of that period prisoners who “do not co-operate with the regime or engage in rehabilitation” will move onto a “basic level” of entitlement and will not be given in cell televisions or regular access to the gym.

* Subscription channels will be removed from private prisons and all Certificate 18 DVDs will be banned.

Mr Grayling said he believe it was not right that some prisoners were spending hours in their cells “watching daytime television while the rest of the country goes out to work”. By that logic there are plenty of people on the dole doing the same thing. The problem is that prisoners by nature are in prison and so cannot work in any “real” capacity. ”For too long, there has been an expectation that privileges are an automatic right, given simply as a reward for staying out of trouble,” he said.

The major issue in prisons is “behaviour”. It’s a poorly funded, overcrowded, luxury free, regimented world where people rub up against each other. A lot of prisons offer inmates TVs in order to reduce the amount of violence by reducing the frustration and distracting the inmates.

“This cannot continue. Prisoners need to earn privileges, not simply through the avoidance of bad behaviour but also by working, taking part in education or accepting the opportunities to rehabilitate themselves.”. A lofty goal but in reality this simply means that most prisoners will simply lose access to TVs. The problem with prison “jobs” is that it’s kind of slavery. We don’t offer the prisoners a living wage and the money being exchanged for labour is minimal. While I understand offering perks for rehabilitation is good, I don’t think trading goods for “work” is acceptable unless prisoners earn “a real working wage”.

The reason this cannot work is that the British prison population has effectively doubled in the past 20 years and has left prisons overcrowded and staff overstretched, with little choice but to lock people up in their cells all day with nothing to do. What this would require is more staff, more prisons, better facilities and more layers of bureaucracy that will only add to the cost of running our prison system and further break it.

We need a fundamental look into what is causing crime in our country and how to run prisons in a different way from the “punishment” system to a “rehab system”. Now obviously some people cannot be rehabilitated and need to be kept away indefinitely but it doesn’t mean revenge.

Otherwise we may as well chain them to the wall and do the patented Sam Vimes Ginger Beer Trick.

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