I was recently fortunate enough to be invited to Lithuania by a voluntary sector organisation based in Kaunas which works with prisoners and released ex-offenders. During this visit I was able to visit a number of prisons, talk to volunteers, inmates and staff and address members of the Govt.
It came as quite a shock to find an EU member state in which the prison conditions and facilities were so poorly funded and where prospects for released prisoners are so negative (avg. spend is 1.5 euros per day per prisoner for everything). However, the real lesson comes from the story of the voluntary sector which attempts to improve things by doing simple stuff like purchasing bags of cement or plaster so that prison inmates can repair their rooms, or building showers or kitchen areas in the women and children facility. Volunteers buy these materials from their own income as well as providing skills and educational training where they can. Their story is that the public attitude towards those who offend has changed little since the days of communism where a criminal offence was seen as betraying the state, and there is little or no public awareness of something which is seen as the responsibility of that state. In fact they became so used to people effectively disappearing that today someone going into prison in Lithuania is likely to be unemployable on release, highly likely to have no accommodation or supportive family network and stands a high probability of re-offending within days. Suicide rates are high and many who leave prison leave the country not as economic migrants but as virtual deportees.
Because there is so little public sympathy the government apparently devotes very little time to addressing conditions or considering the need for improved facilities, and are able to do so with comparative impunity because the offending community has been effectively demonised as non-citizens. They do not see it as a priority at a time when building their economy is paramount and the result is evident in lack of investment or concern.
Of course we in the UK can bask in our excellent reformist history, which has seen conditions in prisons vastly improved, and a sense of public interest underpinning a rehabilitative ethos which allows the not inconsiderable criminal justice expenditure which we enjoy. Not for us the cynical demonising of social groups as scroungers or non-citizens so that we can avoid any responsibility for the welfare of those less fortunate or able to cope than ourselves. It is difficult to conceive of a situation such as seems the case in former Eastern Bloc countries ever emerging here. Or is it?
Image: By User:SKopp (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Them and Us? – Victims, Offenders, Communities, and Families Affected by Imprisonment
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow
Date: 9.30am – 3.30pm, Thursday, 9 May 2013
Chairman: David McKenna OBE – Chief Executive, Victim Support Scotland and President, Victim Support Europe
Through exploring contributors’ and participants’ experiences of being a victim, having a family member in prison, and being part of vulnerable and volatile communities, this conference will show that the line between ‘them’ and ‘us’ is not as clear as we might think and that ‘we’ are jointly responsible for making things better. This important event will be of benefit to practitioners and interest groups both in and out of the criminal justice system and, of course, to ‘us’ – the victims, offenders, communities, and families.
NOW TAKING BOOKINGS…
Links to the programme for the day and booking form are provided below.
For directions to Hampden Park, please click here.
To book a place, please complete the booking form and return it to our address at 13 Great King Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6QW or email email@example.com
The Scottish Government recently caused a furore in the criminal justice world when it suggested abolishing prison Visiting Committees and replacing them with an advocacy service for prisoners. While it had been recognised for some time that the existing system of Visiting Committees was in need of reform, their proposed abolition was controversial. The chief criticism of this approach was that it would leave Scotland exposed as non-compliant with its international obligations under OPCAT (The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture). The Government therefore commissioned a review of independent monitoring of prisons in Scotland which has now been published. The review recommends establishing a system of voluntary independent prison monitors, who should report annually to Scottish Ministers with reports being made public. A total of 21 proposals include that funding for the service should be independent of the Scottish Prison Service, and that monitors should be appointed under a public appointments system. A Government response to the review is awaited.
The Scottish Justice Commitee has launched an inquiry into purposeful activity in prisons.
It will look at:
- What is meant by ‘purposeful’ activity and how can this be measured;
- The extent to which prisoners have an opportunity to engage in purposeful activity;
- What are the perceived benefits of purposeful activity and whether there are any examples of best practice;
- What barriers may exist to prevent prisoners engaging in such activities;
- Whether access to purposeful activities is consistent across the prison estate; and
- Whether access to such activity can be improved.
The deadline for submitting written evidence to the commitee is Friday 26th January 2013
To view the “call for evidence” document and details on how to submit evidence click here
The newsletter for September – October 2012 from the International Centre for Prison Studies can be downloaded from the SCCCJ website here. It includes an article by Roy Walmsley, Director of the World Prison Brief covering Changes in prison population levels.