Youth Say - Angus Duncan
Published 9 Sep 2011 09:30 0 Comments
"ENJOY your visit" is not what you expect to hear when you're about to enter Perth Prison.
It wasn't sarcasm either, for it was Mike Inglis, Governor of Perth Prison, who spoke to us.
He, like many of his prison officers, is being converted to the idea that allowing schools to visit prisons is a worthwhile idea.
The idea behind our visit was so that we could gain an understanding of the conditions in prison and whether or not it's effective.
It might not be everyone's cup of tea but when you're expected to do a 5000-word dissertation on law and order, it suddenly becomes appealing.
I liked the idea; according to a survey commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, two-thirds of the public think that prison life is not hard enough - I wanted to see for myself as to whether they were right.
We're taken in to B Hall - the first taste of prison for many people, since suspects held on remand are placed here.
A brief introduction to prison life suggests that life here is anything but "soft": robberies, bullying and threats of violence are astoundingly common - a knife can be made using a lighter to convert a shaving razor and a pen into a knife "in seconds".
The officer points at one of my friends: "You being a Fifer - you wouldnae stand a chance" - territorialism is another problem, apparently.
I thought I was about to see the poll's view vindicated when we were told that we were going to see a "deluxe" cell. Wrong. The "deluxe" cell consisted of a bed (usually it's a bunk), a small TV set, a desk and a kettle. There's also very little room to move around it. That hardly qualifies as "soft", especially when remand prisoners can spend up to 19 hours per day locked up.
What was most intriguing was being taken to speak to a prisoner in C Hall - a wing that dates from 2007 and holds the convicted prisoners.
We can't see inside a cell here but we're told that the prisoners have to work for around five hours per day and can only earn a maximum wage of £14 a week. £1 of that is taken back to pay for Sky TV in their rooms, "it's only one channel, though. A sort of committee decides what gets shown" an officer assures us.
Why give Sky TV to prisoners, though? "It's the best thing that's ever come into prisons," prison officer Steve (not his real name) tells us, "before, we had to man big TV halls and you can imagine, say, if it's 9 o' clock and we say, 'Right, TVs off - back to your cells' and it was half time in a football match ...they're not reluctant to go back to their cells now. You should not be punished when you're actually in prison."
It's a good management tool ... it's the first thing to go," his colleague adds.
This all now starts to make sense: while the cushy side of prison has been well publicised, the unpleasant sides simply have not.
For example, the "exercise ground"- a tarmac square where prisoners walk around in a circle, or the segregation unit, where disruptive prisoners are locked up in a cell with only the bare essentials 23 hours a day.
There's no contact with other prisoners, only the guards, who only open the door when there's three of them present.
Sixty per cent of those released from Perth re-offend within three years, prompting supporters of community-based sentences to claim that this shows that prison doesn't rehabilitate, while supporters of prison claim that life in prison is "too soft."
I prefer the explanation offered by Steve; the loss of liberty and having what they are going to do dictated to them means that prisoners "can't function when they get out". His solution? "Make the prisoner responsible."
The views expressed in this column are those of Angus and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Scottish Youth Parliament.