Following on from Lazy Blood, The Boy Inside is the next book from Ross. The post he has written for my stop today had me Googling straight away, it is so interesting and one of my ATF films get a mention.
Huge thanks to Ross for writing an article that is so informative, and if you want to read more by Ross The Boy Inside is out now. Very powerful thriller. Out now!
The Boy Inside
Fyodor Dostoevsky — ‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’
Prison Fight Club
In the blue corner, we have USA — In the red corner, we have the UK.
My novel is set partly in a UK prison, where I used to work, so if you want to know what it’s really like in a British jail, get reading.
Here are some interesting facts from both sides of the pond:
Both of our countries have a problem with a too big prison population; cost cutting is a huge focus. Yet we are coming at it from different directions.
The prison population of England and Wales is about 85,000 – approx. 0.17% of the population.
By 2008, nearly 1 in 100 adults in the US were imprisoned – well over 2 million.
Ranking Title Prison Population Total
1 United States of America 2 217 947
2 China 1 649 804
3 Russian Federation 633 826
4 Brazil 622 202
5 India 419 623
6 Thailand 304 090
7 Mexico 233 469
8 Iran 225 624
9 Indonesia 197 630
10 Turkey 187 609
11 South Africa 161 984
12 Philippines 142 168
13 Vietnam 136 245
14 Colombia 120 173
15 Ethiopia 111 050
16 Egypt c. 106 000
17 UK: England & Wales 84 857
America imprisons the most people in the world, the UK the most in Europe. There are no winners here.
What about rehabilitation and hope, or do we throw away the key?
As Andy Dufresne said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
The UK doesn’t have the death penalty but has approximately 70 inmates who will never be released, what we term a whole of life sentence. They will be there for the rest of their lives.
America is very different. It has about 2900 people on Death Row alone. They will have their lives taken from them. The actual number who will definitely never be free is actually at least 40,000. They are imprisoned without hope for parole. These who are sentenced to the rest of their lives in prison include 2,500 under the age of 18.
Incredibly, The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation that studies sentencing and criminal justice in America, estimated in 2009 that at least 140,000 prisoners in the US now serve a life sentence. This does not include convicts given extremely long sentences with a fixed term, like the Alabama man sentenced to 200 years for kidnapping and armed robbery, so the real figure is much more. Most of these will have the opportunity for parole – though Sentencing Project Director Marc Mauer says, “few will receive it.” (Source: BBC)
The main difference is the prevalence of firearms. It’s not easy to get one in the UK, whereas in the US it’s not hard. A gun elevates any crime to the possibility of a life sentence.
In the UK last year there were 695 homicides (Daily Mail). There were 671 in LA County alone last year, 762 in Chicago and over 16000 in the whole country. The UK with the population adjustment would need a figure of about 3200 for parity.
Anyone who takes a life deserves little sympathy. However, America is now looking more for non-custodial sentences for non-violent offences. The cost of locking someone up is always much more than a sentence in the community and trying to get your life back together after a spell inside is impossible for many. They are making inroads, but much more work is still needed.
America is discovering rehabilitation yet we are forgetting about it. The UK perversely took an axe to prison officer numbers while the prison population stayed the same. This insane move cut the number of serving officers from 25,000 to 18,000. The upshot was obvious. Prisons became unsafe, both for the offenders and the staff.
What is also unexplainable are politicians banging on about housing, courses, therapy, support, and restorative justice when all these things are time heavy. So more staff are actually needed. At points prisons barely have enough staff to feed and unlock the prisoners, never mind give them purposeful employment, courses or training.
Experienced officers left in droves. This ruined the service as a time served officer could single-handedly lock down an entire wing on his own in the time it may take three new starters to do the same job. If you’ve worked in a jail for five years you probably know most of the inmates as many are in and out due to the lack of rehabilitation. There becomes a kind of mutual respect that a difficult job is being done, even if it is somewhat grudging. Staff turnover hit 50% in some jails.
As with all things in life, technology was the game changer. Chinese labs making synthetic drugs for next to nothing sent prison crime through the roof. Felons receive their drugs melted into letters or even by drones, ordered by miniature phones that fit up people’s arses. The illegal drugs business is so prevalent and lucrative that inmates are deliberately getting caught for shoplifting so they can smuggle drugs in for the short sentences they will receive.
There are obviously a lot of tough jobs. Fisherman, A+ E nurse, inner-city school teacher, PR for Trump and no doubt many more, but I don’t think any other job gives you as much exposure to hostility, shocks, verbal and physical abuse, and general violence as a prison officer. So messing around with personnel levels by cost cutting is dangerous. Staff shortages in hospitals can lead to people’s health being put at risk. In a prison it is your own life that’s in danger.
I used to work an entire wing with 80 prisoners on it with one other officer. That’s it. At the weekend they would all be unlocked and wandering around. Invariably you would be on your own while the other officer did medication, exercise, or maybe took a dump! I worked for a private jail so I didn’t have a whistle or a baton. I didn’t even have a hat. Yet in the first two years, except for the odd occasion of splitting up a fight or ‘helping’ someone into their cell, I never had to defend myself or use physical force. The ferocity was generally focused between inmate and inmate. There were close calls, some which turned my bowels to water, but I mostly felt safe at work. As the cuts began to bite, with legal high usage increasing exponentially and experienced staff leaving, that feeling would change.
The latest prison safety figures show that assaults on staff had risen 40% in the past year to 70 a day, while there are record levels of prison suicides and self-harm. 6430 assaults on staff, 761 of these serious; with only 18000 workers you don’t need to be a genius to work out that the chances of you it happening to you are just one in three.
If it’s bad for the staff, a total lack of control is terrible for the inmates. Some wings are no go areas for staff. What happens to the weak and vulnerable who can’t leave these dangerous warehouses. The Ministry of Justice said there were 119 self-inflicted deaths – 29 more than the previous year and the highest number since records began in 1978. What kind of a society are we where 119 people kill themselves after we have imprisoned them. There are riots, barricades, hostages and escapes almost daily. Some ministers do not accept there is a link between prison funding and people killing themselves or others in jail. (Guardian). I don’t agree. Some think a pathetic extra 2500 fresh faced officers will make a difference.
There are about 150 prisons in England and Wales, so that works out about 5 extra people per shift. Meanwhile, it is reported this week that a record high of 37,784 self-harm incidents and 25,049 assault incidents occurred.
Who would want to be a boy inside?