time in the sixties and seventies when it was thought rehabilitation of prisoners should be the overall general aim. Rehabilitation offered almost to cure offenders and when it didn‘t work. a more punitive regime took its place. ‘But ifit didn‘t actually make things worse‘ suggests Dr. Clerk. ‘why not adopt the more humane approach‘."
On a day to day level the experience of prisons is squalid. Most cells for men do not have intrinsic sanitation and prisoners are required to use a plastic chamber pot in the cell which they slop out several times a day. ‘It‘s the squalor ofthe place‘ says Dr. Basson. ‘We‘ve got this thing about our toiletting and personal hygiene and even ifwe‘re incarcerated because we‘re a danger to the general public. there‘s no reason why we should take that away from them. There are prison regimes in the world which work perfectly effectively which give people a toilet.‘ Similarly he noted a completely different atmosphere at a prison in Switzerland where the officers were not in quasi-military or police uniforms. Just because they have been convicted doesn‘t necessarily mean they shouldn‘t be allowed to wear their own clothes or be near their own people. ‘The punishment ofprison is the deprivation of freedom. That is quite sufficient without all these other
things which are tagged on to it which I think are cruel.‘
The geographical situation of prisons can have specific repercussions. ‘One of the worst bits of repression is to send them to Peterhead‘ continues Dr. Basson. ‘If we‘re going to have a high security prison it should have been in the Central Belt. so at least they‘d stay in
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contact with their families.‘ Peterhead is a 4 and a half—5 hour journey from Edinburgh by train and bus then the same back again ‘to see your man for 20 minutes.‘
Equally damaging can be the treatment of prisoners by other prisoners. Those who have committed incest or a paedophile crime for example. are treated ‘abominably‘ by other prisoners. According to Dr Basson ‘The others see it as their job to make life for those prisoners hell. He‘ll be threatened. spend long periods in isolation. To me it‘s hypocritical. They‘ve maybe done dreadful things themselves. maybe killed a man. and they‘ll terrorise another individual who will have experiences which will scar him forever.‘
John McVicar escaped from Durham‘s high security E wing (later closed. then reopened as a special wing for high—risk women prisoners). After his subsequent recapture and release. he wrote a screenplay about the events leading up to the escape. While the film was being shot he found himself ‘constantly having to hammer home to the director how so much of the interaction between staff and inmates revolves around the assertion of authority and the attempts by cons to negate or offset its impact on their lives. This is the centre ofgravity of prison life. What mattered in prison as far as respect or influence were concerned was how violent a con was or could be. I knew that his potential for violence was the most inﬂuential power resource a man could wield in interaction both with other cons and warders. How “heavy” or “tasty” a guy was what mattered.‘ John McVicar went on to study at University College and as
part ofhis degree thesis argued that violence is a normal phenomenon in prison. A similar conclusion was drawn by the working party in 1971 whose report led to the setting up of the Barlinnie Special Unit. recently quoted in The Guardian: ‘The basic reason for violence in prisons is imprisonment.‘ It is a thesis with which Dr. Basson would concur ‘if you put all those men together. despite all the activities which are offered at Saughton. the total percentage at the end of the day who get a lot of facilities is only small. There are quite a lot of men with time on their hands, they’re bored: you give them vile conditions: you can see it generates violence of itself, it becomes part of the institution.‘ To some extent, crime is the norm too. Most people agree that it is something nearly everybody does, it‘s just that some get caught and get processed for it much more regularly
‘We’re all involved’
than others. ‘Its silly to think: I would never do that‘ says Dr Basson. ‘We‘re all involved. That‘s why we need prisons. They‘re almost important because they keep the rest ofus in line, therefore we can be harsh to them. Because we see them as close we want to push them far away.‘ As many as 40—55% of prisoners are there for non—payment of fines. Mostly the prison population is not made up ofserious. violent and dangerous offenders. ‘If we realised who ended up being sent to prison. we wouldn‘t be quite so punitive‘ says David Garland. Dr Basson agrees. ‘I always believe that the religious Scots don‘t belive God will punish the bad. They think God is a big soft wet — like a psychiatrist.
They believe it’s their duty. There‘s a terrible viciousness about our courts sometimes.‘ The public‘s role shouldn‘t be underestimated. ‘We‘ve all conspired in the way prisons are now‘ adds David Garland. ‘We're not exactly actively involved in asking what goes on behind prison doors.‘ Dr Basson suggests the point is ‘How would I like to be treated if I‘d done something dreadful? We‘d want people to make sure we didn‘t do it again, we’d want to be kept safe until we were sure we wouldn‘t do it again and we‘d want to be treated with respect. It‘s the respect that‘s missing.‘
Time behind prison doors is almost something a prisoner wants to extract himself from. Parole gives him a big stake in behaving in the system but the parole policy was changed a couple of years ago by the then Home Secretary. Leon Brittan. It was ruled that drug offenders. child molesters and various other category ofoffender shouldn‘t get parole. In the words of Dr Basson. this move has been ‘catastrophic. He has muted and castrated the parole board who were doing a perfectly good job already. It was a political decision and nothing to do with good practise. And there‘s nothing you can do about it. The arrogance of these pe0ple is immense.‘ Richard Kinsey agrees ‘If a man is doing 15 years or life. the only thing that man has. the only thing he can hold onto is his date. He‘s done say 12 years. Then you move the goal posts. Its not surprising there‘s trouble. It was the most short—sighted. stupid and irresponsible thing this government has done with regard to prisons.‘
Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of ()ffencers,
(SA (7R0). 53 George Street. Edinburgh, 03] 226 4222 and 218—220 Renfrew Street. G lasgo w, 04] 332 1 763. A national voluntary organisation which aims to provide services to offenders and their families to reduce hardship and prevent further crime.
Howard League for Penal Re orrn in Scotland . I 7 Warriston (.‘rescent. Edinburgh. 0315561687. Office hours normally after 2. 30pm and evenings. Objectives: constructive reform of the criminal justice and penal systems and advocacy of alternatives to criminal justice. Scottish Council for (‘ivil Liberties. 146 Holland Street. Glasgow, ()4! 332 5 960. M on—Fri 9. 30am—5 pm .
Objectives: To maintain and promote civil liberties in Scotland.
Gate way EIC/l an ge. 2—4 Abbeymount. Edinburgh. ()3/ 66] 0982. An organisation which tackles community issues, particularly those relating to prisons. drugs and mental health.
Barony Housing Association Ltd. 67 York Place, Edinburgh. ()3/ 556 9960. A registered Housing Association which works as an independentsocial work agency. The aim is to provide post-institutional services to those being discharged from prison or hospital in order to prevent re-admission.
The List 23 Jan — 5 Feb 5