Monday, 21 April 2008

Would the Birdman do his Bird in MK?

Woodhill prison, chairing a board to appoint a new second chaplain. Alan Hodgetts and multifaith colelagues are doing great work together. I was also struck by the good humoured commitment of staff to running a safe and non-abusive, occasionally high stress environment.

The staff are magnificent. What’s wrong with our prisons is the fantasy surrounding them. Woodhill is sometimes ludicrously described in the media as “Britain’s own Alcatraz.” Just in case your editor is too dim to know the difference, Alcatraz is on the Left, & Woodhill below.

Perhaps the next phase of our glorious prison building programme could involve digging a replica of San Francisco Bay around it. We could import pelicans, fogs, and greased up Clints swimming up and down dodging the sharks, etc. It would only cost 2 or 3 billion pounds. Oh and we could mount severed heads on the gate — only you'd need crowscares, or the magpies get ’em — if that happens your heads are soon rubbish, and crime soars again. Oh and we could moor rotten hulks in the bay, with broadcast groaning day and night. Then it really would be Britain’s Alcatraz. State of the art in 1934, the real Alcatraz was obsolete by the mid sixties.

Ludicrous fantasy pretty much colours what Fleet Street imagines should go on in prison. Historical experience is that once you have prisons, you fill ’em. The UK government actually plans to build more; and now recidivism is back around its historic 70% rate in the system, this can only increase the amount of crime on the streets long term.

The only silver lining I can offer is the discovery, thanks to Maggi Dawn, of a fantastic blog by Anne Droid (The Reverend), Scottish prison chaplain teasingly called Get out of Jail Free. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. It’s a kind of reality checkpoint amidst all the idiot fantasy about prison. Go read it, particularly her stuff on forgiveness...

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