As a criminal defence lawyer it is often levelled at me that I am on the side of the criminals. That is of course true to a certain extent as without criminals I wouldn’t have a job.
I also accept that an aspect of that job is to ensure that I obtain the most favourable result for my clients.
For those who are potentially facing a prison sentence that means trying to avoid that outcome.
However, on a personal level, I do recognise the need for prisons in society, but feel that imprisonment should only be used as a last resort.
I also feel that every effort should be made to protect the welfare of those in prison and that the main aim should be towards rehabilitation.
From my experience, the current penal system is failing in both respects. My view is supported by Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who recently stated that many of our prisons are unsafe.
He also questioned whether the political will was there to provide the necessary resources to make rehabilitation the central point of prisons.
In the last 12 months to March there were 88 suicides in English and Welsh prisons, an increase of 50 per cent from the previous year. Incidents of self harm among prisoners also rose dramatically, and attacks upon prison staff increased by 10 per cent.
There are numerous reasons behind these increases, including the fact that many inmates suffer with mental health issues, but prison overcrowding, reduced staffing levels, and the lack of activities for inmates, are all issues that could be improved with increased resources. In my opinion it is an absolute disgrace that prisoners are locked up for 23 hours a day without any form of rehabilitation.
As a result of this numerous prisoners return to jail time after time.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister, acknowledges that the prison population is set to rise. It is obvious that this will require increased resources that do not seem to be forthcoming. This needs to be addressed and it is simply not credible to deny the link between the financial pressures on the prison system and the increase in the number of inmates who are self harming and committing suicide.