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Tuesday, September 19, 2006 

Prison crisis: Government agrees with the Scum's solution.

A month or so ago, the Sun started to claim that due to the overcrowding crisis in the prisons that up to 50,000 of those currently incarcerated could be released early. That they seem to have plucked this figure out of thin air didn't really matter; they already had the solution to all the government's problems. Their wheeze was for disused Ministry of Defence bases and camps to be quickly converted to hold prisoners, as they have the bonus of having perimeter fencing and security measures similar to that of the lowest category prisons. That the Sun seems to regard open prisons as soft and that they have in the past criticised them for leaking inmates like a sieve has been forgotten, as after all, who wants 50,000 criminals back on the streets?

Their justifications and arguments for the bases to be used to hold convicts were also rather rudimentary, to say the least. Some of the bases, including one at Bicester, were for a while meant to be redesigned to house asylum seekers, but local opposition eventually led to those plans being dropped. Somehow, the Sun comes to the conclusion that err, residents wouldn't object to prisoners being given their places instead. Asylum seekers, criminals, what's the difference? At least the criminals are from Britain! Incredibly, the Sun also argues that Guantanamo Bay is a good example of how military bases can quickly be turned into prisons:

Controversy surrounded the use by America of the Guantanamo Bay military base to house prisoners from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

But the military proved the logistic possibility of quickly transforming an army site into a prison.

Yes, while they're transforming the bases into prisons for taking the scum off our streets, they may as well install all the necessary equipment for torturing foreign fighters, as in Cuba. You never know when you might need it.

Their campaign seemed to peter out, like many other Sun campaigns that launch in a hail of right wing rhetoric and then wither like the tree in the new Tory logo being deprived of water. Until today that is, when the Guardian reported that the government is seriously considering the Sun's suggestion:

Prison service managers expect "crunch point" to arrive in the next six weeks. Contingency plans are believed to include plans to reopen a disused army camp, near Dover, which could house up to 500 low security category D prisoners. Also under consideration is the conversion of a "discrete wing" at Ashworth top security mental hospital on Merseyside to provide 300 more places.

The army camp near Dover is likely to be Connaught Barracks, one of those mentioned by the Sun, whom described it thus:

The last 85 soldiers left the 80 acre-site in April. The Parachute Regiment’s departure ended 1,000 years of Dover being a stronghold protecting Britain from invasion.

There is of course no mention by the Sun of their role in the overcrowding crisis. Their constant demands for endless crackdowns and longer sentences have resulted in Britain having one of the highest proportions per head of the population being imprisoned in the EU. The Sun and government also continue to be in a state of denial about the reality of prison: it just doesn't work. Reoffending rates continue to rise, those who go in young tend to come out career criminals, and rehabilitation cannot be carried out properly when the entire system is so overstretched. Its only benefit is that it does provide a degree of protection from the most dangerous in society, but even this is being undermined thanks to the overcrowding crisis. The solution is not to build more prisons, not to convert army camps into temporary holding cells which are likely to result in more harm than good being done to both prisoners and public, but to re-evaluate our methods of punishment as a whole. This will mean more community service, more rehabilitation, and less throwing away the key and forgetting until the sentence has been served. It means recognising that the mentally ill, petty offenders, many women and many young people do not belong behind bars. Sadly, this seems ever more of a pipe-dream as the government forgets about tackling the causes of crime and instead continues to listen to every shriek from the ever reactionary tabloid press that always knows best.

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