Tuesday, 17 September 2013
The state of Britain’s prisons today and the role of prison officers
In today’s Guardian there is a really exposing piece on one of Britain’s worst prisons and the activity that goes on in one. Having never been in prison I can’t say for certain what one is like on the inside but I can’t imagine they are much fun. As much as the right wing would like you to believe it’s a holiday camp I am sure it is not. This post may be controversial but I have concerns on support for state institutions and confusion on their real role. Young people today have a dis trust of the police and naturally the state too. To not recognize this is turning a blind eye to people’s real feelings today. "A prison officer has been caught punishing an inmate by denying him food during a surprise inspection of a cockroach-infested jail. Some staff at HMP Bristol, a mostly Victorian-era prison holding around 600 inmates, displayed delinquent behavior, such as using derogatory and abusive language, a report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said. Most striking was the "arbitrary punishment" of a prisoner who was locked up all day and prevented from having his full meals by a staff member. The officer was swiftly disciplined by the prison once it heard of the punishment. Fewer prisoners than at similar prisons said staff treated them with respect, and this was even worse for black and minority ethnic and foreign national prisoners, the inspection found. The number of recorded bullying incidents was more than double that at similar prisons. According to the report, much of the prison was dirty and poorly equipped. It said: "Cells designed for one continued to hold two prisoners and many cells had damaged lockers, damaged and scaled toilets and broken and/or missing windows. "Prisoners repeatedly complained of an infestation of cockroaches and we saw many cells in which prisoners had used toothpaste and paper as a makeshift sealant for gaps around sanitary units and airbricks to prevent the ingress of cockroaches." Inmates could not get enough clean clothes or clothes that fitted, adequate bedding or cleaning materials, the inspection found, while significant numbers of prisoners reported it was easy to get drugs in the prison or they had developed a drug problem while there. The report found the turnover of prisoners was very high with more than 70% of inmates staying for less than three months. It said the closure of nearby Gloucester prison had made the situation worse. During the working day it was normal to find about half the prison's population locked in their cells. "There was only enough work, training or activity for about two-thirds of the population, but even this was not used efficiently, with much unoccupied," the inspectors found. Of the 577 prisoners held at the time of the inspection in May, 261 had declared some form of disability on arrival. The report said: "We were not confident that all prisoners with a disability had been identified. In our survey, prisoners who identified themselves as having a disability reported more negatively than other prisoners about victimisation and feeling safe." There were 43 prisoners over the age of 50, the oldest being 87. "There was no formal provision of activities for older prisoners or those with a disability." At the last inspection in 2010, inspectors noted improvements and described a well-led prison with a "clear sense of direction" but found this progress had not been sustained. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said: "A sense of drift had returned to the prison. Some useful work was being done to help manage offending risk and to reintegrate prisoners at the conclusion of their sentences. "But the experience of prisoners was poor. The priorities we identified included improving the environment, improving staff culture and ensuring prisoners have something useful to do that will equip them for the future." The Prison Reform Trust director, Juliet Lyon, said: "This report is a serious wake-up call for Bristol prison, struggling to deal with very poor conditions and the drag anchor of unprofessional behaviour and the unacceptable attitudes of some staff." http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/17/bristol-prison-inspection?CMP=twt_fd For some time it has troubled I of the socialist party's support for the POA the Prison officers association loosely called a union. Prisons officers in my view have a tricky role to play but are at the end of the day are in fact an arm of the state. ‘Prison officers’ work, upholding law and order, frequently pushes them to accept the most right wing ideas and actions of the system. One of their main jobs is to control prisoners – and throughout the prison system, many officers have a proven record of racism and violence.’ As the above article in the guardian shows. ‘While Marxists can only but approve of prison officers and other workers in uniform trying to assert themselves as workers by organising in trade unions and striking, we never lose sight of the reality of the state’s institutions of repression of which they are part of. I've always felt uncomfortable with what I hear going on in prisons. I feel we should be on the side of victims of abuse in prison no matter what they have done. Being behind bars is the punishment to recieve abuse and physical attacks is not part of the deal for me. ‘The POA is a curious hybrid union. Part of its membership is based in special hospitals like Broadmoor and operates, effectively like mental health nurses, though with extremely dangerous patients. Another part of its membership in the prisons – the officers – is, like the police, a coercive arm of the state. Their role in inflicting repression on working class prisoners is well documented and they have operated a no-strike deal with the state for many years (like the police) in order to carry out the role effectively. They are not, in other words, the archetypal union militants you would expect to be carrying the torch on behalf of the wider movement in the current struggle against pay-restraint.’ The brutal abuse of prisoners is routine in Her Majesty’s prison system I am lead to believe. A few years ago the Prison Service admitted that officers at Wormwood Scrubs regularly ‘subjected inmates to sustained beatings, mock executions, death threats, choking and torrents of racist abuse’ (Guardian, 11 December 2003). The idea of kindly prison officers functioning as benign social workers, anxious to help rehabilitate prisoners, and concerned for the welfare of their charges is simply a bourgeois myth. The function of the repressive state apparatus is to intimidate and crush anyone who falls afoul of capitalist law and order. The abuse of those caught up in the machinery of the prison system is brutal and systematic – it is not down to a handful of ‘rogue elements’. To accept the prison officers and the wider state enforcers as part of the workers’ movement implies that the coercive elements of the bourgeois state can somehow be brought under workers’, or ‘community’, control. This approach is in absolute contradiction to the Marxist position on the state. Prison officers are an integral part of the coercive apparatus which brutally enforces a social system based on exploitation and oppression. Like cops and members of the officer caste, are in my view class enemies – The SP, who are among the most vocal proponents of the view that cops, screws, etc., are really ‘workers in uniform’, have long upheld the social-democratic Illusion that the working class can use the capitalists’ state to build socialism. This is not the case we cannot use the capitalist state for our own means its delusion on grand scales. Individual prison officers may indeed grow tired of doing the capitalists’ dirty work and come to solidarise with the oppressed against the oppressors. But there is a class line that separates the organs of capitalist repression and the organisations of the working class. In order to become part of the workers’ movement, a prison officer, or a cop, must first resign their post. Those who remain on duty to carry out the instructions of Her Majesty’s government are, despite any private reservations they may have, agents of the bosses and, as such, opponents of the struggle for human liberation. While all cops or prison officers should be welcome to the workers movement it is dangerous to sew illusions in the state and its dangerous role it can play against workers.