Mixed up priorities

Please study the above photo very carefully. Doesn’t that look like a nice room? You can see that it’s fairly spacious and well fitted out, with nice colors, lots of light, and pretty curtains? I bet a lot of dorm students are looking at it enviously, as are a lot of kids who are forced to share a room with siblings.

What makes this room different from the rooms I’ve described is that it’s a prison:

Inmates enjoy such comfort in jail that they are ignoring chances to escape, a prison officers’ leader has claimed.

In one example, a drug dealer regularly broke into a Yorkshire jail over a six-month period, using a ladder to climb the walls and supply inmates with drugs and mobile phones.

The intruder walked across the yard with the ladder and used it to climb up to a cell window, which had been pulled apart with a crowbar and covered by a dummy grille.

Glyn Travis, the assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “It was an extraordinary case because none of the prisoners inside tried to escape when no doubt they had the opportunity.

“It tells me there’s something wrong in society when people are breaking into prisons to bring in drugs, but the prisoners are quite happy to stay inside.”
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Inmates at a top security prison recently told Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, that conditions there were like a “holiday camp”.

They said they enjoyed the use of satellite television and video game consoles as well as their free bed and board.

Prisoners receive wages topped up by bonuses for good behaviour, while drugs are sometimes cheaper in jail than on the streets.

It is understood that there have also been examples of prostitutes being smuggled into HMP Sudbury, a Category D prison, in Derbyshire.

(Emphasis mine.)

I have no doubt that not all British prisons are so luxurious. There’s also a certain logic to making a prison pleasant. Marx might say that a pleasant prison is the opiate of the prisoners — they’re less likely to engage in violent activity or, as the above story demonstrates, to try and escape. They’ve been removed from circulation, so they’re not victimizing the population at large, and they’ve been pacified, so they’re not victimizing each other or the guards, either.

Still, one does feel that there should be a punitive element to imprisonment that goes above and beyond just the loss of freedom. And as experiences in American prisons have shown, there are ways other than creating a resort-like atmosphere to reduce prison violence. Therefore, while I hope that Western jails never become nightmarish places where prisoners are horribly abused by each other and by their guards, I do believe the threat of imprisonment would have more of a deterrent effect if the cell didn’t look nicer than ones room at home.

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