The long awaited Jim Matthew Fund Public Lecture organised by the Sociology Department was successfully delivered last night. The lecture was delivered by Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Her Majesty’s Prisons who came to campus to talk about the nations prisons. Around 500 people braved the pouring rain to attend the talk including members of the public, staff from various departments and a range of postgraduate and undergraduate students.
Nick was eloquent and at times funny in his delivery but what underpinned this was the fact that the nation’s prisons are struggling. Prisoners are facing 22-23 hour days in their cells shared with another inmate and an open unscreened toilet. They get to enjoy a nutritionally balanced but dull diet that is limited by having only £1.92 to spend on each prisoner a day. Being in prison is not the luxurious holiday camp environment it is sometimes portrayed to be in newspapers. The prison service’s budget cuts have had a serious impact on prisoner conditions and the 126 UK prisons are currently running at 99% capacity. It would seem that prisons are stretched to the point where inmate violence is on the increase as the conditions in which they are incarcerated are creating a stressful pressure cooker environment. The one sign of hope and success according to Nick is the big decrease in young offender incarceration which has dropped by 2/3’s although this raises issues as it means the most troubled young people are housed together in centralised institutions often a long way from their homes.
Nick provided thought provoking stories of his experiences in visiting prisons balanced with insight into the limitations facing the prison service which the general public are not always aware of. On leaving the auditorium it was clear that the audience was left with much to ponder regarding what the state of the UK’s prisons says about the society in which we live. For as Nelson Mandela said: “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”