Prisoners and ex-offenders have been ignored and stigmatised for much too long, argues Sebastien Kurzel. It is time we focussed more government resource on rehabilitation and prison staffing to reduce reoffending rates.

It is plain to see that the prison system in the UK is not working. A number of charities and organisations, such as The Howard League and Andrew Dixon's Woodhaven Trust, are trying to provide a more sustainable solution to this problem, but too often many policymakers and members of the public are too quick to judge. If we're going to break the cycle of offending that many prisoners are locked into, we will need to find new solutions.

The rates of reoffending as well as the quality and safety of the service prove that the British government is failing both its inmates and prison officers. The prison population is increasing faster than the resources put in place to manage it. The system is unsustainable and demands change. Improving rehabilitation will drastically reduce the pressure on the economy and the amount of social problems in the UK.

Many prisons this year have declined in several key metrics, according to a report by the Prison Inspectorate. The service failed to achieve 54% of the recommendations made with regards to rehabilitation. This problem needs to be addressed. Frequent calls are made for improvement, but is enough being done?

Prisons suffer high rates of assault, self-harm and drug abuse relative to the UK population. According to the Inspectorate, roughly a third of prisons in England and Wales are 'of concern' with regards to inmate safety. More prisons in the UK have declined in safety over the past year than improved. This regression in conditions makes it clear that the government is not doing enough to protect and rehabilitate offenders. It is time the UK fell in line with other parts of Europe.

In a speech from October 2019, former Director General of the Prison Service Sir Michael Narey suggested that the best thing the service could offer its inmates is fair treatment, saying, "[d]ecent prisons in which prisoners are respected seem to provide a foundation for prisoner self-growth".

And he is right. What will help reduce reoffending rates, the number of inmates in our prisoners and increase their overall quality is simple. While I am not suggesting a complete overhaul of the system to become something akin to the services in place in Scandinavia, it is clear more needs to be done.

We need to treat our prisoners with the respect they deserve. Not least because they should have the rights of every other British citizen, but because it will bring about a reduction in social problems, as well as the cost of the service to the taxpayer. This is a no-brainer. Reform to the rehabilitation of prisoners ensures only one of their basic human rights, their liberty, is deprived ? and not any others.

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As prisoners are statistically more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, imprisonment disproportionately effects people living in poverty in the UK. Families experience financial strain when faced with one of their members being incarcerated, due to loss of income and legal fees. This can lead to a further cycle of poverty and reimprisonment upon release, and leads to increasing prison population.

One prisoner costs the UK taxpayer £43,213 per year and there are 83,618 prisoners in the UK. With 75% of those released from prison committing another offence within nine years, and reoffending costs the UK an estimated £15 billion per year, this is an enormous burden on the economy. Therefore, it is imperative for the British government to improve the process.

In addition, prisoners often have pre-existing health conditions upon entering prison. As prison health is public health, a reduction in prisoners will free up NHS capacity. But when these prisoners are released, further mental and physical health problems as a result of being imprisoned can add yet more workload to the health service at a time when we need it most. So how should the government go about fixing this?

There are several areas to improve. Firstly, we need to improve physical and mental wellness. In 2019, 24% of prisoners reported to spending less than two hours outside of their cell on a weekday. The benefits of exercise and time outside are well documented. An improvement to this figure would have a knock-on effect, which would in turn make other aspects of reform easier.

Several charities, such as Andrew Dixon's The Woodhaven Trust and The Howard League already seek to reform the penal system. The former supports projects that build sustainable pathways for offenders and ex-offenders into employment and self-employment. The Howard League, on the other hand, has campaigned for the reduction of child arrests and the overturn in the ban on sending books to prisoners.

Another major issue in rehabilitation is staffing. While the Inspectorate admits staffing levels are improving, some prisons have a large proportion of new and very inexperienced staff. The cost of extra prison officers is necessary to prevent further costs resulting from antisocial behaviour like riots. The 2016 riot in HMP Birmingham cost the taxpayer more than £6m. Proper staffing levels are needed so that officers ? not inmates ? control prisons.

The key to reform is not only the fair treatment and education of prisoners, but the education of government policymakers and UK citizens too. When held against prison systems in other parts of the world, some might say that the UK's is comparatively lenient. But it is not enough to be good by comparison. The British government must lead the way or suffer the consequences.

Rather than emulate the systems in countries like Sweden or the Netherlands, the UK should pioneer its own way of doing things. There is no easy solution to this. It is all well and good to paper over the cracks with minor policy changes, but what the system needs is a complete overhaul.

The British government may soon have an irreparable problem on its hands. If ignored, the ramifications of the mounting costs (social and financial) of the lack of reform will be dire. Which is why it is more important than ever to seriously rethink the direction of government policy.

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