Her book also offers the reader insightful and comparative examples drawn from her visits to Nordic prisons, which point towards better ways of working, healing and treating the 350,000 mentally ill people incarcerated in US jails that go beyond the reflexive urge to impose ever harsher punishment.
Some jails are even older. Brixton Prison in south London opened in 1818. The Covid-19 crisis is prompting a major rethink of how we will live and work in the future. Yet prisons remain stuck in the past: a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.
The resulting policy inertia is palpable. The per capita prison population across England and Wales is far higher than comparable European countries. Our imprisonment rate is almost twice Germany’s.
Here I give a bit of context about why we’re doing this work now.
Our work so far
Five years ago, we published a seminal report on joint enterprise.
Dangerous Associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism was a collaboration between CCJS, academics and the campaign organisation JENGbA.
Prisons do not magically become safe, healthy and decent places merely as a result of inspection. Inspectors can identify problems, but they do not have any enforcement powers. Implementation of inspectors' recommendations is at best patchy, as we pointed out a few years ago in one of our UK Justice Policy Review reports.
Joint enterprise refers to legal principles on the use of the law of complicity. Through these principles, multiple individuals can be convicted for an offence without taking into account their differing roles or even whether some individuals were present.
The support charity JENGbA estimates it is currently in contact with around 1,000 prisoners convicted through joint enterprise, many of whom are subject to very lengthy prison sentences.
Most recently on how comparative prison regimes operate to maintain order, David Skarbek's latest book achieves this aim admirably.
The paper explores the geography of prison building throughout the twentieth century. It identified three distinct trends linked to wider societal developments that led to changes in specific types of land use.
Its use is to be widened in several ways. The House Detention Order, due to be piloted, will introduce a more rigorous curfew regime, targeted at those considered to have failed to respond to community sentences. Offenders convicted of acquisitive offences and released on licence are due to be electronically monitored.
In Britain, they have been confirmed by large surveys of psychiatric disorder carried out in the general population and in prisons, using the same methods of assessment. This picture has recently been emphatically confirmed by the World Health Organisation, which examined the physical and mental health of the 1.5 million people incarcerated in Europe on any given day. This report also identified a context of 'entrenched and intergenerational social disadvantage'.
A probation service once again about to be 'reunified' after an act of ill-judged political vandalism. In this vein, I recently dipped into a new anthology of interdisciplinary writings on punishment, with a welcome introduction by the admirably prescient probation scholar, Rob Canton.