25 June 2020, The Tablet

Behind bars

Behind bars

For Brown, the women are not monsters but victims
Photo: Unsplash, Denis Oliveira


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The image of prison has tended to the melodramatic: places of violence, filled with the tabloids’ “murderers, rapists and paedophiles”. These loaded words express the thrill felt by people who know nothing of prisons, but are prepared to believe that the high walls, barbed wire and parades of locked doors protect the good and virtuous from “the other”, an alien tribe of the wicked, the addicted, the out-of-control – which is why they need to be behind bars for as long as possible.

On the back of Michael Howard’s infamous catchphrase “prison works”, despite reoffending figures which consistently proved that prison did not work, the number of those incarcerated in the UK has risen from 42,000 in 1993 to over 80,000 today. These are important statistics, never to be forgotten in any attempt to improve matters in overcrowded prisons, particularly now that lockdown puts prisoners behind bars for 23 hours of the day. But they do not give a picture of the men and women inside, people living for months or years or decades behind bars, who, however guilty, are still human beings.

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