Crispin Blunt, the prisons minister, whose name sounds like a character from a Restoration comedy, tells us that the rioters in HMP Ford "must be brought to justice". Presumeably he means they must be sent back to prison to continue drinking and rioting.
I once dealt with an absconder from another open prison, who we arrested on the streets of Blandmore following a fortuitous person check by a PCSO. The paperwork faxed through from Leyhill contained the following phrases: "The prison is surrounded by a low three foot wall that can be easily jumped" and "the prisoners know they are not allowed to jump the wall". This useful information enabled us to interview and charge the absconder, who was shipped off to a higher security prison pending his removal back to Leyhill once he was due to be released soon again.
The above link informs us that Leyhill is home to 532 prisoners, 110 of whom are "lifers". The only thing that a life sentence is given out for in this country is murder, or attempted murder if the offender has a LOT of violent previous. Which means that 110 would-be killers are wandering around the grounds of Leyhill Prison with just a rulebook standing between them and society. I've been a police officer for a while now, but I honestly had no idea that this many prisoners were kept in what could more accurately be described as a hotel with rules. If you look at HMP Ford's rulebook, it sounds more like a private boarding school than a prison.
The fact is that there is no such thing as Justice any more. The most you can hope for if you are brutally raped, or a family member murdered, is that the culprit will be held out of reach of society until he/she's forgotten whatever urges prompted him/her to attack. You will have to accept that the perpetrator is probably wearing his own clothes, watching TV, going to the gym and getting access to all the contraband he wants. If he ends up in Leyhill or Ford as he nears the end of his determinate sentence period, you could even go and wave at him (or shoot him) over the three foot wall.
Believe it or not, I am a fan of rehabilitation. But the point about prison is that the person has received a custodial sentence because voluntary rehabilitation has not worked. It probably has not worked 20 or 30 times. We are dealing with people who have never heard the word "no", who never accept they have lost, who always manage to wriggle out of the wrong they have done and have no empathy with others, nor any scruples.
The only option is therefore to either accept they are not fit to live in society, or inflict a prison regime that acts as both deterrent and encouragement to truly reform. Incentives should be linked to gaining qualifications and learning to turn up for work reliably. Punishments should be uncompromising and with no right of appeal. They need to be lined up and told "no" again and again until they listen. And if they don't listen, they don't get released.
I'm not authoritarian. I have great empathy for the kids I deal with aged 11-14, on the brink of criminality, and I know the dreadful home lives they have experienced. But the truth is that all effective discipline and guidance has been taken out of the Criminal Justice System. We have no means of deterrent or control. Crime has won. It's time to take back the streets.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.