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February 2, 2015

Getting a European perspective on crowded prisons

WO-AV345_EUPRIS_9U_20150202185222This new Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Overcrowding Puts Strains on Europe’s Century-Old Prisons," highlights that the US does not have the most densely populated prisons in the world even though we have the largest total prison population. Here are some details from the article:

While cities and states across the U.S. are selling off prisons as the inmate population shrinks, Europe faces the opposite challenge: how to cope with chronic overcrowding in old, cramped jails.

The fortresslike structure of Forest prison is in the otherwise chic Saint-Gilles district of Brussels. Built in 1910 to house 380 inmates, it currently holds 600, most of whom are awaiting trial. In two of the four wings, three inmates are held in 90-square-foot cells designed for one. Two share bunk beds while the third has a mattress on the floor. They eat there and share a toilet. In the other half, prisoners have individual cells but no running water. They must relieve themselves in a bucket that can go unemptied for 48 hours....

“It is medieval,” said Vincent Spronck, who became warden four years ago after a decade working in other prisons. “I didn’t know these conditions still existed until I got here.” The problem isn’t limited to Forest or even Belgium.

In central London, the 170-year-old Pentonville Prison houses 1,303 men in a space designed for 913. An official report found “significant, easily visible vermin infestations,” dirty cells, and rampant drug abuse, and suggested shutting it down.

La Modelo in Barcelona, built in 1904, held 1,781 inmates in space designed for 1,100 when it was last inspected by a team from the intergovernmental Council of Europe, the continent’s human-rights watchdog. Lisbon Central Prison (built 1885) has an official capacity of 886, but was holding 1,310 prisoners in May 2013. Korydallos Prison, built in the 1960s in Athens, should hold 840 people, but held 2,300 in April 2013.

“The whole structure is in a state of crisis,” said Hugh Chetwynd, head of division for the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Overcrowding means “staff struggle to keep proper control, so they resort more to excessive force.” Prison populations per capita are growing in most European countries....

One solution is to send prisoners abroad. Belgium pays €43 million ($48 million) a year to the Netherlands to hold 600 prisoners over the border in a former military barracks in Tilburg. Belgium and Italy, which also has a long-term overcrowding problem, are building new prisons, but some experts argue this doesn’t resolve the problem. “You build big prisons…that leads to higher population rates,” said Peter Bennett, who was warden at four prisons before becoming director of the London-based ICPS. “All the research shows that sending people to prison doesn’t reduce the crime rate.”

Still, while there appears to be no strong relationship across countries between incarceration and crime rates, the crime rate in the U.K. has fallen as the prison population has risen. Peter Cuthbertson, director of the Center for Crime Prevention, said taking serial criminals off the streets cuts crime. “If you don’t do anything else,” he said, a criminal “can easily end up committing hundreds of crimes a year.” He said that longer sentences reduce recidivism rates and while overcrowding isn’t ideal, his solution is to build more prisons.

February 2, 2015 at 10:31 PM | Permalink

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"Peter Cuthbertson, director of the Center for Crime Prevention, said taking serial criminals off the streets cuts crime. “If you don’t do anything else,” he said, a criminal “can easily end up committing hundreds of crimes a year.” He said that longer sentences reduce recidivism rates and while overcrowding isn’t ideal, his solution is to build more prisons."

Thanks for the connection to Mr. Cuthbertson.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 2, 2015 11:57:50 PM

It will cost £212000 ($318,775)for a new super-prison in Wales (UK) housing 2000 inmates. Of course, it will be surprising if the actual cost does not rise by the time it is completed. The justification is that currently families from Wales have to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to visit inmates in prison in England. Yet, only a quarter of places in the super-prison will be occupied by Welsh inmates, the rest coming from England, resulting in the reverse scenario. The other and perhaps more telling justification is that it will provide a boost to the local Welsh economy! In short, a total waste of resources that would be better spent boosting the economy in more productive ways and financing smaller modern units both in Wales and England. Proximity to family is important but transfering the problem from one set of families to another is pretty stupid. The problem of prison overcrowding in the UK can be directly linked to the policies of the present Government who have sought to increase the length of incarceration terms, encouraged greater use of prison instead of community service, have delayed prison modernization and may underinvested in rehabilitation programs which are impossible to conduct in overcrowded conditions. Privatization has brought further problems with under-skilled and underpaid employees, and minimal staffing levels which either allow violence and bullying to breed or encourage the overuse of lockup and heavy handed practice by prison wardens etc. Too many low-level offenders are being sent to prison and instead of leaving with new skills and commitment to a positive new start in life, leave bitter and under-equipped for the challenges they face. Prison is not and never has been the solve-all solution some pundits would have you believe. Criminalty is reducing not because of prisons but in spite of them.

Posted by: peter | Feb 3, 2015 5:28:01 AM

correction!!!!!
It will cost £212 million ($318,745,800)for a new super-prison in Wales (UK) housing 2000 inmates. Of course, it will be surprising if the actual cost does not rise by the time it is completed. The justification is that currently families from Wales have to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to visit inmates in prison in England. Yet, only a quarter of places in the super-prison will be occupied by Welsh inmates, the rest coming from England, resulting in the reverse scenario. The other and perhaps more telling justification is that it will provide a boost to the local Welsh economy! In short, a total waste of resources that would be better spent boosting the economy in more productive ways and financing smaller modern units both in Wales and England. Proximity to family is important but transfering the problem from one set of families to another is pretty stupid. The problem of prison overcrowding in the UK can be directly linked to the policies of the present Government who have sought to increase the length of incarceration terms, encouraged greater use of prison instead of community service, have delayed prison modernization and may underinvested in rehabilitation programs which are impossible to conduct in overcrowded conditions. Privatization has brought further problems with under-skilled and underpaid employees, and minimal staffing levels which either allow violence and bullying to breed or encourage the overuse of lockup and heavy handed practice by prison wardens etc. Too many low-level offenders are being sent to prison and instead of leaving with new skills and commitment to a positive new start in life, leave bitter and under-equipped for the challenges they face. Prison is not and never has been the solve-all solution some pundits would have you believe. Criminalty is reducing not because of prisons but in spite of them.

Posted by: peter | Feb 3, 2015 5:34:10 AM

Peter. I want to send some newly minted plumbers, from state prison, to fix your faucet. Your wife and children will be at home. You will be at work.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 3, 2015 7:12:02 AM

Supremacy, a skilled plumber over here earns a good wage - probably starting at around £16,500 for newly qualified and rising to an average £30-35,000. Self-employed or supervisory plumbers can earn around £50,000 in the large cities or expensive suburban areas. I imagine the same applies in the US. With those incomes, a clear future, and a sense of self-worth, how many inmates will revert to criminality? It is attitudes such as yours that make it impossible for rehabilitation to occur and sometimes condemn people to a life of crime. Not everyone will be able to make the transition, but the effort for those that do is a worthwhile goal.

Posted by: peter | Feb 3, 2015 8:35:55 AM

Peter. Your calculation is made by most of us by age 3,when we adjust to the shock of the word, no.

The people in prison are defective in their impulse control, their empathy, their presenting. Believing in rehab is like believing in my famous cousin Santa. Or worse, like believing a paralyzed person can be made to walk steps with enough effort. Cruel, actually.

In the case of criminals, the wheel chair is supervision , externally imposed morality, and structure, best found in prison.

Anger at me or prison authorities will not restore their defects. Future genetic medicine may, but I'm thinking 50 more years to that ability, thanks to the lawyer traitor obstructing research.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 3, 2015 4:48:03 PM

Famous people jailed once or more (i'm sure if you try hard you can think of many more mere mortals who have also survived their character "defect" to restore respect from society :)):

Mark Wahlberg
Paul McCartney
Alfred Hitchcock
Johnny Cash
Bill Gates
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Frank Sinatra
Robert Mirchum
Harpo and Chico (Marx Bros)

Posted by: peter | Feb 4, 2015 5:44:19 AM

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