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Many prisoners “unwell not evil”

(Posted on 17/09/19)

The chief inspector of constabulary Sir Tom Winsor has written in The Times that “sick and dangerous” people who commit crimes should be in secure hospitals or other care facilities, not prisons, describing the criminal justice system as “dysfunctional and defective, broken and on-the-floor”.

“People who are bad should be punished and, if possible, reformed. People who are unwell should be treated and, if possible, healed,” said Sir Tom, head of the police watchdog since 2012.

“Of course the public need to be kept safe from those who are dangerous, whether they are bad or unwell. But sick and dangerous people should be in secure hospitals or other care facilities, not prisons.”

Sir Tom’s comments come after Boris Johnson vowed to create thousands more prison places and “properly punish” offenders – an announcement that prompted criticism from campaigners accusing him of ignoring evidence on causes of crime in order to play to Conservative voters.

The prime minister told the Telegraph over the weekend that he was planning to bring in life orders for murderers of pre-school children.

But Sir Tom suggested longer sentences would have little effect, and may possibly have the reverse effect of “making bad people worse”.

“If you brutalise people, they will become brutal. If you care and show in actions that you care, these conditions will degrade and be replaced by hope restored and met, and potential realised,” he said.

“For those in prison – very many of whom are victims as well as offenders – the conditions must be humane, their mental ill health must be understood and properly treated, and their rehabilitation must be properly resourced. 

“Many people in prison are unwell, not evil.”