Jails fail us but ministers ignore crisis, says Voice of the Sunday People

What are prisons for? Are they for rehabilitation? Or warehouses to put criminals out of sight and mind?

Should they be harsh and ­unforgiving? Or places where people can learn the skills to take them away from a life of crime?

There is a debate to be had.

But one of the reasons it never takes place – properly, out in the open – is that politicians believe there are no votes in prisons.

When Chris Grayling was Justice Secretary he wanted to stop prisoners reading, to ban their books.

That’s an almost unbelievable lack of humanity.

But he felt he could get away with it. It shows how little those at the very top care about prisons.

They don’t care about drugs ­being rife, or a rising tide of ­violence, or rioting, or ­overcrowding. But this is a ­timebomb. This is important.

Our jails being in crisis is something that affects us all.

New prisons minister Rory Stewart said he would quit in 12 months if there was no ­improvement. Our advice is Mr Stewart should start looking for work. We’d be delighted if we were wrong. But the scale of the problem is terrific.

Thousands of prisons officers are needed, plus millions of pounds of investment in ­buildings, training, and other ­resources.

And an overhaul of what the whole system is for. Today, our prisons are failing everyone.

One recent prison report said: “Violence was so rife that men were too afraid to leave their cells.” That is neither punishment nor rehabilitation.

These are people who – ­whatever their crimes – deserve at least to be treated like human ­beings.

For the good of all of us.

Regret not enough

Visiting Ireland, Pope Francis expressed his ­regret at ­historical abuse by Catholic priests. But he hasn’t apologised.

There are 9,000 reported cases of child abuse by priests in Ireland. Addressing them all will need a change in the whole structure and operation of the church.

Pope Francis must apologise and face the challenge. And, as the Irish PM says, his words must be followed by actions. Then the abuse survivors will get justice.

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