Prison alternatives: what the audience had to say

A lively discussion followed last week’s prison alternatives event

What are the radical alternatives to prison? This was the topic of last week’s event hosted by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS).

Three speakers kicked off the discussion, but the majority of the contributions came from the audience. The consensus seemed to be that whilst people break the law across all social strata, a lot of crime is caused by inequality. If we created a fairer society, fewer people would commit crimes, and criminals from all backgrounds would be punished more equally – so many of the attendees thought.

But attendees had vastly different ideas about how we should achieve that. Here’s a snapshot of some of those ideas.

Prison alternative: Creating stronger community services

Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, would like to see investment in services in the community that will help prevent people from being sent to prison in the first place, such as women’s refuges and good quality mental health services. She also recommended a review of criminal justice policies that result in unnecessary incarceration.

“What we do by imprisoning people is we lose perspective on what alternatives can work.”

Inquest works with the families of men, women and children who’ve died in custody at the hands of state agents or who have become so desperate in prison that they have taken their own lives.

Prison alternative: Decriminalising behaviour 

Will McMahon, deputy director of CCJS, believes that decriminalising some of the behaviour that deprived people get drawn into would resolve a lot of issues in the criminal justice system.

“There isn’t a problem group in society, people are breaking the law across all classes. Why is it just the poor who end up in prison?”

Prison alternative: Tackling drugs

Abi Amey, sociology student, believes a lot of people are in prison due to drug related offences, so addressing drugs in a more progressive way would help to reduce the number of people in prison.

“The way we think about drugs in relation to society versus how we think of alcohol in relation to society is quite hypocritical… We don’t treat drugs on a harm basis.”

She is currently on a hiatus from her sociology studies to do a placement year as an intern at CCJS.

Prison alternative: Coaching offenders

Clare McGregor is the managing director of the charity Coaching Inside And Out. She believes that at least part of the alternative to prison needs to involve life coaching, to help offenders devise their own solutions.

You can download all these ideas in one handy playlist here.

Do you have any ideas you’d like to contribute? Email us at ukprisonwatch at gmail dot com.

TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk

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