Prisons in Great Britain

The prison system in Great Britain is ruled by well-developed principles, which find an expression in the famous words of Alexander Paterson (1884-1947), a British penologist, who said that criminals "go to prison as, and not for, punishment." Paterson, as Commissioner of Prisons, worked for reforms that would provide a humane regime in penal institutions and encourage rehabilitation among prisoners.

The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted on August 30, 1955 by the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, are a guideline for prisons in Great Britain, although they are not legally binding. These rules stipulate that imprisonment and other measures which result in cutting off an offender from the outside world are, by the deprivation of liberty, a punishment in themselves. These guidelines also state that the prison regime should seek to minimize any differences between prison life and life at liberty.

The goal of imprisonment is to keep offenders in custody, with all responsible authorities and staff working together to create an environment which can help them in future to respond and contribute to society as positively as possible; preserve and promote their self respect; minimize the harmful effects of their removal from normal life; prepare them for and assist them on their release from prison.

Her Majesty's Prison Service is the executive agency that manages prisons in England and Wales, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own prison services. Her Majesty's Prison Service reports to the Ministry of Justice, a department of government. The Director General of the prison service reports to the Home Secretary and works closely with the Prisons Minister at the Ministry of Justice. The Prison Service has been responsible for 138 prisons and has employed around 44,000 staff since 2004.

The purpose of the Prison Service is "to serve the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts" and "to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release." Not all prisons in England and Wales are managed by this authority. There are prisons that have been designed, constructed, managed and financed (so-called DCMF prisons) privately and others that have been built with public money but are managed privately. Those prisons are managed by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons.

All prisons in England and Wales, both public and private, have allocated to them an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB). The IMBs are the "watchdogs" working for both the Minister of Prisons and the general public. IMB members are independent, unpaid and work on average between two and three days a month. They monitor daily life in prison and make sure that there are proper standards of care for offenders.

There are four prison security categories for male adult prisoners in the United Kingdom. They classify every adult prisoner for the purposes of assigning them to a prison. The categories are based upon the severity of the crime and the risk posed should the person escape. Category A prisoners are those whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or national security. Category B prisoners are those who do not require maximum security, but for whom escape needs to be made very difficult. Category C prisoners are those who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape. Category D prisoners are those who can be trusted not to try and escape and are given the privilege of an open prison.

Female adult prisoners are also classified into four categories. Category A is identical to that for men, while the other categories are closed, for people who are not trusted to not attempt to escape. Categories semi-open and open are for those who can be trusted to stay within the prison. There are three types of establishment for young offenders under the age of 21. Secure Training Centres are privately run, education-focused centres for offenders up to the age of 17. Local Authority Secure Children's Homes are managed by social services and focused on attending to the physical, emotional and behavioral needs of young people. Young Offender Institutes are run by the prison service, these institutes accommodate 15-21 year olds and have lower ratios of staff to young people than the other two establishments.

Prisons in Great Britain: Selected full-text books and articles

The State of Our Prisons By Roy D. King; Kathleen McDermott Clarendon Press, 1995
Prisons and the Problem of Order By Richard Sparks; Anthony E. Bottoms; Will Hay Clarendon Press, 1996
Criminal Justice in England and the United States By J. David Hirschel; William Wakefield Praeger, 1995
Librarian's tip: Part IV "The Correctional System of England"
The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society By Norval Morris; David J. Rothman Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. Three "The Well-Ordered Prison: England, 1780-1865" and Chap. Five "The Victorian Prison: England, 1865-1965"
Social Wrongs and Human Rights in Late Modern Britain: Social Exclusion, Crime Control, and Prospects for a Public Criminology By Carrabine, Eamonn; Lee, Maggy; South, Nigel Social Justice, Vol. 27, No. 2, Summer 2000
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The English Prison and Borstal Systems By Lionel W. Fox Routledge, & Kegan Paul, 1952
Pentonville: A Sociological Study of an English Prison By Pauline Morris; Barbara Barer; Terance Morris Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963
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