A lot of people think prisons are supposed to be actual hell. When that ideal is challenged – i.e. when people see a prisoner with a telly or a bag of crisps – their minds rage away. How dare these people be allowed food and entertainment, they think. When they envisage prison, they conjure images of chain gangs and ten-men-to-a-cell nightmares, eating roaches off the floor and fighting each other to death for leg meat. That's what these lags deserve, right? If you can't do the time, don't do the crime, because "the time" means years of unbridled agony.
So when these people see a group of lads smashing out Ibiza classics off a tiny kitchen TV and racking up lines on a table with a smartphone on charge in the background, you can imagine what the reaction is. The above video, leaked from HMP Northumberland, shows a bunch of guys whooping and grooving in a cell, and cutting lines of white powder – which could be cocaine or ketamine? Or perhaps some god awful legal high (or none of the above; who can say?) – with a card.
In July of this year, a guy called Dominic Usher – who is serving a life sentence – filmed himself eating McDonalds and doing a bit of gear in his cell, and posted images to Instagram of big hauls of Ready Brek and rolling tobacco. As was reported earlier this year, these kind of items are increasingly being smuggled into prisons via drones.
So what's going on with all these prisoners uploading video footage of their rule-breaking?
Robert Preece of penal reform group The Howard League says: "I think the bigger question is why is it such a big problem at the moment? To get the answer to that we have to look at other factors that are at play within the prison system. We've seen the prison population continuing to rise unchecked. In 1993 there were half as many prisoners as there are in the system now, and they're spending longer in prison. That has exacerbated a chronic overcrowding problem."
He continues: "As for why they film it – well, you need to speak to the prisoners themselves, and it probably isn't out of the question to do that any more because of the way so many prisoners are having access to mobile phones and getting their videos seen. It's extraordinary, really. I expected some of [the filming] will be to raise awareness of some of the problems that are happening inside prisons. And of course we have to accept there will be some people who see it as a way of [exhibiting] bravado. This mobile phone footage is making people who haven't been taking notice of what's going on in prisons take notice. While it shouldn't be happening, it might not be the worst outcome in the world."
The snorting footage in Northumberland is timed well – or not, depending on who you are – as Justice Minister Liz Truss only a few days ago promised reform in the prisons and to hire 2,500 more staff to man cells and keep prisoners in check.
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