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Rewarding prisoners' good behaviour


In a bid to encourage good behaviour, prisoners in the UK could be given a new raft of rights — including open access to their cells. As well as providing inmates with keys to the doors, there are government proposals to “increase the amount of time for recreational activities or exercise alongside education and work programs”. Under the plans, visiting times would be extended, prisoners would be able to shower when they choose and allowed to cook their own meals. Those who show good progress in their rehabilitation would also receive cash bonuses.

Changes in how staff interact with inmates are also part of the initiative with officials citing evidence that “positive reinforcement was more effective as a means by which to change behaviour in the long-term.” To that end, officers will be expected to offer praise and say kind words to inmates “four times as much” as they rebuke them. Announcing the policy, UK justice secretary David Gauke said, “This new framework gives governors the tools to set clear behavioural standards for prisoners — enhancing their ability to maintain stability while steering offenders away from a life of crime.”

Amid cries of “soft justice”, the proposals have met strong opposition. Mark Fairhurst, chair of the Prison Officers’ Association, said, “If you have an incentives policy you must have adequate sanctions for people misbehaving.” However, officials were quick to point out that rule-breaking prisoners would be denied the proposed rights and privileges, and have to abide by a “basic regime”. It is hoped that those inmates on a basic regime would be incentivised by the perks on offer and amend their ways. “The prisoner on the basic regime looks out and says ‘I want a bit of that too’,” says Andrea Albutt, president of the Prisoner Governors' Association.

Advocates have welcomed the carrot approach, hoping the move will lead to a more modern penal system. Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said, “Our work shows that the people who live in prison have a genuine interest in a calm and well-ordered environment where constructive engagement is positively encouraged.” The UK scheme borrows from the Scandinavian model, which takes the view that curtailing an offender’s freedom is enough of a punishment without them also having to endure harsh conditions.

ABOVE Prison cell in Sweden

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