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fewer opportunities for prisoners to intimidate of staff. However, the press hated it. It deemed the scheme an unnecessary and unearnt. “LAGS MAKE A




All of this is unsurprising. The media has meddled inimically in prison politics for years. Free press, after all, corners democracy. Rupert Murdoch‘s stonemasonry is the stuff that makes this Isle great, or something like that. The Government certainly thought so. It too had stopped using the ‘soft prisons’ argument as a force for good and instead took it up as a distraction, cheerfully nodding people away from the swirling polemic that is criminal retribution. In 1999 Lord Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons at the time, launched a scathing attack against the press for its sensational reporting that had contributed to his deteriorating relationship with jail staff. Not a single politician, backbencher or otherwise, spoke up to demand more sensible and intelligent reporting of prison matters at the time. Like an errant Moose caught waddling through an NGA meeting chaired by Sarah

Palin, the government just froze, stuck its head closer to the ground and focused on making unthreatening noises. Consultation stopped and media focused, election-winning proposals were made. Government policy and media pandering had become so close that Ramsbotham’s attempts to criticise the role of the media fell on deaf ears. So what is the solution to this ‘soft prisons’ nonsense? Erwin James, chief political editor of the Guardian newspaper and former prisoner himself, argues for a simple holistic approach to fair prison coverage in the press. Make efforts to shift the public’s perception of prisoners as a generic band of ‘baddies’ to individuals. Prisoner suicide rates never make the front pages, and rarely make the first broadcast news item, despite a wealth of worrying statistics. Last year prison suicides were up almost 40% on the year before. Little fuss was made out of this or of the 70% of prisoners who suffer from a serious mental illness, or the 6,000 or so prisoners with learning disabilities. The fact that the UK imprisons more children than any other western European country certainly never reached the breakfast table. Transparency between the prison PR machine, the media and Parliament is needed. Clearer facts will result in better reportage, better policies and let’s hope, a few happier Mums. V



he time arrived like clockwork as usual this year. Poppies instantaneously bloomed on the breasts of every TV presenter in Britain. Very soon the red had spread to the jackets of the ordinary man in the street, speckling the crowds like drops of compassionate blood; and on November 11th, at eleven o’clock, the country came to a standstill. For two minutes, two in a year where every other minute brings fresh news of casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq, we fell silent and allowed ourselves to remember the true cost of war. Then the trumpet burped and they were up. I was there as that collective sigh of relief spread across the standing crowd; as remembrance, and the lesson it carries, was drowned by the deadening, mindless chatter of apathy. It has become a truism to say that we, as a society, are given to mass outpourings of emotion. Recall the crowds of the Remembrance Day just gone; see the television money counter grow exponentially next time Comic Relief comes around; review the explosion of yellow ribbons around the country for one missing four-year-old. Nobody watching those events could accuse us of sweeping such issues as war and poverty under the carpet – but look at the year as a whole, and it will tell a different story. Politicians spoke last week of their sincere regret for every life ever lost in wartime, but already that sentiment has faded from the public eye and life continues as normal. We remember for two minutes a year so that, for the rest of the year, we are allowed to forget.



OBS ERV ED A NOT HER. and unearnt. “LAG S MA KE A KIL L- fewer opportunities for prisoners to intimidate of staff. However, the press hated...