Sara also has a background in theatre. She starts with, acts rather than tells, the story of Katie: a beautiful small baby, neglected; moved into foster care, moved again and again; at 12 babysits and is raped by the father, and then all his friends; she runs away, and gets involved in crack and crime; at 18 she stabs an old woman; she’s had juvenile sentences, now it’s adult prison.
What does justice look like for Katie? How many people do we know that have been to prison? Why is it that the answer is lots for some and none for others?
Who ends up in our prisons? Other human beings. Sara is sharing statistics of the men and women behind bars. For example, how many have been abused or suffered depression, or attempted suicide.
Katie was not a sick fish as a baby, but grew up in unhealthy water. We need to change the water.
In recent years, the ratio of prison officers to prisoners has fallen. There is overcrowding. We are moving towards the US model of commercialised prison, but we can’t afford it. The National Audit Office says that there is no correlation between crime rates and numbers in prison.
Is there another way? 97% of people in prison say they desire not to reoffend, but 58% do. At HMP Grendon, a therapeutic prison, the rate is closer to 20%. This is due to focusing on relationships, giving time and place for human beings to relate to other human beings, and having a relational approach to justice.
We do still need prisons, especially for perpetrators of violent crimes. But what does relational justice look like? The principles include: a person’s acts may be bad, but they are still human; we all mess up; we need space to practise life; a prisoner may become a tax-paying citizen in the future; people are not commodities; prison is not an industry; what if people who sent others to prison were accountable for them; inequality means people don’t get equal chances.
On the ground, this means: reduce the prison population; use community sentences; reduce prison sizes; high staff ratios; use restorative justice, de-othering the victim and de-monstering the perpetrator; train and pay officers properly.
It is more effective to reduce crime by reducing drug use and providing mental health care than to put people in prison. HMP Grendon costs more per prisoner, but the lower reoffending rates means that it saves overall.
So where might Katie be now? What can we do, human to human, before we find Katie in a prison cell?