Campaigners have said that Cornwall needs its own unisex prison as they say the lack of prison facilities in the county influences reoffending and can lead to mental health issues for inmates sent to serve their time elsewhere.
The national charity that is enforcing these claims is the Prison Reform Trust (PRT). The charity was created in 1981 and outlines their aims to create ‘a just, human and effective penal system’.
There are currently no prisons in Cornwall, and just three male only prisons in Devon, meaning that the nearest prison for female offenders from the South West is in Gloucestershire.
The lack of a prison in the area results in many offenders being sent far away from their families and friends, often going long periods of time without having made contact with them. As a result of this, the charity claims that being so far away from home could lead to “family breakdown and therefore reoffending”.
The organisation Konnect Cornwall, which works with a wide range of individuals including victims and offenders of crime, and young people struggling to remain in education, also supported the charity’s claims.
The prison reform campaigners explained that family breakdown for inmates in prison could also be a major contribution for mental health issues.
Mark Day, head of policy and communications, said, “Simply filling up prisons with people who are often severely mentally ill, as a result of the conditions, means they lose contact with their children and their families.”
He also added that although building a unisex prison may help to improve the situation, “it’s not the solution certainly to women’s reoffending”.
Devon and Cornwall police have also released figures that show between November 2016 and October 2017, out of all recorded crimes in the area, 52% lead to an outcome of no further action. Provoking the question of whether this statistic would be reduced if Cornwall had its own prison.
UK prisons are also under strain due to the reduction of staffing levels and overcrowding, meaning that the safety of offenders is often put severely at risk.
Commenting on research on prison suicides published in the Lancet, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said, “this useful research shows that reducing suicides in prison is complex. But we know in this country that between 2008 and 2014 the situation was improving before deteriorating sharply as staffing levels were drastically reduced. Good procedures and good relationships underpin every aspect of safety in prison—overcrowding is just one of the reasons both are under pressure. Tackling it is long overdue and vital to prisons delivering every aspect of the government’s many ambitions for reform.”
Commenting on the Ministry of Justice’s safety in custody statistics , Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, also said: “despite a small but welcome fall in deaths, every other indicator points to the ongoing and longstanding deterioration in standards of safety in our overstretched prisons. Record levels of self-harm and assaults highlight mounting levels of frustration and despair among prisoners. Too many prisoners are held in overcrowded and impoverished conditions with too few staff to provide a safe and constructive regime. With prison numbers projected to increase, declining levels of safety will be very difficult to turn around without a concerted effort by ministers to take the pressure off the system by reducing prison numbers.”
According to recent figures released by the Ministry of Justice, self-harm in prisons reached a record high of 41,103 incidents in the 12 months to June 2017, up 12% from the previous year. The number of incidents requiring hospital attendance rose by 9% to 2, 833. After a quarter-on-quarter decrease in the three months to March 2017, self-harm rose to a record high of 10,850 incidents (up 10%) in the latest quarter.
Despite this, the safety in custody statistics also added that in the 12 months to September 2017, there were 300 deaths in prison custody, down 24 from the previous year. Of these, 77 deaths were self-inflicted, down 33 from the previous year.
Cornwall’s last prison was Bodmin Jail. The female gaol was closed in 1911 and the male civil prison was not used after 1916 as the prisoners and staff went to war. The naval prison closed in 1922 and all the buildings were sold in 1929.
The prison has currently been turned into an attraction.