John Bird recalls his incarceration as a teenager, Baroness Young and others call for an end to racial discrimination, and other writers outline proposals for reformPrisons are enormous social machines for producing something we don’t want to produce. And with 86,413 locked-up prisoners, we’re producing it at record levels (Letters, 4 September and 7 September). I was put away for a short, sharp shock at 14 for stealing a bike. I was then given a three-to-five-year sentence at 15 for stealing £5. And as I raised in last week’s Lords crossbench debate on prison overcrowding, I also failed at school – as did most of my fellow inmates and virtually every person I meet in prisons today.
Until we move to prevention, and until we begin to dismantle poverty, we will have overcrowded prisons. Prisons that don’t work. We can be as clever as we like and come up with all sorts of new solutions, but, first, let us stop the churn. Let us stop the arrival of people into prisons. And let us accept that the revolutionary need in our thinking is that prevention is better than cure.