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The prison system: a general overview

Being sent to prison

Currently, offenders are sent to prison in the event of committing a serious crime; less serious crimes are commonly punished by means of fines, community service or curfews. The offender will be trialled to determine if they are guilty of committing the alleged crime and then a Judge will determine the length of the sentence they should serve. The more serious a crime, the longer the sentence; very serious crimes, such as murder, often warrant a life sentence. Some prisoners may be released before the pre-determined date; this is usually due to good behaviour and proof that the person has changed.

The prison: facilities and set-up

Many people envisage prisons as endless blocks of small, dark cells; however, many of the more modern prisons have a number of facilities which are designed to rehabilitate offenders and focus on turning them into respectable and admirable citizens. Commonly, prisons have separate areas geared towards health care, education, physical exercise, learning new skills and trades, as well as the traditional, more well-known sleeping, visiting and communal leisure areas. Most prisons also have a chaplaincy service.

Prison regulation

All prisons in England and Wales are subject to monitoring by an Independent Monitoring Board; this means they must comply with certain standards at all times. If a prisoner wishes to make a complaint about their treatment or the state of an institution they may contact the Independent Monitoring Board or discuss the matter with staff at the prison; if the issue cannot be resolved it may taken to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has a duty to report directly to the Government on issues relating to the security of prison buildings, overcrowding and the treatment of prisoners.

Current state of prisons in England and Wales

The U.K has the highest amount of imprisoned people per 100,000 people in Western Europe; consequently, currently several prisons are overcrowded meaning that prisons are holding more people than they are designed to which can contribute to health and safety hazards and a lack of resources. Prisons are expensive to run and their day to day maintenance costs the tax payer millions of pounds each year. Currently, plans are underway to create a number of new prisons to accommodate the growing number of inmates. While many prisons comply with the required standards, studies indicate that many are falling short and consequently both prison staff and prisoners are suffering.