The purpose of this essay is to explore the criminal justice system and its operations as well as dissect a chosen agency from within the CJS, considering the many thriving, hopeful developments that have been made in this field as well as the scrutiny of some decisions made and thus discussing where clear areas of improvement may lie. The agency chosen is imprisonment, this process sees a gap in research, proving many positives right as well as leaving much room for further development.
The penal system can be broadly described as a system that delivers official punishment to those who have broken the law. The penal system exists primarily to punish those found guilty of crimes and is part of a larger entity known as the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system can be seen as a regulated body which responds officially to all commissions of offences (Cavadino, et al., 2013).
The criminal justice system is comprised of many different legal and legislative bodies, which all stem from the body responsible for the passing and repeal of law as well as the scrutiny of government proposals where deemed necessary, this body is known as Parliament. Within Parliament there are two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords which both see the discussion of proposals and activities in relation to crime and criminal justice. Dissecting the broad term of government, shows us that there are three main government departments that are relevant when it comes to crime and justice. The Home Office is a significant department, holding much responsibility when it comes to the police, prisons and probation. The Minister of Justice was appointed in May 2007 and this role sees the responsibility of the Magistrates Courts, Crown Courts, Appeal Courts and the Legal Services Commission. The Attorney General is the final significant contribute to governmental processes and they are seen as the chief legal adviser to the government and as someone who oversees all branching responsibility of the Solicitors Department (Newburn, 2017).
(Hucklesby & Wahidin, 2009) believe that the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland is presented as a dual system of criminal justice, one system dealing with ‘ordinary’ criminality and the other system dealing with those offences deemed as terrorist by the State however, it is believed that both systems had political motivation which stemmed from the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement 1998 seen the reform of much of the criminal justice system and despite Northern Ireland making slow progress in relation to the peace process, this was a major influencing factor in pushing NI to reach peace. Following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, NI became a region of devolved administration within the UK with much power being transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Delving into the work of the criminal justice system and studying the many specific agencies involved, shows us both the development and progress as well as the mistakes and failings of crime and criminal justice through imprisonment. Through identifying the mistakes and failings of imprisonment, shows us that without mistakes and failings, improvements and developments could not have been made and that is why both the positive aspects of the system and the not so positive, are both vitally important.
There are six distinctive aims of imprisonment which are used by authorities when imposing a sentence of imprisonment. Rehabilitation is one aim and this aim implies that prisons should allow offenders to develop skills to aid reintegration into society. (Hale, et al., 2009) found that there has been much development of rehabilitation through programmes in prisons in recent years to address ‘criminogenic needs’ of prisoners. Under the ‘Making Prisons Work’ programme introduced by the Government, there has been much positive development in relation to drug use and violence as well as education and training programmes and despite critics arguing that the primary purpose of imprisonment militates against rehabilitation, the programme has thought to have been successful. (Joyce, 2006) found that while there was much opportunity for rehabilitation, it was at the discretion of the offender whether or not they availed themselves of the services, with reform being primarily subject to the offender’s determination, it was very much so a personal decision.
Looking back on past centuries, it is important to recognise the major changes that have occurred. The 1960’s seen a security crisis and the official response to the security crisis had a detrimental effect on the prison system ever since. It is important to note that during this period of time, security was not seen as a priority by authorities and many high-risk prisoners escaped which seen the Prison Service catapult security to the top of their agenda. Inquiries took place investigating the escape of two of the prisoners and as a result, The Home Office 1995 introduced two policy changes, the introduction of the security classification for prisoners and prisons and the introduction of a dispersal policy, which both still stand today. This shows that despite many mistakes in previous centuries, it has strengthened the criminal justice system in the long run by implementing policies which are still vital in the criminal justice system today. Following on from the 1960’s, The May Report 1979 seen the reduced faith in the rehabilitation welfare approach as well as continued prison overcrowding. Progressing through the centuries, the 1980’s seen the prison population continue to grow and major disturbances take place. While it seems throughout these centuries, the prison service was all negative, there was much positive taken from it. The May Report seen a massive building and refurbishment programme starting at £1.3 million and the 1980’s seen the government introduce alternative means of limiting prison population such as bail schemes, time limits for cases being brought to trial and increased provision of community sentences.
There is often a highlight reel placed on the range of issues raising concerns when it comes to prisons. Public concern is a major issue, with those taking a stand protesting the cost of prisons are far too high, with one night in prison totalling £158. The management of prisons came into question after the death of Colin Bell. Colin died due to staff lying in bed and watching tv on shift rather than keeping a close high on vulnerable prisoners. There was an increased concern in relation to the rates of mental health, self-harm and suicide and this was all primarily put down to the overcrowding of prisoners and the lack of prisoner officers and staff members. In September 2016-2017 there was a total of 42,837 self-injury incidents and 295 deaths, statistics that are far too high. The problem that arose when authorities attempted to act on these problems was outlined by the Prison Review Team 2011 whereby, they stated ‘politicians literally cannot afford to stand over a system which is wasteful of public money and fails to deliver a safer society’. The same report set out much scope for improvement among prisons and their developing staff as a result of their public view of the current conditions of much of our prisons. New proposals included agreeing more flexible and efficient working practices to replace practices and agreements that have accrued over time and the need to address over-staffing and anomalies in general management and support roles.
As part of the research carried out, a report was found whereby an ex prisoner was asked a variety of questions about his time inside the prisoner. The former prisoner Dr Andy Aresti, now a lecturer at the University of Westminster was interviewed and give honest responses about his time inside. One question asked read ‘I would now like to turn attention to your experiences of studying in higher education. I believe you started an access course while you were in prison, was the prison administration supportive in your ambitions?’ to which Dr Aresti responded ‘It was, definitely. I remember a few staff who were really supportive. They helped me with the application and the funding. The staff were generally always positive, trying to help you reintegrate and help you to shift from being involved in crime to getting a job’. (Dr Sacha Darke, 2015). This shows that there is good in prisons, despite the mass media portraying prisons as negative a lot of the time and that with extensive research, it is easy to see that there has been much positive progression within the system of imprisonment while the media and the internet often only portray the bad.
In conclusion, there is much stigma attached to prisons and their failings however, the many improvements that have been made and the positives that have been taken from the mistakes made, majorly outweigh the wrongdoings of the prison service and it is important to recognise this. Within the last two years, the number of prison officers increased by 23%, as well as receiving a 2.2% pay rise in 2019/20 (Institute For Government , 2019). This shows the continuous hard work of authorities in bettering the prison service, which is something that should be recognised.