There is a thoughtful piece in the Irish Examiner today on the implications of overcrowding.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been major focus on the issue of overcrowding in the media. Airing prison issues is necessary and for too long prison policy has been subject to very limited public debate. One thing I have been thinking about, however, is how those writing in the media might reflect on their role in creating the current overcrowding problem. It is simplistic to link all negative developments in criminal justice to ‘media hype’, but at the same time it is important for those with a role in shaping public discourse to understand that prison overcrowding doesn’t just happen. It is the result of various incremental steps along the way, be they through legislative changes which bring more people into the prison system, and for longer, or through a lack of reform due, perhaps, to fear about how those changes might be received.
In my view, politicians should be required to undertake an analysis of how any new piece of criminal justice legislation will impact on prisoner numbers. In addition, it would be most encouraging to see the development of a code of practice around how prison issues are dealt with in public debate. Robust and free-flowing discussion is necessary and healthy, but we cannot have it both ways; we cannot engage in debate which calls for harsher penalties or more prisons and then write despairingly about our overcrowded prisons and the use of temporary release.