In Brief

Window bars to be axed in UK prison shake-up

Reforms are aimed at ‘normalising inmates’ environments’ and helping boost rehabilitation

Prison window bars are to be confined to the history books in England after the Ministry of Justice announced plans to phase them out.

It follows a three-year government-funded study which suggested the architecture of prisons should be reformed to help boost the rehabilitation of offenders by “normalising their environment” and making them less “punitive” and “institutional”.

A separate £600,000 experiment at HMP Berwyn, the largest jail in England and Wales, will assess whether small changes, such as to language used by prison officers, have positive effects on inmates.

This will see prisoners being referred to as “men”, housed in communities rather than blocks, and locked up in “rooms” rather than cells.

“It could also see inmates provided with laptops when they arrive as well as facilities for tea and sandwiches,” says the Daily Mail.

Professor Yvonne Jewkes, from Bath University, who is leading the project, said: “It’s about what difference prisons can make if they can rehabilitate offenders. It’s treating prisoners with trust, respect and dignity. It’s encouraging them to invest in themselves and their futures. That’s not an easy sell to the general public or for ministers.”

The Daily Telegraph says HMP Berwyn “will provide a testbed for whether a more ‘rehabilitative’ model, based on liberal Scandanavian approaches, could be effective and rolled out to other prisons”.

Part of this involves doing away with traditional prison bars in favour of toughened glass and air vents, which ministers say will boost security, make windows harder to break and help stop prisoners from “accessing contraband”.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, told the BBC: “A normal environment in which people take responsibility for as much of their own lives as possible is preparation for successful release. Bars in windows is yesterday's technology.”

Professor Jewkes agrees that there is no reason for bars and that they are “highly symbolic”. She told the Telegraph: “They go back to when there were no windows in cells and they had no glass. It’s rather behind the curve.”

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