Friday, November 21, 2008

Prisoners' Education: Jack Straw Jerks His Knee

So Jack Straw has banned prisoners at Whitemoor Prison from learning about how to write a comedy script or do stand up. They were taking part in an eight day course as part of an education programme. What harm can possibly be done by learning about comedy script writing and improvisation? I'd have thought learning how to diffuse potentially harmful situations by the use of humour was a good thing. Instead, Jack Straw has jerked his knee and responded to synthetic tabloid outrage. Not only that he's ordered an inquiry! you couldn't make it up.

Prison is a balance between punishment and rehabilitation. I don't believe in going soft on people in prison - but nor do I believe that activities which make them want to learn and develop should be discouraged.

18 comments:

Womble On Tour said...

Always a tough call. What shouldn't happen, in my view, is prisoners getting better opportunities than people on the outside. That's what really causes resentment.

Anonymous said...

I can think of few things more likely to improve self confidence than the ability to stand in front of an audience doing stand up. Surely instilling this confidence is a good thing. This is pure knee jerk reacting to what is percieved as a bad tabloid headline. For gods sake can someone tell the people in charge we are not stupid, we know when something should be stopped and an inquiry held and this is not one of those occasions

canvas said...

"Zia Ul Haq, jailed for his involvement in 'Gas Limos Project' to bomb London, was given lessons in stand-up and comic drama"

"Zia Ul Haq, who was involved in the 'Gas Limos Project' to bomb London, was reportedly enrolled on an eight-day comedy workshop at HMP Whitemoor.

He was among 18 prisoners, including murderers, who were given lessons in stand-up, comic drama, improvisation and scriptwriting.

Having completed the £8,000 course they were to have received a certificate and staged a performance for fellow inmates and guards at the Category A prison in Cambridgeshire."


"However, justice secretary Jack Straw stepped in and closed the course after three days, The Sun reported.

"As soon as I heard about it, I instructed it must be immediately cancelled," he said. "It is totally unacceptable.

"Senior managers in the Prison Service, who were also unaware of it, take the same view.

"Prisons should be places of punishment and reform. Providing educational and constructive pursuits is essential but the types of courses and the manner in which they are delivered must be appropriate."

----

The £8,000. of taxpayers money could be put to better use, Iain. Is this a skill that will help a prisoner once he's let out?
I don't think so. Jack Straw is right.

Will Yoxall said...

Bang on Iain. Got to be the right mix - comedy might be a good means of rehabilitation.

Conand said...

I do understand what Womble is saying about opportunities. I think however that their should be enough opportunities outside to allay that fear. I know that sounds trite, oh well.
Prison doesn't work without proper rehab. I know that it is true in some cases that people deliberately get sent to prison. This is very sad, and in itself an indictment of our society.
I agree with Iain that 'learning how to diffuse potentially harmful situations by the use of humour was a good thing.'

Johnny Norfolk said...

The problam is prision has become all rehabilitation and little punishment. I think Jack Straw is correct to do this. It just sends out the wrong signals.

David Bean said...

I agree completely - you might even remember my speech on the subject at Tories Got Talent (thanks for your kind words in your adjudication, by the way!). The point of prison, as with all sentences, should be to stop crime from happening, and if people leave prison knowing nothing more than when they came in apart from how better to commit crime we can hardly be surprised when they re-offend.

I've never been comfortable with the bald statement that 'prison works'. In order for something to work, it must be in a serviceable state, and be used as it was designed; expecting an under-funded prison system focussed primarily on punishment to rehabilitate its inmates is like trying to use a broken television to make the toast.

meabi said...

If you think prison is rehabilitation, you are mad.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit confused. I thought many prisons had writers-in-residence. Plus, many prisons have the inmates (or whatever they are called these days)put on shows.
If those doing this course were then expected to put what they had learnt into practice and perform for the other prisoners, then I feel this would have been a good thing.

I can understand people being upset about murderers and terrorists being taught to look at the funny side of life, but performing comedy teaches you to empathise with other people as you discover what other people find amusing.

Anonymous said...

Minister jerks knee. Blogger jerks knee in response.

strapworld said...

Lets face it, whatever your view of prison life. The fact is they are locked up.

Humour is a wonderful way for people to live through hard times and also prepare them for life outside.

I would far prefer a former terrorist who is now a comedian than a former terrorist who is released with a larger chip on his/her shoulder.

Jack Straw has to be the most craven of politicians. He has never had a real job, has no idea of life outside the student union/labour party. God help us all.

Did you hear the one about.....

killemallletgodsortemout said...

Why would tax-payers want to spend money on teaching prisoners to be stand-up comedians?

Apart from being an irritating DNA thief, isn't Russell Brand a stand-up comedian?

Educate them and feed 'em bread and water. Rehabilitation, my arse.

Manicbeancounter said...

From my beancounting perspective I am puzzled. An issue that costs tens of thousands of pounds gets an inquiry in to why it happened.
An issue that costs tens of billions of pounds (the banking crisis and the on-coming recession) gets no inquiry, just "solutions".
Maybe I am a bit cynical, but could the inquiry in one area be the government being seen to be doing something. An inquiry in the other might reveal something slightly embarrassing to our former Chancellor.

Anonymous said...

Well it brings a whole new meaning to "This joke'll kill you..." or "he slayed the audience"
I'll get my coat...

Anonymous said...

Having spent a short period of time in prison, it frustrates me when I hear stories like this. The tabloid view of life in prison is so far removed from the truth it is incredible.

If the goal of rehabilitating people is to be met, then treating people like they are no more than worthless criminals is not the way to go about it. There should be a progression from punishment to reform as a person serves their sentence. Once they are nearing the point of release, every effort should be made to equip people with the skills they need to avoid offending in future. For some people these will be basic things like reading and writing and other practical work skills. For others it will be more complex - social and emotional skills.

What is clear to me, is that far from being 'all rehabilitation' the current system is woefully inadequate. Resources are just not there and most people are just booted out the door with their allowance and told to get on with it. It is little wonder that well over half of them will be back inside within 2 years.

Whatever the tabloids say, the reality is that unless there is some preparation for release, then the huge change of being completely controlled to being free again is just too big for many people to deal with. If that means courses like this one then so be it.

The ill-informed rabble chasing tabloid editor should not be the primary influence.

King Athelstan said...

Its what happens when You give responsibility to men like Straw, who defecate in their pants at the slightest tabloid reaction. ( Or Danish cartoons,) I don't really know what those at The Sun expect prisoners to do. It must be nearly time to have the prison Christmas menu published to further outrage us all. None of this is very grown up.

Benedict White said...

Well said Iain. I can think of nothing better than humour for criminals. If it doesn't help them reform their ways, then at least they could make you laugh just before they...

Seriously though, it is one of many ways of rehabilitating people and rehabilitating criminals is important as we don't want them back!

Bad Bunny said...

I agree with Womble on Tour, that people in prison shouldn't be seen to be getting better opportunities than people outside it.
But I also think it's a good idea for prisoners to do these courses, as part of rehabilitation. Why not make the people concerned pay back the cost of the course, in affordable monthly increments, once they are released from prison and earning enough, the same as most other students?