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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 October 2006, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
Mark Oaten's new prison regime

Mark Oaten in a prison cell
Prison should be a punishment, but...

This past week has been very exciting for me, as I was given the opportunity to express my true opinions on Britain's archaic prison system.

Our prisons are overcrowded and the rates of suicide, mental illness and drug abuse are dramatically increasing.

And yet, any politician who questions the merit of sending criminals to prison commits professional suicide.

But now I have stepped down from front-line politics, I can tell you about the need to overhaul the current prison system and what I really wanted to do with it.

Tough regime...

I would sell the grotty Victorian prisons for housing redevelopment and use the proceeds to move the 30,000 violent offenders to new, modern and secure units outside of town and away from the general public.

Drug abuse within these units would be stopped, and the prisoners would have a tough working day.

For the 50,000 prisoners who have no history of violence, a new system of education and training must be implemented.

Half of our prisoners have the reading capacity of an 11 year old and over two thirds are innumerate.

Education

Worst of all, recent studies show that as many as 60% of the prison population do not even have the language skills to cope with the education programmes currently run by the government in prisons.

I would implement a compulsory training programme, teaching them to read, write and count.

I would also like to see prisoners involved in business programmes.

Mark Oaten talking to a Prison Warden
You have to visit a prison to really know what it's like

In Reading, a pilot scheme has been set up whereby non-violent offenders on day release work for the construction industry.

Not only are they taught new skills, they are also given the opportunity to contribute to society.

By the end of the scheme, many were offered jobs and more importantly the re-offending rate dropped to 7%.

Community payback

Finally, the punishment should also include taking part in community service schemes, chosen by the public itself.

Their aim would be to enable the offender to help improve the local environment and amenities, and work towards a gradual re-integration of the prisoner back into his local community.

When someone commits a crime they deserve to be punished.

But, in all our interests, we must work to try and rehabilitate the offender so they don't do it again and so they can pay something back to the community.

It's time to stop pretending to be tough on criminals and to start addressing the real issues.



Join Jon Sopel and guests for the Politics Show on Sunday 22 October 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

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SEE ALSO
Profile: Mark Oaten
21 Jan 06 |  UK Politics
Overcrowding 'eases' in prisons
12 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
Facing up
06 Apr 06 |  Magazine
A Screw in the system
10 Apr 06 |  UK

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