Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Right On The Limit

I had to call into the court late this afternoon to pick up some papers after the courts had finished. One or two of the staff looked surprised to see me casually dressed, and one of the custody officers offered me a cup of tea. I accepted and went downstairs, where I was surprised to see that there were still six prisoners in the cells, and even more surprised to be told that because all London prisons were now full these six were going to a prison in the Midlands. Nobody had yet told the prisoners because they were expected to be pretty upset when they found out their destination. They are probably still on the road as I write, confined to tiny cubicles in the 'sweatbox' prisoner transport vehicles.
It will cost a great deal of money to transport those six to the Midlands and back, most of it in the form of overtime to court custody staff and prison staff at the receiving end. That's the hidden cost of a jam-packed prison system.
The court custody staff do a decent job for not too much money, and apart from an occasional difficult prisoner they manage their charges with informal good humour, which is the best way by far to handle stressed and potentially violent people. The whole edifice of courts and prisons relies on the co-operation, or at least acquiescence, of those it deals with.

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