My interest in law and order issues has centred on victims of crime and supporting police work.
My involvement in prisons is limited to work on young offenders at Feltham.
But last week brought me four cases of local people with experience as prisoners (Messrs A, B, C and D). They made me ask what prison is for.
An elderly lady wanted me to help her grandson, Mr A. He had a drug problem. He had attacked a local barman with a knife and undoubtedly deserved prison for GBH. But in prison he was raped. And now prison education courses to prepare him for release have been cancelled. When he comes out he will probably re-offend.
Another man, Mr B, has served six months for GBH. He wasn’t a villain but a have-a-go hero praised by a judge who had to give a custodial sentence after he ill-advisedly pleaded guilty. He is now released but homeless and penniless. Meantime, he sleeps on the sofa of a mentally unstable friend.
Mr C has already served a long sentence as a drug dealing "Mr Big". But he was innocent and a European Court has thrown out his conviction. For technical reasons the ruling is not accepted in England, preventing a pardon. I am asking Ministers to sort out the mess.
Lastly, a Twickenham friend tells me her mentally ill and alcoholic son is back in prison. Local mental health services won’t help because of the drink problem and alcohol abuse services won’t help because of his mental illness. Prison is full of such people who have fallen through cracks in social services.
Some say prison works. But only 1 in 4 of these men should have been there and he will emerge a bigger problem than before.