By Harry McMullen.
Jonathan Aitken says budget cuts have led to more violence and drugs in prisons, resulting in the rapid growth in the use of the synthetic cannabinoid, spice.
The former MP, who served time after being convicted of perjury in the late 90s, spoke to journalism students for Leeds Trinity Journalism and Media Week today.
He said austerity and cuts made by the former Chancellor George Osbourne were partly to blame for problems in prison, including the rise of synthetic drug use and disturbance among prisoners.
He said: “The prison service lost about a third of its staff and what happened? Violence started to grow.
“Basically the officers started to no longer be in control of prisons.”
Aitken referred to the lack of work opportunities available for prisoners once they had served their sentence.
He said: “If you could find ways of when people come out of jail, of encouraging them, giving them hope, giving them opportunities, some will fail and go back to spice but others will grab the chance.”
Aitken’s started out as a war correspondent in Vietnam in the 1960s. He moved on to be a regional television presenter on Calendar News in Leeds before becoming a Tory MP, a cabinet minister, and then a convicted criminal.
Now a prison chaplain, Aitken works at Pentonville prison – trying to reform and rehabilitate convicts in order to prepare them for the outside world.
Aitkin told the auidence 70 per cent of prisoners reoffended, but he was quick to refute the idea that prisons are ‘too soft’.
He said: “The idea that prison is an insufficient deterrent is a completely bogus, phony and the wrong argument.”
Although he was critical of the previous Conservative cabinet, Aitken did say that the current government have belatedly realised prisons have been underfunded – giving reference to the government’s new investment into the prison service.
He said: “Although there is a load of danger, and violent episodes in prison, it is actually stabilising.”
Journalism and Media Week continues throughout the week, the full schedule can be found here: http://www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/courses/journalism/journalism-week