I remember very clearly going to see my father in prison for the very first time. There were many things about it that were terrible – how broken he seemed, how slowly the time passed even though there was so much to say. But there was one thing that struck me and has fundamentally influenced all my political views since then – how little the prison and its staff cared about either him or me.
On reflection over many years, the reason this jarred with me was because I am middle class, educated and used to being treated with decency and respect in my daily interactions with people and institutions.We aren’t told what dear ol’ dad did to get sent to the slammer (I wonder why..?), but I suspect it was probably a bit more than not treating someone with decency and respect
Over the weeks and months as I continued my visits, I became increasingly frustrated by the inefficiencies and unfairness of the system and the hardship that this caused both prisoners and families alike. Like my sister and I spending four hours trying to get through on a booking phone line to make visits. Or having no buses from the local train station to the prison on visit days and having to spend£15 each way on a taxi. Or the difficulty of getting phone credit to make calls.Gosh, isn’t it terrible? Truly, it’s #firstworldproblems all over again. Why, how dare the state not lay on a chauffeur-driven limo so you can chat to your family jailbird?
What made me most angry is that there was an acceptance that this was the way things operated and it was unlikely to change any time soon. It was difficult to work out who I might even contact if I wanted to change any of these things.
This is what made me realise that some public sector organisations can get away with operating in a monopolistic vacuum with limited accountability.*shocked face* You don’t say?!?
We are blinded by the idea that they operate for our public interest because they are publicly operated and not tainted by the evil hand of private-sector capitalism. Well, I can tell you that the public sector can treat the public pretty badly too. And in many cases you cannot do anything about it because there is no alternative or you cannot exercise any element of choice.Well, I never…
This doesn’t mean that I want to privatise everything, nor that I believe the private sector will necessarily provide better services. It is that I think, wherever possible, you should always have the choice to look for an alternative that is actually different. Not just transfer to an organisation that has the same ways of working and is effectively a replica of what you have moved from.I suppose pointing out that you do indeed have a choice – one to not commit a crime in the first place - would be pointless?
I know this because if someone had told me that my father could move to a different, non-public sector prison that treated us like humans, made it easier to book family visits and arranged a bus from the station on visiting days, I would have said “yes, please”. I don’t think I would be alone.
So, in a way I am a bit perplexed about why we continue to be so hung up on sectors: a conversation essentially about who pays the staff. Surely it should now be about moving the debate on to how to provide better services to the public.Ah, I see where you’re going wrong now! The ‘service to the public’ is banging up your dad. It’s been performed.
That it means upset and difficulty for you, well, so what? That isn’t a problem. That’s consequences.