As a side note someone with more experience of prisons once told me prisoners have to pay for luxeries such as TVs rather than just being 'handed' to them, does anyone know if this is true?
I believe they usually do, with the money earned from their day work. It varies, though. Many prisons have communal TVs, and the low-risk ones allow prisoners to bring quite a lot of things in.
In no way am I suggesting that prisons should be made in any way "harsher", but that there should be more emphasis on rehabilitation, both in prison and when people are free.
I did a short course on criminology [NB: all these figures are from Scottish prisons, but England and Wales are not enormously different], and this is one of the major issues of sentencing. The majority of prison sentences are very short (average prison sentence, excluding life: 10 months) but 49% of released prisoners are back inside within 2 years. Longer sentences could allow prisoners to be rehabilitated more effectively, giving treatments for mental disorders and drug problems (which 70% of prisoners have) more time to take effect in a safe environment. With attempts to cut prison costs, more of these people are being removed earlier from prison into community programs. Frequently, however, these people are imprisoned because
they'd be unable to address their problems on the outside - unemployed and in poor health, without supportive friends or family.
I get so irritated every time I read an article about how prisons are hotels which waste tax money to pamper one-dimensional criminal stereotypes. The average prisoner (who's in for minor thefts, petty assaults, drug offences and, overwhelmingly, nonpayment of fines) is disproportionately likely to be unemployed, to have been in care as a child, to have been expelled from school, to be HIV-positive and to have attempted suicide. The majority (and almost all female prisoners) are mentally disturbed and addicted to drugs and only barely literate. And guess who's paying? They are. Again. Leaving prison with no money, no job and no training, to be recycled back into the system.