Bed blocking occurs in a range of environments. In the NHS there are not enough hospital beds. In social work there are not enough beds in children’s homes or care homes for the elderly. In mental health there are not enough beds on psych wards. But prisons are no different. There is a shortage of beds here too.
The only difference between prisons and any of these other environments is that, when one of the other environments has a shortage of beds, the person is usually sent elsewhere. When there is a shortage of beds in prison, they simply throw you in an overcrowded cell.
The end result of overcrowding in hospitals is that the public suffers. The end result of overcrowding in children’s homes is that the public suffers. The end result of overcrowding in care homes for the elderly is that the public suffers. And the end result of overcrowding in mental hospitals is that the public suffers. But the end result of overcrowding in prisons is that the prisoners suffer.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is bad because prisoners are suffering. I do think that is bad and unnecessary, but I am actually saying the opposite. I am saying that it is bad that the public suffers so much in all those other examples. Prisoners suffer because they are packed in like sardines, but it is done to safeguard the public. The only short term alternative would be to let those prisoners out, and that might put the public at risk. But why then can we not accept overcrowded conditions in these other environments?
Yes, it is wrong that, in places, care homes for the elderly are so overcrowded that some people cannot be taken in without them having to share a room with another resident. But wouldn’t it be better for two residents to share a room than for one to be left out in the cold? And the same goes for children’s homes too.
As for hospitals and mental hospitals, isn’t treatment the first priority? Sending a hospital patient miles away to a hospital in another area doesn’t help with treatment at all, and sending a mental health patient home to look after themselves, or worse, to prison (where mental health treatment is abysmal) doesn’t help with treatment either. In both cases the patient suffers. So wouldn’t it be better to have wards which are slightly overcrowded and to accept that even those who are lucky enough to get private rooms may have to share them?
I cannot comprehend how one approach (which is far from ideal) can be accepted in the prison service, whilst a far worse approach is implemented in all these other environments simply because the word ‘overcrowding’ is so unpalatable to the media. Unless of course, it concerns prisoners that is.