The Pains of Imprisonment
Hundreds of students packed the BSix theatre recently to hear Jason Warr talk about his experience. Jason Warr is a Phd candidate in the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge. Jailed for murder at the age of 17, Jason began his incarceration with just a few low-grade GCSEs to his name.
By the time he came out 12 years later he had acquired enough Open University credits in Philosophy to get an unconditional offer in the subject at the London School of Economics. He then went on to postgraduate study at Cambridge.
The lecture was part of the College’s Raising Aspirations programme of long-term partnership work with universities.
Jason was critical of the prison system which has become increasingly punitive. In 1993 9% of the prison population was on a life sentence but the figure today is 19%. Prison strips you of your identity and your every action and every thought are subject to scrutiny and surveillance. He also bemoaned the neglect of the experience of women prisoners: for example, in 2010 over 17,000 children were separated from their mothers because of imprisonment.
In a lively question and answer session, students pressed Jason on what he thought could be an alternative to prison and whether he hadn’t lost his rights because he had committed a crime. He accepted that he had responsibilities and that the state had a right to act. However, apart from for violent crime, he didn’t think prison was the right way to solve the problem. It made people feel more angry, more marginalised. He thought it should aim at rehabilitation rather than punishment. Eventually, most prisoners will resume a life outside: wouldn’t it be better for society if prisoners left incarceration equipped to be good citizens?
Jason gave personal anecdotes about how difficult it was to adjust to being outside prison. He recounted difficulties coping with crowds and learning ‘how to smile again’.