In 1773 John Howard was appointed High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, responsible for the county gaol. He was shocked to discover that prisoners had to pay for their own food, bedding and other facilities; even when they were due for release, many had to pay the gaoler to let them out. Almost 250 years later, conditions in prisons here in England have certainly improved.
But with a record prison population, spiralling costs and rising reoffending rates, the need for reform remains as great today as in John Howard’s time. We need to stop the revolving door and end the use of short term prison sentences. We need to invest in community-based responses, providing an intensive, individual solution. And for those people who do have to go to prison, we need to ensure that prisons are safe and provide opportunities to work, learn and prepare for life outside.
Each year the Howard League for Penal Reform challenges students to view the penal system through the same critical lens of John Howard. Our Essay Prize, named in his memory, offers £100 for the best response to a set topical question.
This year the focus is on the complex relationship between the media, the criminal justice system and public opinion. Photographs of suspects not yet charged on the front page: innocent until proven guilty? Tweets directly from the courtroom: sensationalist sound bites or transparent sentencing? Headlines declaring prisons holiday camps: reflecting public opinion or prejudicing penal policy?
We are inviting students to submit 1500 words
by 1 March on the question:
Trial by tabloids: Do the media facilitate or threaten the administration of justice in England and Wales?
The Essay Prize is judged by Eric Allison of the Guardian. This year we are proud to partner with OurKingdom, with the winning articles to be published here.
The deadline for entries has been extended to 15 March 2013.
For more information visit: http://www.howardleague.org/essay-prize/