Drugs ‘flow like a river’: Jonathan Aitken hits out at ‘chaotic’ prisons during Suffolk sermon
- Credit: Archant/paul geater
Ex-cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken – who became a prison chaplain after being jailed for perjury – has hit out at Britain’s “chaotic” prisons in a sermon to Suffolk’s leading judges and lawyers.
Mr Aitken, who served seven months of an 18-month jail term in 1999, even revealed he was punched by an 'emotional inmate' while working at a London prison this month.
Even though he said 'no damage was done' in what he called a 'minor incident', he told Sunday's Suffolk Justice Service at St Edmundsbury Cathedral that it was symptomatic of a wider problem of violence in jails.
The 77-year-old - who was chief secretary to the Treasury in John Major's government, but had a spectacular downfall when he launched libel proceedings against The Guardian and Granada Television over claims of inappropriate deals with a Middle Eastern businessman - said there was some excellent parts of the criminal justice system, praising judges, magistrates, police and probation officers.
However, he said: 'There is one part of the justice world which disturbingly often does give off a bad smell.
'This is the chaotic, frequently dangerous state of some of our prisons and the failure of the policies and practices of successive governments to reduce offending.'
A Prison Service spokesman said: 'We are investing £2.7billion to transform the prison estate and tackle the root causes of violence and crime behind bars, including £100million on cutting-edge technology including x-ray body scanners to detect mobile phones and prevent drugs from getting in.'
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Mr Aitken, who attended Orwell Park School and was ordained as a deacon in 2018, said under-staffing leaves many jails unsafe, adding that the prison system had 'depressing failure rate' in preventing reoffending.
He highlighted how five out of every 10 men jailed reoffend within a year, a statistic that goes up to seven out of 10 men reoffending within two years.
'The gentlemen in Whitehall do not know best when it comes to implementing and organising ways to lower re-offending rates,' he said.
Many assaults, he added, are 'fuelled by drugs which all too often flow like a river through the prison wings'.
Mr Aitken, who works unpaid as a prison chaplain, went on to say: 'Law reformers who roll out old clichés like justice delayed is justice denied should also recognise that justice disgraced is justice denied.
'And some of our dirty, dangerous, drug infested prisons which offer little or no hope to offenders who want to be rehabilitated truly are a 21st century disgrace to our society.
'The problems I have been talking about do of course go wider and deeper than the day to day concerns of judges, magistrates, court officials and many others represented here today in this justice service.'
Mr Aitken also spoke about how he read the lesson at the funeral service for his father and former Bury St Edmunds MP, Sir Bill Aitken, at St Edmundsbury Cathedral 56 years ago.