Prison Diaries by Denis Macshane

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On 18 November 2013 former Labour MP and Minister for Europe Denis MacShane pleaded guilty to false accounting at the Old Bailey, and on 23 December he was jailed for six months. He was the latest MP to be given a stern sentence to serve as example in the post expenses scandal climate. Arriving at Belmarsh on Christmas Eve, all his books and writing materials were confiscated and he was locked away in a solitary cell for up to 23 hours a day.

With hours of nothing to fill and without books to read, he begged or borrowed paper and pens to while away the time writing. He began taking notes on what he heard and saw around him and recording the lives of prisoners serving longer sentences. In Belmarsh and, later, Brixton he experienced warmth, friendship, and solidarity from fellow prisoners and discovered a sense of right and wrong and a willingness to admit mistakes that he had never noticed in the Tea Room of the House of Commons.

This diary is a compelling account of those extraordinary experiences. Weaved into it are the author's reflections on why he ended his political career in one of Europe's toughest prisons and why MPs do not enjoy the public confidence that the dedication of so many of them merit. His main purpose, however, is to reveal what life as a prisoner in Britain is really like.

He comes to the conclusion that, with prisoner numbers rising all the time, with judges routinely sending many more people to jail than their continental counterparts, and with a political lack of interest in tackling the endemic problems, the English prison system simply does not work. If this journal nudges a rethink on prison policy and the reasons why so many are sent without reason and at pointless cost into prison, it will have served its purpose.