Personally, I feel that there are far too many agencies doing the same sort of work, and, from the same pot of money. Suggestions of merging or a tangible national council of agencies have stayed merely that. So, instead, why not get behind one national message, and make 2019 The Year of Reform #2019TYOR.
I believe there are three fundamental areas of reform, which, in my opinion, based on my many years experience as a prisoner and, as a part of the criminal justice system, will improve our prisons within a generation, if not sooner. These are: the induction process, which is more an event at the moment, the relationship between staff and prisoners, crucial for any prison and purposeful activity/access to education, and not just academic education. I believe the last two fall under the same heading, although separate in themselves. If the system can get those three areas right, then I believe we can, indeed, make prison an environment fully conducive to change, and therefore, reduce the rates and re-offending, which if hard cash is your thing, it saves the tax payer tens of millions. Money, no doubt, spent better elsewhere. Who can argue with that?
“Rules play an important role in reducing assaults. Research has found that the consistent and fair application of rules which are understood and appear legitimate and justifiable to people in prison are often associated with lower rates of assaults.”*
The Induction Process:
70% of custodial sentences are imposed on those with at least seven previous convictions or
cautions, and 50% are imposed on those with at least 15 previous convictions or cautions.
“Any large reductions in the prison population would therefore mean far fewer prolific criminals
going to prison.”**
Although that quote is in a box, let’s for a moment look outside the box. It can easily be deduced that those in our prisons are not first timers. In fact, I believe the figure is 12% of prison receptions, each year, on average are first timers. It is therefore clear that prison is not working, agreed? Here’s where the outside the box thinking comes into it. Are we expecting prisoners to know how to be prisoners? Let’s look at this fictitious case study. Anybody above the age of criminal responsibility, is only one mistake from prison. Remember that!
Chris is 45 years old, happily married, he and his wife have three children. Chris, has had a problem with his gambling again. He thought he had it beat, especially when agreeing to a lads day out to Ascot races. Some would say Chris was lucky that day, as he came away with healthy winnings. However, the buzz had returned, the demon that could not be tamed, could not be overfed. Chris was in trouble financially, and it was getting close to Christmas. A friend had a contact, good money, not much risk. One trip £5,000. Chris had never been in trouble with the police before, not even a parking ticket. That first night in prison!!!!
Now, put yourself in Chris’s shoes for a moment, if you can. How do we stop Chris, his life in tatters, from thinking he has no hope? We educate him. Education makes the impossible, possible.
Once you hear those dreaded words, “remanded to custody” or “take him down”, as an experienced visitor to jail. It all becomes a bit of a blur, until that door shuts and your behind the door, again!! This process for a first timer is an extremely stressful, mind numbing time.
I say that based on my years of experience as a listener, and a reception listener.
I feel, in a process that can be bypassed by the more experienced cons, that the first few days, of a first timer coming into prison, the rules and regulations of prison can be embedded in an induction process whose primary concern is the health and well-being of the individual, no disrespect, but they’re not going anywhere for a while, prison can wait, mental health cannot.
The induction process, serves many purposes, for some it is their very first settled contact, after the confusion of reception. This is an ideal situation to educate prisoners on what it is to be a prisoner, how can we expect someone to act the right way in an environment where they are alien. It’s another world in there, another way of life, another set of rules, though respect and manners work anywhere. It’s even another language full of acronyms. It’s taken me since 1985 to learn most of it, ha-ha. First impressions count, and if handled correctly, the induction process is a fantastic opportunity for the individual to fully understand what is expected of them.
Then, using the nine pathways to reducing re-offending, and when the individual is ready, give them responsibility for their sentence. This is a programme I designed whilst in HMP Norwich, which was put to use, and I believe is still going.
The purpose of this programme is to give responsibility back to the prisoner by asking THEM what THEY need help with in order to change their lives around. It is then down to the prison to provide the necessary resources and support to enable this. I would also like to see the family/loved ones of the individual involved, it could even carry a restorative justice angle and include the victim, if applicable.
The induction process has to be exactly that, a process. I have been through far too many pointless tick box inductions that serve no purpose, or provide knowledge of the system. If the prisons provide a worthwhile induction process, in time, the ripple effect will be seen through the reduction of re-offending rates. I am only talking about a small number, however, someone with ten previous prison sentences was a first timer once!
“Fewer than one in twelve prisoners are there for a first offence. A prisoner is much more likely to have at least 46 previous convictions or cautions than to be a first time offender.”
“As above, with the overwhelming majority of prisoners serious or repeat offenders – or both – there are very few who are neither. Non-custodial sentences are far more likely to be imposed than prison unless the offence is serious or the defendant has already committed a substantial number of previous offences.”
“It is especially rare for the Magistrates’ Courts to impose a custodial sentence on first-time offenders. Of the 249,000 individuals convicted or cautioned for a summary offence, only 521 (0.2%) were first-time offenders who received a custodial sentence.”***
This page is from: The Prison Reform Trust, Autumn 2018 Bromley Briefings.
You will see that in every area, those in jail have had a, let’s say, more colourful life than that of the general population of society. For some, crime chooses them. One, hopefully, based on the above information, can understand the lack of trusting relationships within a prisoner’s life. In prison, I would be the envy of other landing staff, aimed towards my own landing staff. I wasn’t a screw boy, nor was I a grass. although, I did provide information. I would be able to bring calm to a landing, not by intimidation or threats of violence but by providing information. I think the following image, which is taken from a nomination for a prisoner recognition award I received, speaks for itself, and not only highlights the importance of staff/prisoner relationships but also how important knowledge and therefore, education, is for a settled environment. Get this relationship right and a lot of issues will take care of themselves.
Purposeful Activity/Access to Education.
Purposeful activity has to be the same as the induction PROCESS, it has to be what is says, PURPOSEFUL. Over the years, in prison, I have had some mind-numbing, boring jobs. Such as: putting a nut and bolt on a bracket, putting headphones, or plastic cutlery set with napkin for the airlines, I bet many didn’t know that? Another job involved fixing, elasticized hair-nets onto a thin copper ring, 50 on one side, 50 on the other. One job was putting ingredient stickers, over the not for resale words on mini chocolate bars that were once part of a multi-pack. That way, they could be re-sold. Now, you try working with chocolate bars all day and not be tempted to eat one. However, if caught, not only will you lose your job, you will be, more than likely, placed on report and have to face an adjudication. In some jails, you may even face a 14-28 day lay-down. Basically, this means that for the next 2-4 weeks, the only thing you’ll be doing is sitting or laying on your bed. I’m not asking for prisoners to start trading in the long-term futures market but a little more thought is needed. If prisons are going to create links with external companies, then at least make the link a valuable resource to the prison, as well as the prison being a useful resource for the company. Not to compare, because the working conditions are slightly better, but the rates of pay are akin to a sweat-shop. I have been in some jails, where, if you report sick, they will remove your TV throughout the core day.
There is a skills shortage in this country, which could be reduced if certain government departments got their heads together, along with business leaders. Just ask James Timpson about his positive experiences of employing ex-prisoners, some of whom he employs whilst they are still serving prisoners, someone cutting keys during the day who then goes back to prison to sleep. Richard Branson, another who is leading the way in employing ex-prisoners. The majority of those in prison would love an opportunity for a decent, well-paid job, and will show their gratitude in their work ethic, another to ask is Blue Sky.
Education, has to be at the forefront of any plans for rehabilitating, and, therefore, reducing the rates of re-offending. Education is far more important than just academia. Education should be an individuals choice. The choices they make, however, has to be based on the provision of better information, and courses. I feel too much emphasis is placed on the attainment of maths and English, which along with ICT should be the core subjects of any education department. What is missing from a lot of establishments is for those subjects to be embedded in activities away from the classroom. For some the classroom IS! the barrier to learning. Prison has to provide the opportunities that makes education inclusive to all. I have seen guys thrive in maths and English without even knowing they were learning. It also keeps disruption out of the classrooms, allowing those that have chosen to be in education, the best opportunities for them as well. Education, further education, higher education has to be accessible to all, in all areas of prison life, not just in the education department. This would of course be linked, mainly, to purposeful activities, giving the governor a very persuasive argument, to deliver to any contract supply services employing in prisons, in relation to cost sharing.
This page is also from: The Prison Reform Trust, Autumn 2018 Bromley Briefings.
Three areas which if tackled correctly, would, in my opinion, see a dramatic cut in the re-offending rates, which will not only save the tax payer millions, but with more ex-prisoners being gainfully and purposefully employed there will be fewer people taking from the pot and more people adding to it.
* McGuire, J. (2018) Understanding prison violence: a rapid evidence assessment, London: HM Prison and Probation Service.
**https://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/whogoestoprison.pdf. Accessed 27/12/2018.