The government’s new Prison Strategy White Paper – what impact will it really have?
In December 2021 the government set out its new Prison Strategy White Paper document, this paper details the vision set out to deliver the biggest prison building programme in more than 100 years, which in turn will help to create the right conditions to reform and rehabilitate offenders and ultimately cut crime keeping the streets safe.
Some of the key measures to note include protocols to ensure every prisoner has a basic level of Maths and English so that they are equipped for work on release, a new prison education service to provide vocational training to improve their job prospects on release, a new job matching service that pairs offenders up with vacancies in the community on release and dedicated work coaches in prisons to help them find work.
Everything in the document seems to be making all the right noises, things have been put into place to ensure all the tools are needed for successful reform, prisons need to be a place of purpose not just for punishment, after-all to successfully rehabilitate someone is in everyone’s interests! All it should come down to is whether individual offenders are prepared to put the time and effort in to use these opportunities to make positive changes for themselves, as well as for the safety of the communities into which they are released.
In previous years there has been a lot of emphasis around working on release programmes which are proven to be effective, however, should the key focus to be looked at more closely be on pre- release programmes? As soon as an offender has been placed into custody would it not be worth taking them straight for assessment for us to gain the knowledge needed on their state of mind, background history and assessing whether they have additional needs for help with basic education etc. this will then help to work out, what path it is they want to work towards to get the best for them in a way which can help to rehabilitate successfully.
We need to use the time offenders spend in prison to deliver a change in education, work focused skills, training and to help strengthen family ties so that every prisoner has the best opportunity to leave behind their previous life of crime. Currently two thirds of people sentenced to a prison term of 6 months or less go on to commit a further crime within a year of being released, the reoffending rate is much lower for people handed non-custodial sentences, the problem so far has mainly been down to funding for support and education to help get these offenders into proper work on release, this can lead to returns to prison within three months. An offender’s child can have their life turned upside down through no fault of their own so should we be surprised if their behaviour then becomes unacceptable and if they themselves begin to demonstrate criminal tendencies? It’s creating a cycle of recidivism.
Prisons should be places where we reform criminals and help them turn their back on crime, reoffending rates are currently high costing the economy around 18 billion per year, unfortunately, research has consistently shown that time spent in prison does not successfully rehabilitate most prisoners and the majority of inmates return to a life of crime upon release, rehabilitation is a difficult process and this is down to not being given the correct tools upon release which is what some companies and charities are trying to achieve, give them the tools needed i.e. education, a new trade, something where they can keep themselves occupied and not be swayed into crime and in a way in which they can then earn a fair sum of money which they need to live on. Prisons and probation can work seamlessly together to support prisoners to address the causes of their behaviour and encourage them to take advantage of all the opportunities given to them whilst emphasising the consequences of failure to take responsibility for their rehabilitation.
Another issue we also face, are the prejudicial thoughts of the community who may discriminate towards ex-offenders and whether they are willing to give them the opportunity to change and progress in themselves. Rehabilitating an offender back into society is a hard job because of their criminal status, there is no way to deny that people can be very judgemental, so can deny the opportunity to reform.
Proposed in the document, there are to be 6 new prisons to be built over the next 5 years all providing the latest technology enabling in cell learning for education including driving theory tests to help offenders become more mobile for work on release, utilising digital technology to transform how people live and work in prison whilst ensuring that any digital service or technology introduced is secure and safe to use, this will mean that all technology used, should have the appropriate safeguards in place and be conductive to a secure estate to ensure they can only be used as intended. Resettlement passports are also to be used to bring together the essentials that offenders need to live crime free lives upon release consisting of ID, CV and a bank account.
Employment is a key factor in helping someone adjust to life after prison, but many will face barriers in trying to access the job market, some employers may be reluctant to employ someone with a record, but it is important to remember that people are not born bad they are taught to make the wrong decisions based on their environmental influences whether that be down to substance abuse, mental health issues or poverty. Giving someone the right opportunity to better themselves is a basic human right and those with a criminal record should not be discriminated against.
CPJ Group have a wide range of employer led pathways into work which can reduce the rate of reoffending across the country, we are keen to work with more partners to achieve this goal.
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