Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Following a string of recent reports demonizing our youth and questioning the effectiveness of our Criminal Justice System, James Dwyer tells his story as to how his life changed from crime and violence to that of happiness and success.

It’s My Life -
Thanks to C-FAR and Life Change UK

My name is James Dwyer. I am 22 years old and currently working as a carpenter in the Medway towns. This is the story of how a charity called C-FAR made it possible for me to turn my life around from that of crime and violence to one of happiness and success.

Up until 10 years of age I was a happy normal schoolboy. Unfortunately, around this time my home life started to go wrong as I realised my step-father was physically and mentally abusing my mother. It was at this time that he also started to do the same towards me. When I tried to protect my mother from what he was doing he took his frustration out on me. This started to affect my schooling as I was constantly worried about what was happening to my mother. I began running away from school to go home and check that my mum was ok. This is when I believe I also started to become very angry and aggressive towards other pupils and friends. I soon lost friends, was looked upon as a bully and became an out cast.

As I started secondary school I got into a lot of trouble and started bunking off from lessons, all of which led to me being expelled. Not being at school I was wondering the streets and met with new and older friends who had already left school. Most had been regular visitors to prison and they began to introduce me to crime. We stole cars and broke into sheds to get money for cannabis and other drugs which led to me smoking cannabis from a very young age. This cycle of activity went on for the next 4 years. I was in and out of court, attending probation and having to undertake reparation orders etc.

I then found out that my real father had died. This hit me very hard and I became very aggressive and violent which led to further crimes such as GBH and street robbery. It was not long after this that my mother got the courage to leave my step father and we moved to the Medway towns where we lived in Rochester. This was another real problem for me as I did not know anybody. Having left all I knew behind I started to go out stealing and fighting. I soon received my first ever custodial sentence which was 18 months in H.M. Y.O.I Feltham.

On release from Feltham I had nothing whatsoever and resorted to getting money to survive by the only way I knew, more crime. I was soon back in prison. The same thing happened to me over and over again. It was like I was trapped in a circle and I did not know how to break out.

It was during my last prison sentence that I learned I was to be a father myself. I did not want to have anything to do with my son as I felt I would be a bad influence on him and did not want to ruin his life the way my step father had ruined mine. I was then approached by a prison officer and asked if I would be interested in speaking to some people from a charity organisation called C-FAR based in Devon. He said that they helped offenders. I spoke to a lady called Tracie from Moving Forward; an organisation in Chatham that I later found out was a partner of C-FAR. Tracy interviewed me and described what C-FAR was all about.

After the interview I was accepted on to the C-FAR course and at the end of my sentence left for Burdon Grange in Devon. The C-FAR Life Change programme consisted of an 11-week residential course where I undertook a tough structured regime of education, life skills training and one to one mentoring with a designated trainer. We also tried out new things that I had never thought possible before, such as camping expeditions on Dartmoor, caving, kayaking and much more, all of which taught us team work, how to communicate, leadership and trust. It was also great fun and a really good life experience. All the trainers and mentors at C-FAR treated the other ex-offenders me like real people and not just like criminals. This taught us to believe in ourselves so that we could change our lives. All we needed to do was learn how to do it and put this into practice. For the first time since I was 10 years old, I was happy with myself and how I was changing and thinking.

After returning from Devon with my new skills and qualifications I was supported by a community mentor and helped to gain employment as a trainee carpenter with a local builder. This was another turning point in my life as I had never had a real job before. I was extremely excited about the prospects, but also very scared and nervous. I spoke to my mentor about this and with her help I overcame the worries and concerns and attended my first day at work. It is now 2 years since I started and I am still working for the same company and am now a fully qualified carpenter.

On returning from Devon I stopped driving illegally and worked towards getting my drivers license.
I have recently achieved this. This was a real plus for me as since the age of 15 I had been banned. I have now found a real passion for sports bikes and belong to a club and many organisations that deal with raising people’s awareness of motorcyclists on the road. I attend rallies such as Kill Spills which help to reduce the number of bike related accidents on the road from spilt diesel.

I also have a fantastic relationship with my son Billy who I go and see every spare moment I have. We often go out at weekends to the zoo or play football and other things that dads do with their sons. All of this was only possible thanks to the C-FAR team and the parenting lessons and life experiences that I learned while I was there.

I really cannot stress enough how important it is to have places like C-FAR. Prison “DOES NOT WORK”. Although it is a punishment, it does not do anything to teach offenders the skills they need or provide the information to become a positive contributing member of the community and to start working on their futures. As a prisoner you are just locked in a cell and faced with violence and segregation, all of which is scary, often forcing people to build mental walls or become more violent simply to survive. This never helped me at all.

Do not for a second think that C-FAR is an easy option. Compared to prison, the programmes structure, work, lessons and mentoring was very intense. I believe that this was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but with the help from the trainers and my mentor it worked.

C-FAR was a dream come true. It helped me get my life back on track, not only in the sense of stopping crime, but also in my personal relationships with my son and my Fiancée.

I was very distressed to hear that C-FAR had had to close because the government refused to pay enough money towards the programme. C-FAR is the type of programme that people like me desperately need. If the government spent as much time, money and effort on programmes such as the C-FAR Life Change programme as they did on prisons, I am sure they would cut the number of prisoners and re-offending. People who get into crime need ‘HELP’ to stop. Locking us up and leaving us with nothing when we return to the community does not do it.

I was so happy to hear that Trevor, Theresa and Steve, whom I have enormous respect for, had made the decision to start a new company, Life change UK, and that they are still working to help offenders turn there lives around. I cannot thank the C-FAR team enough for all the help that they gave me and for giving me a chance to change my life and prove myself. I will do anything I can to help promote Life change UK and the work they do with people like me.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope that this inspires you to assist Life Change UK and to promote how important it is to have alternatives to prison that work. -

Yours gratefully,

James Dwyer

Sunday, November 05, 2006


When will we all wake up?

Home Office figures this week have again shown increased levels of crime and re-offending rates. Hardly a day passes when there is not a disturbing portrayal of crime on the news.
Our prison population is at its highest ever level with police cells being used as alternatives. Prison and education staffs struggle to deliver meaningful programmes of rehabilitation.
Probation Service personnel describe staff morale as being at an all time low.
An EU report suggested that British teenagers are the worst behaved and most violent in Europe.
Another report has suggesting that UK adults are afraid of its teenagers and that we have lost the ability to communicate with them. Yet demands that young people show more respect to adults is a common theme.

The Chairman of the Youth Justice Board has described how we are locking up more juveniles than ever before and that we need to avoid criminalising young people. The ASBO debate has again been prominent with figures showing that at least 49% of ASBOs are being breached; some people have said the figures are actually worse. In order to address this, a Home Office Minister suggested that those who do not comply can be sent to prison – really!

It has been suggested that Government policy is a reaction to public opinion. In other words, it is the public that is demanding retribution and punishment. Yet, research by the Prison Reform Trust suggests otherwise. Rather, the majority of people simply want offenders to stop re-offending and would be happy for alternatives if they were shown to work.

Critically, not only is the current situation undermining our society, it is costing the state billions of pounds that could be directed towards increased support for the elderly, health provision, the environment and education. As a tax payer, I am left asking, what is going on? Clearly for those disenfranchised young people on the edge of our communities, the system of ASBOs, punishment and prison is not working. If it was we would be pulling prisons down, not building more and re-offending rates would be falling. Yet if we keep doing the same things, we must surely expect to get the same outcomes.

When will we start to address the underlying needs that cause such behaviour? The ‘drivers’ in our lives are surely success and reward.
When will we acknowledge that punishment, by itself, fails to promote meaningful change? Rather it demoralises, de-motivates and depresses, thus perpetuating the existing situation.
When will we start to recognise that only by investing personal time and appropriate role modelling will we effectively promote positive change in young people’s attitudes and behaviour?

Whilst sensationalising cases by the media is partly to blame, the rest must surely lie with the adult population and the way we are allowing our society to develop. Are we all too busy to care about the children that we bring into this world, or are we simply unable to understand what is happening and unable to meet the challenges of being both adult and parent?

The gap between the young and adults is widening. Communication and two-way understanding is becoming increasingly difficult and the fear of young people is worsening. In demanding increased levels of respect one has surely to show respect and provide the appropriate trust and role modelling that inspires our young to follow. Yet many of the standards that adults demonstrate fall well short of what is necessary. Instead of taking responsibility for what is happening, society seems to constantly blame the young for what is happening.

When I reflect back to my teenage years; life was relatively simple. Today, the pressures on our youth are massive and whilst many look to adults for help, sadly it is all too often lacking, resulting in them making their own decisions and sometimes mistakes. The response from adults is then to criticise them for doing so, thereby further undermining young people’s confidence and willingness to listen and engage. Is there a fundamental level of insecurity within the adult population and their own ability to cope?

The bottom line is clear, without change, the situation will not improve. Issues associated with drug misuse, mental health, social exclusion and the fear of crime will continue to drive ever-increasing wedges into the very fabric of our communities. Importantly, the children of today’s young people will probably grow up in similar or worse situations than their parents. Adults must surely stop beating up on our young people and start to take more responsibility for what is happening? We cannot continue to simply leave it to the Criminal Justice System to sort out?

Trevor Philpott
Life Change UK

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Yet more Tax Payer's Money to be spent on Prisons.

It is with dismay that I noted yesterday's Home Office announcement regarding the planned 8,000 increase in prison places over the next 5 years, all at an estimated cost of £100,000 per place. I fully recognise that serious overcrowding currently exists and some individuals are so dangerous that they must be secured. That said, to seemingly ignore the evidence that prison for the majority who offend has failed to reduce recidivism, seems to fly in the face of recognising and understanding the issues and causes of crime.

Why is the Government so determined to spend more money on a concept that is clearly providing limited return on Tax payer's money? Equally, why is there such an apparent resistance to more rapidly invest in strategies and programmes that we know can deliver more cost effective outcomes?

Against the backdrop of more of the same we also hear calls for increasing partnership work with the Third Sector. Unfortunately many voluntary organisations deliverying programmes that are clearly more effective than prison, struggle to survive owing to a lack of funding. I am left wondering if and when we will see a recognisable shift in strategic thinking and delivery that is so desperately needed?

Trevor Philpott

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Training Support in India

The Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, India, have been working with prisoners and families of prisoners since 1999. Currently they are developing programmes for the reform and rehabilitation of prisoners based in Amravati Central Prison and five districts in Western Vidharbha - see

A request has been received for Life Change UK staff to visit India in order to share our experiences and conduct some training with TISS staff. Whilst keen to assist, neither organisation has sufficient funding to pay for the visit and the delivery of training. Each is now attempting to raise the money through leading philanthropic Indian business leaders, banks and other organisations.

If you can help, or know of others who might be willing to do so, please contact us as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Trevor Philpott

Friday, May 19, 2006


Inappropriate and criminal behaviour cannot be condoned and society must have a means of communicating this through consequences that both act as a deterrent and a means of ensuring that it does not arise again.

Unfortunately, whilst posing a limited deterrent, the use of punishment as the primary means of promoting change has simply not been effective in reducing re-offending. Rather it has often stemmed from a desire by society for retribution and revenge. This is a strong and understandably emotional response. It does not however recognise that such behaviour is caused by a range of factors and circumstances, many of which propel offenders into a situation of survival in whatever way they can, including acts of crime and the use of drugs as a state of mental denial and avoidance of responsibilities.

The reality is that patterns of criminal behaviour and substance misuse will only be addressed by tackling the underlying causes of crime. Critically, until ‘people’ are treated as unique individuals and there is a real understanding that anti-social behaviour is triggered by emotional and basic human needs not being met, then people’s behaviour will not change and crime will persist.

Personal behaviour and thinking is shaped over the years by the environment and experiences in which we grow up – home, school, college, university, work place, city, countryside, our peers and travels. Some experiences are exciting, challenging and rewarding. Others are less so. Regrettably, research has clearly shown that in the case of offenders, such experiences have in the main be particularly damaging, resulting a various levels of despair, depression, anger and failure, all of which has led to a range of disturbing attitudes, criminal behaviour and substance missus.

Whilst historically society has resorted to a basic response of punishment and retribution as a means of addressing such behaviour, there is now increasing recognition that by itself this is not effective.

In responding to the issues of crime and its consequences, it is important to reflect upon one’s own life and to ask how it might have been had those experiences been different.

Most people have been challenged, chastised and even punished for mistakes that they made; many have done things in the past and are only too glad that they did not get caught. Had they been their latter circumstances might have been very different.

Making mistakes and enduring the consequences is part of life’s rich learning process. Without mistakes it is unlikely that one is doing anything different. Rather one would tend to exist within a limited environment and personal comfort zone, never daring to ‘step out’ in an attempt to do something new.

Importantly, in undertaking any new experience, the greatest incentive and motivators are the feelings of safety, success, recognition and reward - not those of confusion, punishment and failure. By itself punishment merely serves to demoralise, de-motivate and depress, confirming a sense of worthlessness, without providing the insight as to how it could have been done differently. Critically, the de-motivation experienced tends to discourage any perceived risk taking for positive change.

Depending simply upon punishment as a means of promoting positive change can be compared to putting diesel into a petrol engine vehicle. Yet historically, this is effectively what society has been doing with offenders. There is now a need to recognise and acknowledge that the fuel many offenders need is a sense of self-worth and success; a feeling of pride and the knowledge that despite everything, they can become worthy and trusted citizens.

Maslow - Maslow described his hierarchy of basic needs ranging from food and water through personal security, social belonging and support, to achievement, success and belief. Without these fundamental building blocks our lives simply go nowhere. Rather we all wither and die.

Many offenders recognise the damaging impact that they had on their victims. Equally, many describe previous contact with ‘impersonal people’, a ‘lack of social tolerance’, about ‘being marginalised’ and ‘abused’, of failing to gain any qualifications, with ‘the ultimate drama driven by a sense of worthlessness and fear of life and what is happening to them’. Importantly, many are desperate to rediscover themselves by becoming part of something tangible, enabling them to develop their personal belief systems, confidence and spiritual growth, establishing goals and having the support and opportunities to “mix it with other people” and to become accepted within society. Only by experiencing such feelings and beliefs can they move on from a feeling of emotional despair to one of self-worth and success.

As part of the reducing re-offending agenda the provisions of basic skills qualifications, accommodation and employment have been promoted as essential. Whilst undoubtedly important end goals in any offender management plan, sadly, this is also where the weakness lies. If ex-offenders are to be capable of holding down a job and effectively managing their lives over the longer term, it is also essential to address their basic human and emotional needs. Currently, programmes of personal development and social and life skills training are not receiving the attention they merit. Consequently many offenders will fail to complete the journey and transition to a more purposeful life.

Scientific research has shown that people’s emotional intelligence is set within the first few years of life and unless they experience a major life change, most people will never feel significantly higher or lower than they have learned to be during that time. In order to help address this issue, private, voluntary and the public sector organisations spend vast sums of money on personal development and soft skills training programmes for their employees, all aimed at increasing performance, efficiency and output, as well as reducing stress and anxiety and improving staff moral. Many books and programmes have been written and designed to promote confidence, motivation and the ability to take on new challenges.

Yet, for those members of our society who lack even the most basic positive belief systems and social skills, we make the situation worse by re-affirming their weaknesses, telling them they are worthless and evil and incarcerating them in prison, an environment that is simply not conducive to the necessary changes required. One is left wondering, is it that the system does not understand the issues surrounding these basic needs, or has it become so entrenched in the mindset of fear, security, punishment and retribution that providing what is really required is not even recognised, let alone considered for implementation?

For most offenders the transition from crime to full time employment, settled housing and citizenship is a journey of massive change. For some the prospect is extremely frightening, so much so that they often tend to run away from the process. Critically, the transition is not achieved simply by putting someone in a class room and going through the motions of teaching them basic skills. Neither can ex-offenders be expected to fit into a strange work place without support. Both are environments where historically they have already failed. Indeed, by insisting that this is the way forward, we can often set them up for further failure, thus re-affirming what they already believed – they are useless and cannot do it.

For it to be otherwise there has to be a fundamental change in how we address these issues, all being aimed at changing individual attitudes and behaviour with a real focus on the soft skills and issues of personal development and overall confidence. The ‘bottom line’ is simple, if we keep doing the same things, we must expect the same outcomes in levels of re-offending and human and financial waste.

In 2002 the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) published a report on reducing re-offending by prisoners. Along with many important issues, the report highlighted that one persistent 19 year old offender was costing the tax payer in the order of £164,000 per person, year on year. With inflation and other revised factors, this figure is now well in excess of £170,000. With such sums one could send each young person to some of the best private schools and colleges in the country and still have change at the end. Indeed, with the number of young people currently trapped within the criminal justice system, were this money to be freed up it could be used to establish a whole new range of establishments specifically designed to promote the education and personal development of offenders and others at risk. This of course demands a concept of joined up government and ‘change’!

Dr Stephen Covey once said –
“We must not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time”.

“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who we are, what we are about, and what we value”.

As highlighted in the SEU report and many other research papers over the years, most persistent offenders have experienced a wide range of failings and abuse. Changing their behaviour is therefore like learning a new skill. This has four essential stages all of which can take different periods of time: -

Denial - Resistance – Exploration - Commitment

Denial - in this state, you really don’t know that you don’t know! In some cases young people don’t even care, and furthermore they don’t care that they don’t care – such a process is mentally blocked and considerable one-to-one motivational work is needed in order to start the process off.

Resistance – you have tried and you know enough to know that your not very good at it – it takes a tremendous amount of thought and concentration – it can feel uncomfortable with a sense of deep vulnerability – but this is also the time when a person is learning the most.

Exploration – you can do it – you have reached a level of capability, however you still have to concentrate and think about what you are doing. It feels more comfortable and the vulnerability is considerably lessened or gone completely.

Commitment – you do it without thinking – it becomes habitual, and often you can do other things at the same time.

Comfort Zones - Where we belong and feel at ease is often described as our comfort zone. This tends to match our inner picture or self-image. Of note, we can often feel out of place when our inner picture doesn’t match our outer one. If we believe we have moved too far outside our comfort zone we experience feelings and physical symptoms which cause discomfort; - we want to get back to ‘safety’ very quickly – back to where we came from and what we know. For offenders, this will tend to be their previous environments and social groups; nothing changes.

Anxiety is often directly linked to being out of our comfort zone, resulting in stress, tension and fear about what we see coming our way – even panic attacks!

In what is known as 3D Thinking - words – pictures – feelings, the words trigger the picture in our mind which triggers our feelings – good and bad. It is what happens when one feels out of place - embarrassed, frightened, being frozen to the spot, blushing, stuttering, muscles tighten etc. Some even experience sweating and palpitations or dizziness.

People therefore have a tendency to stay with what is familiar – not because they do not have potential to do other things, but because it is not out of their CZ - they feel safer. It is easier not to face the challenge. This experience can happen to us all.

Regrettably, in our efforts to reduce re-offending we do not recognise or bother to understand this process. Rather we assume that by offering an offender a job and putting him or her into accommodation, the rest will follow. This is simply not the case.

Reducing re-offending rates requires a holistic process of personal development, support, time and growth, enabling individuals to step out of their old and familiar environment into a new and exciting world where they can learn to grow and live more fulfilled lives. For offenders, this process is currently conspicuous by its absence. As a consequence, any experiential change is severely limited and many offenders fail to complete the journey resulting in more victims, more financial costs and most importantly, wasted lives.

One is left wondering if the system and society is afraid of failure and stepping out of its comfort zone!

Trevor Philpott

Friday, May 12, 2006

Follow-up from BBC Radio Five Live broadcast

On Monday 8 May 2006 the Howard League for Penal Reform launched its important report ‘Out for Good’ which addresses the needs of 18 - 20 year old male offenders. As part of this launch a former offender, Craig, joined me in a number of live radio interviews to discuss some of the many associated issues. Following the Radio Five Live broadcast I was contacted by Paul, himself a former offender and prisoner. What follows is his brief story of his personal courageous and determined journey to change his life. Whilst recognising that there are probably few offenders capable of undertaking such a similar journey alone, one is left asking how many could, were they to be supported and encouraged to do so.

"Hi Trevor

I was moved to write to you after listening to BBC Five Live this morning. I want to tell you my story and offer myself as a mentor or a speaker to motivate; if ever you need me in the future, keep my details and keep doing what you are doing, it is fantastic.

I basically came out of prison and with hardly any support eventually became a university lecturer and am now a counsellor. Fundamentally, I understand that the majority of people should not be in prison, I have lived and suffered it. Working class cultural norms, peer pressure, learning difficulties and dysfunctional family relations put vulnerable people in prison, this is an outrage.

I was born in Teesside and was raised in a notoriously depressing estate. My grandmother was a prostitute and allowed a paedophile to baby sit my father and his three brothers and two sisters. I won’t explain the horrendous circumstances of the arrangement; however, he had the freedom to abuse if he waived the baby sitting fee. Several months later, my five year old father witnessed the horrendous murder of his 6 month year old brother, my uncle.

This came to my attention when I was 15 years of age. My father psychologically tortured me for this length of time and was often violent towards me and my mother every other day. As a counsellor, I now know he was ‘acting out’ and suffering from post-traumatic shock.

My mother, out of desperation, then abandoned us both when I was 15 to start a lesbian relationship. My father then became more unstable so I went into the depressing culture of gangs to escape his violence; I was also an angry young man. The only self-esteem and respect I knew was now developing within my peer group. Classically, I was having my damaged ego stroked by being ‘one of the lads’. I was involved with criminals and a football hooligan gang and was sent to prison (Durham) when I was 22 for a burglary, then later for gang fighting. So from the age of about 19 to 23 I was involved in a lot of crime. During my low ebb, I had a local gangster making a genuine threat to kill me. Currently, he is serving life for murders. My two best friends from those days are now sadly dead, from heron addiction.

Through all of this, I remained fairly sensitive and understood right and wrong. It may sound paradoxical, but my obvious success of the last two decades indicates this. The day I came out of prison I put my thumb out on the A19 and ended up walking into a Cambridge hotel and asked for a job. I then moved to Germany and had 5 wonderful years rebuilding my life with a loving woman and her family and a great works agency. Alex then encouraged me to educate myself as I picked up the language quickly, we parted friends then and I moved to Bradford to begin university.

I have had a tough and incredible journey. I now have a tough client group at a local hospice. I counsel local men who have similar backgrounds to myself, and I hold them through their pains. I am developing my own tools of counselling, when clients, with difficult upbringings, tell me they ‘cant’ then I look them in the eyes warmly, self-disclose my story, and tell them they can. I bring hope to those in hopeless situations. I am now looking forward to step out into the community.


Paul M"

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

From Personal Experiences

On 23 March I was privileged to listen to two ex-offenders provide a brief presentation of their offending background followed by some pros that they had written describing their personal experiences in life and their journey of change. Both men were members of Vita Nova, an arts group based in Bournemouth, working in an inspirational way to help offenders forge new lives.

Each in their respective way vividly expressed their thoughts on life and how it had impacted upon them. They talked about their offending behaviour, their victims, previous contact with impersonal people, about social intolerance, being marginalised and abused with the ultimate drama in their lives driven by a sense of worthlessness and fear of life and what was happening to them. Importantly, they highlighted the essential need to rediscover themselves by becoming part of something tangible, enabling them to develop their personal belief systems, confidence and spiritual growth, establishing goals and having the support and opportunities to “mix it with other people” and to become accepted within society.

The provision of accommodation and employment has been promoted as essential to the process of reducing re-offending. Whilst undoubtedly important, surely the basic human and emotional needs alluded to by these men are even more critical if they are to be capable of holding down a job and managing their lives in the future. Only by recognising and providing for these essential needs will we be able to reduce the levels of re-offending. Apart from the notion of another ‘wake up call’, punishment alone will not suffice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Promoting ‘Change’ in Offending Behaviour

It is very easy to be sceptical about any form of new initiative, especially if we have heard similar rhetoric before. ‘Change’ is a challenging process, not only for those trapped in the cycle of crime and depravation, but also for society and those responsible for implementing such change. All that said, the fact remains, if we keep doing the same things we must expect to get the same outcomes.

As the fourth richest country in the world, our current re-offending rates are shameful, costing billions of pounds and wasted lives. The situation is also generating increasing fear and undermining the very fabric of our society. We simply have to do things differently and start to recognise that punishment and retribution alone do not work. The solution is not difficult to realise and implement. Our behaviours are a reflection of our circumstances, upbringing, education and beliefs. Unless these change, behaviour patterns will remain the same.

Simply increasing the profile of community punishment working parties or custodial sentences will not address these innate needs. Prison and public humiliation are simply not conducive to such a process. Indeed, they perpetuate a feeling of failure, incompetence and worthlessness. Rather, there is now an urgent need to invest in programmes that enable positive personal development, learning and behavioural change. Real investment in meeting offender's needs will ultimately deliver massive financial and positive social returns. It is a process that requires focussed and joined up partnership, where responsibilities, risks and rewards are shared throughout society. For this to happen we have to view the situation differently and make a 'step change' outside our normal comfort zones, recognising that punishment more generally fails to meet the requirement.

If we all step back and ask what have been the most important drivers in our own lives, I suggest that whilst punishment and reprimand may have provided a temporary break, 'success and reward' have been the real accelerators.

Trevor Philpott

Thursday, February 09, 2006

An holistic person-centred approach to Rehabilitation

Patterns of criminal behaviour and substance misuse can only be interrupted by tackling the ‘real’ causes of crime. That is, until ‘people’ are treated as unique individuals and there is a real understanding that anti-social behaviour is triggered by emotional, human and criminogenic needs not being met, then crime will persist. Punishment, by itself, fails to meet these individual and fundamental needs. Rather it serves to demoralise, de-motivate and depress, thus perpetuating the existing situation. As Lord Ramsbotham once remarked, ‘if custody worked we would be pulling prisons down, not building more’.

Everyone has worth and a capacity to change. That said, there are those that need intensive support, guidance and encouragement if they are to realize the often painful process of moving on in their lives. Holistic rehabilitation is an approach to life that considers the whole person, reinforcing the links between mind, body and spirit. It recognises that a whole is made up of interdependent parts - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual elements. What happens to one part has a direct impact upon the others. In parallel with this, an individual is constantly having to interact with everything else in his or her surrounding environment. To achieve maximum well-being and an integrative place within society, everything must function at its best. For offenders, this rarely if ever happens.

Well researched and documented evidence highlights the dangers associated with substance misuse and unprotected sexual activity etc. This, combined with lack of family support, poor education, inadequate nutrition, low self-esteem and a lack of positive self-belief often results in young people turning to the very things that keep them from realising their dreams and ambitions. Instead they become trapped in the cycle of drugs and crime, living on the streets, sofa surfing or in prison.

An holistic approach looks at the whole person and their lifestyle, guiding and empowering each individual towards achievable goals and outcomes, encouraging them to celebrate their life rather than lose it. It is an ongoing process which includes personal commitment, accepting responsibility for their actions, choices and overall personal well-being. Temporary setbacks should be viewed as just that, with positive reinforcement in the ability to achieve and succeed, with an acknowledgment that mistakes can and will be made and challenges overcome. There is also the need to promote the dignity and worth of individuals, the importance of human relationships, value, trust, respect and integrity.

In his speech 'Where next in Penal Reform' the Home Secretary emphasised the need to reduce re-offending and called for new and innovative partnerships with voluntary and private sector organisations. Many within the voluntary sector are already delivering innovative projects, regrettably, often with little meaningful support from statutory agencies. This is the nub of the issue. True Partnership work tends to be conspicuous by its absence. Many principles enshrined within the government's Compact are ignored.

The process of 'change' in any environment does not arise easily. As with offenders, change impacts upon people and organisations in different ways. It can cause stress and anxiety, a fear of working outside normal comfort zones, taking perceived risks and pursuing approaches that might reduce job security, power, control and budgets. The 2002 Social Exclusion Unit report on reducing re-offending by prisoners highlighted these issues. There are so many other agendas that actually have little to do with the real challenge of reducing re-offending and improving delivery of rehabilitation. This is the dilemma that we face. For change to be implemented and true partnerships to be developed, we need strong political vision that sets the agenda for change and then encourages, enables and empowers others to implement it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Reducing Re-offending - A Time for Change

Reducing re-offending
Innovation in Partnerships.

The emotional response by victims of crime in demanding retribution and punishment is understood. The trauma and distress of a crime can often be harrowing. However, this is a reactive response, rather than proactive. As a society it is surely time to ask some fundamental and objective questions, is punishment the most effective way of dealing with such issues? Critically, how can we reduce re-offending and discourage crime in the first place? If we keep doing the same things we must expect to get the same outcomes!

Vision and Leadership for Change

England and Wales has the highest per capita prison population in Europe; without change the situation will worsen. Furthermore, issues associated with substance misuse, mental health, social exclusion and the fear of crime will continue to drive ever-increasing wedges into the very fabric of our society. Above all, we will continue to waste vast sums of money and human resources that should and could be utilised in other ways. We have to do things differently and be radical in the process. For this to arise we need strong political vision and leadership. Will this be forthcoming?