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?