Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reducing the Prison Population and Re-offending by Increasing Third Sector Capacity

Over the last weeks there has been increasing recognition by Ministers and professional commentators that only the most dangerous and persistent offenders should be sent to prison and that for the less dangerous, community sentences should be used. As part of that debate, it has been widely acknowledged that current overcrowding is severly inhibiting any potential to deliver meaningful rehabilitation and reduction in re-offending.

Clearly the ongoing prison crises will not be resolved quickly. The opening of old prison wings and the construction of new will take time and vast sums of money. Similarly, the Probation Service is already struggling to meet its existing workload, let alone take on more communuity offender programmes and additional levels of supervision and support. Even with more investment in the Probation Service, recruitment and training of staff will take time.

The challenge is - what else can be done?

Over the last two years the Government and opposition parties have increasingly recognised the excellent work undertaken with offenders by voluntary organisations. Equally all have promoted the need to engage the Third Sector to support the delivery of Public Sector services. Sadly, whilst some additional money has been made available, the majority of voluntary organisations struggle to raise sufficient revenue to survive and are still very much dependent upon the general public for charitable donations and grants from major Trusts.

Importantly, numerous voluntary sector organisations already exist throughout the country and are delivering what Ministers say is required. Most are champing at the bit to expand and do more; all they need is the encouragement and funding to do so. If the Government is serious about promoting partnership work and delivery with the Third Sector, here is a wonderful opportunity to prove it.

Rather than repeating past mistakes and relying on prison as the primary means of reducing re-offending, let us make a real 'step change' by significantly and rapidly increasing the capacity of the those Third Sector organisation already delivering excellent work with offenders? It would both enable a quick response to the requirement to reduce the prison population and re-offending as well as setting in motion the concept of change and the delivery of public services through meaningful partnership work.

Had such investment and support been forthcoming with our work at C-FAR (see our web site), we would still be operational with more than 100 young men undertaking a programme of rehabilitation in the one community centre each year. With further support that project could have been replicated elsewhere, delivering exactly what the Home Secretary is now suggesting is required. Many other voluntary organisations are delivering similar excellent work, all of which is greatly appreciated by both offenders and the public alike. Let us now take advantage of the current crises and instigate the change that is so desperately needed.

'If we keep doing the same things we must surely expect to see the same outcomes!'

Trevor Philpott