Friday, December 05, 2008

Education, relationships and increasing trust reduce re-offending in Slovenia

Slovenia, one of the smallest EU member states, is promoting increased relationships and trust as critical components of strategies to reduce of re-offending. With strong leadership and an ethos that promotes a belief that offenders can change, innovative programmes are being delivered both in custody and the community.

A small new community prison in Koper currently has 130 prisoners and 68 staff. Built next to a major shopping area at cost of Eur 8.1 m, both remand and convicted prisoners live in an environment that clearly supports positive change. Following motivation and assessment work, with the support of local employers and Social Service agencies, 47 prisoners experience semi-open conditions, undertaking work in the community on a daily basis. After demonstrating a desire to stop offending and to change their thinking, others are also given the opportunity to join their peers and to participate in similar schemes.

Being local, visiting and support of families is made easy. With weekly group meetings between prisoners and specially trained staff, and monthly meetings with the senior management team (including the Director), all serve to enhance communication, understanding and relationships. Knowing all the prisoners within his care, the Director of the prison sees these meetings as a critical feature of life in his prison. Of particular note, prison officer training lasts for 6 months and all staff recognise their important role in helping prisoners to change. Recidivism is currently assessed as approximately 40%.

Another institution at Redece works with adolescents and young men and women offenders, aged 14 - 23 years. Although referrals are made by the courts, it is not seen as a prison. Rather it is described as a 'Home for the re-education of offenders'. Whilst the institution includes a secure building, the environment is not one of cells and incarceration. Rather it provides a managed and constructive community learning environment with a focus upon academic, life, health, social, communication and vocational skills.

With a capacity of 68, the young people are organised in small groups, each led by parent educators. Living in accommodation areas, each with 2-4 bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette and bathroom, the young people are supported and coached to look after themselves and each other.

As within Koper prison, there is a firm belief that given the right environment, support and individual education opportunities, young people can and do change. The low re-offending rates clearly support this view.

Of note, the institution is very similar to the C-FAR model that the Directors of Life Change UK established in Devon. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of funding from the UK's Justice System, C-FAR was forced to close in 2005.

At the other end of the spectrum is Visnja Gora, a co-educational residential school working with boys and girls aged 14 - 23 years who have been excluded from school and become involved in various levels of criminal activity and substance missus. Referrals to the school are made by the courts and social services with the provision being paid for by the Ministry of Education.

It is truly a unique and innovative concept providing young people with what is described as a positive and permissive learning environment during which mistakes are seen as a means of promoting continuous learning. All staff are again highly qualified and trained. Of particular note, following the positive outcomes achieved, many local families now send their children to the school, promoting increased community understanding and social inclusion.

Whilst the latter two establishments are more expensive than more recognised offender institutions, the positive outcomes undoubtedly achieve long-term savings when set against re-offending and the associated ongoing costs. All three models are truly refreshing and set a standard in interventions that other countries would do well to study urgently and replicate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Supporting our Ex Servicemen and Women

I agree with John Moore and Trevor Philpott. However a long term strategy should be to create a mechanism, that assists retiring servicemen and women, offering them comprehensive skills training before they leave the service. Also a full audit should be carried out on their financial status and provide short term assistance where required. In the meantime the many thousands of ex-service personnel who are currently in prison or homeless need to be looked after now. They could be looked after by retired service personnel who can retrain, build up morale whilst speaking the same language. They basically need a "buddy". There should be halfway houses to accomodate them from the streets or from prison. They would feel more comfortable being looked after by people who they can identify with and understand their problems with a practical "eye".
Their are many excellent retired service personnel who could form a HELPCORP to look after their welfare. This would free up prisons and get these people off the streets. What an indictment for the government to see war heroes reduced to poverty.

Tony Smith MBE

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembering ex-service personnel who are now homeless or trapped in the Criminal Justice System

As we remember those service men and women who have given their lives during past conflicts, I am left asking what we are planning to do about those who now find themselves homeless or in prison.

As a result of recent operations in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, many ex-service personnel and their families are today experiencing shattered lives, enduring massive mental trauma, physical disability and family breakdown.

Approximately 10,000 ex-service men are believed to be in prison. Many hundreds are sleeping rough on the streets of our cities. These statistics can only be viewed as a truly sad indictment of this country's recognition of the sacrifices they have all made.

Whilst applauding the good work of the Royal British Legion, other service charities and Regimental associations, having voluntarily given their lives as they did, surely it is time for us all to recognise the sacrifice these men and women have also made. With a meaningful partnership between government, service charities and society, the majority could be given back the pride they once felt and assisted back to full and product lives.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Escaping the Perpetual Incarceration Machine - Sep 2007 Lessons from Hargrave House by J.M. Moore

By John Moore: -

"Ex-prisoner re-entry into the community has always been problematic both for the individual ex-prisoner and society. Re-entry is characterised by a multitude of practical problems, including access to community resources, marginalisation and social exclusion. Despite substantial government resources being invested in the ‘reducing re-offending initiative', the majority of ex-prisoners continue to end up back in contact with the criminal justice system. Their sentence may have ended but they have not escaped prison.

My own experience of over 20 years of working with ex-prisoners in a housing context has demonstrated that ex-prisoners with long histories of homelessness and involvement with the criminal justice system can, with relatively minimal assistance, successfully re-establish their lives in the community, avoiding contact with law enforcement agencies, allowing them to escape future imprisonment.

This dissertation explores the process of re-entry of prisoners back into the community, utilising the history of Hargrave House (where I worked from 1984 to 1990) and other community projects. It identifies how these enable ex-prisoners to successfully re-enter the community. It critically examines contemporary policies which claim to assist the process of prisoner re-entry and demonstrates that the ‘lessons from Hargrave' are largely ignored as punitive objectives dominate penal policy, resulting in the further social exclusion of ex-prisoners and for many a return to the ‘perpetual incarceration machine."

A copy of John's disertation can be seen at 'Comment and Opinion' in this blog.

Friday, September 05, 2008

'Prison-to-work' scheme could save £300m

The Policy Exchange think tank has rightly said that, to reduce re-offending, efforts should be made to prioritise getting prisoners back into work.

The impact that employment has in providing a greater sense of self-worth, self-esteem and security, as well as a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, is well recognised. These fundamentals are no different for offenders. Indeed, it is the lack of employment and its personal benefits that has often led to the offending in the first place.

If only it were that simple. The journey from prison to work is enormous and for many offenders actually quite frightening. Most have never been there and are consequently well outside their comfort zone. The resulting attitudes and behaviour often lead to failure. Similarly, most employers have little or no experience of working with offenders and dealing with what most perceive as inappropriate behaviour. Yet they are expected to take on ex-offenders as though they were any average member of society seeking work.

The same problems apply to those responsible for supporting, teaching and training ex-offenders. Very little training is given to address and manage challenging behaviour; rather it is left to experience. Regrettably, that experience is often the result of considerable stress and additional work, penalties that most trainers and employers are not willing to take on.

If ex-offenders are to gain access to new skills and remain in work, it is essential that those who teach, train and employ them are given the understanding and skills to facilitate the journey. Until this is recognised and put in place, many teachers, trainers and employers will be reluctant to take on the task and we will continue to waste large sums of money as offenders remain within the criminal justice system.

The Life Change UK training programme facilitates this important requirement and stems from considerable experience in delivering successful residential courses for young adult persistent male offenders at a community based charity in Devon called C-FAR. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of criminal justice funding, in April 2005 the charity was placed into voluntary liquidation. One is now left wondering what might have happened had the Centre been operational today?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Building on Sand - Why Expanding The Prison Estate Is Not The Way To 'Secure The Future' - Professor Carol Hedderman Professor of Criminology

The debate associated with building the new Titan prisons has seen extensive coverage over recent times, including a letter signed by 35 Members of the Criminal Justice Alliance, all of whom have condemned the proposal. Many of the issues are highlighted on the Prisoners Education Trust web site and its most recent copy of 'Learning Matters' - see the link under 'Organisations' on the right hand side of this of this blog.

As part of this debate, Professor Carol Hedderman has written a thought provoking paper explaining why the Titan option should be cancelled. In her conclusions she says -

"Any calls to limit the prison population are likely to be portrayed by the popular press negatively as being soft on crime but that is not a good enough reason to conceal the damaging financial and public safety consequences of our increasing use of custody.

The consequence of pandering to ‘penal populism’ in the short term by building more prison places is that the financial costs of the building programme will be much greater than the forecast because it will feed rather than meet demand. The longer-term cost of leaving penal populists to frame the debate entirely in terms of punishment versus leniency will be felt in terms of reduced public safety. Recent history suggests that if the prison population rises, re-conviction rates on release will also rise. Developing a recognised measure – or ‘QALY’ – of public safety could help to inform and reframe the public debate so that the impact and value of different interventions can be compared in a common currency.

Finally, while it may be possible to meet the public’s demand for punishment and for sentences which are effective in reducing reconviction, more frequently, at the level of the individual offender, this results in sentences which send out such mixed messages that neither is achieved effectively. There is good evidence to suggest that the public has a more sophisticated take on this than either government policies or media reports give it credit for. It is important to capitalise on that if the use of imprisonment is to be used in a way which genuinely ‘secures the future’".

We can only hope that Ministers will soon acknowledge the overwhelming evidence against the Titan concept as well as the sophisticated take of the general public.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sir Steve Redgrave - Demonstrating how rowing and good leadership can promote positive change

If ever we needed more evidence as to how to promote change in thinking and attitudes of marginalised groups and offenders, then last week's ITV 4 programme showing Steve Redgrave's work with young men from Liverpool in learning to row was an inspiration. With his highly skilled coaches they took the young men on a unique and important journey of change.

As expected, many of the participants were disappointed at not being selected for the final boat crews. Notwithstanding, they will have undoubtedly benefited enormously from the experience. With more time and a continuing programme, these too would have achieved more with the disappointments being turned into personal triumphs.

Rather than simply relying on prison and penal retribution, if we are serious about reducing social exclusion and re-offending, increasing such opportunities for personal development and success are surely the way forward. Investing in this type of programme will enable more young people to experience the positive outcomes of confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, personal discipline and a desire for change, all of which will serve to help provide the essential skills to gain employment and to break the depressing cycle of failure, social deprivation, gang cultures, offending and financial waste.

One can only imagine what could be achieved if, instead of spending £2-3bn on Titan prisons, some of that money were to be invested by increasing access to this and other similar programmes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Economic Case for and against Prison.

In 2007 the Matrix Knowledge Group was commissioned by the Monument Trust, the LankellyChase Foundation and the Bromley Trust to carry out research into the economic case for and against prison. The aim of this research was to collect the evidence needed to outline the economic argument for and against prison sentences and their alternatives. The research focuses on how effective a prison sentence is in reducing re-offending, compared with non-prison approaches and asks are prison sentences a cost-beneficial way of reducing offending in those populations who are at risk of further offending?

A copy of this report can be accessed at the top left of this blog or at .

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cost of Police Cells

Further to my last blog below and the money allocated for the Titan prisons, it is also worth noting the total overall invoice from Police stations for the use of police cells in 2007 - 08 is estimated to be £53million. Once again, had a proportion of this money been made available to Probation and voluntary sector organisations, one can only speculate as to the number of offenders who might have successfully undertaken alternative community based sentences and programmes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shift Titan Prison Money to Community Alternatives

Over the last few months there has been increasing recognition that, with the exception of securing our most dangerous offenders, prison does not work in reducing the re-offending rates of non-dangerous offenders. Rather prison is described as the university of crime and the emphasis is now on increasing community based alternative sentences.

Yet plans for the two to three billion pound Titan construction costs remain. The challenge of course is that the first of these prisons will not be ready before 2012, that is assuming, along side the work for the 2012 Olympics, the builders and staff can be found to construct and subsequently man it.

Critically, as our prison numbers have continued to rise, capacity and cell space has simply run out. Pressures for the shift to Community alternatives is therefore increasing by the day. Unfortunately, capacity here is also limited. Probation staffs are over stretched and voluntary organisations strapped for money.

The crisis is worsening by the day. Clearly, there is a need for urgent action and 2012 is simply too far away. If we agree that community based sentences are the way forward and that prison is not effective, should we not divert the Titan money into community alternatives. By changing the focus of Probation from an 'enforcement agency' to supporting offenders away from crime, as well as increasing the money available to associated voluntary organisations, a major and rapid shift in provision could surely be implemented, negating the need for Titans and helping to reduce the current prison population.

Unfortunately, I suspect that someone in the Treasury will say that such a proposal is not possible because the Titan money is 'ring-fenced' and cannot be used for other purposes. I wonder if this is the case or whether common sense might yet prevail?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

House of Lords Debate 26 June 2008 - Prison Royal Commission

Lord Ramsbotham has once again taken the lead in addressing and promoting the debate over the state of our prison system. Highlighting the damaging politicisation of the penal system and the continuous weaknesses in the management and leadership within the prison service, he has proposed that a Royal Commission be established to consider and advise the Government and the Prison Service on future structural changes and the operational running of the Service.

Strongly supported by many other eminent members of the House of Lords, let us hope that this marks the start of a meaningful process of continuing debate and positive change. The full debate can be read at -

Friday, June 06, 2008

Staffing of Titan Prisons

It appears that the building of new Titan prisons is to proceed. Whilst we will clearly be able to imprison more offenders, the evidence shows that this type of large establishment is unlikely to help in reducing re-offending. As the official projections show, the prison population will continue to rise, resulting in more victims of crime and further waste of public money that should be spent in other ways - the elderly, education, health, pensions, transport infrastructure etc. Why do we keep banging our heads against the wall? Is the pain not enough? If we keep doing the same things we will keep getting the same outcomes!

A critical factor that does not appear to be mentioned in the debate is that of recruiting and training suitable numbers of staff to man these establishments. Prison Service staff are already stretched with officers leaving or suffering from stress related illness. Where will the additional staff be found and how will they be trained to meet the requirement? Of note, the UK's current Prison Officer training is only 8 weeks long.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Community Sentencing - Addressing the underlying causes of crime

Recent Ministerial announcements confirming that, for the majority of offences, community sentences are more appropriate and effective than prison, is undoubtedly welcomed and to be applauded. That said, one is left asking whether such punishments are also addressing the underlying causes of crime.

When acknowledging the consequential high work load of Probation Officers, who is actually supervising those placed on such community sentences? What overall life skills are they passing to offenders and what support(particularly access to accommodation, training and regular employment) is being given to offenders to ensure they do not re-offend?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Leadership for Change in Youth Justice

A recent internal government report says that Labour's 10-year strategy for tackling youth crime has failed. The briefing document confirms that around 25% of under-18s have committed an offence, while re-offending rates are 'very high and have not significantly changed' since 1997.

The briefing goes on to describe how 5% to 6% of young offenders commit between 50% and 60% of all juvenile crime. It suggests that the worst offenders have a 96% re-offending rate, with each costing taxpayers £80,000 a year. Interestingly, in the 2002 Social Exclusion Unit report addressing re-offending by ex prisoners, it was estimated the cost of a 19 year old persistent male offender was approximately £163,000 per annum. This suggest that different figures have been used in the latest report, with many costs being ignored.

Despite the courts handing down some 34,000 community and 7,000 custodial sentences a year, re-offending rates are amongst the highest in the world. Of note, 70% of male offenders under the age of 18 who receive a community sentence commit further crimes, compared with 76% of those who are given a custodial sentence.

The subject of youth crime is undoubtedly topical and causing much public debate. Importantly, with the prison population being so high, Ministers are now recognising that simply being tough on crime is not working. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, has suggested that increased 'support' to offenders is essential. The briefing states that there is a need to 'address the underlying needs of young offenders to improve their outcomes' and 'produce an ongoing package of care that will provide support after their supervision period ends'.

What is particularly heartening is the changing reaction by the public. In last week's BBC Question Time, when it was suggested that prison does not work, the audience applauded enthusiastically. At last, the reality that crime is primarily caused by a mix of poverty, dysfunction, poor education and family breakdown, and that this cannot be addressed simply by the use of punishment, is permeating through the political corridors and the wider society. Possibly, we are now seeing the start of a process for real change in the Justice system.

Critically, if we keep doing the same things we will undoubtedly keep seeing the same outcomes! One wonders who will provide the necessary 'leadership' for change to arise.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Addressing the Fundamentals

The latest report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) at King's College London has once again highlighted the failings of the Justice system to reduce youth crime and re-offending, suggesting that "Targets have been missed with self-reported youth offending remaining stable. All the expenditure and activity to reduce youth crime has had no measurable impact." It added: "Claims of significant success are overstated."

Critically, there remains a fundamental failing to provide appropriate training and resources to those working with offenders and other marginalised groups. Until this is addressed, little will change. Tackling the multiple needs of those caught up in the youth justice system is extremely demanding and complex, requiring a depth of personal understanding, co-ordination, patience and interpersonal skills. Many staff simply do not have the training necessary to meet these needs.

The Government has announced that yet another Youth Crime Action Plan is to be implemented this summer. If meaningful change is to arise from such a plan, there must be greater understanding and investment in appropriate staff training to facilitate positive change. Sadly, in times of financial constraints, staff training is often one of the first programmes to be cancelled. As a result, we end up continuing to do what we have always done, wasting more money and young lives. I wonder if we will ever learn to do things differently.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wave Trust Report 2005 - Violence and what to do about it

In 2005 the WAVE Trust published its comprehensive research on the causes of violence in society. Sir Christopher Ball, Chairman of the WAVE Trust, describes the report as a deeply depressing and sad portrayal of the root causes for much of the increase in violence, anti-social behaviour and offending levels that we see today. He describes it as a social evil, in 2005 costing the state some £20 billion a year. The report clearly shows the links between early childhood abuse and violence, all of which can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It also shows that by meaningful investment in programmes and parental training that address the causes, the financial savings and social benefits to society and the state are potentially enormous.

Yet, despite the evidence, we have failed to make such investment and continue to waste vast sums of money and lives.

For those who are interested in reducing violence, crime and ever increasing social deprivation, I recommend it as compulsory reading.

The report can be found and read by clicking on the blog link under - Comment & Opinion.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Staff Training Evaluation Report - 'Working with Challenging Behaviour' including Offenders

The Life Change UK training programme has recently been evaluated by the Devon and Cornwall Training Provider Network. Comments by those who undertook the training clearly demonstrates the importance of such provision. Giving staff greater understanding and the skills to work more effectively with marginalised groups, including offenders, helps to reduce re-offending, staff stress and anxiety.

The full report can found and read by clicking on the blog link under - Comment & Opinion.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Public Protection or Public Delusion? by Mitch Egan

Mitch Egan is the Regional Offender Manager for the North East. In her 2007 Perrie Lecture she discusses the use of prisons as opposed to community based alternatives. Her views make an important contribution to the debate surrounding the reduction of re-offending.

Her lecture can be found and read by clicking on the blog link under - Comment & Opinion.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Tories manifesto promise on jails

THE Tories are preparing a manifesto pledge to cut Britain’s booming prison population by offering prisons bonuses to cut re-offending rates.

While ministers expect the current prison population of 82,068 in Wales and England – itself above capacity – to rise to 100,000 by 2020, the Conservatives say they can reduce it to 76,000 by the same date.

Nick Herbert, the Conservatives’ prisons spokesman, said prisons would become independent “Prison and Rehabilitation Trusts”, with funding dependent on success in cutting re-offending rates.

Mr Herbert said overcrowding in prisons would be “formally ended” by 2016, with the number of prisoners down 1,000 by 2015 and down 6,000 by 2020.

The greater focus on reducing reoffending would lead to the reduction in prison numbers, he said, saying the scheme would pay for itself. About £257m a year could be saved by cutting re-offending rates, he suggested.

Government figures suggest half of all crime is committed by ex-offenders.

A Tory administration would also:

Introduce minimum and maximum sentences;

Give prison governors the power to decide when short-to-medium term prisoners are released;

Ditch the Government’s plans for three new “titan” prisons, building a series of smaller jails instead; and

End the early release scheme.

Mr Herbert told the Western Mail, “Every prison will be made a prison trust with a mission to reduce reoffending. They will be put on a tariff scheme; if they succeed in reducing reoffending there will be more money.

“It is a form of payment by results ... funded by money saved by not having to try and imprison that person.”

He said the target to reduce prison numbers was “modest” and rejected the idea it would be difficult to achieve.

“This is a totally different approach to the Government, who have created a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system,” he said.

The Welsh prison population stands at 2,762, a substantial rise from the 2000 figure of 1,923.

Mr Herbert said huge new Titan prisons, as proposed by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, were not the answer. “They would be the largest prisons in Europe; local prisons would be a better model.

“There is strong evidence that family links are an important component in reducing reoffending ... Titan prisons would by definition be further away from prisoners’ families.

“I am aware of the problem of there not being a prison in North Wales; it would be consistent with our policy that there should be.

“There should be local prisons.”

Latest figures reveal 1,050 prisoners have been released early from Welsh prisons since the Government introduced its early release scheme last summer.

The End of Custody Licence was introduced last year in the latest attempt to stem overcrowding.

The scheme, one of the first announced under Gordon Brown’s premiership, allows criminals to be let out of prison up to 18 days early.

Mr Herbert also attacked moves to keep prisoners in their cells for longer periods over the weekend to save money. The so-called “core day” changes come into force this weekend in the wake of a freeze in the prison service budget.

Visits by volunteer groups to prisoners will be cut as a result, according to a Prison Service memo, which also notes, “The core day is not just about making savings, it is also about standardising proceedings ... enabling consistency and predictability of provision across the prison estate. There is no money to fund these changes.”

The memo also recommends “careful local communication” with prisoners about the changes.

Mr Herbert said, “We have a situation where the Government is claiming to be focusing on rehabilitation when what they are doing is locking people away for longer periods of time.”


Let us hope the rhetoric will become reality

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Teachers 'worn out' by bad behaviour

On Tue 25 March 2008 Jessica Shepherd wrote in the Education Guardian and described how teachers are becoming worn out by bad behaviour! In her article she wrote: -

Speaking at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' annual conference in Birmingham, general secretary Chris Keates said pupils were no longer frightened to abuse their teachers publicly on the street.

Keates said she had recently heard from teachers who had been followed home, harassed by email, and verbally abused in the street, and about pupils who camped outside teachers' homes shouting abuse.

"We have always had a steady stream of pupils who abuse teachers, but now pupils feel confident enough to do this in public," she said. "This shows the youth culture out on today's street."

Teachers told the conference how they were being worn out by bad behaviour.

Tim Cox, a member of the union's executive, said: "It's the 'tap tap' on the desk, the swinging back and forth of chairs, the wearing of hoodies, sunglasses, the mobile phones that wears us down.

"We all know the negative impact this can have on pupils, but we don't always know how best to deal with it. Things can escalate all too easily into major offences."

He said the only training in pupil misbehaviour that some new teachers received was from unions, not their schools.

"It's a sad fact that training is not provided by schools," he said. Unions, he said, were left to fill the gap.

Suzanne Nantcurvis, also on the union's national executive, said the problem of the high number of teachers leaving the profession would be solved if more attention was given to training teachers in how to deal with naughty pupils.

She said there was 'clear evidence' to suggest training courses on pupil misbehaviour worked, but that the emphasis placed on this in schools was poor.

"Given that school improvement is top of the agenda, I find it bizarre that this is the case," she said. "All teachers need the training to manage the increasingly challenging behaviour we see."

Sue Rogers, on the national executive, said: "This is the key to raising standards. Any attempt by the government to raise standards is going to come crashing down if you don't have good behaviour."

She described how she could 'smell the mood' of a classroom as she walked in. And how she had taught herself to deal with poor behaviour by "conning herself".

"I've thought I'll not let them see I have a cold because it's a sign of weakness. But I got to the point with one class that I so disliked going in, I told myself that I really enjoyed teaching them and eventually I conned myself that they were my favourite class. Things improved for me and for them. We know teaching is something of a con job."

Keates said schools were in part to blame for not using the powers to discipline their pupils that they had been given.

Schools now have the power to temporarily exclude pupils and discipline them off the school grounds.

Teachers voted to lobby government to improve the quality of training for new teachers across the UK and increase the number of training courses on pupil behaviour. Article Ends.

Sadly, this type of situation is not only seen in our schools. It is very much a reflection of behaviour and standards in our wider society including that demonstrated by a growing number of adults, the very people who should be the role models for our young people.

The outcomes can be seen on our streets with anti-social behaviour, much of which can result in similar outcomes in our prisons and young offender institutions. Regrettably, in order to address such behaviour society still tends to focus upon the use of punishment, failing to recognise that there is always an underlying cause and it is the cause that needs to be addressed - "Tough on Crime" "Tough on the causes of Crime". Until we understand this and provide our teachers and others with the skills and understanding to deal with such issues, little will change. The call for increased quality training for teachers is something that must also be delivered in many other sectors and the wider society. It is to be hoped that this call will be heard and implemented without simply resorting to yet more punishment as the sole means of meeting the requirement.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Excluding violent young people does not help to reduce offending and anti-social behaviour

In Monday's Times another striking article described the level of anti-social and challenging behaviour taking place in our schools and cities, with the consequential stress and fears experienced by nearly a third of our teachers. Most teachers apparently said that pupil behaviour had worsened. Critically, there is increasing evidence to show that many of these young people go on to commit higher levels of anti-social behaviour, substance misuse and serious crime.

Regrettably, little recognition is given to the fact that within many groups of society the way the adult population chooses to engage with children and young people is often the root cause of the problem. Rather than recognising that social deprivation and family dysfunction is often at the centre of such behaviour, punishment and retribution are still promoted as the means of addressing it. Until adults and the wider society recognises its own fundamental failings and weaknesses, the situation will undoubtedly worsen. To reduce offending and re-offending we must provide young people with the standards, role models, respect, support and encouragment to change and behave differently. The feelings, thoughts and behaviour expressed and demonstrated by many young people is a direct reflection of what they see and believe as being normal and acceptable. If we expect our young people to change, we must surely be willing to change ourselves.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Reducing Re-offending Survey - Alternatives to Prison

Whilst acknowledging that the survey on this blog was not scientifically designed, it was available for anybody to participate in. Importantly, the results clearly show little enthusiasm for the building of more prisons. To be applauded is the recognition for the need to improve the training of staff working with offenders as well as an overall increase in mentor support to and for offender learning.

Of note - only 8% of those who participated recommended building more prisons.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Changing the Conditioning of our Thoughts - UK's Prison Population rises to 82,000 - Addressing the 'Tough' soft skills to promote meaningful Change

The Government is constantly stressing the need to engage and employ marginalised and historically dysenfranchised groups of society, with a focus upon the provision and delivery of vocational skills training and education. Amongst these are society's persistent offenders; those who are repeatedly given short-term prison sentences and largely as a consequence, re-offend soon after release. Recognising the retrograde impact that this is having on the prison estate and efforts towards rehabilitation, Mr Jack Straw has asked that Magistrates use community programmes as an alternative to custody.

Unfortunately, the majority of these offenders often lack the essential personal motivation and sense of self-efficacy to undertake such programmes. Critically, very few programmes exist that are capable of meeting these requirements. As a consequence, little changes and Magistrates are left feeling that they have no option but to use yet more custodial sentences.

Despite the well intentioned rhetoric, the reality is that patterns of long-term unemployment and anti-social and criminal behaviour can only be interrupted by tackling the underlying causes for such behaviour. That is, until ‘people' are treated as unique individuals and there is understanding that such behaviour is triggered by emotional, human and criminogenic needs not being met, little will change.

Punishment and threats fail to meet these fundamental needs. Rather, they serve to demoralise, de-motivate and depress, thus increasing and re-affirming self-doubt, fear and confusion and perpetuating an existing situation. Without change, social exclusion, re-offending rates and demands for prison places will clearly increase. Issues associated with drug misuse, mental health, social and academic exclusion and the fear of young people will continue to drive ever-increasing wedges into the very fabric of our communities. Above all, many individuals and their future children will become and remain debtors to society and we will continue to waste vast sums of money and human resources that should be utilised in other ways.

The cost in human lives, more victims of crime and financial loss to the exchequer is enormous. Typically, one 19 year old persistent offender cost the country over £173,000 per year, year on year. It is surely time for a radical shift in the conditioning of our thinking about such issues. Will we ever see such change or will we keep doing the same things and seeing the same outcomes?

Constructive comments on this and all contributions on this blog are welcomed from those with a genuine interest in reducing re-offending; just click the 'comments' link below. I trust readers will understand when I say that I reserve the right to moderate before final publishing; thank you.

Exeter RSA Coffee House Challenge - 7 May 2008

Between 5 pm and 8 pm on Wednesday 7 May 2008 Exeter based Fellows of the RSA will run a 'Coffee House Challenge' debate aimed at increasing public awareness and responsibility for the reduction of re-offending. Guests from statutory, private and voluntary sector organisations will be invited to speak for 10 minutes, outlining what they consider is currently not happening, but needs to happen, to reduce re-offending.

Following the presentations, contributions and discussion will be welcomed from others present, including RSA Fellows and members of public. The outcomes and recommendations from the discussions will be forwarded to the RSA in London for onward delivery to Government Ministers.

In order to increase public interest and participation, representatives from local and regional media will also be invited. The location of the event is not yet confirmed, but will be promulgated widely as soon as it known. Please watch this blog for further information.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Prisoners' Education Trust - Offender Learning Matters

Yesterday I was privileged to attend the launch of the Prisoners' Education Trust latest project 'Offender Learning Matters'. In the River Room of the House of Lords, there was a very positive buzz in the air as all those present discussed the need to promote learning and education for offenders and prisoners - see - .

Education and learning is undoubtedly at the heart of any rehabilitation programme. Equally, it is essential that we view the process in the widest possible sense. It is not simply about basic skills in reading in writing. Rather it is about changing the personal perceptions, thinking and beliefs of offenders, increasing their confidence, motivation, sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Once this is achieved, the rest is relatively easy.

Critically, such provision requires intensive work and specialist skills. Without these foundations, little will change. With the Government's increasing recognition and commitment to community based alternatives to custody, we can only hope that associated agencies will pick up the PET's baton for change and help to drive the process forward by ensuring that their staffs are given the necessary training and skills to do so.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Prison Officer Training - Attitudes, Thinking and Behaviour

In a recent discussion with a Prison Officer I was disheartened to hear that the training for officers is, for the most part, still seriously lacking in the foundations needed to ensure meaningful and appropriate communication in the delivery of support and advice to prisoners. Similarly, most junior grade governors apparently lack the necessary leadership training to promote and deliver change. Rather, the focus is still very much that of security and the management of bureaucratic processes.

NOMS has consistently promoted the concept for 'end to end offender management'. As part of that process, one of the Probation Service 7 Pathways to reducing re-offending is that of 'attitudes, thinking and behaviour'. Whilst undoubtedly admirable in its intention, clearly this process depends upon consistent delivery throughout an individual's sentence.

With the significant autonomy and differences in regime ethos retained by individual governors, plus the constant churn of prisoners from one establishment to another, the opportunity for appropriate support and advice to prisoners is diminished. One is left asking why it is that Prison Officers remain frustrated by the lack of training in the execution of their work to reduce re-offending, and why the system appears unwilling to address its own attitudes, thinking and behaviour as part of the journey for change.