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.