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.

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