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?