Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Prisoner Learning: The Conservative Approach

Alan Duncan MP (Shadow Minister for Prisons) has indicated that the Conservative Party is seeking to promote a 'rehabilitation revolution' within our prisons. He has said that he wants prisons to be places where people can, in the course of their custody, be equipped for life outside prison.

Without doubt, these are aspirations that many of us have been seeking for a long time and it is undoubtedly to be applauded. Only then will we see a meaningful reduction in recidivism. The issue however remains that of providing a supportive environment which is truly conducive to learning, where staff are led, motivated, sufficiently trained and empowered to provide it. Unless these fundamentals are addressed, little will change and re-offending rates will remain high.

The reality is that learning for the majority of prisoners is something that they have historically failed to achieve. Consequently, inviting them to return to the classroom and potentially fail again is something that many are not inclined to repeat. To overcome this most basic issue requires a cultural shift from that of control, security and numbers to that of improved relationships, motivation and change; change of course is hard for us all. Notwithstanding, without encouragement, support and opportunity, few prisoners will engage to the level that can be described as a 'revolution'.

The most critical component in the overall process is the ability and attitude of staff, both officers and teachers. Unfortunately, the understanding and training for staff and teachers / trainers to deliver and manage such an environment is woefully lacking. For a re-habilitation revolution to arise it will be essential to provide increased investment in staff training, strong leadership and a process that promotes a cultural change in the overall learning environment.

Change the thinking and the feelings and you will change the behaviour and encourage the learning.

We demand that prisoners change their thinking and behaviour, but are too often unwilling to look at our own, recognising that we are part of the problem.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The RSA Report - 'The Learning Prison'

How refreshing it was to read the RSA's latest report - 'The Learning Prison' - see via Comment & Opinion on the right of this Blog.

Launched today, the report has brought together a wide ranging set of principles aimed at promoting increasing debate, re-enforcing what many practitioners have been saying over the last decade, there is a need for massive change if we are to ensure the delivery of meaningful re-habilitation in our prisons. This is a 'must read' for all those with an interest in promoting change and reform in our justice and prison system.

Whilst acknowledging some recent advances in offender learning and skills, the report goes on to promote the need for a more “common sense” approach, suggesting that prisons could do much more to promote reform and increase levels of rehabilitation. Importantly, it suggests that considerable political courage is needed to secure public support and to complement the willingness of practitioners to innovate and deliver programmes of rehabilitation; they simply need to be empowered to do so.

To tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you will be amazed at the results

The report rightly identifies that creating an environment where effective personalised learning can take place requires incentivisation, flexibility, imagination, understanding and a change in relationships on the part of all those involved. For this to happen we need truly inspirational and dynamic leadership not simply management.

Management maintains the status quo and focuses on objectives.

Management plans, controls and organizes, thereby solving problems,
delivering outcomes and targets

Leadership is about vision, direction and ‘change’.

Leadership aligns, empowers and motivates through inspiration.

Let us hope that the incoming Government will indeed demonstrate the necessary leadership and vision to meet the requirement. Unless provided, we will simply continue to waste vast sums of money and human lives.

Of particular interest to me is the RSA proposal for A Centre for Rehabilitation and Crime Reduction (CRCR). In 2000 colleagues and I established a charity in Devon called the Centre for Adolescent Rehabilitation (C-FAR). In so many ways C-FAR was similar in concept to that of the CRCR. Operational for 5 years C-FAR demonstrated many positive outcomes and reduced re-offending by 40%. Regrettably, owing to a lack of CJS funding support, the charity was eventually forced to close. I recall a senior Probation Officer told me that I had to accept, C-FAR was simply 5 years ahead of the game and that for many different reasons, the system was not ready for such a concept. As I listen to the current debate and conclusions of reports such as 'The Learning Prison', it is heartening to see that he was possibly right.