Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why Prisoner Rehabilitation Matters

It's always good to step outside your comfort zone, and last night I did that in spades, when I formed part of the cabaret for the Arts Alliance Music in Prisons fringe event. My participation stemmed from THIS blogpost I wrote back in November 2008, when I criticised Jack Straw for banning prisoners from taking part in comedy workshops. Following the media hysteria, Jack Straw cancelled all arts projects in HMP Whitemoor and issued a Prison Service Instruction to all Governors, telling them that, when making decisions about arts interventions, they must ensure projects “meet the public acceptability test” and consider how the activity might “be perceived if open to media scrutiny.”

I followed Libby Purves and Jonathan Aitken, and several acts featuring ex prisoners who were there to showcase their talents. I won't say I was very good, because I wasn't, but it did make me think I would quite like to go on a stand up comedy course.

Surely if rehabilitation is to mean anything, the arts have a key role to play in helping prisoners discover some self esteem and maybe a talent they never thought they had. Our prison system is set up for punishment, but rehabilitation takes a back seat.

I hope under a conservative government that will change. Being tough doesn't just mean locking people up and throwing away the key. A tough politician will take tough choices - and that means locking fewer people up and devoting more resources to preparing prisoners for life on the outside. Only in that way will reoffending rates drop.


Unknown said...

I think I'd prefer them to be punished first, that might just reduce the crime rate. The people still want the death penalty, it's people like you that don't seem to understand the importance of deterring crime.
What we really need is a few judges and senior police officers murdered by yobs in their own homes along with their families, then we would soon see tougher punishment.

Captain Haddock said...

Unfortunately for Conservatives, being tough DOES mean locking up. Cameron will pander to the prejudices of the Daily Mail and the red tops as soon as there is a high profile case. The Tories have no credibility on this issue.

Alan Douglas said...

Iain, with that carefully matching grey suit and grey fluffy whanger cover you were sporting yesterday, you don't NEED a stand-up comedy course !

Alan Douglas

Johnny Norfolk said...

Yes but the must be punished first.

Many will never change and that needs to be understood, as a starting point.

raincoaster said...

A friend of mine leads creative writing workshops in the Canadian prison system, and it's a proven fact that his students are less likely to reoffend on release than those who do not participate in his program. Now, you can argue causality/correlation all you want, but who could argue that learning to communicate in a sophisticated way (which also applies to comedy, in spades) increases prisoners' chances of success in the outside world?

Why do people accept paying tax money so prisoners can study boxing (I mean, BOXING? FFS!) but not communications? I see it every day in my work, which often involves formerly violent felons: if they can make their wishes and needs clear without violence, they don't resort to violence as often. Like, maybe 10% as often. And a 90% reduction in the rate of violence by convicted felons is nothing to sneeze at for any society.

(hi Iain, it's been too long, but you got me with this one. This is what I do for a living, more or less, so I had to jump in)

Onus Probandy said...

"fewer people"? If we lock any fewer people up, we might as well close the courts and save the money used to run the criminal justice system.

Locking fewer people up is not the "tough choice". Saying "enough, touchy-feely rehabilitation is now a failed experiment" and building a load more prisons is the "tough choice". It's tough because it's the last thing any of us want our taxes spent on. It's tough because the media would absolutely destroy the politician who suggested it. For those of us that don't write newspapers from the comfort of a knightbridge semi, we would rather it was safe to ride the bus at night or walk home from the pub.

I am sick of hearing about initiatives, and projects, and offender rehabilitation schemes from politicians; you need only open any paper (or read some police or magistrate blogs) to see the fact that a huge proportion of serious crime is committed by people who have been released from prison where they were serving a sentence for committing a serious crime.

Repeat offending is a problem. Until you've got a guaranteed method of rehabilitating dangerous criminals, I want them locked up for the safety of the rest of us. Job 1 of a government is to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens.

Start shouting that, and you'll walk into the job in Bracknell.

Anonymous said...

Re-habilitation is essential. As a taxpayer if i have to pay 50k+ a year to lock somebody up i want my money's worth. If they come out and reoffend then it hits me in the pocket again. What people forget is that confinement to prison is itself the punishment.


john miller said...

Ha! Now they can't even bother to pretend they have principles. Just cut to the chase "Will I look good if this happens?"

True Belle said...

It seems there is no greater university on earth than prison.

Those who do their time courtesy of HMP and serve their sentence, usually come out of prison with other life skills!

Rather like those who are discharged from hospital believe they have a greater disease than the one they went in with which of course is partially true when you think about MRSA etc.

I believe that the majority of prisons have no control on drugs , many prisoners who were not on drugs when they were sentenced soon become part of the prison drug culture.

Prisoner rehabilitation is a joke because any young man who may have had a job prior to being sentenced will be shunned by many employers by virtue of a CV and references and a prison record!

A drug habit that didn't exist prior to a prison sentence may then be difficult to shake off after release into the community.

Prison KILLS self esteem for those convicted of 'minor' offences.

Prison can also make people so institutionalised by their dependence on daily routine fed and watered and comrademenship. Some say it is rather like service life where of course many inmates graduate from.

Our prisons have many ex service men either as prison officers / or as inmates!

There are towns where released prisoners settle and cause so much grief by reverting back to drink and drugs etc and thus putting a social strain on local facilities.

There has never ever been a successful rehabilitation programme for ex prisoners. They are shunned and labelled forever by society , no matter what the rights and wrongs are--Punishment is just that!

Tom Bage said...

I agree completely Iain - if we don't rehabilitate prisoners then we just throw good money after bad when they leave prison and immediately reoffend.

To break this cycle it will take two things - a big investment in early intervention programmes, to slash the chances of initial offending and for politicians on both left and right to resist the temptation to use being tough on crime to grab a day's worth of Mail headlines.

Even in these tight times, I thinkt he first is more likely than the second!

Dimoto said...

All very worthy Iain, but considering that your blog purports to be a political blog, and that we are on day 2 of the conference, with the usual noises off from the Labour dirty tricks disruptors, the blog is "not fit for purpose" at the moment (in the accepted jargon).
Nothing of real interest and no insights so far. Can blogging be a part-time activity ?

Toby said...

Good point.

While I see Straws worry/point over public acceptability, I guess it depends on the crimes committed and taste, as formost in peoples minds will be that the stand-up is a a ex-con first, funny person second. Like Tim Allen

Two words for you Iain.

Bens Blog


essential intelligent reading, I'm not clued up enough to name the tory prisons bod, but whoever it is I hope to god they spend a little time reading this now and then.

BrianSJ said...

Good cause to promote.
The Koestler Trust seems a good organisation in this context.

rob's uncle said...

Well said! You are correct but I cannot imagine your party being any more willing to spend taxes on this than the present lot.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Iain, rehabilitation is very important. This is because sentences are so short that they have no deterrent effect.

Anonymous said...

Sure Iain lets get our priorities right, in NI new mothers could be thrown out of hospital after six hours, have your baby fill out this form and good bye. We could all be facing huge cuts to public services, but hey focus on prisoners, who have a cushy time in the nick already after robbing and raping old age pensioners....

Feckin brilliant!

Anonymous said...

"I won't say I was very good, because I wasn't, but it did make me think I would quite like to go on a stand up comedy course."

One of the more surprising things I've read on this blog recently...

Bardirect said...

Rehabilitation does matter but surely society is entitled to expect something a bit more utilitarian than comedy showboating which can presumably only be done at the expense of other mainstream educational opportunities, success in which are more likely to create self esteem based on competence and attainment as well as creating more realistic lawful earning capacities.

Also don't forget that the other function of sentencing, after punishment but before rehabilitation is deterrence. If generally offenders are not caught, this must have a greater emphasis.

Clameur de Haro said...

Iain, you’re clearly correct in advocating a role for the performing arts in the prisoner rehabilitation process, but it’s somewhat depressing to see a prospective Conservative candidate subscribing to the proposition that imprisonment should be more about rehabilitation than anything else, and bemoaning the alleged set-up of the custodial system for punishment.

I suspect that very many of your readers would argue that under present circumstances, the punishment aspect is conspicuous more by its absence, and that its emphasis should be increased rather than diminished.

Imprisonment should have three roles – to punish criminality both per se and to deter recidivism, to protect the law-abiding majority by removing the criminal from society, and to attempt to rehabilitate the offender. The left-liberal bias which has infected our justice system has diluted and all but removed the first two, and to concentrate on rehabilitation without them sends a message to the criminal that society does not especially disapprove of his crimes.

Anonymous said...

"... it did make me think I would quite like to go on a stand up comedy course."

Wait till you're elected and you'll be able to charge it to expenses. Just call it public speaking training.

DiscoveredJoys said...

There are some criminals that are dangerous and can never be rehabilitated, and these should be locked up for a long time. Quite how you make a judgement about their capacity for rehabilitation is another issue.

I've often though that for those who can be rehabilitated it would be more effective if they could be released into a different location, away from their bad influences, poor home life and/or drug dealers. Compelling people to move away sounds very draconian, but if they can be persuaded to do it (for an earlier parole?), it might reduce re-offending considerably.

I'm not overly concerned about punishment. Effective policing, rapid justice, and effective rehabilitation seem a much more pragmatic way of reducing crime.

Anonymous said...

iain, to hear you speak about 'the arts' is hilarious. Your idea of high culture is Mama Mia!!

It's like DC saying he wants Tracey Emin to paint his portrait! cringe cringe. She is not a painter and she doesn't do 'portraits'. How deeply uncool and Tory of all of you! :)

There is no point voting conservative said...

Peter Hitchens is right:

nulabour = blulabour = nulabour ...

Anonymous said...

All well and good, but what about the victims?

When I was a councillor (Newham, east London) I made a point of trying to get feedback from young victims of street robberies etc.

Many were pretty pissed off that they also came from deprived backgrounds but didn't use that as excuse to rob people. Furthermore, a few made the point that they had lead almost model citizen lifestyles and yet were not afforded the training and "rehabilitation" experiences that some of their contemporaries who had committed crimes received.

jailhouselawyer said...

It has been said that a prison audience is a tough audience to please.

When it comes to talk of prisoner rehabilitation, it would appear that the public at large are even harder to please.

Today the news is about prison governors warning about prison riots if the spending cuts in state prisons are not addressed. Oddly, no spending cuts in private sector prisons. And yet, there are no public and private prisoners but just prisoners.

Rehabilitation is a 3 way process. First, it requires the prisoner to want to change. Second, it requires the authorities to facilitate this desire. Third, it requires public participation from outside to lend support to the whole process.

Nobody would continue to feed money into a vending machine which failed to work and deliver the goods. But when it comes to prisons, the public do precisely that content to waste money.

Prisoner rehabilitation matters because it saves taxpayers money.

Roy said...

Once again Iain, I wonder what on earth you're doing in the Tory party.

johnAKAmark said...

Christ - I thought I'd wandered onto CiF. I think an excess of self esteem (commonly manifested as an extreme sense of entitlement) is actually the problem. Surely personal responsibility should be at the heart of any credible Conservative strategy on law and order no matter how much DC wants to flatter his new friends at the Guardian and the BBC. We should do as little as possible to protect people from the direct consequences of their actions and reclaim a sense, as a culture, of right and wrong - any other road leads ultimately to an intrusive, meddling state and the kind of topsy-turvey situation we have now in which ordinary, law abiding people increasingly don't know what side of the law they are on and the police are transformed into box ticking, paramilitary social workers.

Nigel said...

Good for you, Iain.

Now you just need add support for marijuana legalisation.

Anonymous said...

AJ " 50k+ a year to lock somebody up "

Not a number that I knew, but I believe you. We need to review those costs, then.

Iain. the government is spending too much money. Yes, yes, you know this. But can you work out the implications ? It means that it has to spend less !

Mirtha Tidville said...

Sucessful rehabilition requires some form of intelligence on the part of those being rehabilitated. Most, if not all, of the bleeding heart liberals wouldnt know a feral youth from a lollipop..Sadly I`ve met loads of em and they see these `schemes` as a soft option,as indeed they do prison. What is actually required is to make prison so unpopular and such hard work that even the thickest doesnt want to go back.

Whatever Politician proposes that will be elected by a landslide, but its going to need someone with balls. Sadly, therefore, it wont be Dave

Cynic said...

Several points Iain

1 We often lock up the wrong people.

2 It would be cheaper and more effective to divert those with drug / alcohol habits into treatment programmes. But we don't do that - sometimes because those who run them believe they are only effective if they are voluntary. Thats partly true but a 20% success rate in a drug programme would be a significant advance for society.

3 We also imprison many fine defaulters. They find it easier to accumulate unpaid fines then nip in for a few weeks - clear their accumulated debts with free lodging and a resettlement grant when they leave!!! Madness. We should put them on compulsory work programmes with longer sentences if they don't comply and restrict their access to drugs in prison. That, of course, will be an abuse of their human rights so we need a derroagtion from the ECHR to cover it

4 those left inside then fall into two broad classes - the recoverable for whom rehabilitation may work and the incorrigible who just need to be locked away to protect the rest of us. By all means invest in the first of these. As for the second I believe we need harsher regimes to make prison a much less hospitable place - deterrence is, sadly, all they understand

circus monkey said...

I agree with Keiko and Captain Haddock. The thing is people (or rather our arrogant masters in parliament and social work depts. etc) have lost sight of the need for punishment to run alongside penitence before rehabilitation can start to take place

circus monkey said...

I agree with Keiko and Captain Haddock. The thing is people (or rather our arrogant masters in parliament and social work depts. etc) have lost sight of the need for punishment to run alongside penitence before rehabilitation can start to take place

Mick Anderson said...

First catch the offenders, then convict them. Only then can they be punished and rehabilitated. Safer for the public if they are locked up, but I can understand some of the arguments for "community penalties"

You have to do the first two, though. If the Police are just going to give people warnings for carrying knives and mugging, there's no chance of any progress.

Joe Public said...

Seems like the prisoners enjoy a better standard of living, security & comfort (albeit confined), than the little lady pensioner in the next street.

Unsworth said...

Straw: "projects “meet the public acceptability test” and consider how the activity might “be perceived if open to media scrutiny.”

What a complete and utter scumbag this man is. His sole concern is how things may look, how the newspaper headlines will be. Never mind whether things are right, or whether they are effective or even decent. Just concern yourself with the way things are presented.

That is - in a nutshell - the whole approach of this charlatan regime. These people are simply incompetent poseurs. It is a puppet theatre.

cassandra said...

The utopianist view of prison reform hasnt exactly been a roaring success has it?
Punishment without rehabilitation will not work, this we know but rehabilitation without punishment will not work either.
The social utopianist view of criminal justice has given the us worst of both worlds, soft treatment and lack of discipline combined with a half arsed attitude to rehabilitation has resulted in a whole generation of criminals who treat prison as some kind of rest home.
The criminal makes the calculation that the crime is more profitable than the punishment, its the job of the justice system to make the price as high as possible to deter that calculation of risk Vs reward.
At the earliest stage of incarceration a thorough examination of the criminals personality should be undertaken(we have the technology) and the proccess of seperating those who can be rehabilitated from those who cannot should be vigorous, this seperation of personality types would make the job of prisoner reform far easier by placing those with a chance in a place of like minded individuals where groupthink and group behaviour can be manipulated to the best effect.
A firm hand and a willingness to help those who can be hepled, a self confident justice system with compassion, can we get there?
Ooooh yes we can.

Anonymous said...

You should also see the work that the ex-offenders organisation "UNLOCK" do in trying to reform things like the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act so it becomes an incentive to not re-offend as opposed to something that guarantees that if an ex-offender wants a job he has to lie about it for the rest of his life, great start to a life of honesty!!!

Jabba the Cat said...

It has long been established that the greater majority of criminals re offend irrespective of rehab efforts. Just lock them up for the full term of their sentences and then give them a two strikes your are out option like in the US. If the criminals are locked up then they cannot menace normal citizens. IDS blue rinse socialism is fantasy bollocks that does not work in the real world.

Twig said...

Q: Why doesn't the government publish the "repeat offending" rates for "offenders" that were given "community" sentences ?

A: Because it would prove that the namby pamby judicial system isn't working.

James said...

Well said Jailhouselawyer.

Why did you not invite John to Manchester Ian? It is not as if you are NOT unaware of his existence and his cause.

You missed an opportunity to show a very real positive side of blogging.

Anonymous said...

There also seems to be a very sinister creep, where the police can add so called *intelligence" to a pesrson's criminal record and that person can not challenge that "intelligence". This also applies to people without a criminal record but they have had their details recorded on police files without their knowledge and with no chance to argue their corner.

Whoever said that a person was innocent until found guilty knew what he was about. The legacy of the New Labour era is that the reverse is true. If the police hold files on a citizen that restricts that citizen's freedom then they should either put up or shut up.

Jus' 'angin' around like he should be said...

James said...
Well said Jailhouselawyer.

Why did you not invite John to Manchester Ian? It is not as if you are NOT unaware of his existence and his cause.

You missed an opportunity to show a very real positive side of blogging.

October 06, 2009 8:43 PM

Jailhouse is hardly a good example of 'rehabilitation'.

He has not uttered one word of contrition or remorse for planting his AXE in the head of Bronia Burton. He claims that it's just 'middle class'.

Rehabilitated? No chance. The scum-bag has built a 'career' on the back of his foul crime.

Why should Iain give that creep the 'oxygen of publicity'?

Iain Dale said...

First of all, it wasn't my place to invite anyone. It wasn't my event. JHL provided me with one or two jokes which I was able to use and I thank him for that.

jailhouselawyer said...

James: Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Why prisoner rehabilitation matters should be the Tory party rallying cry.

However, I fear that they will continue to offer meaningless soundbites to an uncaring media for a public which appears to care even less.

So, you are happy at being robbed blind? Start taking an interest in how your money is being spent and wasted willy nilly.

Mrs Clayton said...

punish, punish punish.

the prison system is currently the best training program we have. We take bumbling young men and women and teach them how to become more violent and desensitised than they were before...our prison system teaches them how to be better criminals....and then later on we can lock them up for longer until they are completely unable to deal with life outside of the institution. What I want to see is people like Noel Smith and Norman Parker brought into discussions not only on crime, but on community to help this country learn how to prevent the first step in...lock em up is expensive and not just monetarily

James said...

Ian and John(Jailhouse).

Thanks for your responses. I have not got a clue why I an concerned about prisoners. Perhaps like the prostitute they will never go away, they go where humanity goes but I feel we in the UK have little idea what the purpose of prison is supposed to be.

Locking a problem up out of sight rarely solves that problem if ever.

We have a big and growing prison problem here in the UK, perhaps it is worth listening to those with first hand experience including the Tory MPS who have the T shirt. (hopefully a few more MPs soon)

happiness said...

Jimmy Boyle's autobiography should be read by all interested in crime and punishment. I am personally acquainted with a few young crims who were put into rehabilitation courses, some on sailing ships, some on farms, some in arts courses. The change for the better in the ones I knew was remarkable. I do not know what the percentage of recividism was. Also, none of the above were in this country. There is a terrible problem here of the punishment not fitting the crime. Violent crimes including torture and murder seem to get slaps on the wrist. A life sentence can mean 8 or 9 yrs, or even less. Often I see that a crime against property or involving financial swindles can get the offender 15-25 yrs. Not paying the poll tax or the fine for not having a tv license can land the offender in jail, while yobs who terrorise the vulnerable don't even get community service. The process is badly screwed up from policing through the courts to the penal system, but the will to make sweeping changes just is not there as long as politicians are too busy worrying about their entitlements and perks.

Anonymous said...

"Why Prisoner Rehabilitation Matters"

That's good Ian, really good. If you truly mean this then your time as an MP will not be in vain.

An understandably neglected and evaded subject by most politicians. It is yours for the making

Peter Thomas said...

"Our prison system is set up for punishment, but rehabilitation takes a back seat."

What rubbish. The do-gooders have had their own way for too many years. They and their soft ideas haven’t been a roaring success in reducing criminality and re-offending, have they? And then there’s the politicians with their so-called “tough on crime” policies. Don’t make me laugh! So let's give "no tolerance" and "harsh punishment" a chance and see if that works. Only fair, eh?

As an honest person who has worked hard for everything I have, I don’t like having to pay high taxes in order to fund the ineffective police service, courts, probation officers, social workers, prison officers etc, etc who are supposed to protect us from criminals. So while we’re about it, give the criminals the bill for all these services they use, and charge them a reasonable fee for the cost of their stay in prison. What? They might not have the money? Then give the buggers hard labour until it’s all paid off.

Hirsty's Tax Inspector said...

Jailhouselawyer said:

"Prisoner rehabilitation matters because it saves taxpayers money"

Just for the record - how much tax have you paid in the past 50 years, Hirsty?

I can't help thinking it's somewhere close to bugger all.

happiness said...

It's often the case that those who shout the loudest for punishment are those who have a secret. Look at all the politicians who voted year after year to keep homosexuality a crime and then were outed themselves. I would like to know how many true believers in the birch and the ducking stool on this forum are 100% without guilt of any crime whatsoever at anytime in their life and how far they would go to cover up that fact.

True Belle said...

Prisoners are no threat to society whilst they are in prison.

It is not the responsibility of the prisons to make sure ex prisoners do not return to prison!

They lose their human rights once the law of the land has convicted them.

The job of rehabilitation has to be done outside prison.

We must have clear lines between the punishment for a crime and the prevention of reoffending.

happiness said...

In other words all education and learning should be left in the hands of the old lags inside who teach the newcomers how to get on in the world of crime both inside and outside rather than in the hands of rehabilitators teaching them how to understand and fit into a lawful world. There are some criminals that cannot be rehabilitated, and some crimes so horrific that the perpetrator should never be released. But they precisely the criminals who are being released. There are very few being given a natural life term. Most are released (very) early, and they go out and do the same again and again and again. I repeat, the whole structure from policing through courts through the penal system has to be restructured. Until that happens, the criminal class will continue to expand at a rapid rate.

jailhouselawyer said...

True Belle: "Prisoners are no threat to society whilst they are in prison".

Ticking time bomb. Prisoners are members of society whilst they are in prison, albeit not society at large. If what you meant to say is that prisoners cannot reoffend against society at large whilst in custody, this is true. Lock them up and throw away the key? Our prisons are at bursting point with too many serving too long sentences for minor offences. The majority will be released at some stage, therefore it makes sense to treat prisoners with humanity.

"It is not the responsibility of the prisons to make sure ex prisoners do not return to prison!".

It is the responsibility of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which includes the Probation Service and prisons. Given that a primary aim is the protection of the public, if prisons are not responsible for failures then the public suffers.

"They lose their human rights once the law of the land has convicted them".

What utter nonsense. Try reading the European Convention and Human Rights Act 1998.

"The job of rehabilitation has to be done outside prison".

It needs to start upon discovery of the crime, through the court, custody, and continue in the community.

"We must have clear lines between the punishment for a crime and the prevention of reoffending".

There are already clear lines. The punishment is the sentence handed down by a court. That is, prisoners are in prison as a punishment and not for punishment.

Andrew Lloyd said...

Iain, you are spot on. Labour have been so poor and never really tackled this aspect of policy. The last Home Secretary to really have an effect and lower the prison population was Douglas Hurd.

If only your ideas could find a politician's spine to run up. I completely agree with you and I don't even vote Tory.

jailhouselawyer said...

Andrew: Churchill reduced the prison population by half. Bear in mind he was a prisoner in the Boer War. His speech given in 1910 is as relevant today.

How about David Davis? He's closer enough for me to give him a good talking to. Trouble is, has he now bottled it?

Jo Simmonds said...

Shame you can't demonstrate such 'forward thinking' in your views on Obama...all about seeing the potential...