#FaithinPartnership Week

11th – 15th September 2023

See what happened during our week celebrating and championing cross-sector working!

Prisons Week – time to Transform Rehabilitation

By Derek Markie

I’m sure you agree that alienation is a bad thing. For Christians, alienation from God is where our journey as humans begin, for Jews and Muslims, I understand, it is where any breach of God’s law lands us. For Buddhists and Hindus alienation from self and the cosmos is totally destructive of peace.

Those alienated from society are most likely to kick against it or totally reject its aims, and norms, variously claiming it offers them nothing or does them actual harm. Maslow’s 3rd vital hygiene factor after “means of life” (air water food) and physical safety from immediate danger is “to belong”.

So what do we do when someone breaches accepted norms of behaviour, appears to work against our society or rejects the rights of others in the social group? If it was a child, we would seek to win them with care, love affection and the structure of a home. But if it is an adult we quickly forget that model and switch to formal warnings and sanctions.

Between these two models – restorative care and punitive justice – we have fragile links….some with a modest amount of public support and funding including drug rehabilitation, prison chaplaincy services, prisoners’ family welfare support groups and others. The decision to restructure the Probation Service, and the Ministry of Justice White Paper which predicated it “Transforming Rehabilitation” are attempts to address these issues in financially constrained times.

The Probation Service split in February between a National Probation Service, responsible for the management of high-risk offenders; and 21 independent Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) responsible for the management of low to medium risk offenders in their contracted areas. In addition, from this year, the government’s intention is to bring about “a rehabilitation revolution” that will pay independent providers “by results” to reduce reoffending. This includes co-operating, particularly with the CRCs, to extend supervision and support of offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in prison who, until this year “did their time” and then returned to their communities without any form of supervision or oversight.

Statistics in the White Paper should be sufficient to demonstrate the scale of the challenge summarised in its conclusion that: “there is no masking the fact that (the existing system) is failing in one of its primary purposes. Too many offenders go through the justice system, serve their sentence and simply pick up where they left off.”

  • Within the cohort of adult offenders convicted or released from custody in the year to December 2010 who reoffended (committing over 270,000 offences) within 12 months:
    • 6% were prisoners sentenced to under 12 months (17,560 re-offenders)
    • 9% were prisoners sentenced to 12 months or more (9,170)
    • 1% were those starting a court order (49,636)
  • Even those who do not reoffend within the first year do often offend again. Of those released in 2000, 45.8% reoffended within a year, 66.1% in 3 years and 72.5% in five.
  • The National Audit Office has estimated the cost of reoffending by recent ex-prisoners as being somewhere between £9.5 billion and £13 billion.

Each individual has a different story, but many share a similar history including homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness and unemployment – admits the government …..and most of us would add more generally poverty, deprivation and a background of a life in the care of the local authority. In 2005/06 only about one third of prisoners were in paid employment in the four weeks before custody and 13% of prisoners reported never having had a job. 15% percent of these prisoners reported being homeless before custody and 25% were estimated to be suffering from anxiety and depression. After custody only 10% were in employment at any point during the 13 weeks following release and 48% claim out-of-work benefits in the same period. The challenge for the new CRCs is to provide oversight of all offenders in this period with the aim of resetting the offenders’ plans for their future.

Many faith communities and faith based organisations are already involved in reaching out to offenders and some have been involved in pilot programmes such as Prison Community Chaplaincy where prison-based chaplains build links for ex-offenders in communities ahead of and during their resettlement period. This could lead to a place of safety to live, and regular meals.

Any ex offenders situation gives rise to a huge range of EXTERNAL barriers to making a life change even before their own abilities and motivations are considered, and few people and organisations are working “outside of government” to change it. New thinking and action is needed. Some will address immediate issues practically. Others will continue to challenge a system of custodial sentences which costs a great deal of money and is more likely to further alienate offenders than help them change their view of the world.

In Worcestershire, the Diocese launched a Criminal justice Affairs Group last Autumn. Since then the group of 10 have planned a range of activities for this year’s Prisons Week with a major Day Conference as its focus, one of the aims of which is to be a catalyst for criminal justice-related social action.

If you are moved by the situation of ex-offenders, or inspired by the opportunity created by the new governmental arrangements, or already involved in the Criminal Justice system at any point we would welcome you to get in touch. In order to encourage broad representation, the cost of attendance has been kept to a minimum, helped by generous sponsorship by the Diocese and the University of Worcester, the West Mercia Police and two private companies. The day will include a

  • key note address from the Under Secretary of State for Prison at the Ministry of Justice, Andrew Selous

and contributions from:

  • Paul West, Criminal Justice Advisor to the Bishop of Worcester and Director, Policing First
  • Assistant Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, West Mercia Criminal Justice Board
  • Nick Dann, Governor in Charge, Hewell Grange, HMP Hewell
  • Tom Currie, Head of Service for West Mercia, National Probation Service
  • Manjinder Purewal, Chief Officer, Warwickshire and West Mercia Community Rehabilitation Company
  • Sukhwinder Singh, Sikh Chaplain HMP Hewell and HMP Long Lartin
  • Dr Matt Home, Managing Director, Willowdene Care Farm
  • Revd Charmian Manship, Chair of the Diocese of Worcester Criminal Justice Affairs Group and volunteer part-time Chaplain, HMP Hewell
  • Jonathan Green, Project Coordinator for the Welcome Directory, Free Churches Group
  • Chris Wilson, National Development Manager, Circles (of Support and Accountability) UK
  • Gary Stephenson, Chief Executive, Restorative Solutions Community Interest Company

To find out more please follow this link or contact the writer, Derek Markie.