13:36, November 04 41 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-04 13:36:07
Radical rethink needed on jails and rehabilitation

It is a sad indictment that our prisons are no longer even “decent”, they struggle to maintain basic standards much less rehabilitate (Prisoners cannot be rehabilitated in jail says ex-prison boss, 29 October).

It is an even more damning indictment that child prisons not only fail to rehabilitate, they fail to keep children safe, and frequently compound and entrench previous experiences of neglect and violence. In 2017 a report by the chief inspector of prisons said: “The current state of affairs is dangerous, counterproductive and will inevitably end in tragedy unless urgent corrective action is taken.” In the same year, the Youth Justice Board and the Youth Custody Improvement Board agreed that young offender institutions and secure training centres were not fit for purpose. This is not a new failing; there is decades of evidence that imprisonment in such institutions is injurious to children’s physical, mental and emotional health.

Depriving children of their liberty is one of the most profound interventions the state can make. To place them in institutions proven to be damaging and unsafe is a grave dereliction of the state’s duty. It is time for a radical rethink of how we accommodate and treat those few children who cannot safely be contained in the community.

Pam Hibbert

End Child Imprisonment

Martin Narey is correct to argue that prison is not a place that can effectively deliver rehabilitation. We have over 200 years of history evidencing how prisons have always been more likely to de-habilitate those they contain than rehabilitate them. For rehabilitation to be effective, people require individualised treatments and therapeutic interventions to address their specific behavioural difficulties.

This is virtually impossible to deliver within prisons. For someone to change in a positive way, it is essential that they feel able to adopt an openness to others – only by being open, and hence showing vulnerability, can new pro-social identities can be nurtured. Such an ability to be emotionally vulnerable is blocked by the fear of and/or presence of physical violence, the deprivations of basic human needs that characterise daily prison life, and the enforced separation from loved ones and intimate relationships. Indeed, rather than building new life-affirming relationships and/or therapeutic alliances, prisons overwhelmingly lead to endings and the breaking of significant ties, bonds and attachments. Prisoners are forced to endure a hostile daily existence which encourages anxiety, fear and the building of defences against self-disclosure.

Dr David Scott

The Open University

I wholeheartedly endorse Eric Allison’s opinion (The message is clear: give ex-prisoners a job, or they return to crime, 30 October). We desperately need a reform programme which increases the chances of prisoners making a go of their life once they have been released from prison and are back in the outside world.

Data released by the Ministry of Justice shows that just under half of all the adult offenders released from custody in 2013-14 were from custodial sentences of less than 12 months, and this group had a reoffending rate of almost 60%. Moreover, the rate for those released from short sentences has been consistently higher compared with those released from longer sentences.

One of the greatest forces returning individuals to prison – perhaps the greatest force – is that they find they have almost no skills and find it almost impossible to find a job. Crime is an activity they understand and in which they are practised. It is this vicious circle we need to break.

I’ve suggested to the government that its apprenticeship strategy should include construction-related qualifications that can be acquired in prison through short, intensive courses. Certain skills in bricklaying, plastering, carpentry, roofing and plumbing should be acquired so that, on release, ex-offenders are seen as skilled workers. These are skills in short supply.

To use prisons as a base to start making good Britain’s skills shortage, while cutting the size of the prison population, would strike most taxpayers as being allowed to have their cake and eating it as well.

Frank Field MP

Independent, Birkenhead

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition

Topics