Displaying items by tag: prison
Reading Vicky Pryce's experiences in Prisonomics, I was struck by a number of references she made to the complex needs of some of her fellow prisoners, which brought to mind my former supervisory contact with Miriam (not her real name).
Miriam was a troubled and troublesome woman whose enduring struggle with alcohol dependency and domestic violence required a particularly sensitive approach. When she reported to the probation office, following a Crown Court appearance for assaulting a neighbour, I had already recognised the added pressures attendant on Social Services' involvement in relation to safeguarding her youngest child. Furthermore, that the way ahead in enabling the probation supervision element of a suspended sentence order (which meant that any further infraction or breach could result in custody) was to work alongside the family and enlist those best able to tailor their support to Miriam's sometimes combustible personality.
To this end, I made a particular point of arranging to make regular home visits so that she was better able to comply with the order. Arrangements were made for her to meet with the local Social Services manager, who it appeared had been recruited to bolster the work of the inexperienced social worker, whose relationship with Miriam had teetered on breaking down. When I arrived at the Social Services Office, the anticipatory tension was evident. Miriam arrived with her child - who was unusually fractious - which meant that I was called upon to offer some empathic support so that her threats to withdraw from the meeting subsided.
It was difficult for me to hold back from expressing my annoyance at what I saw as a patronising and, at times, unhelpfully didactic approach from the manager. Miriam did not have such scruples and we agreed to adjourn the meeting to allow feelings to cool. The manager indicated that a more robust supervisory input was needed: 'We could end up with you going to prison, if you fail to agree to mandated alcohol testing', he said. For a few uncertain moments I was convinced that she was about to scupper the planned intervention, the threat of custody was palpably present and the two years that I had worked with Miriam seemed to hang in the balance.
Miriam resolved with a confidence born of necessity to comply with the planned measures agreed at the meeting, with varying degrees of subsequent motivation. But what would it have benefited Miriam, her child, or the wider community to have sent her into custody? Shortly, the government aims to introduce a punitive element in all community sentences. With Miriam, as sole carer for her child, the challenge was to assist her in complying with an ever demanding order and care proceedings whilst strengthening her family ties and offering a pathway to employability. For Miriam being on a community sentence was very far from being the sloganising 'soft option' pandered by headline-seeking politicians. She offered her usually frank opinion at the time of her order concluding, 'Mike, I got through this order... just...my heads up and you ain't goin' see me inside anytime soon'.
Tell Me A Tale is a charity that creates accessible arts opportunities for diverse community groups. They have run projects in schools, hospitals, care homes, prisons, immigration detention centres and with various community/arts organisations in the UK, as well as overseas in Turkey and Australia.
One of their projects, Act on Employment, is a short course giving participants the opportunity to focus on employment skills, confidence, social cohesion and building stronger families.
TiPP is an organisation comprised of artists and facilitators who work with groups including young people at risk of involvement with the criminal justice system, adult drug users and adult prisoners. Their projects range from half day workshops to long-term residential projects within institutions.
In addition, they have been working with the National Children's Bureau, to help promote the voices, interests and well-being of all children and young people across all aspects of their lives.
Created and written by a group of young scriptwriters from different parts of London, Out of the Gate aims to highlight the problems faced by young people leaving prison. It is the UK's first online audio soap opera to target a 16-24 yr old audience. Episodes are available to listen to via their website.
The About Turn project supports ex-servicemen and women who are experiencing homelessness or housing problems, who are incarcerated in prison or have involvement with the criminal justice system. Many ex-forces personnel have alcohol and drug dependency issues and have difficulty accessing the support they need in relation to mental health and/ or post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is no shortage of research exploring the relationship between involvement in the criminal justice system and increased problems in accessing housing. A substantially high proportion of prisoners are known to have accommodation needs at point of release; according to the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction survey, 79 per cent of prisoners who reported being homeless before custody were reconvicted in the first year after release, compared with 47 per cent who did not report being homeless before custody (Williams et al., 2012). Evidence suggests that lack of adequate housing upon release counteracts the assistance that is provided whilst an individual is in custody; thus, a concentration on services focused towards accommodation offers not only practical solutions to a lack of housing, but holistic support for those who find themselves in unstable circumstances upon re-entering the community.
In January 2013, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) undertook a research project for the housing charity, St Mungo’s, on the housing needs of women from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups leaving HMP Holloway. Organisations such as St Mungo’s facilitate services for those currently serving a prison sentence in order to help with the various challenges faced by individuals upon release; once ‘beyond the gate’, women in particular experience a variety of difficulties in finding accommodation for themselves and their families. The aim of the service for BME women is not only to help meet housing need, but additionally provide follow-up assistance to guide women beyond their housing placement and, if necessary, refer them to other services.
The goal of the research was to offer a series of recommendations which would assist St Mungo’s in engaging with the current practical challenges facing its services, and to ultimately help resolve these issues in order to benefit both the staff and service users. This involved generating evidence about the housing needs of BME women leaving prison, and about the needs that may affect outcomes from its service. The research involved the analysis of data provided by St Mungo’s in order to establish the nature of the relationships between housing needs and outcomes. The project team, led by Research Director, Dr Roger Grimshaw, conducted interviews with six service users to explore their views about the attributes of a good service, and the methods by which a good service should engage with its users. Interviews were also undertaken with St Mungo’s staff in order to find out how they view the relationship between needs and outcomes, and what, in their view, could be changed to assist in the improvement of the outcomes for its users.
The final report from the research team at CCJS put forward a number of long and short term recommendations to the organisation regarding service user needs, outcomes and further service development. Figures obtained from St Mungo’s demonstrated that the most frequent outcome for service users was assistance with a placement through a Homeless Persons Unit (HPU), followed by residing in temporary housing or staying with friends or family. The data revealed that those who had been sleeping rough before they were convicted had disengaged with the service; the report therefore suggested St Mungo’s could consider how a service for those who had been ‘rough sleepers’ could be further developed. Evidence indicated just how complex and demanding it is for a service such as St Mungo’s to access accommodation for its users. Many housing needs arose from the inability to retain a tenancy, resulting in the number of those in temporary accommodation upon release from prison considerably higher than the number of those in temporary accommodation beforeimprisonment.
The interviewing process noted the importance of continued ‘beyond the gate’ support as a significant attribute of a successful service, and it was clear that vital to most women was the assistance they received in helping to care for their families upon release from prison. Whilst palpable throughout the interviews with service users was the appreciation for the tireless perseverance and hard work of the St Mungo’s staff, women frequently expressed a bleak and negative view of housing and the growing number of shortages caused by significant external barriers outside of the organisation’s control. The research recognises that much of the housing instability is perpetuated and exacerbated through the implementation of short term, repetitive prison sentences, and the practice of ‘recycling’ convicted women through the prison system is resulting in the social punishment of not only the women themselves, but their families as well.
Williams, K., Poyser, J. and Hopkins, K. (2012), Accommodation, homelessness and reoffending of prisoners: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SCPR) survey, Research Summary, 3/12, London: Ministry of Justice.
Prison Reading Groups has published What Books Can Do Behind Bars. You can read the report and find out more about the reading groups here
In recent years there has been growing discussion centred on the need to work more effectively with those who have been sanctioned by the criminal justice system. Invariably the loudest voices call for job-placements or re-training to enable people to take on roles where there is a skills shortage. Yet, just as simply, it may also require offering opportunities to gain or improve an often far more important and yet frequently neglected ‘soft skills' set.
Soft skills (defined variously as ‘skills, abilities and traits that pertain to personality, attitude and behaviour rather than to formal or technical knowledge’; Moss & Tilly). are never more important to employability than for those individuals from a hard-to-reach background. These individuals often have low levels of education, little or no employment history, are disproportionately from ethnic minorities, and/or have a history of involvement with the cjs. Yet, Nickson et al., make the point that in terms of entry level employment it is often the soft skills that make the difference, rather than the usual requirement for qualifications and previous experience. Yet whilst there are many organisations across the sectors who are working with hard-to-reach clients who are unable or do not qualify to undertake accredited learning, it is something which is frequently missed from the funding stream.
Those sanctioned by the criminal justice system comprise an important and interesting group for discussions of employment, as this group exhibits the multiple deficits of both soft and hard skills variously reported by academic, NGOs, and ministerial departments. Indeed, it has been variously reported that a large proportion of those leaving custody have very low educational standards. Rhodes has added to this suggesting that sustainable employment can help reduce the chances of returning to custody. However, National Audit Office figures estimated that only 10 per cent of those leaving custody were in employment during the 13 weeks following release. And yet the revolution offered is still directed toward gainful employment and accredited learning. Directing funding in this way often neglects the argument that it also requires engagement with a system from which the individual is regularly excluded at an early age.
Concerns have recently been voiced by Chris Grayling who suggests that in order to aid the journey toward change, the individual needs to be supported and empowered to motivate the right future choices, as much as being punished for past behaviours. However, it would not be appropriate to seek a quick fix, and nor can it be achieved. Instead what is needed is a strategy for change, one which includes employment as an end goal, but which sets targets to achieve recognisable change in the skills level for the individual. Those who have been involved in the criminal justice system experience the same barriers when faced with unemployment levels in excess of 2 million people. In addition, they are also faced with the additional barriers of discrimination, social stigma and alienation associated with having a criminal record. However the majority have been convicted of petty and minor offences, which is often compounded by the associated lack of skills, qualifications, employment history and experience.
Those leaving custody or who have a record are much more likely to gain employment if they were equipped with the relevant skills required by local employers. Crucially, Nickson et al. argue that these ‘relevant skills’ are quite often the social skills that many of us take for granted, appearance, attitude, work ethic, team work, and communication, concluding that ‘the focus on qualifications ignores some key issues in skill formation within the labour market’.
What we have tried to highlight here is that if barriers are to be successfully broken down and if the individual is to be successfully equipped for employment there needs to be a greater concentration upon the broader, social and life skills if there is to be a sense of success in tackling social exclusion and skilling people for life and work.
Dr Andy Bain is Associate Professor Criminal Justice, University of Mount Union, Ohio, USA. David Pritchard is Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Social Policy ,Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth
Another element of prison life which came to light during the European Prison Observatory project was the prevalence in England and Wales of people on remand, awaiting trial, are expected to share the same spaces and undergo much of the same experience as those who have been convicted.
There is conflict between the Prison Rules, which says that remand and sentenced prisoners should under no circumstances be required to share a cell, and Prison Service policy which allows it on the condition that consent has been obtained. Neither guidelines seem to be put in effect, however, as few remand prisoners surveyed by the Inspectorate for Prisons recalled being asked for their consent. As remand prisoners are usually held in Category B prisons, this means that potentially innocent people are being held in the same cell as those convicted of serious crimes.
There are limited differences in their conditions. For example, those on remand are able to have three prison visits per week compared to one visit every two weeks for those who are convicted. The levels of amenities such as the quantity of cigarettes they are allowed also differ. People on remand are also allowed to wear their own clothes.
But in an environment as demanding as a category B prison, those who formally speaking are innocent until proven otherwise are being punished in similar ways.
In the first few hours and days immediately after release and in the weeks and months ahead, Certitude helps people leaving prison to find somewhere to live and also provide advice on benefits and offer emotional support. They can also support people to access health and social services. Based in Balham, they support people from 14 prisons across London and the South East and people who are returning from prison to one of the 33 London boroughs.