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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Education and safety in prisons, and a connection that must not be ignored


 With the recent media saturation regarding the ‘prison crisis’, there is hopefully a communal sense that this cannot go on. But how can we reverse the degradation of the institutions that are responsible for housing those that have hurt society?

How can we make sure that, when they are released, ex-prisoners are rehabilitated and so useful to their communities? It is not enough to just hope that a ‘long-enough’ stint in a ‘bad-enough’ place is going to mean that the guy who stole your car last week will not do it again the moment he gets released. Something human has to happen in between. People have to change.

For a long time, prisoners have been taking advantage of, or trying to cope with, the fact that the wings of our prisons are understaffed, overcrowded and increasingly dangerous.

With a handful of staff expected to control and care for 120 guys who all have anger, trust, substance and psychological issues (to name just a few), we are presented with great institutions that have been reduced to little more than warehouses for the damaged and damaging. So what can make the difference?

Education and safety are not values in an either/or equation. They go hand in hand. Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) research has found that those who engage in higher education courses are 25 percent less likely to reoffend.

The trouble is, meaningful education gets side-lined in times of crisis. At times like this, prisoners spend more time behind doors and have less exposure to the sort of interactions that allow someone to find the reasons to turn their life around.

Prisons have the highest concentration of illiterate men in our country.

So teaching how to read and write is a start, but this is only the start for the guys who cannot read. The next step is to understand their potential. Focus their minds on something that will ultimately benefit the entire community and we will see people in prison wanting to achieve something good, as opposed to trying to get away with whatever they can.

We’ll see people leaving prisons with a goal in life – a reason to stay out of prison. What is more, we will see the transformation of prisons themselves. We will have more focussed places – ones in which people are kinder and more constructive.

I know this from personal experience. This is my second prison sentence and it has been tough. The first few years I spent wallowing in the IPP mess I found myself in. I had no qualifications and no idea of what my life looked like outside of committing crime. The mandatory Offending Behaviour Programs seemed to just gently tap on the outside of the hole I was in and did little more to impassion me into making something more of my life.
At a certain point of my sentence, it become clear I needed something to focus on. I was guided towards distance learning by someone who said Access courses with the Open University, funded by PET, would be a good place to start. Through all of my time being a tearaway, I always had an opinion on society and so I began studying society. With little more than a desire to do something different and not really knowing how, I became engrossed in learning about the world. It helped me to understand how so many different people can end up in places like these. The more I studied, the more I realised that my own life had a value outside of committing crime. With my experiences and the knowledge I was getting, I now had a reason to work towards being released.
The more I learned about society, the further I dived into my studies. I became more confident and now I am being released on temporary licence to go to university outside. I am looking forward to the next part of my life. Now, it matters what I do every day – how I hold myself, how I interact with people – because now I have important things that I don’t want to lose.

To grow up in a world where you feel like the rules, and the benefits of following the rules, aren’t really meant for you, leads to not caring about the people you share this world with. It leads to you not ever considering that you could be a valuable part of the world.

 When education is good, when it is meaningful, it has all the components someone needs to move away from crime.  Engaging in subjects critically, understanding the complex nature of the world and realising that what you think and feel is important, are the very essence of education.

A quote from Martin Luther King highlights what needs to be done to right the wrongs: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Although there is an array of different people in our prisons, from all walks of life, the disillusioned and desperate make up the majority of its population. For people who have felt like they have been living on the fringes of society, felt like they have been living in darkness, further darkness will not convince them to be nicer to people when they are released. People who are forced to live in shadows can become adept at doing so.
 But higher education is a way back into the light, a way of understanding what it means to be part of the world and a way of learning what is at stake when people are excluded.


Prison education matters 

Bullied at school for being dyslexic, Ollie Forsyth started his first business aged just 13 as a way of “getting back at the haters.” He left school aged 16 with just one GCSE. Now he is involved in a number of business ventures and still in his teens he is recognised by business leaders as one of the most promising young entrepreneurs of his generation

Starting your own business can be very exciting, especially when you are young, although in truth age doesn’t really matter if you have passion and determination.
It takes a lot of hard effort to make a business work, some people just don’t have the knack of doing it but some do. What does it take to start your own business? 

The most important quality is persistence. You are going to have those sleepless nights but they will pay off one day if you really want it to happen. You will encounter numerous challenges and hurdles, ups and downs and more downs – but fighting to succeed against the odds is all part of the fun. It is very important though, to find yourself a mentor, someone who has been there and done it.

 If you can’t make personal contact with anyone in business, read up on the biographies of successful businessmen. Richard Branson, the Virgin boss, was expelled from school but it didn’t dampen his determination to succeed. 
Duncan Bannatyne, formerly of Dragons Den and boss of a Health and Fitness empire began with one ice cream van. His journey from working class lad to multi-millionaire is well worth checking out for sheer inspiration. And never miss a chance to network. Even in prison you can write letters to people who you think might be able to support you or encourage you.

Nothing in the world can take the place of determination, not talent, not education. Determination and persistence are omnipotent

Calvin Coolidge, 30th American president (1923-29)
You will have those days where you want to give up, but never give up and never take no for an answer, make damned sure you know what your goals are. Knowing what it is you want to achieve is most of the battle. Be ambitious, aspire to greater things. A prison cell can be a lonely place – but at least you have time to think and plan for your success. When it comes to the hard times, try to avoid negative heads, the cynics who say “it can’t be done” or “the odds are too high”. It might be easier for you to read a book to be inspired but try to connect with others who think positively like you. I’ve learned that the best way to succeed is to focus on a business you really enjoy and believe in. You might want to make money, or to have a social impact. You might want to do both. Whatever the case I wish you all the very best!

 Far too often prisoners have no say and only one side gets heard. 

Recently there has been a lot of media hype around what they refer to as ‘prison riots’. However, I take issue with the term ‘riot’ as this is sensationalising, criminalising and detracting from what are legitimate ‘protests’.

The reports they compile

concentrate on the negative aspects, never the positives and generally written in a manner to continue debasing and dehumanizing the prisoner. The officers in general merely want to contain the prisoners and wherever possible, bang them up in their cells.
Officers are not interested in the prisoner as a person but merely place you in a box not believing or indeed caring that you are anything other than a convicted prisoner. 

Personal development and rehabilitation are not words they understand or indeed want to understand.
So, manipulation, lies and deceit and mistrust of the establishment etc. Most leave prison and are condemned by society.
 No wonder the re-offending rates are over 80% in the UK. What good is this to anybody?
The British Justice system and the British Penal system are broken. Unless stringent steps are taken to reform both, the situation will only deteriorate further and society will not be any better off. Has the rot already set in and is prison reform just another pipe dream?

Virtually everyone who comes out of prison has the resolve not to return. However, they encounter problems with homelessness, employment and access to medicine and benefits. These problems exacerbate and contribute to the recidivist rate.

Nobody, whether it be victims, prisoners, their families or society in general are not well served by having a penal system that is outdated and out of touch with reality and humanity. Not only is there a huge waste of money, the waste in human lives and potential is immeasurable. The situation is intolerable and a damming indictment upon all of us. Resources should be targeted stopping people getting into and helping them stay out of trouble.
Successive Governments have not had the courage or the political will to confront and bring about the changes desperately needed to our penal system. 

Our politicians need to shape opinion as well as following it even if this means courting potential temporary unpopularity

However, a reasoned and well informed debate should persuade the majority of the electorate that rehabilitation matters and that reform for our prison system is desperately needed.
The law in sentencing is due to be codified.  

The time is well overdue that what happens to people once they are sentenced should be addressed at the same time.

The BBC were showing footage of previous Home Secretaries dating back to the 1980s and asking what has changed? The problems for the prison system haven’t changed, it always seems to be someone implementing tougher, harsher, longer prison sentences, then cutting back on funds and complaining about high reoffending rates. Which all boils down to the fact that we either want harsh regimes or rehabilitation – we cannot have both.
“What we have is a system with no hope and no light at the end of the tunnel
How can we have a harsh sentencing system and also continuous cutbacks in prison budgets, which contribute to the poor conditions and affect the moral and mental states of prisoners and staff? How can you not expect a meltdown of the prison system when you deliberately do these things?
What we have is a system with no hope and no light at the end of the tunnel. Prisoners feel that the system does not give a toss about them, and this leads to a lack of interest and respect for a system that does nothing but warehouse and contain them.

Education and Prison

1 comment:

  1. It is wonderful to read about someone who is so passionate about the education and safety of prisoners who are caught in our penal system. Not everyone who is locked up is some heartless monster and it do well for others to remember that it could actually happen to any of us, especially with the way things are turning out.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds



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