Maladjusted?

UK Government Bid to Reduce Youth Offending…

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The UK government today announced that they have allocated £8million to put into reducing youth offending by funding resettlement schemes to support young people leaving prison.   

Putting more money into more resettlement programmes can only be a good thing.  A friend of mine – let’s call him Bob – got into petty crime many years ago as a teenager, and spent a short spell of time in prison for an act of reckless and drunken violence against a peer. 

As part of his rehabilitation he was involved in a prison release programme, volunteering at a homeless shelter.  In his own words he told me that this was the first time in his life that he felt that his input and time was of value to others.   

On release from prison he went and volunteered with that organisation on a full time basis, and went on to pursue a career in the third sector working with vulnerable people. 

The point of sharing this is that without that prison release scheme the liklihood was that he would have gone back to a life of crime as – again, his own words – he wouldn’t have had the support to know any different.

Rehabilitation can work, and organisations working within the resettlement of ex-offenders field have welcomed the money.  Interestingly however, Juliet Lyon at Prison Reform Trust also said;

“…how much better to stop children and young people going to prison in the first place by investing in community solutions like intensive fostering, drug and alcohol treatment, mental healthcare and support for young people with learning disabilities

“Short jail sentences and overuse of custodial remand make no sense. Imprisonment leaves a lasting mark on the young. Being a former prisoner while still a teenager usually leads to wasted lives, years of misery and public expense. Surely we can do better than this?”

Bob himself was the classic example of neglected child – with seperated parents and an abusive father, he found himself in the care system as at an early age.  With no pressure to stay at school he dropped out, started using drugs, and from there turned to stealing things and petty crime to fund his lifestyle. 

In Bob’s case the rehabilitation provided by his volunteer scheme worked.  But – back to the point made by Juliet Lyon – would it not have been better for him to have had the support needed at an earlier age and never have gone to prison in the first place?

Once in the criminal justice system, it is very hard to get out, and the ‘label’ of being a ‘criminal’ can follow you around for a lifetime.   Bob – now in his 40s –  isn’t able to travel to certain countries, could never adopt a child, and is still passed over in favour of candidates with ‘clean’ criminal records for interview for certain jobs.   

I’m not a hippy liberal – not by any stretch – and I’m not saying that I think that serious crimes should go unpunished.   But I do agree that where the crime is petty, or would be awarded a very short prison sentence, that it just makes more sense to keep a young person out of the criminal justice system. 

It has been proved time and time again,  that the ‘short sharp shock’ treatment for many young offenders doesn’t work, because once in the criminal justice system it is very difficult for anyone to get out of it. 

As in Bob’s case, there are often underlying causes and reasons why a young person turns to crime, and unless those reasons are addressed there is always the risk of repeat offending.  (You can read more on this thinking here from Nacro)

Work to help prevent offending, rehabilitate offenders, and lobby for changes in the criminal justice system is already being done by organisations such as Prison Reform Trust, Nacro, and St Giles Trust

I just hope that the government works in consultation with these organisations and with ex-offenders themselves to use this money in the best and most pertinent way possible.

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