Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

The treasure in the heart of man – making prisons work

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The new Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, is turning out to be a very interesting appointment. Following his speech on his vision for the justice system, (see this blog 23 June 2015), he has now given a truly remarkable lecture on how prisons might be made to work more effectively in helping to rehabilitate offenders and leading them to play a constructive role in society.

Taking his inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said ‘There is a treasure, if only you can find it, in the heart of every man’ he has noted that education must be at the heart of the prison experience.

To be fair, his predecessor said something very similar; but then went on to ban books being available to prisoners, which seemed, at the least, to be counter-productive.

Michael Gove, pursuing interested he had as Secretary of State for Education, has returned to the same theme.

At present, Gove noted

45% of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release. For those prisoners serving shorter sentences – those of less than twelve months – the figure rises to 58%. And, saddest of all, more than two-thirds of offenders under the age of 18 re-offend within twelve months of release.

Referring to the characteristics of those in prison, he said:

Prisoners come – disproportionately – from backgrounds where they were deprived of proper parenting, where the home they first grew up in was violent, where they spent time in care, where they experienced disrupted and difficult schooling, where they failed to get the qualifications necessary to succeed in life and where they got drawn into drug-taking.

Three quarters of young offenders had an absent father, one third had an absent mother, two-fifths have been on the child protection register because they were at risk of abuse and neglect.

  • 41% of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child
  • 24% of prisoners were taken into care as children. That compares with just 2% of the general population
  • 42% of those leaving prison had been expelled from school when children compared to 2% of general population
  • 47% have no school qualifications at all – not one single GCSE – this compares to 15% of the working age general population
  • Between 20 and 30% of prisoners have learning difficulties or disabilities and 64% have used Class A drugs

His answer to this is to try to ensure that there is much more ‘purposeful activity’ in prisons so that prisoners are helped to fill in some of the gaps in their education and upbringing.

Gove continued:

In prisons there is a – literally – captive population whose inability to read properly or master basic mathematics makes them prime candidates for re-offending. Ensuring those offenders become literate and numerate makes them employable and thus contributors to society, not a problem for our communities. Getting poorly-educated adults to a basic level of literacy and numeracy is straightforward, if tried and tested teaching models are followed, as the armed forces have demonstrated. So the failure to teach our prisoners a proper lesson is indefensible.

In this context, Gove proposes that prisoners should be required to earn early release from prison by showing they have participated in and learned from appropriate educational opportunities. He want to down play, even abolish, the automatic release of prisoners halfway through their sentences – a practice which he says means that sentences imposed by judges hardly ever mean what they purport to say.

It is not clear how far detailed policy work has been undertaken to bring this vision into effect – it seems likely that it would be a policy that would require significant additional resources, even if in the long run savings could be made through the reduction It may therefore be easier said than done. But as a goal for the prison system to aim for, it makes a lot of sense.

To read the whole speech go to https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-treasure-in-the-heart-of-man-making-prisons-work

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Written by lwtmp

August 3, 2015 at 9:55 am

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