Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To Hurt or to Heal

All of the talk of rehabilitation revolutions are inevitably futile as ,long as we continue to have our fetish with imprisonment. Prison takes people who are often damaged and – as a matter of deliberate policy – damages them further before releasing them back into an indifferent society. Well, indifferent until the next victim is generated.

Punishment is a lodestone, politically at least, of the justice system. That “punishment” may well make a bad situation worse is completely ignored. Which is one reason why the criminal justice system is held in contempt by all parties, defendants as well as victims. After passing through a brutal process, no one involved emerges either satisfied or feeling better for the process.

Prison damages. After a crime that has caused harm, our response is a process which adds further harm. It takes a person (mostly a man) and separates them from their families. They may lose their relationships, placing higher burdens on State benefits and increasing the chances of their children wandering from the path of a decent life. They lose their job, maybe a whole professional career and will find it extremely difficult to return to a productive meaningful life. The costs to the individuals is huge and the cost to society is ridiculously high. The whole machine is geared at causing harm and it does so with brutal efficiency.

Throwing the word “rehabilitation into this seems quite ridiculous. It is the equivalent of blinding a man and then handing him a map of the road back to good. It is a nonsense, and we will reap the costs of that for so long as any policy maker suggests that prison can be even remotely a positive experience. Which is not to say that there are no alternatives; only that we, as a society, prefer the government to deal with the social trash rather than getting our hands dirty.

We should reclaim our criminals, if for no other reason than the government is doing such a lousy job with them. We could render imprisonment a niche in the criminal justice system, an odd relic that we may wonder why we fetishized in the first place. As a 200 year old experiment, the evidence is in – prison doesn’t work and so communities should accept the challenge of dealing with its most difficult members.

Canadian communities found themselves thrown into action some years ago in response to a sex offender panic. The government has altered sentencing laws which meant that sex offenders served every day of their sentence and then released into the community. Without supervision. It served a populist cause but saw communities having to deal with high risk sex offenders all by themselves.

It was the Mennonite church which stepped into the gap in the first instance and created a scheme which protected the community from the criminal and the criminal from the community. This became “Circles of Support and Accountability”. Short of a new offence being detected, government was out of the loop. And this concept was such a success that the K imported it, albeit in a different legal framework, to some success
It is a labour intensive form of community response. If necessary, with the highest risk ex prisoners, volunteers accompany them for 24 hours a day, challenging their behaviours whilst also assisting them to reintegrate and rebuild their lives. It is a deal from which everyone benefits.

There is no reason why we cannot respond to all but an extreme handful of criminals in this way, retaining them in the community. Except we chose not to; we prefer to write government a cheque to deal with the problems on our behalf. Except we are not getting anything approaching a decent return for our money and communities feel divorced from the criminal justice system.

Criminals grow up in communities, they live in them and they then harm them. It is in communities that our best chance of reclaiming people lays. To shrug off our difficult members and hide them behind high walls is short sighted, expensive, and ultimately futile.

Communities should reclaim their errant members and challenge them, supervise them and reintegrate them. Criminals are not a separate species or islands apart and fracturing their tenuous connections to their communities – as imprisonment does – only subverts any hope of a future with fewer victims. We need to decide to heal the wounds of crime, not to inflict further hurt.

31 comments:

  1. Can we take it that you'll offer a home to either a junkie or a paedophile then, and let them stay under your roof after the junkie has stolen yr new laptop and taken it to cash converters to get money to buy smack, or the paedophile has molested your 12 year old nephew or niece as they visit you??

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    1. If that's what you got from that blog then either I wrote it really badly or you may benefit from reading it again.

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    2. Have re-read it ( several times) and despite its verbosity I can't really see any definite suggestions for an alternative to imprisonment apart from a whimsical notion that society would be better off if we all opened our homes to an offender.... Lead the way; my Yale stays firmly latched I'm afraid.

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    3. You could have Googled Circles of Support of course, and looked at the "whimsical" success in Canada for example.

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    4. Ok, having read COSA on wiki etc I see its merits, but surely not on the scale that you argue for.
      You say it could be used for all but a handful of prisoners.... Lets call this handful 10 percent of the current population of 88600; that leaves about 80000 offenders to be managed in COSA schemes... Forget the probation service, they're too busy managing those already on license or serving community sentences. Each COSA offender needs a core of at least 6 workers to maintain the circle, even if you gave each support worker a case load of say 10 offenders you would need 48000 workers to run the system; where would these people come from?? That's why I called your suggestion whimsical.
      It's no good hating prison and all it stands for unless you can suggest a workable alternative...

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    5. Um, all of these people are called "the community"....About 65,000,000 of them.

      That is worst case scenario, of course, that every con would need a 6 person COSA etc.

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    6. Yes... But the community doesn't care too much what goes on behind the walls... And certainly wouldn't want the walls taken down... Sad but true

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    7. Which community are you talking about here anonymous? For many people, those behind prison walls are our brothers and sisters. In many uprisings from the french revolution onwards, prison walls have been torn down as part of the revolt and uprising by the masses, sorry, but you are wrong about 'the community' not wanting prison walls taken down.

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    8. @Anonymous 30/10 7:27 I think you have your figures wrong. Of the 88,600 you speak of, at least 19,000 are "on remand" and more than half of them will walk from court or have charges dropped. As a result, that's 9,000 prison spaces being wasted.

      That's drops your figure to less than 72,000 already.

      Then look at those in Open prison. For people who have a determinate sentence, allocation to Open prison just proves they should never have been imprisoned. I remember my time in Open - the prison was in my head, and I just focussed on walking out of the door on the specified date and not before.

      Once in a Probation hostel, I realised there are five levels of prison in the UK, and Probation Hostels are the fourth, above Open Prison. So if these people are safe to release, why are they under heavier restrictions that they were in Open Prison?

      in 60% of cases, people sentenced to jail terms should instead be sentenced to community service of the same duration, and be (reliably) tagged for 12 hours a day whilst serving their sentence. That gives the same level of loss of freedom as prison, with virtually none of the cost. And this even works for the violent, the dishonest, etc etc. It could even work for murderers and rapists, if done properly.

      Finally, build "community rehabilitation" flats for those that need more security than a simple tag, or those that cannot be tagged for valid reasons. These would be like secure university halls, run by Probation officers.

      That would leave a high security prison estate for the worst of the worst, and needing about 20,000 places in total. Turn some of the better prisons into remand centres for the 5,000 or so that genuinely need remanding, and the system is complete.

      No need to open your home to an offender, just cope with the fact that they are living in their homes - exactly as they are now.

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  2. If you can't to the time do not the crime. People them selves bring it on them selves. They know if they steal a lap top they go to prison. They know what they do and the punishment for doing it. It is people not the system that needs to change.

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    1. I'm sorry, that's a t-shirt slogan and not a particularly good one. And it excuses everything wrongly done to prisoners, "it's their fault".

      Worse, it excuses the community from doing anything at all, merely shovelling people and their problems into the penal dustbin. And if you haven't noticed, it leads to huge social harm and cost, including an horrific reoffending rate.

      Addressing these problems requires a little more than chanting a crappy slogan.

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    2. Super Saint, (that speaks volumes),

      You are wrong on so many levels here. 'If you can't to the time do not the crime'. This is nonsensical the way you have put it.

      'They know if they steal a lap top they go to prison'. You need to get away from the crime = prison mentality.

      'They know what they do and the punishment for doing it'. Deterrence is always a problematic ideology. If what you say was true then Texas would have a really low homicide rate as they put more people to death there than any other US state. But it has one of the highest.

      'It is people not the system that needs to change' I would suggest the opposite, but what do I know, you seem more clued up than most due to your overwhelming evidence.

      Chuck

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    3. Circles of support and accountability are a system put in place to help the people change.

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  3. Ben, I can't make sense of this. Are you suggesting that prisons should simply be closed and inmates handed over to the church? I don't think you have thought about this enough. Prison's surely need to be improved not just closed down.

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    1. Not the church, though they took the lead with Circles of Support and Accountability in Canada through default.

      Google Circles, look at the history and the evidence. Even high risk criminals can be kept in the community with lower reoffending rates than prison.

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    2. Ok. Where is the history of Google Circles taking responsibility for prisoners? Where is the evidence of low re-offending rates? What are the comparative rates exactly? I think you need to quote and link sources if you are making quite radical claims - not saying they are not true - but do need justification. How does the deterent element work exactly?

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    3. Jake,

      tell me you didn't put 'google circles' into google? That would be pretty silly.

      Try this as a start: http://www.circles-uk.org.uk/

      Chuck

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    4. For evidence try these links: http://www.circles-uk.org.uk/resources/research-journal-articles

      Chuck

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  4. Certainly now true that people are now seeing Benn for what he's worth & his ideas being based on simple bitterness.Some thought that he's been educated-quite the opposite & his 'education' hasn't been at all worthwhile.More loss to the taxpayer

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    1. Hello TROLL :) We shall now all ignore you unless you are ON TOPIC

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    2. His lack of 'spacial awareness' gives him away as a repeat offender!

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  5. Don't feed the Trolls!!

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  6. @Chuck, thanks for those links; I tend to hope people are interested enough to do their own Googling and not rely on me!

    Don't get hung up on Circles of Support. They are a great illustration of what can be done at the community level but are not necessarily the only way to do this sort of thing. I point to them as a stark reminder that prison isn't the only answer out there.

    If the community chooses to remain obsessed with prison, fine; they also reap the consequences. A pity.

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  7. recently, a drug user robbed a local late night store, hitting the young girl 'on duty'.
    some locals tracked him down, kicked s**t out of him and then called the police telling them where to find him. Is this the sort of community 'support' that will bring down prison walls?

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    1. No. Vigilantism is ilegal for a reason, which is why Ben is suggesting something much more sensible.

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    2. And are you claiming that this guy has now given up crime? If not, thanks for another example of how not to respond to crime.

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  8. Anonymous; We've all got individual examples of stuff.. and of course there are plenty of nasty shitty things that happen, especially under the present conditions where a nasty shitty system makes people srcabble around and fight eachother for crumbs while a small minority lap up huge wealth and privilege. Also the gangster capitalist system knows no boundaries, has no morals, is alienating for everyone and perverse. So its a corrupt system and people suffer in very many ways.

    My point is, Anonymous, that when there are uprisings against the system, the most famous and still celebrated is "bastille day" i think July 14th, when the masses tore down the walls of the bastille and went on to make a revolution. The characteristic of uprisings still carries on in various parts of the world to this day. People do not want their brothers and sisters given no hope and locked up; and when the mass of people feel confident enough to orchestrate change, one of the things they do and have done from a long while back is they tear down prison walls.

    If you don't want that to happen then be part of a campaign to stop the injustices, to stop the IPP system for example, because if the current lack of any empathy and understanding (mainly from the government, but from other sources too) continues, something will break, who knows what ...?

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    1. July 14th is correct; but we must learn from history or it repeats... The glorious French Revolution consumed itself until power was seized by a lunatic called napoleon Bonaparte who then crowned himself emperor of all France and its dominions (google the French terror for all the nasty history) but the point is which bits of the CJS do you want to dismantle? You can't just close prisons and replace them with COSA or any other substitute unless you completely reform the courts system, and the police, and the law as we know it....
      Time to get real, prison may not be perfect, but were stuck with it because 1 it's too costly to replace it, and 2 the community aren't all that bothered enough to overthrow the system and rise up in rebellion....

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    2. Sure, you might be right; things may never change ... But which side are you on? The side that wants change and reform, or do you go with the inadequacies and injustices of the present? About the cost, well, its what people choose to do with money isn't it? Pay for wars, trident and weapons of mass destruction, give money to banks etc, or, should it be invested in the community, in schools, healthcare, welfare, a fairer prison system; all things that would make for a better and more healthy economy.

      Just look at Iceland as an example, their ecomony turned around by orientating on health and welfare needs.

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  9. Sheikh Omar DullaleeOctober 31, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    While on holiday last summer I saw prisoners in North Carolina USA working on a chain gang by the side of the motorway in temperatures of 95 degrees. As someone who goes into UK jails regularly it looked brutal. If ever there was ‘deterrent’ to stop reoffending then surely this kind of regime must be it, yet the USA has more than 2 million in custody! I was wondering Ben if you had a view as to how prison can satisfy the public and make a positive difference to a prisoner?

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    1. I doubt that it can be done, to be frank.

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