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Fundamental Prison Reform

Comment 9th September 2010

Before I start, I have to make it clear: 

There are some prisoners who will never be reformed. 

There are some who cannot be released, for the safety of the public. 

There are some who shouldn’t be released, due to the nature of the crime/s. 

Having said all that, apart from keeping those incarcerated away from the general public – and in that way helping to reduce crime – Prison fails miserably in its role of reforming those who repeatedly offend (those whom the general public have in mind, when they use the word ‘criminal’) 

So what’s wrong? 

For all the ‘offending behaviour’ courses – nothing changes. Because they have never learned … how to learn.  ‘Offending behaviour’ courses – to those who really need them –  are like trying to teach a ten year old the theory of relativity – in a foreign language. 

Many will take on a GCSE course, hoping to turn around their lives. Sadly, out of 40 or so pupils who sign up for a GCSE English course, maybe ten will finished it and pass. Of that ten, I doubt more than two will actually need it. Most will be relatively successful in their lives outside, having been convicted relatively late in life, after being involved in one-off offences. 

The other 30 who will have dropped out, are the ones who did need it. But they’ll invariably suffer from short attention spans; poor concentration. They’ll become bored because they can’t overcome even the most trivial obstacles, and feel they’re being left behind. Then they’ll try and regain control and save face – by storming out and quitting. Then the cycle of failure – poor self image – low expectations – re-offending becomes reinforced. 

Suppose that, instead of the ridiculous and easily manipulated route to parole or early release being gained by ‘showing remorse’ (For all the good that does anyone?) the early release – or parole, for sentences of 4 years and over – was earned – by the gaining of useful qualifications that would stand them in good stead with an employer – particularly GCSE English and GCSE Maths. 

And to make it a goal worth aiming for – alter the time of parole/early release earned proportional to the level of qualification achieved, from a minimum of, say, one third (less than that awarded now) up to a maximum of two thirds, (More than it is now) and as it was prior to the changes made in 1992  (which did little to reduce crime.)

Why does this matter?

These people didn’t get the education they needed because they were absent (either in body or spirit) from where it was provided, when it was being provided. Now the state has them where it needs them, in order to provide it. Why waste the opportunity?

Teach them how to learn first – by pointing out the pitfalls and forewarning against the psychological low points that hit everyone when learning – and to keep the goal – that of obtaining early release – firmly connected to achievement. 

Will it work? I’m not sure – but if sending people out from jail as better people than those who entered it is the goal, surely this stands more chance than the present system – which often sends them out worse.

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