Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Why can’t we have an "Academy" Prison run by a Charity, Academy institution or a Community?

Today I am speaking at the IEA on a new type of prison. The broad thrust of what I am going to say is set out below:

Prison does work. It locks people up so that the prisoner cannot then commit a crime: yet prison for years has failed to change the prisoner’s behaviour. Despite multiple new laws, and successive politicians passing tougher and tougher sentences, the prisoners still reoffend upon release in their tens of thousands.
Over the last 20 years prison numbers have doubled from 43,000 to 87,000, and under the last Government the rates of reoffending rose to around 70%. On top of this,
- over half the prison population have a drug problem,
- some 50% of prisoners are less literate than the average 11-year-old,
- and one in five prisoners who take drugs say they took them for the first time in prison.

You do not need to be a fan of the film The Shawshank Redemption to know that traditional prisons are ill-adapted to the modern world and a desire for rehabilitation, with rehab facilities squeezed like a quart into a pint pot.

There is ample evidence, however, to show that prisons that provide for activities, training and opportunities for rehabilitation, have much fewer problems on their wings, and are much less likely to suffer with riots and unrest than those where prisoners are locked up 23 hours a day, in cramped cells, with no opportunity to change their behaviour.

Now is the time to think Radical!
The Community Prison

- If Hospitals can be transformed by Foundation status, then why not a prison?
- If educational charities can transform schools why cannot they do the same for prisons?
Look at the amazing Excelsior Academy in Newcastle - this has transformed a school and an area.
As Charities like Absolute Return for Kids [ARK] or the Harris Foundation run state comprehensive schools open to all, then why could they not run a prison?
- why cannot a philanthropic charity, with by and large altruistic motives, take on the responsibility?

In truth, there is no reason why these things could not happen. It’s just that no one has ever really tried before, even though inside prisons there are thousands of not for profit organisations working and producing real results.

Imagine a prison run not by the public sector, or for profit. To misquote a dodgy former Prime Minister [Blair] there just might be “a third way” to run a prison, in the community, by the community, and for those from that community who have fallen by the wayside. Clearly this is not possible for a Category A top security prison but for the lower grade prisons it is more than possible.

For anyone who has spent time in prisons, the lack of innovative thought and specific engagement with the prisoner is striking. I accept that there are honourable exceptions, but I would still like to see a ‘Foundation Prison’.

More particularly, I would like to see prisons incentivised to change the prisoners behaviour: a start would be a category D or C prison for lower risk prisoners. There are admittedly problems raising capital on a not for profit format but it is not impossible.

There are some outstanding examples of charities showing us how to rehabilitate our prisoners. The St Giles Trust “Through the Gates” programme offers prisoners housing, education, training and the silver bullet of prisoner rehabilitation – employment. Why does it not run a prison? Similarly the Shannon Turst is another institution that is leading the way on reform and is capable of taking the next strep of running a prison.
For those who want to know more on my ideas, my book, Doing Time - Prisons in the 21st Centruy - is still available in the shops or on Amazon [If you must, but they are putting bookshops out of business]. All proceeds go to the NHS charity that helps brain tumour sufferers and funds research.