I have been asked to rant on the subject of Rehabilitation in Prison. I must admit to being rather flummoxed as during my time in Prison I met lots of people with great ideas pertaining to rehabilitative issues but very rarely were they put into action.
It is my opinion that the job of the Prison Estate is not only to safeguard the public from us vagabonds but to also assist us in seeing the error of our ways and help us to become better members of society.
There are 3 types of people one meets in prison; the type that one knows will never be incarcerated again; the type that treat prison as an occupational hazard and use it to meet up with old friends and the ones that are teetering on the edge (the ones that broke the law as a result of a rash action, the ones that break the law to feed a habit and the ones that know no other way to survive).
When you start your time in custody you are supposed to meet with an Offender Supervisor (sort of like a probation officer but in prison). They are supposed to discuss what led up to your offense and the reasoning behind it. Sort of a What, Why, Where and How type of report. This is called an OASys Report. The full description of what it entails can be found here. Upon the completion of this, a sentence plan will be agreed upon by both the offender and the Offender Supervisor. This will help the offender on his way to rehabilitation. The sentence plan will detail what courses the offender should complete whilst in custody. They are targeted at “addressing offender behaviour” and can include such courses as TSP, CALM, Restorative Justice, Victim Awareness to name but a few. (A more complete list of Offending Behaviour Programs can be found here). He will meet with his Offender Supervisor on a regular basis and will have his OASys report updated annually to show his progression.
That’s all well and good, isn’t it? The Offender starts his time in custody with a proper assessment to allow him to progress through the system and be rewarded in the knowledge that not only will he get transferred to the open estate (D’ Category Prisons) but he will be a better member of the human race for it. Except it isn’t
Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but.......
The guidelines issued by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) states that a prisoner should have the OASys report completed within the first 16 weeks of custody. My OASys report wasn’t undertaken until I had been in prison for 12 months. I know of others who haven’t had it issued for over 2 years! Some offenders were being refused their progression to the open estate because they hadn’t completed their sentence plan. Fair point one may think, one should have to complete the courses set out by the Offender Supervisor before being considered for progression. BUT THE SENTENCE PLAN HADN’T EVER BEEN ISSUED! Let’s put that into perspective shall we? The man had been in prison for 3 years, never had a visit from an Offender Supervisor and was then, in essence, told “You can’t progress because we haven’t done our job properly.” And the public wonders why prisoners can be rather volatile?
I once met a prisoner who had been refused his progression because he hadn’t completed his sentence plan. He appealed the decision showing that indeed he had completed all courses set for him, had been well behaved and an all round model prisoner. The answer he received back was “The Sentence Plan is a live document and we can add to it at anytime.” OK, I understand that, but here’s the hook; THEY NEVER TOLD HIM THAT THEY HAD ADDED TO IT! What was the person supposed to do? Guess what courses he was to attend? I suggested that he apply to the Offender Management Unit (for it is there that the Offender Supervisors used to hide) on a daily basis to see if anything had been added to his Sentence Plan. Mind you if he had done that he would have probably been placed on report! Oh I do love the inane fatuousness of the prison estate sometimes.
So let’s look at the world through rose tinted glasses for a minute and assume that the sentence plan has been delivered and there are a few courses on it that the offender needs to complete. I know; never happens, but stay with me here, people.
He is set a number of courses to attend. He goes along to the education department to be assessed and he doesn’t meet the criteria for that specific course. If the education department doesn’t inform the OMU that this is the case, he will be refused his progression because he hasn’t done the course! But this is a sharp guy, this prisoner. He asks to see his offender supervisor to explain the situation. Well, I once applied in the March of a year to see my offender supervisor and by the time he came to see me, his opening line was “Merry Christmas”.
I have written previously on the chronic understaffing of prisons and don’t intend to rant on again about it (but if you are interested click here). Save to say, that in a cost cutting exercise, under The Dark Knight (oops I mean Chris Grayling), all outside probation officers were retired and replaced by Supervising Officer Grade personnel or S.O.’s. Great idea? Nope. S.O.’s then needed to be trained on how to write the reports and also one other key thing. They needed to be given the time to meet with the offenders under their supervision (normally 50 or so prisoners). Except they weren’t. In one of the prisons I was in, the S.O.’s had less than 4 hours per month doing OMU work, the rest of the time they were detailed elsewhere. Add to that, that there are so few places available on the courses due to the education department being understaffed and bingo you have a staffing problem and a warehouse.
The most outrageous part of the sentence plan, I felt is where the offender was instructed to complete a course that was not available at his current prison. Oh Come on! That’s right; set a course for the man that you know is not available in his establishment, tell him that they will be put on a waiting list for the course that could be up to 1 year and that he will transferred out closer to the time. So no unease there then? No wondering when the knock on the door will come to be told that you are being shipped out the following day? Really??
I couldn’t make this stuff up, even if I tried.
The success of a good prison can only be judged that when the prisoner leaves the establishment he never returns. However, unless the Ministry of Justice decides to get itself into gear and act then all those prisoners in the third category I mentioned above should expect to hear:
“Congratulations, your release day has come, just step into that revolving door would you?”
Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.
“He Who Opens a School Door Closes A Prison” – Victor Hugo