This year will see the new Government strategy on the rehabilitation of offenders being put into place. This strategy designed to reduce the amount of re-offending committed by people coming out of prison was due to have started 1 April but has now been put back to 1 June 2014.
Most of the discussion about ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ - or ‘TR’ as it is often known – has been about the end of the probation service as we have known it these last 100 years. Private companies have been asked to bid for some 70% of the work once done by probation, leaving just 30% for the smaller ‘public’ probation service that will be left. The successful bidders from the private sector will be subject to a new system of ‘payment by results’.
The pace of the change has been rapid. Too rapid some would say. Probation officers have been striking in a show of resistance. Many of them still do not know who they will be working for in June. (see http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/05/probation-officers-strike-protest-privatisation).
The official line from the Secretary of State for Justice is that we have to change.
‘Reoffending rates have barely changed in a decade, and with the rate of reoffending at almost 60 per cent for those prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months, that depressing merry- go-round is all too real. These are the people that leave prison with £46 and very little else ... I do not believe that we can continue to just do more of the same’
Apart from the private sector coming in Grayling also wants to see more work with offenders given to the voluntary sector. The result will be a mixed market of public, private and voluntary sector agencies which he hopes will re-energise work in this field.
The voluntary sector is seen as a source of creativity freed from bureaucratic shackles. They can be innovative and experimental. The sector is already doing a great deal of work with offenders and under the new TR regime they may well link up as partners with the new private companies coming in. A useful website on developments is that of ‘Clinks’ an organisation supporting all forms of voluntary work within the criminal justice system (see http://www.clinks.org/; see also http://www.justvolunteer.org.uk/).
What can volunteers do in the field of prisoner rehabilitation?
Volunteers can offer mentoring to people leaving prison. The ‘Centre for Social Justice’ has recently published a paper on ‘mentoring’ people such people, to help them put their lives back together rather than drifting into a life of further criminality. A copy of Meaningful Mentoring can be downloaded from http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/publications/meaningful-mentoring .
Volunteers wanting to work with people leaving prison with convictions for sex offences can offer their services to ‘Circles UK’. These are organised groups of volunteers in all parts of the country who form a circle of friends for the person concerned to help them resettle in the community. Their slogan is ‘No More Victims’. Each circle has a paid coordinator and there are communication links to the probation service and the police (see http://www.circles-uk.org.uk/).
- Is there a role for volunteers in the criminal justice system?
- Or should we leave it to the professionals?
- How do you think a mix of the volunteers, private sector and public sector will work out?
By Professor Terry Thomas. View his staff profile here
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net artist David Castillo Dominici