I’m pleased that at last the government have agreed officially that people go to prison as punishment not for punishment. The main focus should be on rehabilitation and resettlement – although resettlement from prison can be a traumatic experience. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had spent my last 18 months in open prison I honestly don’t know if I’d have made it. In that time, I was able to secure employment and a temporary address with having access to the resources available on the outside of the gate such as the use of internet. It was my difficult resettlement process which drove me to set up the organisation, Key Changes – Unlocking Women’s Potential in order to empower and support women in their return to the community from prison.
For the 53% of women and 27% of men who experienced abuse and trauma as a child, according to the Prison Reform Trust, the whole prison setup can be traumatic and provides little support to help you rebuild your life. Not enough open prisons are available and those which are often take the brunt of political attacks and debates which make it more difficult for those prisoners who need them to get there. The education option in prison is poorly paid compared to other jobs and few opt for this on that basis.
An alternative model is available in Sweden based on rehabilitation rather than punishment. It uses its prisons as a last resort and supports and guides its residents rather than just holding them as a punishment. Staff ratios are one to one rather than staff managing high numbers of people. Their prisoners are treated as human beings and building positive relationships with the people in their care is central to their success.
Perhaps if the British Justice system was built on the same principles our prisons would be more effective. Resettlement would be something residents worked towards throughout their sentence and not just at the latter end, which often results in anxiety and uncertainty. Enabling people to take responsibility for their own lives is far from a soft option which is a phrase often heard in political debates. If prisoners were allowed access to resources such as the internet it would enable them to resolve their own problems and help them reach their goals rather than leaving them in a situation of reliance on a system which is already stretched and failing.
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