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Westminster: Justice Select Committee

Tuesday 9th September 2014

Entering into Westminster Hall with its stone floor, places where famous people have stood and given speeches  and seeing police with weapons can make you wonder where on earth you are. But walking up the steps at the back you enter a statue lined corridor and then you enter the lobby, beautiful architecture which never ceases to amaze me. I half expected to see Nick Robinson conducting an interview, instead I met  Jonathan Robinson,  an ex-prisoner, now author and prison reform campaigner.

Jonathan Robinson along with  Paula Harriott, Head of Programme, User Voice, Angela Levin, former Chair of HMP Wormwood Scrubs Independent Monitoring Board, and Deborah Russo, Prisoners’ Advice Service were witnesses giving evidence on Prisons: Planning and Policies in front of the Justice Select Committee. The complete oral evidence is available from the following link:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/justice-committee/prisons-planning-and-policies/oral/12519.html.

I decided to sit in the public area and hear each witness in order to gain insight into what is actually happening in prisons.  It is important  that prisoners are rehabilitated whilst inside and one way is through using the skills that are present within the prison population itself.

 

Courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv

Courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv

The Toe by Toe project run by the Shannon Trust is an excellent example of this, where  literate prisoners  help those that are illiterate. This is a peer-to-peer mentoring program. Not being able to read has a negative impact on  job prospects and also self-esteem. It’s quite shocking when prisoners that have been in the prison estate many years face release unable to read!

Jonathan Robinson has spent the last three years pushing for prison reform, he has written on his own personal prison experience and is a voice for those inside. He champions mentoring and is on the Advisory Board for NoOffence CIC!

http://www.jonathanrobinson.org/

 

 

 

 

Evolution of Peer Power

 

It was a privilege to be a delegate at the No Offence! Evolution of Peer Power ‘The new revolution in breaking the cycle of offending’ conference in London on 18th September.

NoOffence! CIC

 

It was designed to celebrate peer mentoring as good practice and to give prominence to the achievements of both peer mentors and their clients.

There has in recent years been a lot of talk about breaking the cycle of offending. We all waited with bated breath for the governments’ launch of the green paper in December 2010 ‘Breaking the Cycle Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders’. This Green Paper set out plans for fundamental changes to the criminal justice system in order to break the destructive cycle of crime, meaning that more criminals make amends to victims and communities for the harm they have caused. In so doing create a rehabilitation revolution that will change those communities whose lives are made a misery by crime. However, the criminal justice system is relied upon to deliver the response of: punishing offenders, protecting the public and reducing re-offending. This Green Paper addressed all three of these priorities, setting out how an intelligent sentencing framework, coupled with more effective rehabilitation, will enable the cycle of crime and prison to be broken.

So where does mentoring fit in? Well it is mentioned twice,

139. We have already launched the Social Impact Bond in Peterborough prison focused on those offenders serving less than 12 months in custody. Social investors are paying up front for intensive services and mentoring delivered by the voluntary and community sector. We will pay solely on the results they deliver.

266. In line with our broader reforms on transparency we also believe that local communities should know how their local youth justice services are performing, and have an opportunity to be involved. Both Youth Offending Teams and secure estate providers significantly involves volunteers to support the work that they do; there are approximately 10,000 volunteers already working within the youth justice system. This includes participation as youth offender panel members and mentors. We want to build on this, including encouraging voluntary and community sector providers, where appropriate, to deliver services. We also intend to publish more data at local level so that communities can see the effectiveness of their local Youth Offending Team for themselves, and use this information to inform and shape local priorities.

Let’s move forward 4 years……..
Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014
An Act to make provision about the release, and supervision after release, of offenders; to make provision about the extension period for extended sentence prisoners; to make provision about community orders and suspended sentence orders; and for connected purposes. [13th March 2014].
So yet again we consider where mentoring fits in the overall scheme of rehabilitation and breaking the cycle of offending. According to Rob Owen Chief Executive, St Giles Trust, highly motivated, uniquely credible, well-trained and well-managed, ex offender Peer Advisors deliver a professional, high calibre, impactful service to help other ex offenders through peer-led support. With each £1investment in peer mentoring the tax payer saves £10, sounds like good value for money.
Former Cabinet Minister, Author and prison reform campaigner Jonathan Aitken, stated that:

“Rehabilitation is falling off the agenda within prisons” and “mentoring needs to start in prison and not at the gate”.

However, with the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, it is hoped that this is not the case as mentoring is now on the agenda.

Ministry of Justice (2010) Breaking the cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders. London: TSO. (Cm. 7972).