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Where’s Mum?…she’s in prison with an author and an actor off Eastenders!

Daughter: Did you just say Mum’s visiting a prison in London with an author and an actor off Eastenders ?

Son 1: If I stop someone from killing someone else and in so doing I kill them, am I a bad person or is it just what I have done bad?

Son 2: Did you really sit in a room with prisoners, what if they were murderers?

Boyfriend of daughter: Wow, you were in the audience and sat with prisoners?

Are these the kind of conversations you have with your family?

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Over the past four years I have met many prisoners who all had one thing in common: they just needed someone to believe in them, to listen to them and to help them whilst in prison and once their sentence had ended.

I’ve found that, for some of them, criminal activity had become a way of life; they knew nothing else and would most likely continue in the same way after release. For others, falling into crime was a result of a stupid decision or action, often spontaneous, which had got them in to trouble with the law, convicted and sent to prison; they felt a debilitating remorse and that they had let themselves and their families down.

Crisis – what crisis?

We read that the prison population continues to rise, overcrowding in prison seems to be the norm rather than the exception and violence, suicides and self-harm are weekly occurrences. There is tragedy after tragedy yet we are told that there is no crisis in our prison system.

So what should we do? One solution is to accept the status quo and keep our heads in the sand. Another is to actually address the issues. But, as I keep hearing, this has to be a coherent team effort.

Not settling for the status quo

In January, I visited a London prison and was accompanied by NoOffence! Patron, actor Derek Martin (Eastenders’ Charlie Slater) and author Jonathan Robinson (@IN_IT_THE_BOOK) from their Advisory Board. I’ve already blogged about the visit and the lessons I took away from that experience.

At a peer mentoring conference last year, I met with Rob Owen OBE the chief executive of St Giles Trust, an Ambassador for NoOffence!

St Giles Trust aims to help break the cycle of prison, crime and disadvantage and create safer communities by supporting people to change their lives.

Next week, I will be meeting Geoff Baxter OBE the CEO of Prison Fellowship who is also an Ambassador of NoOffence!

This is just a small sample of the organisations that work to improve the lives of offenders, there are many more.

I’d dearly like to explore how these organisations can find more ways to work together; these plus leaders such as Howard League perform outstanding work as organisations in their own right. Just imagine what could be achieved if new ways of working could be agreed to improve the Criminal Justice System.

In December 2012 I was accepted by the Secretary of State to the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of an open prison. To carry out my duties effectively, the role provide the right of access to every prisoner and every part of the prison I monitor, and also to the prison’s records. Independent monitoring ensures people in custody are treated fairly and humanely; I take this work very seriously.

When I started working in prisons it was as a group facilitator for Sycamore Tree, a victim awareness programme teaching the principles of restorative justice. For many offenders on Sycamore Tree one of the most powerful element of the programme is when a victim of crime visits to talk with the group how crime has impacted their lives. In week 6 of the programme, participants have an opportunity to express their remorse – some write letters, poems or create works of art or craft. Members of the local community are invited to the course to observe the many varied symbolic acts of restitution.

I’ve seen some remarkable lives turned around among offenders who make it to this stage of the programme. Okay, you argue, there is no way these outcomes can be achieved in 100% of cases. I agree.

But programmes that provide education and encouragement have to be a more purposeful activity and more effective towards increasing the chances of better outcomes with more offenders than them simply being banged up for 23 hours a day with the TV.

But all it takes is a bit of coherent team work.

I like what NoOffence! says in their mission statement and vision:

Mission Statement: NoOffence! will encourage, promote and facilitate the collaboration of organisations from the voluntary, public and private sectors to address the issue of reducing crime and reoffending.

Vision: To be the leading online criminal justice communication, information exchange and networking community in the world. Our vision for NoOffence! has always been to bring justice people together to overcome barriers to rehabilitation. We believe the solution to complex justice problems lie with the people…

They have got a point, haven’t they?

I for one would be open to try to forge more collaboration than we see today. And I know I’m not alone in that view; many others are prepared to voice a similar willingness and appetite for supporting each other.

Actions speak louder than words. Let’s get on with it.

Continue the conversation on Twitter #rehabilitation

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).