I’m vice-chairman of a small charity, Prisoners Education Trust (PET).  Basically, we believe that learning and education have the power to enrich lives and, in the case of prisoners, to make it less likely that they will reoffend when released.  At present reoffending rates are totally unacceptable; 60% of prisoners are back in prison after two years.  It costs approximately £40 thousand pounds to keep someone in prison (more if you add in all sorts of other associated costs involved in supporting the families of prisoners while they are absent).

Today, in the UK, there are 85,340 people in prison (95% male and 5% female).  Only 49 of these will never be released so that means 85,291 will be let out of prison at the end of their sentences and face the daunting prospect re-entering society.

If you have ever been, say, in hospital for a week or so, you will know how quickly you become institutionalised.  Routines and rules that seemed absurd on the first day rapidly become the norm.  Now imagine you have been deprived of your liberty and incarcerated for far longer than a mere week.  Even though you hate being in prison with all its restrictions, massive inconveniences and hours of boredom locked up in your cell, you adjust to life inside.  Inevitably, you begin to lose touch with the world outside, full of choices, complexity, bustle and information overload.  In a funny sort of way, life inside is easier with its strict routines, reduced choices and, literally, less room for manoeuvre.

My point is that this is possibly the worst way to prepare people for a successful return to society.  No wonder so many fail to make the transition and find themselves sucked back into a life of crime and inside again.  The factors that reduce this revolving door are well known – there is no mystery about them; a home, a family and a job.  The likelihood of a prisoner securing employment is massively improved when he/she has qualifications that are recognised by employers and, of course, employers that are prepared to take a calculated risk and offer an ex-prisoner a job.  Most employers shy away from this, exacerbating the reoffending problem.

St Giles Trust have just released a short video (it only lasts seven minutes) aimed at persuading more employers to hire ex-prisoners. Click on this link to read the brief introduction and view the video http://www.stgilestrust.org.uk/news/p216881-businesses-tell-of-their-best-employees-ex-offenders.html

It may seem like a no-brainer to (a) offer prisoners opportunities to learn and acquire recognised qualifications/improved self-esteem and (b) have employment opportunities for prisoners on release, but lots of people prefer to think of prisons as places to punish wrong doers, not to rehabilitate them.  I recently gave a talk to raise funds for PET and had just extolled the advantages of rehabilitating prisoners, making the point that the vast majority of prisoners will be released and that reoffending rates are currently unacceptably high, when man leapt up, shouted, ‘I disagree’ and marched out of the room in protest. This has made me less complacent – I no longer assume I’m preaching to the converted.  Sadly, too many people think it best to ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ without appreciating this increases the likelihood of reoffending creating more victims, more broken families and more cost for the tax payer.

I’ll climb down off my soapbox now – but please click on the link above and look at the video.  And forward this piece to anyone who might be interested.  If you want to find out more about the work of PET the website is www.prisonerseducation.org.uk

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