"This is my second prison sentence and it has been tough"
18 January 2017 12:00 AM

A letter to the public from my prison: Here’s how to fix the crisis

18 January 2017

By Gareth

I write this from prison. I'm not going to write about what I did or how I ended up here. It's enough to know that I'm here. I'd like to tell you about why things are looking up for me now and what we might learn from that.

With the recent media saturation regarding the prison crisis, there's hopefully a general sense that this cannot go on. But how do we reverse the degradation of these places? How can we make sure that, when they are released, prisoners are rehabilitated and useful to their communities? It's not enough to hope that a long enough stint in a bad enough place is going to fix inmates. That guy who nicked your wallet last week will do it again the next one. Something human has to happen in between.

People have to be helped to change.

For a long time, prisoners have been taking advantage of – or trying to cope with – the fact that the wings of our prisons are understaffed, overcrowded and increasingly dangerous. A handful of staff are now expected to control and care for 120 guys, who all have anger, trust, substance and psychological issues, to name a just a few. Prisons are becoming little more than warehouses for the damaged and damaging. So what can make the difference?

Education and safety are not values in an either/or equation. They go hand in hand. Prisoners' Education Trust (PET) research has found that those who engage in higher education courses are 25% less likely to reoffend. But meaningful education gets side-lined in times of crisis. At times like this, prisoners spend more time behind doors and have less exposure to the sort of activities that turn their lives around.

Prisons have the highest concentration of illiterate men in our country. Teaching them how to read and write is a start, but it really is only a start. The next step is to understand their potential. If so, we might see people leaving prisons with a reason to stay out of prison. What is more, we could see the transformation of prisons themselves.

I know this from personal experience. This is my second prison sentence and it has been tough. The first few years I spent wallowing in the imprisonment-for-public-protection mess I found myself in. I knew I was just in a cycle that I had to get out of, but I had no qualifications and no idea of what my life looked like outside of committing crime. The mandatory Offending Behaviour Programs seemed to just gently tap on the outside of the hole I was in and didn't really do anything to impassion me into making something more of my life.

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