Over the weekend of 26-28 March we met at Ditchley to discuss the place of prisoner reintegration in modern policing and correctional systems. We were fortunate to have around the table people from a number of countries with wide experience of the operational and policy implications of the issues we were discussing, as well as a Chairman with a deep knowledge of the subject to guide our discussions.
Before looking in detail at the three main stages in policy-making which we categorised as before prison, during imprisonment and finally release into the community, we took a look at the general problem. We thought that in both the UK and the USA we were at an important moment. The announcement in London on 6 January of the impending merger of the prison and probation services into the National Offender Management System heralded a fundamental change in the UK. A few weeks later President Bush’s announcement in his State of the Union Address of a programme of $300m over four years to give another group of “forgotten Americans” a second chance had raised prisoner reintegration to a new level in the USA. It was stated that in the USA crime rates generally were low but there was a high level of violent offences with many committed against complete strangers. Attempts were being made to build partnerships across a range of Federal Agencies, including Education, Housing, Health and Employment. It was hoped that the faith and community based organisations could be more closely integrated with official efforts to bring offenders back into the community. Assessment tools would be important. Projects would be evaluated to try to determine best practice and successful innovative projects would receive funding. All this, it was claimed, had the strong support of the President. It remained, however, to be seen what the Congress would agree to fund.
In commenting on the general question, a participant queried the title of the conference. It would give a better idea of what was wanted if it referred to “citizen” rather than “prisoner” reintegration, to which another added that for many of those concerned it would be more accurate to refer to “integration” since a high percentage of prisoners had never been integrated in the community before being sent to prison. There was a feeling that in the UK we had got it wrong about who should be in prison with numbers rising sharply in recent years to a record 75,000, 25% of which were for first convictions. It was claimed that if they were not capped, numbers could rise to 300,000. At the juvenile level France had 775 under-18s in prison, England and Wales, 3,000, Spain and Italy none. Juvenile recidivism in the UK remained at 80% and at 60% for adults. Prison, it was argued, should be the last resort. Although there were now a number of community based options, punishment still featured high on the list of priorities and with it a prison sentence. But, commented another participant, custody brought with it heavier penalties than the sentence in prison itself with some countries removing the right to vote, housing and other social benefits. In New York we were told some 150 licences were withheld from convicted felons. In the UK Housing Benefit was stopped after 13 weeks of remand or incarceration.
In looking at alternatives to imprisonment the view was expressed that this implied custody was the normal state of affairs, while the aim should be to move custody from the centre to the margins in our systems. It was thought that if examined coolly and rationally, prison would be shown in the majority of cases to be the least effective option at our disposal. The status quo, some thought, was not really an option, it was not an effective use of money. We considered those who were in a position to reduce the use of custody. The police were the gatekeepers into the criminal justice system and policing presented an opportunity from the start to deal with offenders and offending differently. It would, however, require two-way communication between the police and other agencies to support a new approach. We discussed the role of judges and magistrates in sentencing and the tendency over recent years to impose lengthier custodial sentences. Some questioned whether judges were best qualified to determine the most effective sentences. Others suggested that judges should be made aware of the costs of the sentences they imposed by, for example, putting the cost in pre-sentence reports, and also of the outcome of their sentences. More feedback to judges, magistrates and police would, we thought, be desirable.
We examined alternatives to custody and identified Restorative Justice as a procedure which was producing good non-custodial outcomes. Electronic tagging and community service were also commended, particularly the latter. The Criminal Justice Act in England and Wales set out a whole new range of sentencing with some custodial sentences converted after a short time into community sentences under supervision. However, one commentator with years of experience in this field, pointed out that reducing prison sentences had never been achieved through creating alternatives. Only in countries like Canada and Finland where it was formally required that sentences should be automatically converted into other penalties unless it was demonstrably shown that this should not happen, had this been achieved. We thought about public opinion which formed the climate within which politicians and judges acted. We were told that we should never underestimate the influence on judges of being attacked in the media for being too lenient or of having their sentences revised on appeal. In Russia a major public education effort had been mounted with considerable resources devoted to informing and educating journalists. Some suggested that public opinion in western countries did not, in fact, demand prison sentences at the level which politicians appeared to believe to be necessary. We needed a wider public debate and if opinion formers, from movie and sports stars to local politicians, could be persuaded to speak out in favour of reform it would have a major impact. As would, argued another participant, people working in the probation and other services communicating in their neighbourhoods the value and effect of the work that they did.
We talked about subsidiarity and concentric circles. Under the first, decisions about sustainable and legitimate crime prevention should be taken as close to the offender or potential offender as possible and not by some distant institution. Concentric circles of support for offenders radiating out from family, friends, local communities etc with the State involved only at the outer edge, were also thought to be desirable in coordination with the mainstream services. We concluded by elaborating three general principles for reform of the present system. It should be based on a level playing field where non-custodial options had equal status and consideration at all levels of decision making. Throughout the Criminal Justice System we should develop, resource and communicate the opportunities for diversion. We should also seek to build civic capacity to provide a genuine alternative to custody.
We considered what might be done during a prison sentence to enable an offender to reintegrate into society after release. While there was acceptance that a small number of highly dangerous prisoners, possibly 1 or 2%, amounting to some 1,500 in England and Wales, should be in prison for the protection of society, it was argued that the others could be dealt with more effectively out of prison and thus avoid an experience which could damage them for the rest of their lives. It was necessary to look at a prisoner as a person in the round and not just as some crimogenic individual who was deficient in certain skills. Family and other ties should not be overlooked. There was a strong call for prisons to be made “permeable” to the outside world. It was important to build bridges to normal society and not to create a whole series of parallel structures. For example, it would help to prevent a rupture in treatment for drugs problems or mental illness after release, if the National Health System in the UK was to deal with people in prison. At present, however, we noted that sometimes custodial sentences were passed in the belief that better medical treatment might be available inside, rather than outside, prison.
Given that “captive time” in prison was available, we asked ourselves how to make best use of it. Creating a culture of prisoner responsibility to counteract the danger of institutionalisation and developing a climate in which it became normal for prisoners to help others, were two suggestions. Self-esteem was, we thought, an important ingredient. Even programmes such as prison garden competitions could help in this respect. Apart from the most dangerous category of prisoners who, we thought, should be held centrally, there was a strong view that local prisons should deal with the remainder. This would retain connections with local communities and guard against the practice of “churning”, sending prisoners at short notice to the other end of the country, and thus breaking their family ties and any training they might be undergoing. In this context it was pointed out that in prisons like Wandsworth in London, the prison staff devoted to retraining and reintegration were often diverted to other tasks. The prison officers were also often not adequately trained or managed to deliver the services which in theory existed on paper.
In thinking of other uses for the very considerable resources tied up in administering prisons we noted that 70-75% were expended on the staff. One option might be to reduce custody and redirect these staff to other duties which would assist reintegration and reduce recidivism. In addition resources thus released could also be invested in communities, probation etc. We heard of examples in the USA where success in reducing the numbers in custody had been rewarded by the State concerned directing those funds to strengthen community programmes. In one newly democratised country in Central Europe the manager of the prison service had explained the changes that were necessary and accepted that some 30% of the prison officers were either unwilling or unable to adapt to the new culture and requirements. They had been allowed to go without criticism. We were reminded that a decent and healthy prison was one where everyone felt safe, prisoners were treated with respect, they were encouraged to improve themselves and to maintain contact with their families. The attitudes of those who ran the prisons needed changing. Sometimes they did not regard the inmates as current or future citizens.
We thought that the prison estate should be restructured to come as near as possible to a network of community prisons which held prisoners close to home and close to the support they would need on release. In addition, local statutory and voluntary agencies should work with community and faith groups to support people in prison and on their release. We thought it important that there should be immediate and effective follow through of prison programmes in the community. Planning for release should begin soon after entry into a prison and not a few weeks before the end of a sentence. In Ohio, we were told, the idea of reintegration started on day one of the sentence. We heard that in some neighbourhoods in the USA there were jobs fairs held in prison where employers would interview prisoners for prospective employment on release.
In looking at levers for change in prisons we hoped for political leadership to give a clear public message about the social and economic advantages of both reducing prison numbers and of helping successful resettlement. Some argued for primary legislation to enshrine local accountability, devolved budgets and partnership working for services for all but the most dangerous prisoners who should remain a national responsibility. Finally, we agreed that probably the most important requirement was for the offenders to take responsibility for their own lives and actions and that prisons should encourage this in any way they could.
We identified a number of issues which could, we thought, assist prisoners on release. An early priority was public housing, with many prisoners having come from care homes without families to return to. Families also needed to be prepared for a returning prisoner, bearing in mind that they frequently contained the victim of an offence. Families often had no idea of what to do with their young offenders when they returned home. And, it was added, sometimes it would be better for a prisoner not to return to a criminalised family or neighbourhood. Some areas had a disproportionately high level of incarceration and few job opportunities. Returning to such an environment entailed a high risk of reoffending. We were told of Civic Justice Corps which brought the community together including local businessmen to deal with re-entry. The Corps viewed prisoners as a wasted resource and aimed to work with returning individuals to ensure they had the skills to reintegrate and could pay back.
We were informed about a police district in the USA where police officers went through the local probation system to understand better the service it offered and had also set up a Citizens Police Academy so that local people could understand the criminal justice system better. We discussed the incarceration of mentally ill and handicapped people such as those suffering from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Such people were very vulnerable and needed proper care outside rather than inside prison. The suggestion of asylum, meaning a safe house, was put forward as a place where long-term supervision and care might be made available for such people. Nevertheless, mentally ill people could do severe damage and a victim was a person whose rights also needed protection. This led us on to the debate in most of our countries about risk. Many people did not wish to accept any level of risk. They wanted it to be avoided not just managed. This led them, on occasion, to reject the return of damaged individuals to their communities. An experienced observer commented that when there was a lapse in after-care, the most frequent political response was to run back to custody. The nature of the political process often led, particularly during elections, to policies of arresting more offenders and of giving them longer sentences. We were warned that the fragility of political commitment to penal reform policies should not be underestimated. We heard that in the USA many state legislators were comfortable with the present high levels of incarceration. We were also advised to proceed on the basis of small incremental steps otherwise reform would not succeed. Employment was identified as a major problem. Some businesses said they would not employ ex-prisoners because of the potential risk to their clients. Others were concerned about indemnity insurance. But we were told of businesses and Rotary and other Clubs who were taking a lead in giving ex-prisoners a second chance. The construction industry seemed well placed to take on such employees. Former prisoners were often the best means of connecting with current prisoners. There were numerous examples across a number of fields such as counselling and literacy. Focus groups of ex-prisoners could also provide knowledge and insights that were not readily available to local community services. A good example was given from Canada where an effective partnership had been established between a victims campaigner and a member of Lifeline, the prisoner self-support group.
In looking back at the ground we had covered we drew some general conclusions. We thought that reason and rhetoric were on the side of reform and that the moment existed when something real could be achieved. But to achieve this, allies and champions, both national and local were necessary. A number of new ideas were around and innovation should be encouraged and rewarded. The role of arts in prison was one such idea. Respect was important and in both directions, prison officers too could live in fear. We reminded ourselves of a number of paradoxes. There was the difficult area of accountability and deciding who was responsible for acting on the ideas put forward. Prisoners were visible before custody, became invisible during custody and came back with a lasting stigma attached to them. How could we change this? We needed to define and manage risk more effectively given that many agencies and voters were strongly risk averse. It was, as some argued, politically sensitive terrain; often short term political expediency compromised long term sustainable change. The focus needed to be on integrating these views into all stages of the Criminal Justice system (policing, sentencing, prison and aftercare) in a consistent manner. If resources could be shifted from prison to the provision of services in the community there could be better and more lasting outcomes. We were reminded that the key to what happened in prisons was the staff who ran them. To achieve change, ways would have to be found of working with the staff and not threatening them. A strong statement was made against the assumption that all victims were vengeful and wanted long custodial sentences for offenders. What they really wanted was for offenders to be turned round and not to repeat their previous behaviour. Finally, we were reminded of a theme which had run through our discussions. In a conference on reintegration and reform the focus naturally lay on that side of the argument. We would do well, however, to bear in mind that there were other powerful voices in this debate which were not necessarily in tune with the ideas we had been discussing. Sober and realistic expectations were probably in order. But commented an optimist, a journey of a single step usually started with a thousand miles. We should not hold back from the first step.
I am grateful to those who attended the conference, some from a considerable distance, for the insights they brought to this important, and now topical, issue, and to the Chairman for his help in preparing this conference and then guiding the discussions. It will be interesting to see how policy and public opinion develop in the months and years ahead.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
Chairman: The Hon Jeremy Travis
Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute, Washington (2000-); Director, National Institute of Justice (1994‑2000)
Dr Heather Strang
Fellow, Law Program and Director, Centre for Restorative Justice, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University
Professor Neil Boyd
Professor of Criminology, Simon Fraser University; Author; formerly: Director, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University
Ms Mary Campbell
Acting Director General, Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate, Solicitor General Canada
Ms Elizabeth A White
Executive Director, St Leonard’s Society of Canada (1996-)
Dr Burkhard Hasenpusch
Head, Corrections Division, Lower Saxony Department of Justice
Dr Leo R Jansen
Governor, PI Breda (2000-); Vice-President, International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) (2000-)
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Ms Maxine Williams
Attorney, Chancery Chambers, Trinidad (1999-); formerly: Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UWI; Coordinator, Caribbean Human Rights Network (1995-97)
Mr Ravi Chand QPM
Managing Consultant, Veredus Executive Resourcing
Mr Julian Corner
Revolving Doors Agency
Professor Andrew Coyle CMG
Professor of Prison Studies and Director, International Centre for Prison Studies, Kings College, University of London
Ms Lucy Gampell
Action for Prisoner’s Families
Professor Roger Graef
Writer, filmmaker, broadcaster and criminologist; adviser to Metropolitan Police; Professor of Broadcast Media and Communications, Oxford University
Pastor Robin Jenkin
Assistant Chaplain, HMP Grendon/Springhill
Ms Juliet Lyon
Director, Prison Reform Trust (2000-); Associate Director, Trust for the Study of Adolescence (1999‑2000)
Ms Olivia McLeod
National Offender Management Service (NOMS) Delivery Team, The Home Office
Ms Anne Owers
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales; formerly: Director, Justice
Sir Charles Pollard QPM
Visiting Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford (1993-); Member, Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (1998-); Board member, Centre for Management and Policy Studies (2000-)
Mr Ray Powell
President, National Black Police Association
Baroness Prashar CBE
First Civil Service Commissioner; Chairman, The Parole Board (1997-2000); a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation
Sir David Ramsbotham GCB CBE
Formerly: Chief Inspector of Prisons
Dr Colin H Roberts
Head of Probation Studies Unit, Centre for Criminological and Probation Studies, Oxford University
Baroness Stern CBE
Senior Fellow, International Centre for Prison Studies, King’s College London
Ms Eithne Wallis
Director, National Offender Management Service (NOMS) Change Programme; formerly: Director, National Probation Service
Sir John Weston KCMG
Diplomatic Service (1962-98); Political Director (1990-91); Ambassador and Permanent Representative: to NATO (1992-95); to the United Nations (19955-98); a Governor, the Ditchley Foundation
Independent Monitoring Board, Wandsworth Prison
The Rt Hon Lord Windlesham CVO PC
Former President, Victim Support; Chair-Elect of the Butler Trust; Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford (1989-2002); a Governor and Deputy Chairman, Council of Management, the Ditchley Foundation; Board Member, the American Ditchley Foundation
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Mr Jim Bueermann
Chief of Police, Redlands, California
Ms Cheri Nolan
Deputy Assistant Attorney General, US Department of Justice
Ms Joan Petersilia
Professor of Criminology, School of Social Ecology, University of California
Ms Carol Shapiro
Founder and President, Family Justice; Fellow, Ashoka Program
Professor Lawrence Sherman
Greenfield Professor of Human Relations and Director, Fels Center of Government, University of Pennsylvania
Ms Susan Tucker
Program Director, After Prison Initiative, Open Society Institute
Dr Christy Visher
Principal Research Associate, Urban Institute Justice Policy Center; former: Science Advisor, National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice
Dr Reginald A Wilkinson
Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction; President, Association of State Correctional Administrators
Ms B Diane Williams
President and Chief Executive Officer, Safer Foundation (1996-)