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Overcrowding, enormous costs, and recidivism continue to dominate, finding a comfortable home in the pages of the press and a standard position on most agendas in the field.

Overcrowding, enormous costs, and recidivism continue to dominate, finding a comfortable home in the pages of the press and a standard position on most agendas in the field.

Compounding this is the seeming irreconcilability of it all.  For example, the public are presented with the problem (i.e. overcrowding), they’re presented with the governments’ response to it (i.e. building more prisons places), and then they’re presented with practitioners, academics and policy advisors demonstrating the enormous flaws in the plans that will most likely increase the difficulties they were intended to address.

No matter who you choose to agree with, there seems no way out. So what’s the point?

Well the point is that we have a prison service is under tremendous and unsustainable strain. One that is failing to meet the needs of the majority of the individuals within it, prisoners and staff alike, as well as those beyond it, you and me.

Most agree that change has to happen at all different levels but to even begin to make that change happen we need the public on side.  They need to be actively engaged in the discussions and decisions as individuals, as communities, as employers, as educators, as mentors, as advisors, as friends and as family. 

Prisons need to be opened up so that they can be understood in the same way as we understand other public services; something that we all need to actively engage with in order to get the best, most efficient results.  As with schools and hospitals, local partnerships and greater community involvement will provide mechanisms to drive that understanding. 

This is a monumental task not least because of the sheer number of different interests and stakeholders, the political capital at stake, and the longevity of the undertaking. But I don’t think it’s unachievable.

Back in March I asked whether we need a Charter for rehabilitation.  I continue to see the merit of this approach, facilitating the development of principles by experts, academics, service users, the general public, policy makers, practitioners… everyone.  Such a Charter could be a ‘product of genuine collaboration and the administration behind it is a shared resource for all our partners’. Its been achieved in other fields, so why not this one?

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