Unlocking Rehabilitation: Learnings from high imprisonment rates

Unlocking Rehabilitation: Learnings from high imprisonment rates

England and Wales imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in Western Europe according to a Prison Reform Trust Report.

And in 2015, I became one of those imprisoned citizens.

"The UK has a pioneering British nature, so let’s use it to lead the world on ethically reducing reoffending and making our streets, and our country, safer."
Jacob Hill interviews a prisoner in Brazil, who has lived in the UK, about the differences between the two countries prison systems Download 'Jacob Hill 1'

Sentenced to 28 months at Armley Prison, Leeds, I quickly and thankfully discovered that it wasn’t filled with serial killers waiting for you in the showers. Instead, I found individuals who’d made poor choices in desperate, and I mean desperate, situations.

After serving my sentence in prison and having now worked in the sector for over seven years, I know our prisons face issues of overcrowding and overworked staff.  But the only solution offered seems to be: build more prisons!

I applied for a Churchill Fellowship because the UK’s proven re-offending rate is shockingly poor at 25.4% on average. Many other countries are reducing their rates much more effectively, so, travelling the world’s criminal justice systems meant I could understand what works and bring my findings back to the UK.

Brazil was first on my list of countries doing it right.

Reduce the size and running costs of our prisons, especially for trusted prisoners.

Although having one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, Brazil has some incredible organisations fighting for rehabilitation, reform and, above all, a safer and just society. For example, its APAC prisons, which boast an impressive low reoffending rate of 16% - this is achieved through therapy, community, and opportunity.  Trust is built with their prisoners by allowing them to manage the keys to the prison, the kitchens and even the medicine cabinet! And without a guard or gun in sight. With a maximum of 200 prisoners, places are exclusively offered to those who are determined to reform.

Spend less on staff, give prisoners more responsibility in maintaining their environment.

Like APAC, we should appoint prisoner communities to regulate low-level bad behaviour and reward consistent good behaviour, of course with staff oversight. We could rebuild trust between societies and prisoners and relieve overstretched prison staff, by giving the responsibility of managing the lower levels of the UK's ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges’ scheme to a committee of prisoners, audited by staff.

Release those held in our jails under abolished sentences to free up some space

I met with the Instituto do Defesa do Dereito de Defesa (IDDD), an advocacy group formed by criminal lawyers working with the Brazilian government to change a system which infringes on human rights. Due to a lack of transparency, large numbers of undocumented or homeless Brazilian prisoners may never be released because the state cannot be sure who they have in custody.

In the UK, we still have 1355 people held in prison serving an IPP (Indeterminate Order for Public Protection), a sentence that was found unlawful and abolished in 2012. But the remedy of releasing prisoners who have served way past their tariff hasn’t yet been applied retrospectively to people already under this sentence. We need to re-sentence those still held under this order to give them a determinate sentence which could free up almost three thousand spaces.

Jacob presenting in an APAC prison Download 'Jacob Hill 2'

Review the way we sentence women to prison.

In the UK, we also have about 5,000 spaces taken up by women who are incarcerated for crimes that are not typically violent or massively destructive to society. How effective it is for society to take primary caregivers and mothers away from society?  Instead, can we ask judges to revisit how and why we imprison women, for, more often than not, non-violent crimes?

Are prisons serving our society?

Will building more prisons truly keep us safer, or are there more effective and cheaper ways to repay victims, and bring crime down for most cases?

I think the UK's third sector can provide infinitely greater care to its beneficiaries. Public bodies should be reviewing how they can procure services to make the most of the social sector, as this will always give more impact per pound than any organisation looking to win a big contract by bidding at the lowest price.

When sentencing people, you’ve got to ask: will this benefit society?

The UK has a pioneering British nature, so let’s use it to lead the world on ethically reducing reoffending and making our streets, and our country, safer.

To get in contact visit Jacob’s LinkedIn or www.offploy.org


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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