Saturday, 27 April 2013

Prisoners as commodities in the race to incarcerate

I spent the day at HMP Eastwood Park yesterday. 

The work the dedicated CARAT staff and officers are doing to change lives makes a huge difference to the women particularly on the recovery wing where they are expected to be drug free and engage in steps towards recovery. I was there collecting data for a University in Wales we will be working with to analyse the effects of an intervention  Kazuri is piloting, working closely pre release and then in the community in decent housing owned and managed by Kazuri  if these women agree to stay drug free and engage in the community. Initially this will be piloted in Wales,  where because there is no women's prison,  women are being shunted around all over the country and reentry pathways are limited and don't appear to be working to meet the women's needs in a joined up,  coherent way. I was impressed with the work being done by Gwalia and the probation housing team to try to maintain social housing tenancies and private rented homes but I was shocked to hear housing associations read the newspapers to scour whether their tenants are incarcerated in order to try and get them to surrender their tenancies.  Platform 51 are working hard to engage the women in  Where's the logic in this?

I was moved by the  imprisoned women's support for what  Kazuri represent which is creating sustainable housing and rehabilitation pathways and one shy woman said to me that she felt she could never get a job,  be productive or hold a tenancy because she now had a criminal record and felt such shame.  Other women round the table nodded their heads in assent.
My heart went out to them but my mind refuses to acknowledge or believe that we can't change our present and redefine our future selves against a compelling version of our most brilliant potential. Elaine France,  very brilliant trainer and coach developed some resilience training for Kazuri for young women who have not worked or been made recently unemployed. We did this exercise with the prisoners and the sunlight shone through bars on the window for "what might be" and  flooded the room.
I left feeling more positive than I have in a long time.  Recent psychic vampires and people who want status, wealth or to be acknowledged for Doing Good Things have been dispatched under their rocks. The day flew by as it does when I get in my zone.  The program Kazuri is developing with probation, housing associations and social enterprise and charities already established and involved in good work with women prisoners and in the community,  we can all bring about sustainable change. 
However,  the real  issue lies at the heart of government policy.  Even in America which locks up the highest rate of its citizens,  there is an understanding by both parties that prison provides no solution and is an expensive pseudo prescriptive to entrenched problems.  But persuasive,  glamorous CEOs with shiny white teeth and flowing locks (remember what happened to Little Red Riding Hood)  cajole convince and con our elected representatives into building more prisons although the crime rate is falling and we need less prison places. We need to shift resources to where they're needed,  infrastructure and development projects,  learning,  skills and training to bring people out of poverty and multiple exclusion,  and stop lining the silk lined blood stained pockets of Mr Buckles' shareholders.
The article below is a powerful call for Justice Reinvestment,  but requires paying it forward which appears tricky for government as they attempt to abrogate the risks and the responsibility of all vulnerable people into the private sector.  Payment by what results? How many deaths in custody, how many incidents of self harm, how many more crime statistics?
If you cut me, I will bleed but my tears drown out  in an ocean your dogma and excuses.

A cautionary tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Remember who gets eaten in the end, Mr Buckles. 

"Most people don't realize that it costs, let's say $25,000 a year, to pay for the imprisonment of one person for a year (and that figure varies of course) and a lot more for solitary confinement.  Many people are in prison because they couldn't find jobs in their neighborhood except selling drugs.  Why not just find them a job that pays at least $25,000 a year and help rebuild communities instead of perpetuating the selling of drugs to feed the prison-industrial complex?One of the most promising concepts of recent years is that of Justice Reinvestment. This builds on the recognition that incarceration is not widely experienced by most sectors of society, but rather is heavily concentrated in disadvantaged communities of color. Geo-mapping studies have identified "million dollar blocks" in densely populated urban neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY, and elsewhere, where taxpayers are spending $1 million annually to imprison people from just one of those city blocks. So this is not a problem of not having adequate resources, but rather how we use those resources to prevent and respond to crime. Justice Reinvestment is based on the premise that we should reduce the prison population and then reinvest savings to prevent crime and create opportunity in those neighborhoods.Suppose, for example, that we were able to reduce our excessive lengths of sentences for drugs and other offenses even by only 20 percent. So a five-year prison term would be shifted to four years. This would have no significant effect on the deterrent impact of the prison system or prospects for recidivism, but would free up that 20 percent of the $1 million of incarceration per block. So, we'd then be free to consider how to invest $200,000 in ways that might have an impact on reducing crime. This would not be a cure-all for the problems experienced by low-income communities, but it suggests that there are ways to redirect resources in ways that can begin to break away from the over-reliance on incarceration."

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