Sunday 23 December 2007

Following that star... inside.

Christmas in prison is hard. For this year’s Christmas cards, I played around in Adobe Illustrator after the Carol Service at HMP Grendon at which I spoke.

There’s a great ecumenical chaplaincy team, superbly led by a deeply committed Methodist Chaplain, The Revd Keith Salter. The nativity play included three slightly unconventional Kings, equipped by Major Bert Roper of the Salvation Army with basic but effective devices to keep them locked onto their star:
Grendon was started in 1962 (stone laid by R. A. Butler) as a therapeutic prison, aimed at preventing reoffending by enabling prisoners to face up to the realities of what they have done. The official blurb says:
The Grendon regime is unique, as the therapeutic programme is the core work of the establishment. The therapeutic programme is based on therapeutic community principles, where a dedicated multidisciplinary team of staff work together with prisoners, in an atmosphere where attitudes and expressions, which would not normally be tolerated in prison, are accepted and used to give feedback to prisoners. This therapeutic dialogue leads to prisoner's greater understanding of their usual behaviour. Grendon aims to help prisoners develop more positive relationships, to change how they relate to others and to reduce their risk of re-offending.
There has been constant political pressure on such establishments from Fleet Street, which tends to see them as a soft touch. I don’t actually agree. Which is easier, to engage in painful self exploration in a rigorous “no excuses” environment, or (as the phrase goes) to get your head down and do your bird? It’s obvious which takes more courage. Of course the Grendon regime wouldn’t be right for everyone, but the facts speak for themselves. Two year Reoffending rates in standard UK prisons hover stubbornly around 70-80% — Grendon rates have been reported as low as 7%.

What about the victims? Well, I would say, one of the best things you can do for crime victims is to get crime down so that it doesn’t happen to them again. Sadly, right wing editors are often more interested in populist punitive posturing than serious crime reduction, and few if any of our leaders have the courage to stand up to their fantasies. And so the cycle of crime continues, blighting communities and wrecking people’s lives. Not a very Christmassy concept — but spare a seasonal thought for everyone inside, staff, prisoners, law enforcers, and all victims of crime.

h/t the Therapeutic Community Open Forum Wiki for the wonderful cartoon.

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