Friday, 18 December 2009

HMP Grendon: What is easier?

We light a fire and hunker down with a houseful of children and friends. Last trip out before Snow closed in was the annual Carol Service at HMP Grendon. This is the only UK Psychiatric prison, founded in 1962. The service was devised by Keith Salter, Co-ordinating chaplain, and led by Major Bert Roper of the Salvation Army. It was good to catch up personally with one or two prisoners I remember from two years ago at this same event.

Each of its six wings operates as a therapeutic community, under competent psychiatric supervision. This is a specialised approach that wouldn’t work for every prisoner, and it has its misses as well as hits, but the fact is it often actually sorts out people’s lives to go straight. Grendon 2-year reoffending rates are dramatically lower than usual for English prisons — as much as ten times lower. Fewer criminals, less crime suits me and, you might think, when you consider the terrible personal impact of crime on innocent peoples’ lives, everyone else. But you’d be wrong. Grendon’s work can be vulnerable to misunderstanding and frustrating limitations:
  1. Decent people feel naturally disgusted and angry about serious crime — punishment is very much one reason people are, rightly, deprived of their liberty in prison. But after we have all got angry, it’s time to get even, and to protect ourselves for the future. Grendon’s therapeutic approach can be caricatured by ignorant journalists as a soft option for hard people. Actually most inmates find it considerably harder work, some would say a fitter punishment, to have to confront and work through the roots of their wrongdoing and grow up, than just become designer criminals who won’t take responsibility for behaviour or attitudes. Civil Servants and politicians, however, don’t always have the moral courage to stand up to some of the more ignorant and strident media voices — result = more criminals and higher crime.

  2. Experience of prisons, on and off, over twenty years has shown me that when times are financially tight resources tend to go into security, ideologically driven restructuring, and media stunts. Ther’s little left for the labour intensive régimes that dedicated professionals use to turn criminals straight. There are Nordic societies where they have almost abolished conventional imprisonment, with crime rates a tiny fraction of ours in the UK — but until we have the wit and courage to be more pragmatic in our response to crime, it’s porridge for us all, in a way...
h/t Art collected by the Koestler Trust
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1 comment:

Stephen said...

Absolutely! and it is good to hear the Church voicing this thank you for being there on our behalf

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