In Brief

Does prisoner rehabilitation work?

Former head of Prison Service says staff should ‘stop fretting about rehabilitation’

The question of prisoner rehabilitation is back in the spotlight after a former director general of the Prison Service said rehabilitation of those in jail does not work and should be abolished.

In a speech in Argentina yesterday, Martin Narey said that that there is little evidence to prove a causal link between rehabilitation and reduced reoffending.

“The things we did to prisoners, the courses we put them on, the involvement of charities, made little or no difference,” he told the International Corrections and Prisons Association conference in Buenos Aires.

The Prison Reform Trust says that reoffending rates overall are at about 50%. Narey encouraged delegates to “stop fretting about rehabilitation” and instead “politely discourage those who will urge you to believe that they have a six-week to six-month course which can undo the damage of a lifetime. The next time someone tells you they have a quick scheme which can transform lives… politely explain that life isn’t that simple.”

Narey said instead prison staff should aim to create a context where inmates are treated with “decency and dignity”.

“Decent prisons in which prisoners are respected seem to provide a foundation for prisoner self-growth. Indecent, unsafe prisons allow no such growth and further damage those who have to survive there.”

His speech comes as the UK government unveiled a new push to update its prisons.

Earlier this week, the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland MP, announced a £156m cash boost to tackle maintenance issues in prisons. “Modern, efficient prisons that drive rehabilitation and reduce reoffending – ultimately protecting the public,” said the Justice Secretary.

In August, Boris Johnson announced a £100m programme to “make our prisons properly equipped to reform and rehabilitate”. In January, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to phase out prison window bars in the hope of “boosting rehabilitation”.

Mark Leech, the editor of Prison Oracle, shares Narey’s perspective. He said that asking prisons to reform criminals is “like asking an A&E department to reduce accidents and then blaming the doctors when car crashes increase”.

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