Saturday, November 12, 2011

Back to the Future

There are times when penology seems to be a perpetual circle, forever revisiting previous ideas, practices or ideologies.

Nearly a century after the crime was viewed as a "disease" - the medical model - that idea was resurrected with a twist in the mid 1990's.  Psychologists infested prisons, tasked with attempting to cure us of our criminogenic ways of thinking. Fifteen years later and hundreds of millions of £'s spent and the utility of this effort is still debated.

There was one immediate effect, though.  The provision of trade courses - bricklaying, painting, etc collapsed.  Across the whole prison system, the rehabilitative eggs were placed solely in the psychologist's basket and other avenues to shift us away from crime were neglected.

However, a conversation with the Governor today revealed that he is reinstating trade training at this prison.  It is rare for me to be able to report a positive development, but this is one.

If a prisoner wished to attempt to create a life away from crime, no psychological course or basic skills certificate is going to help.  And in a society where employing an ex-con is bottom of everyone's list of priorities, providing prisoners with the skills to enable them to earn a living for and by themselves is a good thing.

Quite where the Gov found the investment to resurrect these training courses is a mystery to me. Prisons are as poverty stricken as the rest of the nation.  To return to old practices is a bold move in these circumstances.

One final thought though.  It would be a perfect adjunct to those trade courses if the participants were also offered a course on how to start a business.  In this way, cons are liberated from anti-prisoner attitudes in their future employment.  Their future will be in their own hands - and that is real freedom.


  1. Yes, good move.

    Starting a business is dreadfully expensive though, I've heard you need about 60 grand up front. You rarely hear of anyone starting with zero in their pockets, and making a success out of it, but I am sure there are one or two who do.

    They have been trying to get mentally ill people to go to work for years including getting them to run their own businesses, but they don't give a start up grant or anything like that, so most of us are unable to.

  2. It depends on the business. I met a someone recently who started a computer business providing programming for games companies out of a project they started at university. All they needed for that was their computers and their brains, although he did admit to finding it hard to get their name out of there.

  3. Mostly these blokes'll start the simplest kind of business - no employees, a van and some tools. It would obviously be useful for them to know what they need and where to go for it.
    It would be great if they left prison able to keep their own books or even work out how much to charge for a job.

  4. Many prisons teach business start-up, book-keeping/accountancy etc. I've been reading Ben's blog since the beginning but I am often surprised by the myopic view of prisons he disseminates. I guess he speaks from his own experience, but mine is quite different.

  5. My fiancee is taking buisness classes in the prison he is in and giving other prisoners advice on self employment, as he has 30yrs experience in his own electrical buisness. It worried me massively when he was sent to prison on the word of another no evidence nothing, that the job he loves so much would be stopped as well as our lives on hold. I do agree that not all prisons offer courses that another prison will offer, but there is also a long waiting list for courses, so just because its offered does not mean you will get on it.

  6. 'It would be a perfect adjunct to those trade courses if the participants were also offered a course on how to start a business.'

    A simple and workable idea.

    Give a man a piece of paper (awarded for some mumbo-jumbo course or other) and it means NOTHING to ANYONE in the 'real world'.

    Give a man the training and a trowel, (and the knowledge to find customers) and he has the opportunity to feed his family forever.

    Great post Ben.

  7. And the tax man of course. Small businesses pay a huge amount in taxes, it can cripple them,sadly.