The Prison Reform Trust, in partnership with the University of the Third Age (U3A) and Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust), will today (Monday 20 May 2013) launch two new resources for the public at a reception at Manchester Town Hall:
- Where do you stand? is a new package of information and discussion tools about prisons and community sentencing developed by the Prison Reform Trust in collaboration with the U3A. It is aimed at getting people in schools and community groups aged 16 and above to look behind the headlines and think about how the penal system could be improved.
- What can I do? published jointly by the Prison Reform Trust and Pact, is a guide to getting involved in the criminal justice system through volunteering and pressing for reforms.
Through these new resources, the U3A, Prison Reform Trust and Pact aim to inform debate by busting myths about the penal system, and to equip people to get involved in making a difference by promoting a wide range of volunteering opportunities.
Victim Support, the Magistrates’ Association, the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, MPs, Peers and representatives from policing and probation are among the people and organisations that have endorsed the initiative.
Volunteers can offer no ‘silver bullet’ solution to the revolving door of prison, to the exclusion of sustained investment in community sentences and public services outside the criminal justice system. However, the public do have a critical role to play in improving the outcomes of the criminal justice system, and without their informed involvement and support any progress will be limited.
The latest government statistics show a significant rise in rates of volunteering in the last two years and the Secretary of State for Justice has expressed a commitment to strengthening opportunities for community rehabilitation for people with convictions, including through the involvement of members of the public as volunteer mentors and befrienders. Thousands of volunteers already play a crucial role, some of whom tell their stories in these resources. Ahead of next month’s Volunteer Week, we think the time is right to fire up the enthusiasm of a new generation.
Speakers at the reception will include: Lord Bradley, chair of the Bradley review of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system and trustee of the Prison Reform Trust; Karen Froggatt, Locality Director for the North, Victim Support; Barbara Lewis, Chairman, U3A; former offenders and criminal justice volunteers, JustPeople (Pact); Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive, Pact; and Juliet Lyon CBE, Director, Prison Reform Trust.
On 10 May 2013 there were 83,151 people in prison – nearly double the number inside twenty years ago. Many people in prison have pressing social needs and certain groups are disproportionately represented, including people who have spent time in care, those with no qualifications, people with mental health problems or learning disabilities, young adults and people from minority ethnic groups.
Overcrowding in 69 of the 124 prisons in England and Wales leaves many prisoners languishing in their cells and achieving nothing. Nearly half of adults and about three-quarters of children leaving prison are proven to reoffend within a year of their release. Short prison sentences perform even worse in reducing reoffending, while community sentences have been proven to be more effective. Recent surveys have found strong public support for community solutions to crime.
The Prison Reform Trust, the U3A, Pact and partners will be holding community events across England and Wales throughout 2013 to get more people involved in debate and action to improve outcomes. At the launch on 20 May, we will hear from people with convictions who have turned their lives around and are now volunteering to help others achieve the same success. Community organisations holding stalls at the event will include Magistrates in the Community, Local Crime: Community Sentence, JustPeople Manchester, Soroptimist UK, Victim Support, 2nd Chance/Partners of Prisoners, Action for Prisoners’ Families and the University of the Third Age.
Commenting on the launch Barbara Lewis, Chairman of the U3A, said:
“Where Do You Stand? is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when two organisations, both committed to increasing learning and building knowledge, come together. This fruitful partnership has produced a resource which will enable U3As and other community groups to gain insight based on accurate information and participate in informed public debate on prisons and community sentencing. We are delighted to have played a part.”
Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of Pact, said:
“All too often, we use labels like ‘offender’ or ‘ex-offender’, or words like ‘mentor’, and we can forget that, fundamentally, we are all just people. And for human beings who have ended up in a difficult dark place in their lives, to feel hope, and to believe that they can tell a different story about themselves, requires the support and kindness of other people. Volunteers in criminal justice help change the world, one person at a time, one day at a time.”
Juliet Lyon CBE, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“People outside the criminal justice system have a huge amount to offer, to help people turn their lives around and make communities safer. We are delighted to be working with Pact and U3A to inform public debate on justice reform and provide information to help people get involved in creating a fairer, more humane and effective penal system.”
Lord Woolf, Chairman, Chair, Prison Reform Trust and former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, said:
“Prison is an important place of last resort in the criminal justice system. Overuse of custody, and subsequent overcrowding, too often impede essential work to prepare for resettlement. These resources, and the clear facts and figures they present, are an excellent basis for discussion about the state of our prison system and the state of people in it and an opportunity to explore the scope for community solutions to crime.”
Javed Khan, Chief Executive, Victim Support, said:
“Victim Support welcomes the Prison Reform Trust’s new Where do you stand? report which will help inform the public about prison and community sentences.
“We are pleased to see a new, user-friendly resource for non-experts to learn about sentencing. Victims tell us that they want to understand why particular sentencing decisions are made, and to be better informed about how these sentences can help offenders stop offending.
“It is also important that the wider public are made aware of the benefits that robust community sentences and restorative justice can have for victims and offenders, including a reduction in reoffending levels, greater victim satisfaction and giving victims a voice in the criminal justice system.”
Baroness Neuberger DBE, former Chair, Commission on the Future of Volunteering, said:
“Volunteers can make a real difference to prisoners and their families and friends. From helping with education and basic skills, to befriending, to giving comfort, to alleviating fear and to looking after visitors to prisons and families and friends in the court system, volunteers can make the difference between panic, friendlessness and loneliness and a sense, however awful things seem, that people are being treated as human beings and their needs and fears are being addressed.”
Paul Goggins MP, Co-chair, All-Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group, said:
“Volunteers undertake a huge amount of amazing and inspirational work with victims of crime and with offenders. I would encourage anyone who wants to make our society a safer place to consider giving some of their time to one of the many projects that take place in our courts and prisons as well as across the wider community.”
John Fassenfelt, Chair, Magistrates’ Association, said:
“Magistrates are a vital part of the justice system who are drawn from all parts of the community in which they live or work. They deal with 95% of all criminal work as well as working in the family justice system. Magistrates are well trained, regularly monitored and appraised. Whilst there is no financial reward for the work, the work is varied and demanding. Their reward comes in providing justice to their communities and helping in keeping them safe.”
Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable, Greater Manchester Police, said:
“Many criminals have had difficult upbringings and been through difficult times and respond by committing crime. It is often others who have also been through difficult times who can have the greatest influence in challenging their behaviour. Similarly those who have already been victims of crime can often be the best source of support to other victims. The great gift volunteers bring is experience of life, common sense and straight talking. We all have a responsibility to help to reduce crime and volunteering in the criminal justice system is a great way to do that.”
Chris Noah, Deputy Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Probation, said:
“Well trained and supported volunteers, drawn from our diverse local communities, and working alongside professional probation staff, enable many offenders to turn their lives around. We are delighted that ‘What Can I Do?’ is being launched here in Manchester, where we are working hard to reduce crime through innovative partnership working with the voluntary sector.”
The Prison Reform Trust would like to thank the Monument Trust for supporting the Talking Justice programme and its wider outreach work. We are grateful to our supporters and to the Bromley Trust for supporting the production of the Talking Justice: Talking Sense and SmartJustice for Women films, to all those who took part in the films and to Charlotte Rowles, the films’ director and producer. We would also like to thank the practitioners, academics, U3A members and others across the UK whose comments and suggestions have helped ensure these resources are a practical aid to inform debate and equip people to get involved in improving outcomes in our criminal justice system.
For more information and to tell us what you think, contact us by email or call Katy Swaine Williams on 020 7689 7738