It seems jolly Ken Clark, for so long part time MP and full time director of British American Tobacco and at present Justice Secretary, is concerned about the rate of recidivism amongst prisoners.
His idea, and it is worth considering, is giving prisoners full time work. The bulk of their pay to go to their families, victims, and towards paying for their board and keep.
Whilst not wishing to give Richard Dawkins apoplexy there’s one man our Justice Secretary ought to meet. Chuck Colson the former Nixon advisor was imprisoned for his part in the Watergate scandal. Since his release he has devoted decades to promoting evangelical Christianity amongst American prisoners. It’s indisputable that his work has cut crime.
His scheme “InnerChange” is tried and tested. Five US states have been pioneering InnerChange prisons since 1997. An independent University of Pennsylvania study shows that over a period of eight years prisoners released from the InnerChange correctional facility at Sugarland, Texas, have been re-offending at the rate of 8%, whereas the average re-offending rate among all US prisoners is 67% – very similar to the British figure.
Inmates volunteer for the scheme which focuses on rehabilitation, behavioural change, retraining and post-release mentoring. The principles of restorative justice, the practicalities of preparing for a new life of honest work in the community, the teachings of faith-based instructors and the fellowship of outside mentors are integral to the programme.
The point about it is that it works. As Colson says: “You can argue about faith, but you can’t argue about the consequences of faith. That 8% reoffending rate speaks for itself.”
There have been attempts expand this programme into Britain, most notably into Dartmoor Prison in 2005. The organisers claimed that in most cases the Dartmoor prisoners on the scheme saw “their outlook, their behaviour, even their appearance” undergo transformation. Not only the organisers and prisoners saw the scheme as a success. At a review prison officers said it was having a positive effect on previously difficult prisoners. Even the Muslim Council of Britain thought it “a good thing.”
That didn’t stop InnerChange being rejected after only a year.
A report by a Prison Service psychologist complained the programme was not based on scientific research because it assumed that “the root of offending is in individual sin.” InnerChange also promoted the unique virtue of heterosexual marriage, which meant it was “discriminatory” against homosexuality.
The decision to ban the scheme came less than a year after it was announced that prisoners in England and Wales were to be allowed to have altars in their cells for witchcraft ceremonies. Thus they can burn incense, keep tarot cards, cast spells, and wear robes and “religious” jewellery, but not be given a new start in life if it involves telling them of Jesus.
If, as it claims, our coalition government is genuine about encouraging faith based initiatives perhaps it could revisit one initiative which has proved successful in changing for the better lives previously written off by the system.