rehabilitation

Phones in Prisons: Reconnect or Rehabilitate?

Yesterday’s headlines carried the good news that prisons in England and Wales will have in-cell phones installed this year. This is an important penal reform that will improve the quality of life for prisoners in England and Wales, but it also casts a critical light on Scottish prison policy and how and why we might now wish to emulate this development.

 

Scotland – an Outlier

The possibility of in-cell phones was tentatively proposed in Scotland in 2013, but received little public and political backing. It seems that this issue has not been explored any further since then. Until recently Northern Ireland was the only UK jurisdiction to provide people in prison with in-cell landlines. Now, however, as England and Wales move forward with this prison reform Scotland will be left behind, soon to become the only prison system in the UK that does not provide prisoners with landline access inside their cells. The dominant and prevailing argument given in support of providing prisoners greater access to private and affordable phones is that it will increase rehabilitation and therefore reduce crime. This is because there is a great deal of research suggesting that family contact helps reduce recidivism.[1] However, should our prison reform aspirations be limited to rehabilitation and desistance? 

 

Family Contact

We know that prisons are isolating for prisoners. Prisons have restrictions on when and how often prisoners can receive visitors; and in Scotland, where prisons are often widely dispersed across this vast nation, actual family contact can be more difficult to maintain than it might immediately appear.[2] This makes phone contact all the more important. For the time being, however, in Scotland prisoners’ calls will continue to be made on public phones on public landings – where private conversations, family matters, and any and all news will still be received in full view and within earshot of other people. At the very least, this makes maintaining genuine and meaningful conversation with those outside the prison much more difficult. Insufficient family contact is part of what causes suffering for prisoners beyond the deprivation of liberty, and therefore the justification for more landlines in prison cells runs deeper than reducing crime.

In addition, we should never treat families merely as a tool to be used to support prisoner rehabilitation, particularly given the corrosive impact the prison can have on their lives. While they themselves are not imprisoned, the prison usually comes to dominate their family life. Having a family member in prison can cause anxiety, shame and stigma, deepen social and economic marginality, and having a parent imprisoned can yield particularly devastating consequences (Wakefield and Wildeman 2014). As one of Scotland’s leading experts on imprisonment and its wider impact on families, Dr Cara Jardine, has written, given their ‘potential difficulties and vulnerabilities, these families should be offered support as individuals in their own right and not simply viewed as a potential resource for reducing reoffending’. 

 

Communication and Well-Being or Rehabilitation?

There is a strong general argument for phones in cells. If the Scottish Government, and our New Cabinet Secretary, Humza Yousaf, decide to reconsider the position on prison phones, then they will need to think seriously about why we do it: how the policy works in practice will depend on whether its main rationale is reducing reoffending or to help improve family contact. If a phones policy is to help maintain as normal as possible family relations, then phones in cells will be able to receive incoming calls as well as make out-going calls. In addition, if the Justice Department and SPS are motivated by reducing the problems caused by imprisonment and not merely rehabilitation, then they will need to address how phones are paid for. If we want to lessen the destructive impact of the prison on family life, mental health, and reintegration, then the Scottish Government and the Prison Service must foot the bill for this increased phone contact.

As Jas, someone who is currently serving a sentence in a Scottish prison, recently wrote, managing a weekly budget in prison is a careful balancing act, challanged by the same demands of low wages and increased cost of living. But what his account also reveals is the already existing stress for prisoners and their friends and families in financially managing continued contact in Scotland. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the people in prison are from communities that experience the most acute financial deprivation. As Jas writes, ‘I believe that high phone call costs and low prison wages is a double-edged sword that makes the SPS’s literature of ‘encouraging positive relationships’, less achievable’. Therefore, the current cost of phones in prison means people are already limiting their family contact, and thus undermining the health and welfare of the entire family.

Now, add into this existing situation the possibility of increased family contact and what the penal system will also inadvertently create is additional anxiety about not being able to afford to maintain contact: it would cost £1.30 per day for a prisoner calling home every day for just ten minutes to a mobile, multiply this by 7 days and it would cost £9.10 per week (which is more than some prisoners wages). Therefore, if this policy is about maintaining family contact and lessening the harm caused by imprisonment, then HLS advocate that in practice phones will need to be affordable and flexible.

 

Time to Reconnect Prisoners? 

The Scottish Government, should they now decide to also follow the present progressive trend and install phones in prison cells, should do so because it helps make prisons more humane, softening the sense of isolation a prisoner feels and may make reintegration less difficult. Secondly, the government should also consider this a worthy and vitally important venture because of the wider social impact of improved prisoner contact. The Scottish government already acknowledges that the families of prisoners suffer collaterally in ways that can cause lasting damage. If we wish to limit the unintended injustices of the Scottish criminal justice system, then increasing the opportunities for normal family contact must be made a priority for prison policy in 2018. It is time for Scottish prisons to reconsider the issue of phones in cells, but we should also do so for the right reasons. Rehabilitation is an important aim for prison policy, but we need not narrow the rationale behind progressive reforms to reducing reoffending. Instead, prison policy makes its most progressive and socially just impact when it attempts to transform the prison by reducing the detrimental effects of imprisonment on prisoners and society alike.

 

Footnotes:

[1]Mills A. and Codd, H. (2008) ‘Prisoners’ Families and Offender Management: Mobilizing Social Capital’, Probation journal, 55(1): 9-24. 

[2]In 2015, 61% of Scottish prisoners reported that the cost involved in getting to the prison was prohibitive and 57% stated that the distance of the prison from their home also made arranging visits difficult. Scottish Prisoner Survey 2015: http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Publications/Publication-4565.aspx

Perspectives from inside Barlinnie

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies recently organised three workshops in HMP Barlinnie on Abuse, mental health and self-harm, Activities, work and education and Resolving disputes in prison, security, and the use of force. Corresponding workshops were also undertaken in HMP Grendon, which this publication also reports.

The Barlinnie section makes for sobering reading, however. It is prison life from the perspective of those men imprisoned. It presents an atmosphere suffused with fear, high levels of anxiety and mistrust. The regime is described as being beleaguered with long waits for medical treatment, long lock-up times, cold food, inflexible visiting times, doubled-up cells. 

HLS maintains that these problems will not be resolved by simply building a new prison. While modern facilities are welcomed, the issues of prison atmosphere and quality of day-to-day prison life rest in the regime, access to services, staff-prisoner relations, purposeful activity and family visits – all of which are undermined by the acute levels of overcrowding at Barlinnie. The other prison in this report, HMP Grendon, which was built in the middle of the last century is described as exceptional by prisoners there due to its services and regime – despite the buildings age. While bricks and mortar reform is one thing, SPS and the government must address the pressing need for qualitative regime reform and tackle the overcrowding in Barlinnie.

Read the report here: Perspectives from inside: A report from HMP Grendon and HMP Barlinnie | Centre for Crime and Justcie Studies | March 2015

Grampian Prison Radio Station

Grampian prison is to begin broadcasting a new prison radio station. According to news reports, the station was made possible thanks to Lottery funding, and it is the first of kind in the UK.

Read more here:

New radio station for Grampian prisoners, in Press and Journal

Howard League Scotland calls for voting rights for prisoners

The Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland today called for voting rights to be extended to convicted prisoners in all Scotland and UK wide elections.

Howard League Scotland Convener, John Scott QC, said:

“We have heard the First Minister speak about his aspirations for the franchise in Scotland with regard to 16 and 17 year olds, as well as his views about compulsory voting. Should the Scottish Parliament at some point in the future be granted powers to decide on the franchise for Scottish voters, we hope that MSPs will consider extending the franchise to convicted prisoners.

“At the very least, and in the absence of those powers, we call on all the Scottish parties to support the recommendations of the 2013 report of the Joint Committee of the UK Parliament which recommended giving the vote to prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months.

“It is a source of huge regret to Howard League Scotland that the Scottish Parliament rejected all bids to allow prisoners serving a sentence to have a voice in the independence referendum. Over 6,000 people in Scottish prisons on 18 September, including all those whose sentence disqualified them from voting for no more than a matter of weeks or months, were deprived of any say at all in the permanent future of their nation.

“The decision to follow the UK’s complete ban on voting by convicted prisoners was a missed opportunity and left Scotland firmly outside the European democratic mainstream. The vast majority of the 47 Council of Europe nations allow some or all convicted prisoners to vote.”

218 Service - Case Studies

  • Case Study 1

The 218 is a safe and caring environment and focused on recovery:

Anna* has a long history of alcohol misuse and offending. Now at 36 she has been given a residential place in the 218 Centre. Here she has engaged with the group therapy which focuses on offending behaviour, addiction and emotions. She has also been able to work with a mental health nurse and has her own assigned key worker for more individual support.

At the beginning this was difficult as it was painful to really take a look at her problems, speaking about any past traumas and exploring why she kept reoffending. However, Anna has found the 218 a safe environment and her relationship with the staff has been fundamental in her transformation, saying that ‘It’s a safe environment because you’ve got caring staff here. You’ve got people who support you here and that makes you open up to them because you know they care’.

The 218 organised for Anna to attend a five day Venture Trust activity break where she was involved in an array of outdoor activities. Anna had never done anything like this before and found it to be one of the best experiences she ever had. Even though she was afraid of heights she even went abseiling.

Anna described herself as broken and suicidal when she first arrived at the 218, but she the last the 3 months in the 218 have been restorative and Anna feels that it has given her back her life. As a result of her transformation she has also begun to rebuild relationships with her family, with whom she had lost contact. Her family have been able to see the positive changes while in the 218 Centre.

  • Case Study 2

The 218 tackles the complex needs exhibited by women offenders:

Beth first came into contact with the criminal justice system at 14. She has been in and out of prison and has also been homeless. At 36, Beth has been a resident in the 218 Project now for over four months.

She has found the 218 to be different from prison because in the 218 the focus has been on the recovery - recovery from addiction, from childhood trauma and overcoming depression. These, as is the case for so many women in the criminal justice system, are some of the underlying causes of her offending behaviour. In focusing on these the 218 aims to help Beth break her pattern of offending.  In prison she was a number, but in the 218 she feels like she is treated as a person. By the time she had arrived at the 218 Project Beth felt she had lost everything to addiction – she had no home, no contact with her family and no self-confidence.

After she arrived Beth began the group therapies, which evolve and progress over time. The first was Orientation, then Making Changes, Managing Your Offending, Managing Your Emotions and Substance Misuse, each of which can last for several weeks and it is possible to repeat any module if she felt it necessary.  Along with the group work the 218 provided her with long needed medical attention, such as dentist visits. They also helped her with her housing situation so now, when she leaves, she has a place in supported accommodation organised for the following 6 months.

Achieving graded exposure has been Beth’s peak moment in the 218. Graded exposure is when you are allowed go out on your own for the first time, first for a coffee, but the unsupervised time and activities gradually expand each subsequent week. Since then she has been allowed to attend the YWCA as well as meet her care manager alone. The feeling of being trusted by the staff gave her confidence, but she has renewed self-belief and hope through the graded exposure as Beth now knows she can be out and not use substances or offend in anyway.

  • Case Study 3

218 has been a life saver:

Carol was referred to the 218 Project while on remand for a shoplifting charge in Cornton Vale. For Carol, arriving at the 218 was a release as she knew it was ‘an opportunity’ and she was eager to engage in the group work right away. The group work has helped Carol and she finds she has begun to put a lot of things in place, helping her clarify and understand some of the root causes of her offending and substance misuse, what Carol describes as the self-destruction that has been ongoing in her life.

The days at the 218 are busy and structured. There are a number of group therapies that the residents must attend during the day, but there are also a plethora of activities, such as theatre visits, walks, jewellery making, exercise,  go-karting and bingo, to name a few. However, Carol was reluctant to be involved in any of the group activities apart from those therapeutic ones. She was nervous of the larger groups and tended to isolate herself in her room at first. Noticing this, her key worker focused on this issue, addressing Carole’s anxieties and building up her self-esteem. Thanks to this encouragement and support Carol now joins in all of the activities available.

In her time as a resident at the 218 Carol has found the changes remarkable, she has become more confident and positive about her future. Carol described the 218 as a ‘life saver’.

*All names have been changed

Find about more about the 218 Service here

Archive

2015

2014

2006

Subscribe to rehabilitation