Paul Streets: Look to small charities for reparation-based approaches to rehabilitation

Small and local charities are keen to revamp the government’s failed Transforming Rehabilitation programme and support offenders.


The Government’s new Prime Minister and cabinet have been appointed with a clear focus on Brexit, but with myriad other tough issues to face in service to their electorate.  One of the more complicated and nuanced is Criminal Justice – a key priority for Lloyds Bank Foundation and the charities we support.

In his final speech as Justice Secretary David Gauke pointed out what those who work with offenders had known for years: ‘if all offenders who currently receive prison sentences of less than six months were given a community order instead, we estimate that there would be around 32,000 fewer proven reoffences a year’. As Robert Buckland takes up the mantle let’s hope he doesn’t leave it till his last month to reach the same conclusions, given that Mr Gauke leaves office with historically high prison numbers: at 92,000 twice that of 1990.

At the Foundation we’re taking a more targeted, upstream approach to justice issues, including working with the Howard League to reduce the number of women arrested, as well as aiming to do more to influence the new probation system being developed. The small charities we work know the flaws and failings of ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ first hand – a venture condemned by the Justice Select Committee in 2018 as having ‘failed to open up the probation market’, or for offering ‘through the gate’ support that was inflexible and ‘merely signposting.’

With so many small and local charities keen to revamp the system it’s not enough to fund them to rehabilitate ex-offenders – it’s time to stem the cycle – to divert and reduce people entering the system in the first place. We’ve had a huge number of expressions of interest from charities to undertake specific work. This reflects the hugely diverse nature of work across the sector, including work focused on specific communities who are over-represented including: BAME groups; Care leavers; Gypsy and Roma communities; or on preventative work and alternative approaches like restorative justice.

In a recent opinion piece from the Economic and Social Research Council Professor Fergus McNeill argues for a better balance between ‘retribution’ and ‘reparation’ based approaches. He notes the truth we see in work we fund – which chimes with David Gauke’s comments that we should ‘look past the offence ‘to the person and the complex needs that contribute to keeping them trapped in a cycles of crime’ – that the ‘wrongdoings’ which result in criminalisation are often associated with wrongs against perpetrators in their earlier lives. One particularly stark observation is that people who were ‘looked after’ by the state as children are 13 times more likely to end up in prison.

Seen in this light, the role of small charities like Leicestershire Cares, which I visited and which works with both care leavers and ex-offenders, is critical in ensuring that people who leave both forms of institutional care get the support they need. Sometimes that’s support for the most simple – but symbolic – of things. One of the prisoners they’d managed to secure employment for told me the thing that made the biggest difference to his life was being able to ‘buy birthday presents for his grandchildren’.

McNeill’s piece notes that whilst offending itself breaks relationships and tears at our social fabric, as with care leavers, the fabric itself is torn because it is already ‘weak and worn thin by these other wrongs’. Given this the repair, like the tear, must be relational. Small local charities like Leicestershire Cares and the West Yorkshire Chaplaincy are best placed to understand this. Let’s hope the new Justice Secretary understands that too when he launches the ‘reformed’ ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ programme.

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