Tracy Wild is the Chief Executive of Langley House Trust, she is the latest contributor to a guest blog series setting out priorities for the new justice secretary, Michael Gove. You can follow Tracy on @tracydwild and the offender resettlement service itself @LangleyHseTrust
If I were Justice Secretary…
As Justice Secretary I would ensure that we never lost sight of the fact that offenders are human beings – just like you and me – with basic needs which need to be properly met. I would also remember that offenders as human beings also need to have hope. Hope that as convicted prisoners they can serve their time in a constructive way, atone for wrongs and that they will be given a real second chance: one in which they will get assistance to develop the skills, knowledge and experience that will allow them to live crime-free and become positive contributors to their communities.
Back to basics
Having worked in the Criminal Justice sector for over 20 years, I have seen many offender behaviour interventions come and go. I know if any of these interventions are to fully achieve their potential they must first get the basics right – that the basic human needs of food, water and shelter are being met. I know this is obvious! Without these, individuals cannot deal with higher thinking and reasoning – yet in my time I have seen reasoning and thinking programmes delivered to offenders sofa surfing, those still using illegal substances or those with untreated mental health problems – clearly these individuals are not likely to have successful outcomes.
We must order interventions correctly and never lose sight of an individual’s basic human need. In addition, offenders need to be in safe accommodation to help achieve the best possible outcome. At Langley we provide supported accommodation which allows offenders (some of whom have no proven track record of living independently within the community) to live within their community, work through a range of complex issues linked to their offending behaviour to become crime-free and become positive contributors to their communities.
The Prison Reform Trust recently highlighted the problem of an ever growing elderly prison population. Whilst I applaud the recent changes in the Care legislation which will provide care to those in prison, just like bed blocking in the NHS, some elderly prisoners no longer pose a threat to society and need a care home within the community which will deal with their care, risk and offending behaviour issues. I would as Justice Secretary look at commissioning specialised elderly care homes for those ‘cell blocking’ within our prisons.
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) exemption
My third priority would be to ensure that Housing Associations retain their LHA exemption. Whilst I recognise that this is not a core responsibility of the Justice Secretary, without this exemption the specialist accommodation available to offenders on release will disappear and the numbers of homeless offenders will vastly increase. Those being released from prison without homes are more likely to offend (more than 79% of prisoners reported homeless were convicted in the first year compared with 47% of those who had accommodation).
Prisoners released into the community often cannot successfully live in general needs accommodation – they need support to help them readjust and develop the social skills necessary to live successfully within our communities.
The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be.