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Re-framing prison resettlement
Bridges from prison: making the case for jobs and relationships

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Making the case for jobs and relationships

A new report from the FrameWorks institute explores how the public tend to think about people in and leaving prison, and how to build understanding and support for employment opportunities and supportive relationships. Bridges from prison: making the case for jobs and relationships is written by Sophie Gordon, Theresa Miller and Kate Stanley.

The vast majority of people who serve time in prison will leave at some point. And, when they do, most will need support to enable them to continue with their lives and contribute to society. Evidence shows job opportunities and supportive relationships, such as family, are two of the most significant things that will help.

The report focuses on how best to make the case for the importance of creating these positive bridges from prison – to build understanding about why they are needed and to build support for action.

What is the FrameWorks institute?

FrameWorks applies social science methods to study how people understand social issues — and how best to frame them. Their focus is on shaping effective communications. Frameworks says that creative progressive social change is very different from marketing a product. They focus on helping people understand problems and see solution; their re-framing approach aims to help organisations, mainly charities, build the will to support these solutions.

The report

The report focuses on how best to make the case for the importance of creating effective resettlement from prison. The research examined how the public tend to think about people in prison. FrameWorks found that dominant patterns of thinking tend to get in the way of understanding the importance of positive bridges from prison. In particular, they identified three barriers:

  1. While people do think prison should rehabilitate people, they tend to think of prison as being more about punishment. When people are thinking about the purpose of prison being to punish people, they focus on why people should stay in prison rather than thinking about what it takes to enable people to live a better life after they leave.
  2. When people do think about rehabilitation, they tend to focus on who ‘deserves’ it (depending on what type of crime they committed). They tend to assume that how people do after they leave prison is up to the individual and believe fatalistically that some people are ‘naturally bad’ and will always go back to committing crimes or that their circumstances will force them to continue their ‘life of crime’.
  3. Furthermore, people tend to assume that people from minoritised ethnic groups and those from low-income backgrounds are more likely to return to a ‘life of crime’ because ‘their communities’ are more disposed to commit crimes – rather than seeing the structural challenges and racism that affect people’s life outcomes.
Photo by Lina Yatsen on Unsplash

Re-framing resettlement

FrameWorks says that it is possible to overcome these common thinking patterns or erroneous assumptions by making careful and particular choices about how we frame our communications about prison resettlement, saying that we need to:

  • Shift focus from thinking about individuals to thinking about the systems that need to be improved.
  • Build understanding of what support for people leaving prison could look like and why it’s needed.

Based on research carried out specifically for this report, the authors set out five key framing strategies to achieve this shift in thinking. They recommend that organisations, academics and anyone else creating content and communication about people leaving prisons should:

  1. Talk about people leaving prison as people first to humanise the conversation.
  2. Focus on making progress for our society to show why supporting people leaving prison matters.
  3. Use the metaphor of ‘bridges’ to explain what supports are needed.
  4. Emphasise that changing the way we support people leaving prison is pragmatic, to expand understanding.
  5. Tell stories that show how solutions work to explain how we can do better.

FrameWorks concludes that by using these strategies we will be better able to counteract the tendency for people to think in fatalistic and individualistic ways about prisons primarily as a means of punishment for ‘bad’ people. Instead, it is possible to open up thinking about rehabilitation, society’s role in supporting people when they leave prison and how this approach can benefit us all.


Thanks to Chris Buckwald  for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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