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"The Free Prisoner" - a fascinating radical approach to the way we design prison & rehabilitation in the UK. A fully-worked up model using Leeds as case study.

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Reshaping the penal and social landscape

Today’s post covers a feasibility study by Karl A Lenton and Claire Shepherd which looks at radically re-designing our approach to punishment and rehabilitation.

The authors use Leeds as a case study and propose a domestic scale model for local authority funded rehabilitation hubs providing stabilisation, education and skills creating employment and opportunities for both prisoners and communities. They argue that prisoners should be able to access these hubs during custodial sentences to develop the protective factors that encourage criminal desistance.

The context

Lenton and Shepherd argue that prison design is politically driven, with high operational costs offering little return on investment. On release reoffending remains high and prisoners return to their communities often homeless, jobless and reliant on families that in the most part have been impoverished by their own ‘sentence’.

These communities are located within city poverty rims with high unemployment, poor housing stock and empty properties. Dealing with empty properties is social, regenerative, financial and strategic. They propose an alternative approach to the nationally funded institutional scale design of prisons to relocate crime and rehabilitation in communities. Couched in principles of restorative justice, community cohesion and developing social capital embedded in local cultures, economics and family structures they argue for a participative system that addresses the needs of victims, offenders and communities.

The model

The authors set out their rehabilitation hub model:

There are 12,000 empty properties in Leeds and many of them can be found in the poverty rim of Leeds. It is no surprise that a large proportion of Leeds offenders live and return to this rim after release, so dealing with these empties is socially and financially necessary to regenerating and rehabilitate both offenders and these communities. These Rehabilitation Hubs focus on education, work,health and wellbeing. Offenders will work their way through these hubs as part of their sentence plans after been assessed for risk and willingness to change in the Assessment Centre. This system is dynamic not static and can adapts to the individuals need.

The authors have invested considerable time and effort in working up this model; here’s their description of the role and function of the Assessment Centre:

The Assessment Centre is the entry point into this system. The centre assesses whether individuals are ready and willing to change. It assesses risk and attitudes and addressees individual values and aspirations. It invests in peoples health, well being and reciprocity. It is a civic building belonging to Leeds. Provides local health care services in 1 Location. Shared facilities and knowledge. An asset to the city. Assesses custodial clients and provides a safe place for Section 136 Mental Health patients. Has a 14 bed drug rehabilitation centre which can be used as an alternative to custodial sentence. Provides care in the community programs.

The function of the education and art, industrial and horticultural hubs are self-explanatory and the authors also imagine a Clink-style restaurant. The focus of the model is very much on integration with the local community. They envisage a facade creating an interface between hub and community which becomes an asset to all. Workshops are rented and available to community, offender and local businesses. Concept based on the old burgage fronts of Leeds, where tenants would provide goods and services to the public and pay rent to the landlord. The facade is able to adapt to the needs, wants and wishes of the community, offenders and small businesses.


I hope that you, like me, were stimulated the thought of such a different approach to rehabilitation. It’s not inconceivable that some of these principles will find their way into the work stimulated by the New Futures Network as it helps reform prisons innovate and link more with their local communities and job markets.

Here’s another link to the report.


All prison posts are kindly sponsored by Prison Consultants Limited who offer a complete service from arrest to release for anyone facing prison and their family. Prison Consultants have no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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