The challenges of "going straight"

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10 Jan 2013
by Neil Skinner

Yesterday the Government announced plans to allow private firms and charities to take a leading role in the rehabilitation of offenders. Much debate has inevitably followed. The central question posed is this: just how does society increase the numbers of people who are successfully rehabilitated and reduce reoffending rates? 

In order to answer these questions (not the purpose of this blog) it is important that we first understand that considerable challenges faced by prison leavers and those with a history of offending behaviour – regardless of how genuine their desire to “go straight” may be. 

When I came out of prison I knew that I wanted to change my life, but it isn’t easy to do when you’ve got a criminal record

Adam

Framework helps more than 9,000 people very year. Some six per cent of them are former offenders – people whose past misdemeanours threatens cloud their futures.

Working in partnership with criminal justice agencies and others we offer a range of services, including: 

  • Help finding accommodation
  • Help in making benefit claims
  • Help with budgeting and debt management
  • Help in setting up home and living independently
  • Help in accessing training, education and employment
  • Help accessing local services and amenities
  • Help to avoid a return to criminality

But why is this help so necessary? What challenges to do you face an ex offender?

Adam, who served more than three years in jail for drugs offences, explains:

“When I came out of prison I knew that I wanted to change my life, but it isn’t easy to do when you’ve got a criminal record. I moved in with my sister and was applying for all the jobs I could but was getting nowhere. As soon as I came to the box that asked about previous convictions I knew I was wasting my time.

“I tried to stay positive but was getting quite down about it. I spent more and more time alone in my room. I had no social life and couldn’t see a bright future for myself at all. I felt I had swapped one cell for another and was worried that I was going to go back to my old life if something didn’t turn up soon. But when my probation officer referred me to Framework things began to change. Generally, I think people are too inclined to look at the offence rather than the person.”

Adam now works as a support worker for Framework.

The problems faced by prison leavers, however, go far beyond the prejudices of general society. As another reformed Framework support worker, Pat,  knows only too well, many prison leavers are lacking in the basic skills they need to get by in the outside world – especially those offenders from difficult social backgrounds.

He said: “When I came out of prison I was completely unprepared for life outside. When people asked me if I had certain skills to live on my own I had to say no and that made me feel ashamed....

“I came from a very chaotic family in which five of my brothers were drug users; I did not learn these skills at home and I did not learn them in prison.

I was 26 before I learnt how to cook, how to use a washing machine and even how to manage my bills. Prison does some things well but it does not prepare people for life outside. If people aren’t given the help they need they are more likely to end up back in prison again.

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