Thursday, April 07, 2016

Submission to SUPPORT FOR EX-OFFENDERS INQUIRY

General website can be found HERE.  My submission today is as follows:


SUPPORT FOR EX-OFFENDERS INQUIRY

Written submission by Prof Thom Brooks, Durham University’s Law School[1]

 

How are prisoners helped to find employment; is support available both pre and post-release?

More can be done to support ex-offenders to find employment both pre and post-release:

Recommendation1: Support for short-term offenders in prisons

Most offenders serve less than one year in prison. Yet most rehabilitative efforts in prisons are reserved for offenders with longer sentences. The result is that most offenders transitioning through the criminal justice system lack access to rehabilitative treatments while in custody. These treatments include several that could yield significant benefits for offenders serving short-term sentences, including drug and alcohol treatments and cognitive behavioural therapy (‘CBT’).[2]

An offender’s problems do not start when imprisoned – instead, prison is a kind of confirmation that problems exist. The problems referred to here are risk factors for future offending – including drug and alcohol abuse[3] and mental health issues – that can be improved through treatment.[4] There is evidence that treatment in these areas can be delivered effectively in prisons[5] – and evidence that is reserved for the fewer serving longer sentences. The rationale is that prisons work with limited resources and greater gains are believed possible for offenders with longer sentences of over one year. More can and should be done to extend such treatment to more offenders. If these crucial risk factors can be reduced or eliminated, this will better enable a successful transition into long-term employment.[6]

Recommendation 2: Provide Incentives for Restoration of Rights

A criminal record can be a barrier to employment that cannot be discounted. This will be a bar to finding work limiting the kinds of work and employers available. This is inevitable and permissible in proportion to an offender’s wrongdoing.

It is possible for some offenders to erase their criminal records through participating in a restorative justice mediation or conference and fulfilling contractual terms.[7] But there remain barriers for offenders who serve time in prison.

Several American states, most notably New York State, are making use of new Restoration of Rights powers.[8] These permit offenders on release to apply for employment without stating criminal convictions if meeting certain conditions.[9] These might include being open to offenders serving minimal terms in prison for specific minor offences and after a period of time on release without further convictions. This rewards those who have remained lawful by restoring their rights to work as if never a prisoner – and can open up more options for work in the long term on continued good behaviour over the short term. Conditions might still disqualify applying for work in some sectors like schools.

Recommendation 3: Encourage Sentencing Council to Revisit Guidelines

Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 lists purposes of sentencing and these include the rehabilitation of offenders. Existing guidelines might benefit from a more explicit engagement with this purpose (and the others) to mandate some element of rehabilitation where possible in prison or post-release, including employability training.

What benefit payments are available on discharge from prison and how long does it take to access those benefits?

No comment.

Do the employment and education programmes available in prisons prepare prisoners for formal employment?

I would recommend bolstering these programmes by providing incentives for higher and further educational institutions to support their launch and/or maintenance. This is a precedent in American states.

What support do offenders receive to help them find suitable accommodation on leaving prison?

No comment.

What are the impacts of factors such as homelessness and unemployment on the propensity to re-offend?

The available evidence suggests homelessness and unemployment are high risk factors for future re-offending. There is clear overlap with other high risk factors like financial insecurity and can overlap with mental health needs.[10]


Submitted by Professor Thom Brooks, Chair in Law and Government, Durham Law School, Durham University, email: thom.brooks@durham.ac.uk  on 7 April 2016



[1] Professor Thom Brooks FAcSS FHEA FRHisS FRSA, Chair in Law and Government, Durham Law School, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, email: thom.brooks@durham.ac.uk, @thom_brooks, http://thombrooks.info.
[2] See Thom Brooks, Punishment (London: Routledge, 2012): 51—55.
[3] See Thom Brooks, ‘Alcohol and Public Policy’, Contemporary Social Science 8(1) (2013): 1—7; Thom Brooks (ed.), Alcohol and Public Policy (London: Routledge, 2015); Thom Brooks, ‘Alcohol, Risks and Public Policy’ in (ed.), Alcohol and Public Policy (London: Routledge, 2015): 27—33 and Thom Brooks, ‘Alcohol and Controlling Risks Through Nudges’, The New Bioethics 21(1) (2015): 46—55.
[4] See Thom Brooks, Punishment (London: Routledge, 2012): 179—187, see also 66—67 and 73—75 and Graham J. Towl, ‘Drug-Misuse Intervention Work’ in (ed.), Psychological Research in Prisons (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006).
[5] See George W. Joe, et. al., ‘An Evaluation of Six Brief Interventions That Target Drug-Related Problems in Correctional Populations’, 51 Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 9 (2012) and M. Daly, et. al., ‘Cost-Effectiveness of COneccticut’s In-Prison Substance Abuse Treatment’, 39 Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 69 (2004).
[6] See further research in Thom Brooks, ‘Stakeholder Sentencing’ in Julian Roberts and Jesper Ryberg (eds), Popular Punishment: On the Normative Significance of Public Opinion for Penal Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014): 447—465.
[7] See. See further research in Thom Brooks, ‘On Punitive Restoration’, Demos Quarterly 2 (2014): 41—44 and Thom Brooks, ‘Punitive Restoration: Rehabilitating Restorative Justice’, Raisons Politiques (2015): 65—81.
[8] New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, ‘Who is Eligible for a Certificate of Relief ?’ (https://www.parole.ny.gov/certrelief.html). Interestingly, the Certificate of Relief and Certificate of Good Conduct are both designed explicitly with a view to ‘the restoration of rights’. See New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, ‘Restoration of Rights’ (https://www.parole.ny.gov/program_restoration.html). See Thom Brooks, Punishment (London: Routledge, 2012): 212.
[9] See Thom Brooks, Punishment (London: Routledge, 2012): 143—147.
[10] See Thom Brooks, Punishment (London: Routledge, 2012): 54, 60—61, 83—84, 144—146, 186—187, 207—9, 212—214.

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