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About Prison Rehabilitation Coordinator Tabitha

My name is Tabitha and I am the “Prison Rehabilitation Coordinator”. I like to think of myself as a jack of all trades, and have had many job roles over the years! I have taught young offenders, facilitated addiction groups, managed community order offenders and worked in bail hostels with prison leavers.

prison rehabilitation

I have been involved with the homeless community for the last 8 years, and am also a qualified social worker – currently practicing in a child protection team. I have personally experienced a variety of challenging circumstances throughout my life, and feel that these struggles have allowed me to become a resilient, empathetic practitioner who can work with people from any walk of life without judgement.

I am passionate about making real, meaningful changes to the lives of those affected by the criminal justice system, and want to be part of a motion that flips the current prison approach on its head. Services are buckling under the funding cuts and lack of resources, and I would like to introduce plans that can change the way prison staff, agencies and charities work together in order to achieve real and sustainable results for prisoners and victims of crime.

Attitudes towards those committing crime require robust challenge and reflective practice to aid movement towards a cohesive change culture, but more on that later! I am a professional chameleon, and enjoy adapting ways of working to fit the individual receiving the service, (rather than forcing them to comply with generic interventions), and hope to show people that standardised practice can be safely shaken up in order to produce results.

Rehabilitation – My Views

I used to work as a carer some years ago, and the terms “respite” and “rehabilitation” were frequently used when care planning. The dictionary defines “rehabilitation” in the following ways:

  • “The action of restoring someone to health or normal life through training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness.”
  • “The action of restoring someone to former privileges or reputation after a period of disfavour.”
  • “The action of restoring something that has been damaged to its former condition.”

 

What you may notice about all three, is the assumption that the person undergoing rehabilitation has had the fortune to experience a ‘normal’ life prior to the situation requiring intervention or therapy.

I personally prefer the word heal. If you look up the definition of this word you may find a variation of one of the following:

  • “To make healthy, whole, or sound; restore to health; free from ailment.” (ending addictions?)
  • “To bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, usually with the strong implication of restoring former amity; settle; reconcile.” (racism, gang violence?)
  • “To free from evil; cleanse; purify: to heal the soul.” (poor mental health,trauma?)

 

It’s probably best not to dwell too much on the bit about being freed from evil (!) but there’s something quite beautiful about the second half of the sentence… ”to heal the soul”. I don’t think I’ve ever met a prisoner who hasn’t needed some kind of healing. Come to mention it, I don’t think I’ve ever met a human who hasn’t needed a little bit of healing in some way or another, myself included.

Prisons and probation discuss and create plans in order to reduce offending behaviour and risks to the public, staff and victims. Particular offences seem to cause an immense outcry, even if the facts are not known (and sometimes before someone is even found guilty!) The public, and often the victim, want to see the criminal in question removed from society and punished, as they do not deserve to remain there.

Keyboard warriors are positively filled with glee as they talk about cutting someone’s genitals off, seeing them tormented at the hands of other prisoners when they arrive in custody, or declaring that the UK needs to “bring back the death penalty” for this scum. This scum, who is someone’s partner. Someone’s son or daughter, someone’s best friend. But that’s ok, because these situations wouldn’t ever happen to people like us. We want them punished.

We, modern society, do not want those who cause distress or harm, walking amongst us. Those committing offences may have sat next to us on the bus or behind us a shop queue without us batting an eyelid (and may have been committing a crime an hour before that), but once they have been arrested and charged they become dangerous in our eyes.

I used to get asked, wide-eyed, “aren’t you scared working in prison??” If anything, I found prison a safer environment than a lot of the community work I’ve done over the years, and although I was never complacent I just got on with working with my clients and treating them as people rather than monsters. I’m still here to tell the tale.

The final reason for plonking the scum of the earth behind bars is that ambiguous word, “rehabilitation”.

It’s a curious notion, that we shun those who don’t conform to societal norms, and believe strongly that rejecting them and removing them from society is exactly the thing that will teach them to conform and improve the way they fit into our community. To me, it seems somewhat counter-productive, and makes me wonder how being excluded can affect an individual who may well already feel marginalised by professionals or family and friends.

As a social worker, I am trained to explore and analyse more than a singular situation or event. When I work with parents and families I look at inter-generational patterns, influences and circumstances leading to particular behaviours or decisions. Research shows us that there is most certainly a link between childhood abuse and offending behaviour in teenagers and adults – our public sympathy may stretch to a young teenager who has had a “difficult” life committing a few petty crimes, but when serious offences take place, the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality takes over (see earlier ref: keyboard warriors).

I would like to open up a discussion regarding coordination of services – between those within the prison walls and those out in the community. At the beginning I spoke of the words “respite” and “rehabilitation”. For those who see criminality as a life choice, prison is a respite. It offers removal from the environment that encourages them to continually repeat the same destructive actions, quite possibly as a survival mechanism. “Rehabilitation” however, is the word we need to reconsider in its current capacity.

Prisoners don’t necessarily need “rehabilitation”, but what they do need is the opportunity to heal.

Healing means different things to different people, and requires flexible, consistent and confident support from those facilitating the journey of change that can be many arduous miles in length. Some establishments understand this approach to working with prisoners and are implementing strategies to accommodate this, but it is an exception rather than the rule.

Holistic approaches and person-centred working allow prisoners and staff to look at criminal acts and motivations in a new light, which in turn builds more thoughtful and constructive relationships. Yes, we mustn’t forget that those committing crime need to be punished, but actually the punishment is the deprivation of liberty, and separation from people and places they hold dear.

Prison officers are in a difficult position in 2018. They are worn out, overworked and losing hope in the system. For many the job has gone from a position of pride and respect to one where walking through the gate leaves their stomach churning. Violent assaults and understaffing are at an all-time high – and talking of high – the stench of drugs flooding the wings is unacceptably dangerous.

It is little wonder that some officers have minimal empathy for those in their care who hot water colleagues and take part in dirty protests when staff are run ragged trying to manage a basic regime. The “them and us” mentality is taking hold, and it needs to be tackled and wrestled to the ground before the resentment becomes too great.

I’m sure there are a percentage of prisoners who commit crime for absolutely no reason, have no remorse and won’t ever change regardless of who tries to help them. But they are the exception, not the rule. If you consider many of the crimes people commit, they are often linked to something beyond wanting to ruin someone else’s day or week or an adrenaline rush.

Lack of money and housing, addiction issues, relationship breakdowns, poor mental health, peer pressure, fear… these are just a few very basic reasons people commit crime. Reasons not excuses – I am not excusing anyone committing crime, let’s be clear on that, but there are many reasons why people make some terrible choices.

Let’s acquaint ourselves with the notion that crime is often a sign of a wider set of symptoms needing to be addressed. Isolated and sporadic interventions aren’t enough, and won’t lead to sustainable changes of mind set and circumstance. In some cases prison strips away the little independence people have left, and long sentences leave many institutionalised.

There is no link between the wings and the spurs and the streets and the council offices – imagine leaving prison with all the issues you had before your sentence, plus a bad reputation and a criminal record to take home to your loved ones. It requires great strength of character to overcome such issues and rebuild a crime free, fulfilled life.

This strength can often be found within, but it needs to be bolstered by consistency of support and knowing that release doesn’t just mean being plunged back into the same way of living as before – because there is a PLAN, and people both sides of the gate know it and are ready to implement it.

If we don’t support the prisoner to significantly treat the symptoms leading to crime, there is no medicine that will cure the crime itself.

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