04 October 2010

a spot of culture and something a bit more serious...cafe culture - british prisons: fit for purpose?

I went to a Cafe Culture debate for the first time in ages tonight, which was on the fascinating topic of prisons and crime.  The blurb from the leaflet says 'leading criminologist Dr David Wilson will argue how our punitive penal system fails to tackle the causes of crime and explores the alternatives.'  Tonight we learnt that the most common murder victims are boys aged under two who are murdered by someone they know, whereas only six children per year are murdered by strangers, and that's a figure that hasn't changed for decades.  We also learnt that in England and Wales we spend on average £45,000 keeping someone in prison for one year yet crimes committed by people newly released from prison cost us £13billion per year, a staggering amount.  Just imagine if we could save half of that, what positive difference that could make.

Dr Wilson told us about a forward-thinking idea taking root in America called justice reinvestment, which removes money from the criminal justice system and spends it in communities that face the most crime on what local people need to tackle the reasons why crimes are committed there.  And it makes a difference to those who suffer the affects of crime and those who commit crimes, and it saves money.  The money is used for education projects, hostels, employment skills, developing community infrastructure, anything that works with those people who typically commit crimes and go to prison.

He also casually dropped in how there is a direct correlation between children who are excluded from school and committing crimes and being sent to prison.  And that a culture where everyone is valued the state and by others is one where there is less crime and fewer people in prison.

Churchill said that we judge a civilisation by how it treats its criminals, and I think this is important for us all to reflect upon.  We need to think about how we can value people more in our daily lives, to ask questions of those in power and to be involved and engaged in our local communities.  This is a challenge, even for me as someone who works in the voluntary sector, but we need to make a start to make our local communities, our cities and our country a better place to live in.

Oops, went a bit lecturey there, sorry!

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