The United Kingdom has help to reignite the questions about alternative forms of punishment and/or rehabilitation to prison. In the U.K., roughly 60% of those convicted each year are only in prison for less than 12 months, because they are there as a result of small offenses, and drug offenses. Of those who leave prison, roughly 60% of them are convicted again within a year of their release. With a system that such high rates of recidivism it is no wonder the U.K. is struggling to do something to correct it. Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke announced that he thinks there must be a better way to approach the issue as he announced that the inmates should work a 40 hour week getting paid minimum wage and give a part of their wages to pay for their stay at the prison and some of it to the victim’s charities.
The underlying reason for this rapid change in policy was the new spending budget which proposes cutting the Justice Department’s budget by around 25% in the next 5 years. In order to reach those dramatic cuts, dramatic action must be taken in reducing the recidivism of inmates and making sure they leave jail to become productive members of society. Part of the problem with this is that the short term offenders are serving sentences which are just long enough to dramatically effect their life (job, family, etc…), but in many cases, the sentences are not effective at bringing forth a change in behavior. The idea of giving prisoners a 40 hour work week has its disadvantages. According to Mark Johnson, it would be impossible to be able to monitor inmates, many of whom suffer from mental health and addiction problems, during a 40 hour work week if they were able to do any meaningful kind of work other than sorting recycled goods. This brings forth another option brought forward by Ken Clarke, which was that of payment by results; a system where private outfits would be paid in accordance with the reduction of recidivism.
Though all of these reforms may be promising in their own way, I think that a better idea would be to use the tools we have gained with cognitive and behavioral neuroscience to help find new ways of rehabilitating these inmates to keep them from falling back into the cycle of crime. In a BBC report interviewing former inmates and those involved in rehabilitation; it seemed almost unanimous that they believed prisoners should be given some kind of responsibilities and work while they are in prison, but many of the rehabilitation groups argued for the importance of giving the inmates “real” jobs. I agree with this sentiment; I think that by giving inmates both the education and training to be successful in the outside world must come with some real life application of those skills, which could be done through a targeted job. These “rehabilitation jobs” should be customized based on the inmates skills. In fact, in doing so the system might even be able to use the inmates own weaknesses (reason they committed the crime) as a reference point to what skills they should help the individual develop to prevent them from going back to that path. Overall, I think this is a landmark opportunity for the U.K. Justice System to try out more comprehensive rehabilitation strategies, and their success (or the lack thereof) should be followed closely by Judicial Systems around the world, many of whom have the same issues.