There’s no doubt that HMP Exeter is among those prisons facing some serious challenges, as detailed in a report out today (091018) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.
The report makes for sombre reading. Inspectors found high levels of violence, drug abuse and suicide in the prison when they visited earlier this year. Rubbish was piled outside cell windows which had been broken and conditions had worsened since their last visit.
Some argue that prisons should be unpleasant - otherwise what’s the deterrent? My response would be that we all have a vested interest in seeing that the men and women who serve sentences behind bars have a reasonable chance of rehabilitation.
That opportunity for people to take a break from lives that are often chaotic is lost if inmates spend their days scared, bullied or stoned, if upon their inevitable release they are given a few quid, a bag containing old clothes they turned up in and a phone with a flat battery.
It’s because I am interested in reducing reoffending that I took up the opportunity to chair our local Criminal Justice Board, which brings together multiple organisations with the aim of making communities safer.
Despite the terrible headlines there are is some great work going on behind the scenes at HMP Exeter. I’m pleased inspectors found evidence that rehabilitation work was improving and that my office has been involved in projects which look set to make a real difference.
Already up and running is the Through The Gate pilot, which is part of an effort to shut the ‘revolving door’ of reoffending.
My office has been working with partners to establish a pre-release meeting for prisoners a fortnight before they are let out. Under this programme all the services that a prisoner needs will be contacted so they have access to drug or alcohol treatment services, or have a reduced risk of being made homeless on release.
The pilot has attracted interest from around the country and Government and next week is the subject of a ministerial visit.
On release we want to give them a small pack of toiletries, clean clothes and a charged phone. We’re also working with employers who work with ex-offenders to provide opportunities and training, and I welcome Government efforts to keep drugs like Spice out of prisons.
In my view these steps do not amount to being soft on criminals, but are simply a few sensible steps to give ex–offenders a fighting chance of standing on their own two feet. If we can work together to reduce reoffending we all win. It can save a huge amount of public money (it costs more than £25,000 to imprison someone for a year) and our communities become safer.
Anyone wanting donate basic food, toiletries and clothes to the Through The Gate project can do so via the EDP charity at Beaufort House, 51 New North Road, EX44EP.